While interest in Slater’s surfing remains at all time high, these days it’s matched by the intrigue he creates with his holy trinity of entrepreneurial interests – Firewire surfboards, KS wave co and Outerknown clothing.
While the top 17 girls washed off their blue bottle stings, last night Kelly hosted an event for a tight list of attendees at Burleigh. The invite billed it as “A celebration of a world champion and the sustainable legacy he’s producing … and “A toast to the incredible people and places that shape Kelly Slater’s legendary career.”
The room at Rick Shores was set up as a kind of shrine to Kelly’s three companies – Glossy KS designs boards flanked the room like white sentinels, Outerknown clothing was slung from racks, and on a big flat screen (probably not a Samsung now) someone was perpetually barreled in hypnotic footage from the wave pool.
There was also a life-size photo of Slater clutching at what looked like wood-chips destined for a date with the recycling plant, and a giant wall print, which featured the Outerknown mantra “It’s not OK,” with the OK an obvious wordplay on Outerknown.
The end section at Burleigh was barely a stretched legrope away from the room and as the eclectic crowd sipped on inventive cocktails and a la carte finger food, the hiss of a building swell could be heard through the windows.
I know your inner cynic is already looking to dismiss this as a pretentious gathering of self-important posers, but it was refreshing to be at a surf industry event with a degree of sophistication and a sincere message.
While Kelly mingled and likely fended of requests for a ticket to the wave pool, it was Firewire CEO,Mark Price, who made the first speech. Price, a former marketing guru at Gotcha, has been described as the quintessential surf executive – combining a background as a core/competitive surfer with enough corporate savvy to cut it in any game.
Price lived up to expectations with a slickly delivered speech that artfully linked the sustainable ethos of the three different brands on display. Although the boards are Price’s pet subject, he was careful to mention the solar energy source that powers Kelly’s pool and the efforts of Outerknown to produce a quality product with a minimal carbon footprint. “Outerknown are redefining what it means to be a sustainable apparel company. They are raising the bar and in doing so they are coercing and encouraging their competitors to go than path as well.”
Price went so far as to suggest that Kelly’s contribution to environmentally sustainable businesses, may one day be considered more important than his competitive success.
“When you look at those three companies and the care with which they have been nurtured and developed, and the message that they are sending through the various industries that they operate in – I would argue that that legacy may even surpass the competitive legacy when Kelly’s story is told in full down the road.”
As the invite implied Kelly’s speech was more about the people who have helped him reach this point in his life, but his list of thankyous did include some interesting revelations about his own competitive plans and views on pro surfing’s most influential figures.
Kelly used the word “continuance” as his key theme.
“We came up with this term ‘Continuance’. Everyone is like, ‘this is your final year on tour’ and to me nothing really begins or ends it just sort of happens and continuance is that kind of thing for us.”
It’s been said before, but there was certainly an air of finality in Kelly’s voice when he talked about this being his last fully dedicated lap. One would have to assume that he will however be present for the first contest in his wave pool, which he openly claimed he’d wanted to call something else.
“… Kelly Slater wave company, which in all honesty I did not want to call it. I wanted to call it new wave or something along those lines, but my partners insisted we call it KS wave co.”
Kelly also made mention of his long time, behind the scenes business partner, Jeff Bizzack, a name you don’t hear him drop very often. “Jeff Bizzack. He’s been my partner in everything I’ve done in the past few years… I’ve been the face of it but Jeff is just the bones and structure of everything that we’ve done.”
Kelly also expressed his gratitude to the WSL and briefly addressed the link between his manager, Terry Hardy, and the organization.
“I’d like to thank all the people at the WSL. As most people are aware my manager, Terry Hardy, has been heavily involved in restructuring pro surfing. I’ve been totally hands off.”
“I haven’t won a contest since then,” he joked in a way that deflected any accusations of favouritism, before correcting himself, “Well I’ve won one.”
Slater also threw his support behind pro surfing’s most mysterious figure, it’s current benefactor, Dirk Ziff.
“Dirk Ziff was on the coast the other day and fielded questions from the surfers for over an hour. This is a guy who has really fallen in love with surfing as a sport and has real passion for it and wants to see it become its greatest version of itself. ”
Meanwhile Slater’s most heartfelt praise was reserved for former Quiksilver marketing boss, Bruce Raymond.
“Bruce is like a father to me… like a second dad.”
At the time of writing Slater just lost his first round heat to Mick Fanning and Jeremy Flores. He looked well and truly in the mix, but he’s obviously well aware that he will have to learn to get a buzz from something other than a barrel or a heat win. The sell-through on his summer range, the success of others (pro and punter) on his Firewire boards and the improved efficiency of his wave pool are all things he will have to nurture an interest in.
With his sustainable mantra, Slater has also put himself in the path of those who want to expand upon his work.
Nev Hyman, the original creator of Firewire, has transferred his energy and knowledge to building houses from recycled material (www.nevhouse.com) and was at last night’s event, excitedly clutching a recycled prototype block that he wanted to show Kelly. Kelly’s environmental agenda will no doubt come under scrutiny, but for surfing’s biggest name to take progressive initiatives on a critical issue is commendable. Hopefully he can inspire a shift in consciousness in surfing and beyond.
By his own admission Kelly is the front man with a series of polished and professional operators (Mark Price, Trav Lee, Noah Grimmett, Jeff Bizzack, Terry Hardy to name a few) working hard behind the scenes for companies that are really part of the umbrella brand of Kelly Slater. This team of individuals will be integral for Kelly in a future where the rules of success are redefined. In the interim hopefully we get to see the best of Kelly in what is very likely his final, full year on tour.