By Stephen Samaniego, CNN Producer
Kelly Slater is just another surfer. Sure, he has surfed the best waves this planet has to offer while being paid lots of money to do so, and in the process he’s become the best surfer this world has ever known. "
But...he's still just a guy who loves to surf.
I arrived to Mollusk surf shop the morning of the shoot and started to set up without really knowing what kind of Kelly Slater was going to show up.
Slater had spent the entire night flying from Puerto Rico and landing in beautiful Newark, New Jersey at 6:00am. I'm not sure if you're familiar with either Puerto Rico or Newark, New Jersey but I can promise you that no matter who you are, the chances of you being in a good mood after a journey like that on a red-eye are slim.
With this in mind, we worked hard to make sure that when Slater arrived, we would be ready to go so that he could be in and out quickly if he wanted to. The shop’s owner, Chris Gentile, had already given marching orders to his employees to make coffee and bagel runs so that Slater would be well taken care of.
We had scheduled the interview for 10:00am. When Slater's people contacted me at 9:00am to say they were on their way, things went into overdrive. We had an hour with the star surfer and we wanted to make the most of it.
A white van with tinted windows pulled up and out came Slater. Dressed in jeans with layers of clothing and a hooded sweatshirt pulled over his head, he looked like a guy who had just flown overnight and had 15 minutes to freshen up in a hotel room. He walked up the stairs and into the shop, stopping to greet everyone he came across.
Once he stepped into the shop though, Slater’s eyes lit up. His formality disappeared and he bolted straight for the wall lined with boards. He grabbed board after board, pulling each off the rack to hold it in his hands, feeling its body and imagining how it would ride. You could feel the intensity this man has for riding waves. He pulled almost every single board in the rack with the enthusiasm of a grom (an excited newbie surfer).
We started the interview, and Slater talked about his passion for wave riding. It was a point he couldn't make enough. He LOVES to ride waves and be in the ocean. It’s an unexplainable connection that only people who do it can feel and can't fully explain. As the interview progressed it was the one thing that he kept coming back to. The more he talked about it, the more I began to see him not as 10-time world champion Kelly Slater but as another surfer. As someone who was born in Guam and grew up by the ocean, I connected with Slater’s special bond with the surf.
And that feeling you get after an amazing session or dropping into the biggest wave of the day? That surging energy? That stoke? Slater still feels it. He's practically dripping in it
Kelly ended up hanging out with us for more than two hours at the shop. His passion for all things surfing is beyond words. Kelly Slater, the guy who's surfed all the best waves and should be the most jaded one among us, is the most stoked.