Go Deeper on Kelly Slater’s First Pro Win

Web Features

Go below the surface of Kelly Slater’s first pro win with this addendum to “A New Beginning.”

  1. Kelly attributed some of his optimism to a recent third-place finish against his surfing idol Tom Curren in France.
  2. Tom, from Santa Barbara, Calif., was the dominant surfer of the 1980s. He won the world tour three times.
  3. A strange chain of events that landed Kelly in the contest began earlier that summer when his friend Pat O’Connell kicked Kelly and a group of other kids out of his parents’ house in Laguna. Kelly ended up at a pool party where he and a surf photographer collided in midair as they both jumped in the water. Kelly stayed with another friend in San Clemente and discovered the next morning that a contest was scheduled to start a few blocks away. “I borrowed a board and…I ended up getting fifth in that event,” Kelly said. That one result boosted his rank high enough to make the cut for the Body Glove Surf Bout III.
  4. Body Glove, a surf apparel company controlled by the Meistrell family, created the U.S. Bud Surf Tour out of the Professional Surfing Association of America. Ronnie said he and his brother convinced Prime Ticket, which is now part of Fox Sports, to broadcast their 10 annual contests. Ronnie said he convinced the state of California to allow Body Glove to stage one of their contests at Lower Trestles.
  5. Richard, a former amateur surfer, lived near a popular surf spot known as River Jetties and a surf shop called the Frog House. The house was “a pretty far drive” from where the contest would be held.
  6. Kelly once told an interviewer that he remembered “cat poop everywhere” on the floor. Woolcott does not recall it being that bad. “I had a little cat and maybe the cat pooped on the floor and there was a little bit of dried cat poop. But I don’t know about all over the floor. I am a pretty clean guy.”
  7. The surfers who survived enough heats to take on Slater in the final were Chris BrownCharlie Kuhn and Bud Llamas. Chris was from Santa Barbara, Bud was from Huntington Beach, Calif., and Charlie was from Slater’s hometown of Cocoa Beach, Fla.
  8. Ronnie had a long history with Kelly. He said the first time he saw Kelly surf was in 1987 where Kelly “got pummeled in the water” by other top amateurs in Texas. In 1989 he said he watched Kelly miss a heat during a fog delay in San Francisco and get eliminated from the contest as a result. “Kelly’s mother called me and was very upset,” he said. “She threatened me with ‘maybe I will just send him to you so he has to be at the contest all day’ and I laughed about that.”
  9. Watch footage of the  final here.
  10. Rocker is a reference to the bottom curve of the surfboard.
  11. “The tail slide became my thing during that period of time,” Kelly said. “It wasn’t a maneuver that was really seen a lot before then. When you release a fin like that you are not in control but you are getting the board to a certain place in order to maintain control again. That was something I had been working on for four years at the time.”
  12. The board had blue, yellow and orange striping. Its dimensions were 6’0 x 11 ⅜ x 17 ¾ x 14 ⅜, with a thickness of about 2 ¼, according to a post of Channel Islands’ web site. Al Merrick was the founder of Channel Islands Surfboards.
  13. From Prime Ticket broadcast of the 1990 Body Glove Surf Bout III.
  14. Richard said when Kelly exited the water that day he asked: “How does it feel buddy to win 30 grand?” Kelly’s response: “sshhhh.” That exchange became part of Richard’s film.
  15. “The funny thing when I watch that back Chris or Charlie on stage is trying to give me a high five and shake my hand after I won,” Kelly said. “I am so caught in the moment and handing me the check that I completely disregard them.”
  16. Mike knew immediately how he would start his story for the Los Angeles Times. He wrote it while sitting in his car and sent it to the paper via a nearby pay phone: “Later this week, Kelly Slater will finish a day of classes at Cocoa Beach (Fla.) High School, stop by his bank and deposit a check for $30,600. Not bad for a week of surfing in Southern California… When asked what he would do with his prize money, Slater said: “Keep It.”
  17. Kelly, referring to his friend Chris, also had this to say: “I think that event was maybe a little bit of a heartbreaker for him and a huge propellant for my career and I have wondered over the years what would have happened had Chris won that contest and I got second? Would that have changed our lives or our careers in any way?” Chris Brown could not be reached but had this to say to the Los Angeles Times after Slater’s win in 1990: “I think he’s a future world champion.”
  18. Kelly and the film crew traveled to Fiji and Hawaii in late 1990 so Kelly could prove to the rest of the surfing world that he could surf bigger waves.
  19. From the 1991 film “Kelly Slater In Black And White.” Richard said the film succeeded on many fronts. Young surfers still quote lines from the movie, he said, and at one time it sold at least 100,000 VHS units. “It really helped launch my career. I went on after that to start Volcom and my first big successful project was “Kelly Slater In Black And White.

Share This