kelly slater quotes
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Kelly Slater Quotes

Kelly Slater might stand as one of the most accomplished and well-known surfers of all time, but there is more to him than just a poster boy for surfing.

Besides having a very complete case of being the greatest rider to ever step on a surfboard, Kelly Slater also has a lot of food for thought. The surf heavyweight chips in on life in relation to surfing and how the universe revolves around our perception.

It’s no secret that Slater’s life revolves around his surf activity. Everything that he does and doesn’t has to go in accordance with the ocean.

  • My schedule changes every morning based on the surf.

Big Wave Surfing

When it comes to big wave surfing, Slater doesn't hold anything back. He says that he confronts his fears. It’s the only thing that you’re able to do when you’re in the sky, held up by a moving force of water. 

- Big waves are a whole different ball game. You're riding a wave with an immense amount of speed and power, generally over 10 meters. On the face of the wave, obviously, life and death thoughts start to happen.

Life and Death Thoughts

These words will not only ring true for many big wave surfers, but they will also breed confidence in beginners that are still looking for ways to confront their fears while they are going through the motions. 

If one of the world’s greatest surfers says that he has death on his mind when the going gets tough, then it’s alright for everyone to have those thoughts. 

Know Who You Are

Of course, there are no stop signs in sight for professional surfers. It’s not something that you do or something that defines you—it’s what you are at the core. The constant pursuit of bettering oneself has to be at the helm of your drive. 

You have to strive for new heights and growth, but not just any growth—better growth. One thing is for certain: you will never be able to do the things that you don't believe you can. Kelly Slater knows this: 

  • If your mind is not switched on and excited about things, you grow old really fast. I think that's when you age and your body starts to go. I think life's over at that point.

The Pursuit

The good news is that you never have to stop chasing the dragon. There is always another wave coming in, so it’s not a matter of opportunity as much as it is about dedication and will. 

  • For a surfer, it's never-ending. There's always some wave you want to surf.

We’re pretty sure that every surfer out there will agree. You’re not challenging the ocean, and you’re not going against it. You are challenging yourself and your will to persevere. We have yet to hear a complaint that a rider has run out of waves.

Slowing Down

You’ve probably heard that for the greats, the game slows down. Time doesn’t have the same effect on them as it does on the rest of us. Once you are in the zone, you can pretty much manipulate time at will. 

These are the infinite moments when your skill and prowess are beyond the challenge at hand, when, as a surfer, you are able to go in any direction and are capable of anything that you put your mind to. 

Once you unlock the time-space continuum in your head, there is no stopping you from going the distance. You have a world at your fingertips. Slater knows this world better than most. 

He has been shaping and reshaping excellence for the better part of thirty years. Nevertheless, this comes at a cost. 

The whole process of being in the moment, losing yourself by being extra vigilant and severed from reality, takes its toll on the physical body: 

  • For me, it's sort of like time slows down. You become hyper-aware of a lot of different things - the way the wave is breaking, timing, putting yourself in the right part of the barrel. It takes all of your mental capacity to do it just right.


Slater is not one for could-have-beens. He is determined to squeeze out every last ounce of himself when it comes to surfing. He won’t settle for not going the extra mile. He is an explorer at heart, insatiable by nature, and determined to go as far as his spirit will take him. There is always more to uncover, always more to learn, and always more to gain.

  • I don't ever want to get to the end and say I could've done this or that for someone. I think there are a lot of things right in front of us we either don't know or are afraid to know the answers to. I think that's why people seem more conservative as they get older.


You probably think that a surfer of his caliber has a whole team in place in order to make sure that he is at his peak when it comes to nutrition. And while this certainly isn't far off the mark, Kelly Slater is a man that wants to take it easy in the morning and take in life one spoonful at a time. He has a set routine that wakes him up and gets him ready for the next giant wave. 

  • I generally start my day off with hot water and lemon - to cleanse the body after sleeping. I read about it, and it seemed like a good idea. I drink a lot of coconut water, too. I generally stick with fruit in the morning. I make a lot of smoothies.


Respect the ocean, always. Slater knows that even though the size of a wave makes it more or less formidable in the eyes of the general public, waves develop over thousands of miles. Imagine carrying your momentum for thousands of miles. That’s borderline otherworldly energy. So, even if the wave is smaller, there is still a reason as to why it managed to travel at such lengths.

  • Even a tiny little wave [has] usually traveled from maybe hundreds or thousands of miles away, so it has a lot of energy. You just have to figure out how to use that energy.

Love Your Job

The saying that you have to love your job in order to be good at it is true no matter how you slice it. Kelly Slater says that he has the perfect spot in Hawaii where he makes the most of his days and nights. But the mornings when the big red sun rises from the horizon are his absolute favorites:

  • I love waking up in the morning in Hawaii.

Be Aware

You can’t let achievements go to your head. Yes, you might be on top of the hill and have a great deal of accolades, but unless you are aware of your surroundings and act consciously to protect the things that bring you joy, you won’t be able to come full circle in your life. 

Slater knows that being a surfer is more than just honing your technique and performing crazy turns. It’s about getting a second understanding of the world and nature. We have to give back and care for our environment if we are to expect the ocean to take care of us. 

  • I think when a surfer becomes a surfer, it's almost like an obligation to be an environmentalist at the same time.


So, when is Kelly Slater planning to retire and call it a day? He has all the accolades that one can think of. He has accomplished everything at the highest level multiple times. 

