Kelly Slater is a nice guy. (I mean, unless you’re in a heat with him. Or playing poker. Or… ) He could be an aloof, stuck-up sticky beak if he wanted, but he chooses not to. Maybe he’s always been a nice guy, or maybe he was a dick at one time who’s had all the bumps and evilnesses and mental dragons and manner glitches ironed out and flattened by the silliness of his own, ongoing success.
Kelly is polite. He has manners. Good manners. Do something nice for him and he remembers (if you’re thinking Androcles and the lion, it’s kinda like that) and will invite you to things and talk to you, even if you have been powerless and out of the loop for decades.
Fame forces the famous to deal with people, situations, drama, and Kelly has learned to deal with all the hype and adulation and weirdness that swirls around with a bemused calm – standing straight and smiley in the eye of the storm. He’s seen it all. It amuses him. He wants more.
I worked at Surfer Magazine from 1989 to 1999 so I was there during the Kelly Emerging Era – when he began his rise from some random, handsome, Straight A surfer kid from Cocoa Beach, to the impossible-demi-octogenarian place he holds now – in his 40s, respected, regularly beating kids who weren’t even born when he began to rise. Way way back in the early 1990s.
In the early 1990s, Kelly’s talent was obvious and the sky was the limit, but Surfer Magazine teased him a little – about Baywatch, some of his girlfriends, some of his warbles and foibles on his way up.
When Interview Magazine proclaimed Kelly “Half fish, total dish,” well we ribbed him about it. How could we not?
Kelly and Elvis in black and white.
In Surfer Magazine I once did a Separated at Birth that compared Kelly to Elvis Presley – running a photo of Elvis on a surfboard next to an image of Kelly singing, but the comparisons were more than superficial.
If I remember right, the things they had in common were:
1. Southern kids with good manners who loved and obeyed their mommas.
2. Million dollar hips.
3. Dark skin, dark hair, killer eyes
4. Women levitate in their presence.
5. Talented, but humble. And really, just grateful to be talented and have good things happen. That’s how a lot of successful people are: Grateful.
In Blue Hawaii, Elvis Presley portrayed Chad Gates, a kamaaina Hawaiian kid who comes home from the service and just wants to hang out with his friends, play ukulele, surf and chase chicks.
And Elvis was believable in the role.
Kelly also tried his hand at acting and singing, and was kinda believable as Jimmy Slade in Baywatch (1992 – 1993). Surfer ribbed Kelly about that a bit, but hey, he was a kid from a broken home in Florida making bank and snogging Pam Anderson, so what did he care what a bunch of dingaling, underpaid surf magazine editors stuck in a stifling Orange County office thought?
Glory days. Pam is in the middle. Kelly is the one to Pam’s right.
But Elvis died at 42 – obese, drug-addled, unhappy, the glory of his revolutionary 50s youth decayed to a 70s Vegas parody.
Kelly is none of that. He is the antonym for that: A 540-something-flipping testimonial to clean living, Kelly in his 40s is as fit as ever, as good as ever. He still has those million dollar hips, and regularly takes to the air like his 20-something contemporaries.