Road-tripping Kauai with Pro Surfer Kelly Slater

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By Huckberry / Published by Huckberry
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An exclusive interview with pro surfer Kelly Slater on building the perfect man-made wave, secret surf spots, travel hacks, Outerknown apparel, & more.

Editor's Note: Mark Twain called Hawaii "one long delicious summer day," and having recently spent a week exploring Kauai for our first Spring Catalog we have to agree. Hawaii’s northernmost island was the perfect proving ground for all our favorite spring gear, and we had the dream team to put it to the test: the greatest surfer of all-time, Kelly Slater; local Kauai legend and shark advocate, Mike Coots; Huckberry Ambassador and former pro surfer Mikey DeTemple; our buddy (and ace poke chef) Mychael Henry and, of course, our Chrysler Town & Country rental minivan. We hope you enjoy the excerpt below, and that our adventures in Kauai inspire you to take a trip of your own.

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Kelly Slater has been called the past, present, and future of surfing and for good reason — the Florida native has been crowned World Surf League champion a record 11 times, and was both the youngest (at age 20) and the oldest (at age 39) to win the title. He’s a transcendent athlete who’s parlayed his accomplishments in the water into success far beyond it — from creating the world’s first man-made surf break, to environmental advocacy, to a multitude of entrepreneurial pursuits. Most recently, he partnered with John Moore, a GQ Menswear Designer of the Year, to create Outerknown, an apparel brand that combines his love of travel, sustainability, and style. They say don’t meet your heroes, but during our time with Kelly in Kauai, we found him to be sharp, sincere, and funny as hell. Below are a few highlights from our time with the "Michael Jordan of surfing." Or, as we learned Dennis Rodman likes to call him, "Christian Slater."

You’ve been sponsored practically your entire life. How does it feel to finally run your own fashion brand? 

 I guess the best feeling is knowing where and how our clothes are made, and who is making them. Social compliance is a real foundation for Outerknown and for me: treating people right, and working with the right people. We’re proud of the whole process and are happy to be transparent, which hasn’t been the case with all of the things I’ve worked on. At this stage in my life, I just feel like I have an obligation and responsibility to do things the right way.

I’ve been practically living in your Evolution Shirt Jacket this trip, and love the fact it’s made from recycled fishing nets. Can you tell us more about that?

We’re always looking to source as environmentally responsible as possible, and so one day my partner John Moore found this factory in Slovenia that recycles fishing nets and other waste into nylon. We visited the factory and loved what we saw, so we now use their nylon in our trunks and jackets.

That’s awesome. You went even further with your sustainability efforts with #ITSNOTOK. What inspired that project?

#ITSNOTOK is a campaign John and I created to bring more awareness to how much garbage is in the ocean. I’ve been to Micronesia a few times, and I can’t even begin to explain how much garbage there is at this one atoll. It’s in the middle of nowhere and the water is beautiful and flawless. But you get to the beach and there are just sandals, bottles, fishing nets, and stuff all over the place. The island had never even seen surfing five years ago, and all of a sudden you realize that the garbage beat us there. It’s sad, and just one of the many personal experiences that inspired #ITSNOTOK, and our decision to donate 100% of Outerknown’s #ITSNOTOK profits to ocean conservancy efforts.

Switching gears, do you have any favorite surf hacks?

Sometimes I’ll use Instagram to scout surf spots — you just search the hashtag. If I want to know what, say Hanalei or Jaws is like that day, someone has probably already put a picture up.

You and your team recently created the first man-made surf break — what was it like to see the first wave?

It was one of the most emotional things I’ve ever experienced. I didn’t know if I should jump or scream or start crying and lay down, because in some weird sense for surfers, it’s like we created a nuclear bomb. Like it’s just something we shouldn’t have. There’s not a surfer in the world that doesn’t like to go find a perfect wave, but then to go make it; it’s funny in some way to think you’re controlling something that’s just natural or should be natural. That was the only hesitancy for me, and I was like, "What have we done, how is it going to be utilized, and how is it going to fit into our lives? What’s the responsible way to do this?" But the overwhelming feeling was just, "Gosh, after ten hard years of working on this, we finally did it."

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You’re both the youngest and oldest champion of the World Surf League — are there any habits or routines that you credit to your early success or longevity?

My secret is I think I love surfing more than everybody else around me. When I was a kid, I would go to bed thinking about it, dreaming about it, and waking up wanting to do it. I’d imagine how I would I ride a wave or how somebody else would, and how it feels in my body. On top of that, it was a perfect storm because I was really a competitive person. I came from a broken home, so I think psychologically, that has something to do with it. I think that you feel you’ve got to go prove yourself or make some statement or something to make yourself feel good. I had an older brother who'd try to outdo me at everything, so that contributed to my hyper competitiveness too… A lot of the times I go to a competition, I know I’m going to win. I just have this feeling, or will dream about it when I go to sleep.

Do you ever get a feeling the opposite of that?

Yes, and I usually lose. I have actually gone home, gotten back into bed, and started my day over. I did that at a contest a few years ago and I ended up winning the contest, but my first round was terrible. Competition to me is just a sign of what's going on in my life somehow. A lot of people think competitiveness is not a great trait, but I think competition is an indicator of a lot of things for me, even spiritually: my comfort levels with myself and how I'm doing, how my choices are going — all these sorts of things. Surfing in a contest and winning heats is just a combination of a bunch of choices you made over a given number of days and hours. If you make better decisions than the other guy, you’re going to win.