Will there be a time when it’s time to pack it in and ride out into the sunset? Slater doesn't believe that there is such a thing as retirement when it comes to surfing. It’s for life.

  • It's like the mafia. Once you're in - you're in. There's no getting out.

The Mental Aspect of Surfing 

Even though Kelly Slater takes great care of his body and maintains a great physique, he believes that being in great shape is not the be-all and end-all when it comes to delivering the best possible performance. He firmly believes that it's more about where your mind is at rather than how toned your triceps is. 

  • I've been in poor physical shape many times in my career, and I've had some of my best results. My best performances happened because my mind was in the right place. The mind is definitely stronger than the body.

You can’t really put surfing in a box, and you cannot describe it as a faucet. It’s all-encompassing. It moves with and through you. It’s like something that belongs within you and pulls you in a slew of different directions. 

  • The joy of surfing is so many things combined, from the physical exertion of it, to the challenge of it, to the mental side of the sport.


You’re probably wondering if Kelly Slater can afford any spare time or devote himself to something entirely different. Well, as it turns out, the competitive spirit doesn’t stop at the beach and extends to the grass as well. If there is one other sport that Slater is captivated by, it’s golf.

  • Golf is the greatest game in the world.

Keep Moving

The secret to keeping his mind sharp is attributed to his restless nature. Slater never settles down. He is high on life and wants to keep on moving. 

  • I'm basically never in one place for more than one month. At the most.

Avoiding The Spotlight

There is a lot of the spotlight on him at all times, but Kelly Slater doesn’t want any part of it. He would rather just focus on his craft, and that’s enough for him. He has done everything he can to not be at the center of the media and everything that it brings. He likes to keep private on matters that are outside of surfing itself.

  • I'm getting pretty good at getting away from signings. 


And while you may think that Slater has the perfect stance and physique for surfing, that's not entirely on point because he himself is a bit critical of how his body reacts to the motions. 

  • I've always wanted a little lower center of gravity and a stronger lower body.

He, too, once saw the ocean as a menacing giant that keeps unraveling on itself, but it just goes to show that you don't really know what’s going on when you’re looking from the outside in. Once Slater took on surfing seriously and dove head-first into the sport, he soon started to gain a new perspective and a different understanding of the ways of the ocean. 

  • People look at the ocean that don't know anything about it like that's crazy-looking, but once you put yourself in this situation, you realize there's a flow to everything.

The Ultimate Ride and Being Humble

If you’re curious about some of the experiences that Slater cherishes most, he says that there is nothing quite like riding the barrel. No surprises there.

  • The barrel is really the ultimate ride for any surfer. It's the eye of the storm. Some guys say it's like being in the womb.

Slater knows that you should never get too high or too low as a surfer because you are never above the ocean’s will. You take what you can get and make the most of it. If you do start flying high, there is usually something right around the corner that will put you in your place. Kelly Slater loves that—the notion that he cannot really figure things out for good. The fact that the ocean and the surf are ever-changing keeps him coming back for more. 

  • The fun and the challenge of it never really go away. There's always something there to put you back in your place.

Holistic Surfing

But surfing is not just about the performance or the preparation. It goes deeper, it roots itself in your soul and becomes a holistic experience. Every single aspect of it comes together to deliver the ultimate thrill. 

  • The joy of surfing is so many things combined, from the physical exertion of it to the challenge of it, to the mental side of the sport.

On Life

The question of the meaning of life has been thrown around and answered by everyone from Monty Python to Aristotle. While most people will have their own two cents on it, Slater sort of threads the line. 

He’s not one who believes that we should grind in every passing second, but he’s also not one to waste his time. Well, maybe he can indulge in some leisure every now and again, but it still has to be on his favorite spot in the world: the beach. 

  • What's life for? I don't think it's for smoking pot, but I do think it's for sitting around on the beach all day. What's life worth? Life's worth experiences, and it's worth the people in your life too. I'm sure it's different once you have a partner in your life or kids - maybe that one wave's not that important anymore.

Baby Steps

Kelly Slater believes that things should be grown and groomed into existence. He always prefers to take the pragmatic and gradual approach in life, and surfing is no exception. 

  • You have to walk before you can run, and surfing small waves is surfing's equivalent of walking and crawling.

A Whole Different Ball Game

When he’s on the board, Kelly likes to anticipate things before they come his way. With such a long career and mileage, he is able to dissect almost any situation or, at the very least, connect it to a similar one. It’s a game within a game of sorts. 

Now, it’s not only about going through the motions and performing the perfect carve; it’s about the positioning and expectations as well. Does he get the situation right more than not? 

  • I also have to be able to think ahead of the curve a little bit. You have to see where things are going and be able to kind of predict that, or at least go in that direction.

No End in Sight

He believes that one of the most important things when it comes to surfing and life in general is to keep hungry and have an open mind. You can never plateau or reach a ceiling if there isn’t one. But, you have to do your homework; you have to study the way of the waves and the ocean and learn of its idiosyncrasies before you can unlock its vastness. 

  • Your surfing can get better on every turn, on every wave you catch. Learn to read the ocean better. A big part of my success has been wave knowledge.

In Closing…

We hope that among these Kelly Slater quotes you found inspiration that will make you a better surfer on your lifelong journey. However, the surfer life is more than famous quotes and cocoa beach afternoons, but sometimes, a few words from an idol is all it takes to get you going and keep you on the level.

Written by
Nico Palacios
surf coaching