With nearly every major surf record—including an unprecedented 11 world titles, 55 career victories and both the youngest and oldest World Champion in men’s history—Kelly Slater is a legend on the waves. And he's a force to be reckoned with out of the water, too.
Legend in her own right (and part of one of the most prolific surf families in the world) Tammy Moniz sat down with the pro surfer, entrepreneur, and sometimes actor at Outrigger Waikiki for our Surfers in Residence series to chat sustainable fashion, why he loves Waikiki, and the "irreplaceable euphoria" of surfing.
The Mecca for Surfers
First up in their surfer-life convo: the oh-so-perfect barrels at Oahu’s Pipeline. While he's surfed the world's best—and most dangerous—waves, it's the North Shore’s ‘granddaddy of all waves’ that takes the top on Slater's best-of surf list.
“Pipeline’s our mecca, for all surfers. There’s always the Teahupo'o, the Mentawai Islands, the point breaks in Australia, or some big wave like Nazaré or Jaws, but [Pipeline] is sort of the ultimate challenge because you can still ride deep in a barrel in a way that can kill you—and so it’s sort of this, like, perfect blend of fun and fear,” he said.
A favorite between-tour surf spot? Pipeline's more laid-back little sister, Waikiki.
“To me [Waikiki] is the birthplace of surfing. Although Pipeline’s like our mecca, what would you call this? I don’t know—the Jerusalem for surfers?" Slater said.
The birthplace of modern surfing, Waikiki and its famed Diamond Head is often the image you think of with the earliest depictions of surfing by the Hawaiian kings, and a burgeoning new pastime yet to take over the world.
"It’s visually such an incredible place,” said Slater. “You could never mistake it for somewhere else."
Into the Outerknown
Slater's passion for the water translates to a love of protecting it, too.
“I was sponsored for 30 years by clothing companies and made my living from that, and started to realize I didn't know much about the whole process: the supply chain, who’s making the clothes, the factories we use, where the textiles come from, the effect on the environment," said Slater.
When he learned about the football fields of fashion waste going into landfills every minute, Slater teamed up with creative director John Moore to create a new kind of lifestyle brand, Outerknown. It's mission: to honor people and planet.
“It’s funny because I’m not crazy passionate about clothing. I don’t care, I just wear a t-shirt and shorts … and I don’t even have slippers today ...” he said, laughing. “But I’m passionate about the industry and about the process.”
Today, the six-year-old Outerknown is revolutionizing the space with key innovations, from full lifecycle transparency of each item and fair labor practices to sweats made from sustainably harvested wood pulp and organic S.E.A. denim.
"The world doesn’t necessarily need another clothing company. But if the clothing company does it better and takes some of that pie away from other ones [that aren’t sustainable], then yeah I think that’s probably a good thing," he said.
Getting Barreled at Surf Ranch
Slater’s next innovation: what are widely touted as the best artificial waves in the world.
By working with top wave scientists at USC, Slater was able to craft, well, the perfect wave. In the middle of the California desert.
“It was sort of a Good Will Hunting moment where there’s the equation on the chalkboard and somebody’s gotta figure it out, and these guys figured it out for us," Slater said of the team’s work bringing his vision to life. “It was really cool.”
The result is the now solar-powered Surf Ranch, a wave park in Lemoore, California. And a second waves-in-the-desert Kelly Slater Wave Co. project is coming soon: a 20-acre resort and mother-nature-rivaling wave basin in the Coachella Valley set to open in 2022.
The Momentum Generation
Slater (and Moniz's husband, former pro surfer Tony Moniz) are part of what’s been dubbed “The Momentum Generation,” a crew of surfers that came up in the early ‘90s featured in a Taylor Steele documentary called Momentum (and that inspired a 2018 HBO documentary).
This group of lifelong surf friends ushered in a whole new era of big-wave surfing—and took the sport to competitive new heights. And for Slater, his drive to make an impact—and ability to transform everything he touches—don't show any signs of stopping.