The most famous surfer on the planet turns 46 this Sunday.
Kelly Slater has won a record 11 World Surf League [WSL] titles, collected 55 WSL tournament wins, and has amassed over $ 4 million in prize money over his 27-year career.
He won his first title in 1992 to become, at 20, the youngest world champion in history. He is also the oldest, having claimed his most recent WSL crown in 2011, at 39.
Displaying guts, a killer instinct and an impeccable style, Slater is the most decorated surfer in history, and the sport’s only crossover celebrity.
He has appeared in dozens of surf films, written two books, twice competed in the X-Games, and had a recurring role as Jimmy Slade in the popular 90s TV show Baywatch.
An avid golfer, Slates plays to a low single-digit handicap. He also plays guitar. In addition to forming his own band, The Surfers, he has appeared on stage with Pearl Jam, Ben Harper, and best friend/fellow surfer Jack Johnson.
Born at Cape Canaveral Hospital in Cocoa Beach, Florida, February 11, 1972, Robert Kelly Slater is the second of three boys. His alcoholic father, who owned a tackle shop, was prone to fits of rage, leading to his parents divorcing when Kelly was 11. To make ends meet, his mother, Judy, flipped burgers at a beach stand 12 hours a day, often seven days a week.
The beach at Third Street North was Slater’s playground. The setting for television’s I Dream of Jeannie, Cocoa Beach is nestled along Florida’s Atlantic Coast, about 200 miles north of Miami. He was first put on a Styrofoam board at five, and quickly progressed to a boogie board.
Slater won his first event as an eight-year-old at Cocoa Beach Pier [and still has the trophy]. At nine, he did three backside 360’s – on one wave.
Slater began to revolutionize the sport of surfing in the 1980s. Sponsored by a surfboard manufacturer, he traveled to California, where he won his first amateur title at the 1982 U.S. Junior Championships. At 12, Slater made his first trip to Hawaii, surfing the big waves at Alligator Rock.
A teen prodigy, Slater first appeared on a surfer magazine cover at 16. He turned pro in November 1990, just eight months before his graduation day at Cocoa Beach High, where he was a straight-A student.
Slater enjoyed immediate success, winning the first event he entered, at Lower Trestles in north San Diego County. His first world title came in 1992, and King Kelly reeled off five more world championships before the decade was over.
Upon winning his fifth world title in 1997, Slater passed Australian Mark Richards to become the most successful champion in surfing history. With no chief rival, Slater lost his motivation and retired in 1998.
He came out of retirement in 2003, and two years later dethroned Andy Irons to claim his seventh WSL crown. In 2007, Slater became the all-time leader in career event wins, surpassing childhood hero Tom Curren’s long-standing record of 33 victories.
Riding big waves requires absolute and unflinching self-confidence, something Slater has in abundance. A calculating competitor, he memorizes event rules backward and forward before a competition, in search of a technical advantage.
Slater made himself the richest and most famous man surfing has ever seen. After two decades with Quiksilver, the 5’9”, 158-pound Slater launched Outerknown, a contemporary menswear manufacturer, in 2015.
The first pro surfer to earn a million dollars in prize money, Slater has surfed in 15 countries. A man of many passions, he is currently working to develop an “on-demand” wave.
On a man-made lake in Central California, the Kelly Slater Wave Company is pioneering a predictable, reproducible wave. Originally built for water skiing, the lake is 700 yards long and 70 yards wide. If successful, the venue may host future WSL events and, perhaps, a world championship.
Happy 46th birthday to The King!