Kelly Slater, despite his successes and huge profile in the sporting world, is still a somewhat mysterious figure, capable of continually shocking surfing fans across the world, even at age 44.
While his triumphs garner international headlines, Slater still likes to keep his personal life very private, which is how he can unveil the world’s greatest man-made wave after working on it for nearly 10 years and have it be a complete surprise to almost everyone.
It’s rare that Slater takes part in long, in-depth interviews. So, when he took part in an exhaustive 13-part interview with sports journalist Graham Bensinger last week, the result was a thoughtful, revealing look into the life of the greatest surfer to have ever lived.
One of the secrets Slater reveals is that at 21-years-old, having just won his first world championship and with career earnings of more than $1 million, Slater found out he was flat broke.
“I think my mom raised the three [Slater brothers] on $2,000 a month, and not much help from my dad … so we didn’t have much money. It’s not a sob story, it’s just the way it was in my family,” Slater told Bensinger. “When you are raised that way you don’t have a lot of intelligence around money, so by the time I was 21 or 22 I tried to buy a house with my then-fiancee and found out I was broke.”
According to Slater, his mother had been handling all of his finances, and the experience made him realize the importance of learning how to manage his own money. But that wasn’t the only revelatory story Slater treated fans to.
He also spoke about how the death of his father forced him to become a man, and how coming from a broken home with an alcoholic dad shaped him into the man he is now.
He recounted a night when he slept in the driveway while his parents fought in the house, and how he learned that despite always wanting an explanation from his father for why he drank so much, he would never get it.
“When your parent dies, it’s an awful feeling but there’s also this sort of sense of, you have to grow up and you got to learn things … there’s no direction to go except for to kind of answer things on your own,” Slater told Bensinger.
“There was always that sense that, ‘I would ask my dad this’ or ‘One day he’ll tell me this’ or ‘I’ll learn this from my dad.’ Most people think back on their dad and say, ‘My dad taught me this.’ My dad never really sat us down and said you need to do this with your lives.”
In keeping with the parenting theme, Slater touched on raising his teenage daughter Taylor, and admitted he feels some “guilt” that his competitive surfing schedule has prevented him from being, in his own words, a “full-time dad.”
“The whole time my daughter has been raised by her mother almost 100 percent in physical time and I’ve been traveling,” Slater told Bensinger. “The hardest part, I think for me, is my daughter feeling like she doesn’t have a dad there all the time. And that’s hard for her. I know it was especially hard for her when she was younger.”
Slater touches on everything from OuterKnown to the startling confession that he could see himself still surfing in competitions on tour until he is 50. The entire interview can be seen on Bensinger’s YouTube channel.
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