Shortly after his exit from the Rip Curl Pro Search in San Francisco, we caught up with newly crowned world champ Kelly Slater as he watched the final heats of the contest. We figured 11 world titles deserved one more interview.
ESPN.com: Now that you've had a day to soak up the second winning of your 11th world title, what do you think about this situation?
Kelly Slater: I read an interesting article on ESPN Surfing today about all the blunders in different sports over the years. There are huge issues in boxing, which is a judged sports and a sport that's gambled on. And those mistakes far outweigh this. There was a girl who had her synchronized swimming gold medal taken away. It's growing pains in sports.
So, really, no hard feelings about the error?
This wasn't a human error. It was a software error. It defaulted into breaking ties by a separate ranking system we have, and instead of being checked by a human, it was incorrectly checked by a computer. And they didn't look into it any further. It would have been a really unfortunate situation had I lost that next heat, Owen had won this contest and we figure out the error after thinking I was the champ for five or six days. But I didn't want it to get to that point. As soon as I read that post, I didn't want to get another hour further into the situation. I didn't want to pretend I was the world champ for one more minute.
You spend a lot of time on Twitter and reading stories online. But it still seems so unlikely that you found the one comment from the one guy who'd done the math correctly. How many comments did you read before finding "Mark?"
I read this article Surfline had written about my win and was just skimming over the comments. There were only like 15 on the first page. But there were 175 comments total. I thought, "I'll skim through all of them." His was one of the last on there, which means it was one of the first posted. As soon as I read it, I instantly went to the ASP to look up the numbers. The guy was totally correct.
In the time between finding out and the ASP announcement being made, you were celebrating and doing interviews. What was it like when you realized you had more surfing left to do?
I called the ASP at 1 in the morning and first thing when I work up, I had to do the Dan Patrick show. I told the ASP, I think there is a mistake here, and I feel horrible doing interviews about being the champ if I am not the champ. They said, No. You win on the count back. You're the champ. So I did Dan Patrick and they called back right after and confirmed they were, in fact, wrong. They wanted to figure out damage control and wait to see if I won my next heat. I said, "No. I have to put this out right now."
That's when you Tweeted it out to your followers?
Yeah. I didn't feel it was right if they were getting at wanting me to wait to see what happened in the next round instead of making the announcement right then.
Mark has played a big role in this story, but no one knows who Mark is. What would you say to him if you met him?
We should find him. I'm surprised we still don't know who he is. I think he should come to the crowning in March and give me the trophy. That would be awesome.
[Mark, if you're out there, reach out to us! Let's make it happen!]
You've talked a lot about world championship 11-A. What did it feel like to win the title a second time?
It was pretty anticlimactic, although I got a great wave 30 seconds after the heat -- one of the best I've had all year. That got everyone really excited and created a buzz about the title all over again.
This one seemed to come pretty easily. Does that mean 12 and 13 will be easier, still?
I think the new young crop of surfers is going to make it much harder. They are all really ambitious and motivated, where the past couple years, we had a funny mix where guys are battling themselves as to whether they want to be pro surfers or free surfers. And the guys in their late teens and 20s clearly want to be pro athletes and competitive surfers, so they have a lot more focus when they compete.
How will you commemorate this title? Buy yourself a gift, maybe?
I have been thinking about it. I'm thinking about doing things for other people, actually. People who have helped me throughout my career.
How will you celebrate between now and heading to Hawaii for Pipeline?
I have my 20-year high school reunion. That should be interesting.
Wow, talk about having something to brag about at your 20th.
Yeah, I expect all my friends to be fat and complaining about their wives and lives.
And you're like, "Well, things are pretty good." Anyone you haven't seen in years who was mean to you in the lunch room?
I already had that experience. The first girl I was ever crazy about, the first girl I ever kissed … I was in love with her for a couple years. But she wanted to date the older, popular guys. She broke my heart. After I won my first title, I saw her out and she was like, "Hey, we should hang." I was like, "No. We shouldn't." Inside, it felt like an accomplishment. Back then, in high school, I couldn't imagine being able to do that.
Now you can do that, times 11. What about 12? Too early to start thinking 2012?
I don't know. I didn't think I would be in this position at this point. I was going to bow out this year and pull back from competition full time. But then I started doing really well and the next thing you know, I won the title. That has happened for the last three or four titles. I get on a roll and can't pass up the chance to win another title. The eighth and ninth really went that way. Then I had a year off from winning and then I won the tenth. It was funny, too, cause I was looking for an exit strategy last year, and then I won the second event and got on a roll and was doing well. I got second in the following event. Then I had a great run, maybe the best string of events of my career, at the end of last year. I won four of six straight events. I had won three in a row before, but never four, and I was one heat away from winning four straight. I found something magical and was almost able to pull something off I had never pulled off. I don't know going forward. It will be a surprise. It will probably just come to me one day. My headspace has been in competition mode for so long now; maybe I don't know how to stop. Maybe I need some therapy.
Or a better exit strategy.
Exactly. But once I start winning, if I choose not to continue, I pass up the opportunity to pull off something I've never done. But I am pretty happy right now. I'm satisfied with where I am.