Kelly Slater 2035 pulling in to version 9.3 of his surf ranch located in downtown Kazakhstan. (Kim Feast)

The Future Of Crowds, Surf Travel And Kelly Slater

Lies somewhere between magic and ruin

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Recently, while waiting for coffee at my local café – soy cappuccino, strong enough to see through time, a dollop of honey – I stumbled upon an old issue of Surfer Magazine sitting on the table. Dated August ’75, it featured a satirical beat piece by editor, Drew Kampion, damning the dawning era of professional surfing. It told the story of the very first Olympic surfing gold medallist, who won his gold medal in a wavepool stadium (Lopez won bronze). Any of this sound eerily familiar? It should. We’re currently living in Kampion’s future.

After a couple of relatively conservative decades, surfing has suddenly made a quantum jump into a brave new future of wavepools, the Olympics, and err, Kelly. But where does that leave the rest of us and the rest of surfing? What does the future hold? I’ve been watching a lot of Black Mirror over the summer break, and that being the case, on re-reading these predictions they’ve come out a little bleak. No need to wear shades here folks, but that’s the default human condition around discussions of the future, isn’t it? A gnawing anxiety? For the most part, wouldn’t we rather simply look back and cuddle up with a cup of warm nostalgia – an Occy wave from Saint Leu in Pump, Bill Finnegan alone on Tavarua, swinging in a hammock, waiting for the tide – than imagine the dystopian horror of surfing Snapper Rocks in 20 years time?


Is there an apocalyptic future awaiting us, where, due to an unspecified global cataclysm a la The Road, surferkind has been largely wiped out, the verdant east coast resembling the South Australian desert, and the few remaining surfers wandering the Pacific Highway with their boards in shopping trolleys? Or is the more likely apocalyptic scenario Snapper Rocks on the first day of a new swell, with a car park full of shopping trolleys?


We choose not to acknowledge it, but we’re currently living in the second golden age of surf travel. The original golden age – the ‘70s – was the start of the gold rush with exotic waves out there just waiting to be found. Today, there mightn’t be much out there left to discover, but it’s never been easier or cheaper to travel and surf. The world is your oyster. Rivers of Saudi oil have driven down the cost of an airfare, and suddenly everything is within reach. The Ments, Hawaii, Fiji – Jesus, Fiji – have never been more accessible. Of course, while they’re accessible to you they’re also accessible to everyone else, but as with any sphere of life the resourceful and adventurous are rewarded. The problem lies over the horizon, or more to the point beneath it, when oil starts to run out and Avgas starts to get really, really expensive.w Peak Oil will put an end to Peak Surfer at places like Lagundri and Deserts, for while electric cars work just fine, electric airplanes are another matter altogether. When that happens surf travel is going to get expensive again, and people will either buy one-way tickets and get lost out there, or they’ll simply jump in the Tesla and rediscover the charms of the waves up the road.


We’ve all been having a stab at guessing this one for years, including, no doubt, Kelly himself. But this won’t simply be one of those annual “what Kelly did next” oracle pieces that have been bread and butter for the surf press in recent years. We already know what Kelly did next. Now the question is who will Kelly become next? You see, Kelly recently experienced an epiphany. It didn’t come to him inside a 25-second tube at Lemoore but at a “life advancement centre” in Costa Rica where, according to the website, “93.26% of our guests report a life changing miracle during their stay.” They’re some solid numbers, and after a week of ayahuasca ceremonies, colonic cleanses, yoga and metaphysics classes, Kelly returned a changed man, although not so changed that he couldn’t resist subtly taking a shot at the cynics. “An experience I can’t explain and makes no sense to anyone who hasn’t opened themselves to the possibility of things unknown.” Kelly it seems has transcended the tour as a means of self discovery, discovering after 20 years that surfing heats in one-foot closeouts may not be the path to enlightenment after all. But that’s not to say he won’t keep surfing to win in the future. When I used to think of Kelly in the future, I imagined his head grafted on top of a large, frightening metal robot, the Kelly cyborg winning the 2050 Pipe Masters from John John John Florence. Instead, I now imagine Future Kelly more as a bouncing orb of golden light that will quote obscure Lao Tzu sayings in post-heat interviews that somehow infer his opponent was overscored on his last wave.

To be continued…

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Sean Doherty