Golfing and surfing are on opposite ends of the sporting spectrum. On one hand, you’ve got a rule-fraught game of precision conjured up by knicker-clad Scotsmen. On the other is a watery aesthetic dreamed up by naked Polynesians. Between the two, there aren’t a lot of similarities in culture or physical aspects. But there is Kelly Slater, a surfer and a golfer, who blends the two with ease and appears almost at home on the course as he does in the water.
You could play golf anywhere in the world. What do you like about coming up here?
I play all over the place. Traveling we get to play everywhere from Fiji to Scotland, France, Florida, Australia, Hawaii, California. I play a lot of golf.
Last year was the first time I was here. Nice climate. Beautiful good air. It’s tricky with the distances though. You gain about 10 percent on a club at altitude.
You spend a lot of time at sea level, have you had any altitude sickness?
No, that hasn’t been a problem. I think because I’m on planes so much, I adjust or something.
On tour, who do you golf with?
Everybody golfs. Dusty Payne, Ace Buchan, Yadin Nichol, all the Australians. Julian Wilson is a really good golfer. He’s probably the best of the Australian golfers. I’m sure he’d love to be in some of these events.
Going into Tahiti, the tour race is heating up. Will you make it 12 world titles this year?
That would be nice. That’s what you’re always looking for. I’m in second right now. I’ve had a good year so far. I’ve had two wins out of five events and a couple little slip-ups.
I had an injury in the second event. That kind of put me out. I lost during a heat where I was injured. That made it pretty tough for me, but I healed up over the next month. I did OK in Brazil, then won Fiji and did OK in Bali. It’s been kind of all or nothing, hot and cold.
Teahupo’o is one of those waves that can be too massive to surf. How big would you like it for the upcoming event?
I don’t really care, actually. I don’t mind. It’s kind of a different reef when it’s small and it’s different again when it gets about double overhead.
Once it’s over 15- or 20-foot faces, you need a jet ski and have got to tow.
This year’s tour has been marked by incredible surfing from the younger guys on tour. Who are you impressed with?
Obviously, John John Florence. Felipe Toledo has really been the standout rookie. He’s kind of blown a lot of people’s minds in a lot of ways. I think people didn’t expect him to be as good as he’s been. It’s been pretty cool to watch, a lot of big airs and stuff. But when we get into bigger, more powerful stuff then you can see where he needs to work on his deal.
Are there any similarities between golf and surfing? And does one benefit the other?
Well, they benefit each other in that you can golf when the waves are no good. I don’t know about similarities, maybe in the way you twist to create power or the way you coil your body. But surfing and golf are very different cultures.
Is golfing as much of a head game as surfing?
Just being so comfortable surfing, I can start to make something happen. When I’m on the golf course, it’s hard. You’ve got to break out of some mental block. That’s sort of true of anything. In golf, if your technique is off, it’s hard to change it. Surfing is like walking to me. With golf, every single swing you’ve got to concentrate on what you’re doing.