Kelly Slater's Wave-Finding Tips


Kelly Slater

AS a child, Kelly Slater surfed the modest swells near his home in Cocoa Beach, Fla.

“You wouldn’t ever say we had world-class waves,” he recalled. “They don’t have good shape and aren’t especially great in any way.”

In fact, among surfers, the ocean off the Florida coast has long been likened to dishwater. Yet it was out of these humble waters that surfing got one of its most revolutionary figures and greatest champion. In 2011, Mr. Slater, now 40, won his 11th Association of Surfing Professionals World Champion title, becoming both the youngest and oldest person ever to win, and surpassing the previous record holder by six titles. His impact on the sport has been as indelible as it is undeniable. Below are excerpts from a conversation with him.

Q. What are some of the best places you’ve surfed?

A. I’ll start with my home. Florida has a shallow and long continental shelf. The swells start out in the Atlantic and drag pretty far before they get to the coast, losing a lot of their energy and speed. Because of that you usually end up with a slow, relatively small wave. The good thing is those work well for beginners. A wave isn’t like a skate ramp or mountain; everything’s moving around and you have to time how to move along with it. That’s easier with a slow wave.

Currumbin, Australia, is just south of Brisbane, near a city called Surfers Paradise. Within 10 minutes, on either side, you can find half a dozen world-class waves. The waves are point breaks, meaning the swell comes in at an angle, instead of directly toward the beach, and peels to the side. The waves here are clean-tapering and just perfect; not too slow, not too fast, not too big and scary, but never slow and boring. A few years back a guy came here and caught a wave that went for five minutes — that gives you an idea of their length. The beach is crowded, though.

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