What are you mornings like? 

 For one, I don’t drink coffee. I always wake up and first thing drink a glass of warm water with lemon to flush out my system. The way you start the day is the way you pace throughout the day, so I try to eat healthy early on instead of eating some sugary breakfast cereal. I’ll often just make a smoothie with a lot of chia in it, and that fills me up. Sometimes I’ll do a little exercise — core work, some crunches, also some self-massage and stretching to work the part of my back that’s been hurting me. Basically reinforcing the muscles I don’t normally use and relaxing the muscles I’m used to using. But overall, I’m a night person. I stay up and read, write, draw, and play music. If I’m jet lagged and get in the flow of a morning routine, I really like it. Other than that, I almost always surf until dark and stay up late.

As a guy who’s always on the go, do you have any favorite travel hacks? 

 Always drink something with some salt in it to retain some water and get your electrolytes, which is important when you’re flying. Another hack is to bring something that has some cayenne pepper in it to help your nose run a little because you carry a lot of viruses in your nostrils. I was fortunate enough to spend a day with a well known doctor one time, and he was a big advocate of flying at night to avoid radiation. When you’re flying, there’s less atmosphere, and so you get more radiation then when you’re on the ground.

Anything you have to have in your carry-on?

Yeah, in remote places like Tahiti, Indonesia and Fiji — places that I don’t think I’ll have access to healthy food — half my bag will be food, usually staple stuff like snacks, nuts, dried fruits, or bars.

What’s on your bucket list these days?

I really want to go to the Pacific side of Indonesia during this time of year. I’d also love to go to the Philippines during their typhoon season, and follow the storms in that region in the fall. It's really got a lot of perfect looking setups on the maps, and I still think there's just hundreds and hundreds of uncharted waves. I like the idea of adventuring somewhere and following the hurricane and typhoon swells around the world. They're brief and they're quick — you might get half a day at a spot but you could score some that no one's ever surfed before, and maybe you never will see again.

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Do you ever got sucked into a Google map rabbit hole of surf spots? 

 Do I ever not. I have literally hundreds of spots mapped. Even in little seas where you wouldn't even look. Pull up and look back in the history and go, "There's a little like two-feet swell this one time," and you can see this perfect little reelers. I tell you what, I got a bunch of spots that would probably be crazy long board waves. If you happen to be there at the right time or chase this certain kind of swell through that little window of opportunity where there's good winds and good conditions. For sure a place no one ever surfed. You can find hundreds of thousands of them. I got a friend who says he has a boat captain friend who knows over 500 good spots that have never been surfed. He's got them all charted, and he has seen waves in all of them.

What are some of the business lessons you’ve learned over the years?

I think the number one thing is to find a team that believes in whatever vision you have. I've been really fortunate to be able to work with people who have trusted the things that I want to do and the direction I wanted to go. You need the ideas, you need the people that can execute those ideas, and you need to have the profits to support it all.

Should we finish this off with a lightning round of "Would you rather?"

My favorite game. One I always ask my surfing friends is would you rather be able to paddle as fast as a jet ski or have night vision so you can surf at night by yourself?

What's the most common answer? 

It's a split, because who wouldn't want to surf anywhere by themselves at night when it's nice and glassy and calm. But I would choose being able to paddle as fast as a jet ski. Just think if you could get out of the way of a 70 foot wave with arm strength. You could catch anything you want [Ed. Note: G.O.A.T. surfer problems].

Do you think night vision will make its way into surfing? 

 I don't know about competitions but a buddy of mine was just working with SEAL Team Six guys. I met them on the beach one time, and they were surfing in the middle of a no-moon night with night vision. The goggles were pretty far off their face but I mean that technology — they are only on the fourth or fifth generation of that stuff. They'll get it there. 

Who are some of your favorite musicians? 

 That’s such a hard one. I don’t know. My all-time favorite is Stevie Wonder. I could probably listen to Stevie Wonder the rest of my life and be happy… We all have an album that speaks to some time period in our lives. I remember in ‘98, I was traveling around with Shane Dorian. We were just listening to this rap group called Lox and Mase and all that Bad Boy Records stuff. I swear for that whole year, it’s all we’d listen to. All I listened to that year was that and Jeff Buckley. How do those two things even go together? Still, they were equally as important to me in that period of my life for some reason. 

I was just listening to 24 Hours to Live by Mase and The Lox. [ Starts rapping ] If you had twenty four hours to live just think... 

[ Kelly jumps in ] Just think. Where would you go? What would you do? Who would you screw? 

 Who would you want to notify? Or would your a** deny that your a** is about to die? 

So good. Shane and I used to listen to that and then go surf and we'd just be so amped. And then at night, I'd drink a bottle of red wine and listen to Jeff Buckley and cry all by myself [laughs]. [H]   

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This post is part of Huckberry's Spring 2017 catalog in Kauai. Explore some of our other Hawaiian adventures below: 

 · Kauai’s top 5 with Shark Attack Survivor/Activist Mike Coots 

 · Provisions: Hawaiian Monk Beer Cocktail 

 · Behind the Scenes with Team Huckberry 


*New to Huckberry? Save 15% off your first purchase with the Checkout Code ‘dwell15’. Valid through June 24th, 2017. Some exclusions apply.*