Book Review: Pipe Dreams by Kelly Slater

by | Feb 16, 2021 | Books

These are my notes from Pipe Dreams by Kelly Slater.  I enjoyed reading this book and learning about Kelly’s story.  He is honest about his fear of big waves as a kid, which is something I can relate to as someone who is learning how to surf.  I would recommend this book to any surfer.
Fear of Big Waves
  • As a kid, he thought anything over the 2 footers his Dad was catching was a pipe dream
  • Watched the Pipeline Pro as a kid and was glad he wasn’t in the water
    • Pipeline = greatest 10 seconds on earth
      • Prior to the 1960s, it was considered too dangerous to be ridden
      • Two story waves breaking over a few feet of water
  • He ran from big waves early in his career, but a big one at Pipe (during the quarterfinals of the Pipeline Masters, no less) gave him the confidence to take them on
  • Couldn’t fathom that he would learn to thrive on waves that scared him senseless
  • He spent thousands of hours on tiny waves in Florida and found it easy to apply the same moves he learned on bigger waves.
  • When he started as a kid, any wave bigger than the board was too big
  • His first time surfing big waves, he got scared and went in.  He was already beating pros by that time, but had never ridden bigger waves.  He was desperate to get to shore even though he already ripped on small waves.
  • He got smashed once by Pipeline the first time he was there and stayed away from it for the rest of the trip.
  • Ease your way into bigger waves at your own pace
    • He was already an accomplished competitor when he started moving on to big waves.  He was already winning contests left and right when he realized it was time to step it up in bigger surf.  He had already reached the top of the competitive ladder (by 15 years old), but was still scared of big waves.
  • Eventually, he got taken out by a big wave and it wasn’t bad at all.  This gave him the confidence to surf big waves.
  • Won the world’s most important big wave contest: Eddie Aikau Invitational
    • 3 groups of 10 surfers
    • Each group gets one hour in the morning and one hour in the evening
    • Each competitor’s top 4 rides are tallied
    • Highest point total = winner ($50K prize.  No final heat.)
  • Waves that once scared the hell out of him are now his backyard
Competition + Technical Surfing Tips
  • Paddle faster by pulling your arms under your board (not out to the side)
  • Keep your eyes open in the tube
  • Beach breaks – waves pop up randomly and you have to hunt for them
  • Dedication + determination are what won him contests
  • Caribbean = great stepping stone to bigger waves (Puerto Rico + Barbados)
  • He possesses extraordinary spinal flexibility and is very limber.  Mobility and cardio are the keys in surfing.
    • Surfing training = mobility + cardio
  • It took 8 years before he beat Tom Curren in a heat
  • Competition brings the best out of you
  • Commitment is how you earn your stripes in surfing
  • Consistency is a trait shown by all world champions
  • Once took him 13 minutes to paddle out in the final of a competition, with everyone waiting
  • He studied the ASP rule book from cover to cover
  • ”Everybody on tour has the ability to win at any time, so it comes down to understanding the conditions and getting the best waves.”
  • Keep bodysurfing
    • All serious bodysurfers wear fins
  • Golf
    • Like surfing, the guys with best technique are the most consistent
    • Video is a great tool for improving both golf and surfing
    • Focus on your technique whenever you surf, just like you do with golf
      • Surfing: if you have to recover from a technique, then you performed it slightly wrong
    • ”I may want to be a pro golfer on the Senior Tour when I am 50.”
  • ”If I lost all the heats I won in the final minute, I might only have 1 or 2 world titles.”
    • He does whatever it takes to pull it out at the end, and never gives up until the final bell.
  • Good bottom turns form the foundation of good surfing.
  • Once he started surfing, he couldn’t stop
  • Golfs, plays guitar, practices martial arts
  • Mom occasionally let him skip school to go surfing
  • Learned 360s while surfing on a bodyboard as a kid
  • The ocean was his refuge and surfing was always there for him
  • He doesn’t do drugs and feels a sense of obligation to keep a clean image
    • ”I’m a two beer guy.  All the fun happens in the first two.”
  • Advice for parents: if the kid is good enough, he’ll win the right contests and get the right sponsorships.  Back off.
  • His parents always supported him emotionally for surfing
  • Mom told him not to brag or act cocky
  • He did well in school and in his sport (he finished 7th out of 130 students in high school)
  • Surfing was his savior and competition the ultimate escape
    • Audacious goals kept him focused.  He needed to set high goals to stay focused.
  • Once signed a record contract with Sony, along with Rob Machado and other surfers
    • The band actually toured for 3 years and opened for Pearl Jam (Eddie Vedder apparently loves to surf)
  • From the time he was 11 years old, nothing came before surfing
  • Got so focused on winning that he shut everyone out at various times
  • Being a parent himself made him realize how difficult of a job it could be
Surf Culture
  • 20K people at pro events in Huntington Beach
  • No surfer is fully respected until he performs in Hawaii
  • Brock Little to Interview Magazine: “People ask what I do for a living, and I do nothing.  I pick up a check in the mail and go surfing.  And when the waves aren’t good in Hawaii, somebody pays me to surf somewhere else.”
  • Getting spit out of the barrel is the ultimate in surfing
  • Anyone can become a pro surfer by simply entering a pro contest
  • Maybe 1 in 100 surfers actually compete
  • Pro surfer = spends more than half the year travelling
  • Always get to know the locals in every location you go.  Don’t spend time in generic hotels.
  • He regards tow in surfing as its own sport + believes tow in surfers may eclipse 100 foot waves
  • Sometimes guys get pounded by waves for 15 minutes straight, even in the middle of pro heats.  Train to be able to handle that.

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