Kelly Slater, the most skilled surfer in modern history, describing his progression in a way that’s instructive for writers.

KELLY SLATER has pushed surfing to the point where you can study videos of him the way you’d study art, contextualizing images and patterns, figuring out how they apply to life.

No ownership

What’s particularly instructive to writers from the following video, is how (a) place, (b) community and the narrator’s relationship to it, and (c) the wave itself, are inextricable from Kelly’s descriptions. It’s as if “Kelly Slater” as “protagonist” could not exist without the wave, the place, the community, and everything about the way he describes his progression seems to either point back to or “arise” out of that context. This creates a kind of detachment. A simple observation of facts. A notable absence of ego. A lack of “ownership.” As a narrator, he speaks directly to the reader as an equal as opposed to “at” him/her, which leaves a feeling of space, of invitation, of common ground, as if it were possible for you to access these same lines.

It’s as if “Kelly Slater” as “protagonist” could not exist without the wave, the place, the community, and everything about the way he describes his progression seems to either point back to or “arise” out of that context.

Writing that connects with me emotionally always seems to have a similar feeling of “possibility,” as if the narrator honestly believes that the reader or anyone else could reach wherever it is they’re writing about, their place on the “wave.” That there is nothing innately special about it or better about it than anywhere else. That just the fact that it exists is reason enough for it to be accessed / written about. And for some reason, this seems inherent in the author’s personal beliefs. He or she either believes this to be true or he doesn’t. But it doesn’t seem possible to me to fake it in the writing.

When writing begins to feel closed off however, “stratified” in the sense that the narrator’s experiences are innately unreachable, then I stop being able to feel it. This typically happen when writers mythologize a place or set of circumstances in a way that feels like they have somehow conquered or “done” it. That they now “own” it. That they’ve gotten some kind of closed-end “takeaway” from place / culture.

Progression

The opposite of this kind of “closing off” is a sense of progression. Of looking at life and all elements of life as a continuum, and a sense of self-awareness as far as where one is at any given time in one’s progression.

Notice in the video below how Kelly Slater:

  • exudes a constant sense of self-awareness as to where on the progression he used to be, as well as the sense that this progression is open-ended and available to anyone, and
  • does not “claim” anything in the context of ownership, but effectively relates everything about his progression in terms of community, place, and the wave itself.

Quotes

“I was really focused on being one of those guys that could go out and catch a set wave, and get my little spot out here at Pipeline or whatever.”

Self-awareness about one’s progression / “place” in the community.

“And after I started to learn the wave a little bit, Brock Little told me that he and George Downing were watching one morning, and George said ‘I think Kelly could take off deeper on the wave.'”

Sense of progression as being inextricable from his/her community.

“I figured I could just go a little deeper, take off at more of an angle and grab the rail.”

Sense of writing to and not “at” reader.

“I learned a little bit from Ross Clarke Jones, one time I saw him catch a wave out here and it really stuck in my mind.”

Lack of ownership, sense of one’s place in community.

“If you push against the water, the water’s going to push back. I sort of learned that from watching those guys.”

Same.

“If you’re going to surf Pipeline, well you gotta just charge it.”