It’s difficult to discuss all of Kelly Slater’s achievements and talents in one place. The 48-year-old American professional surfer seems to have multiple lives. On top of his athleticism, he’s found success as an author, actor, model, and businessman.
Surfing is what started it all, however. His 11 world surfing championships means he is often recognized as the greatest pro surfer of all time. He was the youngest person to win the World Surf League Championship when he was 20 and the oldest when he was 39.
Slater grew up in Cocoa Beach, Florida. Since his father owned a bait shop, Slater was never far from the water. He started surfing at the age of 5 and was already winning events at age 10. By 1990, he was a pro. An inspiring moment in Makaha, where famed Brandon “Big Wave” Davis winked at Slater before paddling out, started a useful relationship for Slater that instilled the confidence in him that he needed to make it as a pro. In his biography, Slater states “Brandon’s knowledge and poise in large surf had a huge impact on my career. Anytime I’m dropping in a big wave, I think back to that wink in the Makaha parking lot, and I push myself over the ledge.”
Slater has also found success as a musician, playing guitar and ukulele. He has performed with Jack Johnson and Angus Stone, as well as his own band The Surfers, which released an album called Songs from the Pipe and toured in Australia. Other performances include a song with Ben Harper and Pearl Jam.
Believe it or not, the acting world also turned out to be a match for Slater. He played Jimmy Slade on Baywatch, starred in The Girls Next Door, and featured in various surf films throughout his career. As far as other media goes, he also appears in the video game Kelly Slater’s Pro Surfer and has two autobiographies including Pipe Dreams: A Surfer’s Journey and Kelly Slater: For the Love.
As an advocate, Slater promotes sustainable and clean living as well as raises awareness for suicide. He participates in events like Surfers Against Suicide, and the topic hits home for him because he has lost multiple friends to depression. He also partners with Reef Check and the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society. His activist pursuits led him to being recognized by the United States House of Representatives for being a great ambassador and role model.