For the love
Published by Chronicle Books (US), 2008.
The original deal I cut with Chronicle Books on behalf of Quiksilver was for three books, starting with the big history. When they declined to publish a vanity book, they asked me to come back to them with the other two, one a pretty picture book on the Roxy surf girl phenomenon, the other a journey inside the head of the world’s greatest surfer, Kelly Slater, in words and pictures.
While still smarting about the direction the Quiksilver history book had taken, I decided to focus on getting something new and different out of Kelly, a process that is best described in my introduction – following Jack Johnson’s foreword. When I gave it to Kelly to read, he said, “Whoa! You’re really giving it to me here, Phil.” Then he laughed, kind of.
This book could have been called Waiting For Kelly. Several of his friends suggested it. This was certainly my experience more often than not over the many months of interviews and brainstorming that went into the making of this book.
Constantly in demand, Kelly retreats into Kellyworld, where nothing is more important than the present moment. In Kellyworld, as former champion Shaun Tomson once noted about being inside the barrel, time stands still. There are no schedules, no deadlines. It’s difficult to fault that logic, and the many people who love Kelly Slater simply don’t. If you’re sitting somewhere between love and a paycheck, however, sometimes it’s funny, sometimes it’s infuriating. Consider the following log of text messages between Kelly and me on the morning of September 5, 2007, when I was supposed to be meeting him in Newport Beach, California.
KS, 3:11am: Phil, stayed in LA so just text me before heading south. If I’m not up and down there we’ll meet up here. Kelly.
PJ, 6.55am: Hi Kel, let me know the plan. Ready to go when u r. Phil.
PJ, 8:26am: Yo! You up yet? I’m hot to trot.
KS, 9:37am: Just opened my eyes. Still in bed asleep. Let me think of a plan. Where are you?
PJ, 9:39am: PCH South coming into Santa Monica.
KS, 9:53am: There’s a spot at 26th and San Vicente that’s pretty good to eat. We can meet there. I think it’s go left on San V and right to 26.
PJ, 9:55am: On my way.
KS, 10:01am: Brentwood Country Mart is the place. Just jumping up now. Was awake to 5am on my computer, hate those things.
PJ, 10:34am: KS, I’m here!
KS, 11:01am: I’m trying to come but been stuck for 20 mins with construction in dead end street. Could be another 10.
PJ, 11:03am: Can’t you get out and walk! Don’t sweat it, I’ll order another bucket of coffee.
It was a silly closer. Kelly Slater wasn’t going to be sweating this, although the fact that he’d even kept me informed of the morning’s small disasters was an unusual concession to the normal human rules of engagement. And when he finally arrived, we sat in the midst of lunching moms and their screaming kids for four or five hours while he talked into a recorder, ruminating on life and love, riffing on surfing, music and golf. For a while we were both inside the bubble that is Kellyworld, and that night he sent me a text containing a quote from James A. Michener he thought appropriate, and a heartfelt thank you for a good day’s work. I was touched despite myself …
It’s easy to see why everyone is attracted to him. If ever a person was in the right place when the blessings were showered down … His incredible, beautiful, brilliant and fearless surfing defines him, but beyond that he is an extraordinary, intelligent, articulate and resourceful individual, one who is wise in many ways, loving and kind in many others, and – this is not easy for a crusty old surf writer – beautiful to behold. He can also be a pain in the butt, self-absorbed, conceited and, dare I say it, flaky.
However, as many of his friends told me in the course of preparing this book, he is a person whose presence in your life makes you feel special. He is not an easy friend to make, but when you have his trust, you have it forever …
I had known Kelly for about 10 years when this book was suggested to me by my friend Peter Townend, who in 1976 became the first world professional surfing champion. The concept was to get inside Slater’s head and surround his thoughts with amazing photos, and this is pretty much what we have ended up with. But there was one problem. I wasn’t psrt of Kellyworld, didn’t even have visiting rights. In fact it seemed for most of our encounters in different parts of the world, in my capacity as a Quiksilver marketing manager, I was a Them and not an US. If I wasn’t thumping on his Munich hotel room door to drag him off to a press conference, just as one of his romances came to a teary and traumatic end [it was Pamela Anderson], I was breaking into his Snapper Rocks apartment to deliver 500 sheets of paper that had to be autographed by tomorrow. Kelly doesn’t necessarily hate people who try to make him do stuff, when there’s a crisis in Kellyworld, but he can certainly make you feel uncomfortable.
So it was with some trepidation that I approached our first book meeting in Los Angeles early in 2007. I figured I’d lay it on the table, then get out of the way and let someone with better rapport do the legwork. But Kelly signalled early that he wanted to work with me, and even better, he had strong views on what he wanted to say and how it should be presented …
I can’t say it’s been easy. Too often the drawbridge would go up, and I’d find myself on the wrong side of the moat that protects Kellyworld. But I also sometimes became privy to Kelly’s close-knit circle. Some of his friends became my friends, and through them I learned as much about Kelly as I learned from my conversations with the man himself. But in the end it is Kelly’s singular voice and worldview that enlightens this book. I merely let myself into Kellyworld from time to time, straightened the furniture, and pulled the curtains back to let the world in … just a little.
Kelly Slater and I recorded more than 50 hours of audiotape during 2007 and early 2008, sitting in hotel rooms, restaurants and bars in California, Hawaii, Fiji, Australia and France, covering subjects as diverse as Andy Irons, Osama bin Laden and George W. Bush. In one of our early sessions, I asked Kelly to summarise his political view of the world, something he says was largely framed by the horrific events of September 11, 2001. You can listen to that here.