Chasing Slater

Chasing Kelly Slater is a favourite past-time for anyone in the surf media. With his infinite capacity for reinvention and Jedi-like aura, at 48, Kelly is still an irresistible drawcard for photographers, filters, and scribes alike. Not surprisingly his presence in Australia during the COVID-19 crisis has added a little drama to the domestic surf scene. The mainstream press even chimed in when Kelly showed up at Avalon to surf a maxing south swell. Nine-news high-jacked a grainy instagram account, showing footage of Kelly surfing his once-beloved Little Avalon and reported that he had broken two boards in the attempt. The clip below by Spencer Frost delivers a much more flattering take on Kelly’s LA antics.   

When south coast-based photographer Brenden Newton heard Kelly was in Sydney, he started putting the feelers out to friends on the Northern Beaches.  

“I knew Slater was proximal, I even had on an old friend of mine from Mona Vale looking out for him so he could let me know to drive up,” explains Brenden (chuckling at his own espionage)

Brenden was interested in more than just photos. In addition to shooting surf images, he works for AIME Mentoring, an outreach organisation that provides mentorship to marginalised kids in Australia, Africa, and the USA.  At present AIME reaches out to over 6000 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander kids across Australia.  

One of the company’s spin-offs is IMAGI-NATION{TV}, a daily live show on YouTube where kids can tune in and connect. It’s Newton’s gig to source the talent and when he found out Slater was camped out in OZ for COVID, he set his sights on tracking him down for an appearance on the show. “Our job with the TV show is to deliver a sense of hope and imagination to kids, every day,” explains Newton.  “Sometimes using famous characters helps us do that. So obviously Slater is the most famous waterman on planet earth and I thought, ‘I’m gonna get this guy, like I’m just gonna have to go and get him face-to-face.” 

Newton sent Slater several Instagram messages but received no reply. He reminded himself that Slater was obviously in high demand and remained hopeful that their paths would align.

Brenden’s Northern Beaches contacts suggested Slater was being his usual self, evading crowds and formal commitments to any kind of media. Instead, he was relying on his own Insta feed to communicate to his fans.

Brenden had more or less given up on the search for Kelly when a crisp Autumn swell arrived on the east coast. Brenden grabbed his camera gear and headed for the thick and hollow right-hander, down the road from where he lives on the south coast.  He was accompanied by two of the kids who had been through the AIME mentoring program. 

When he reached the channel adjacent to the wave he couldn’t believe his luck. There, bobbing around the lineup was none other than Kelly Slater himself. It was like a nature photographer stumbling over a rarely seen snow leopard on their doorstep. Brenden was obviously excited. Not only would he have the opportunity to shoot a session with Kelly, but he could also ask him about coming on the show.

“I was like, this is perfect,” explains Brenden.  “I’d hustled all week and then I finally paddle out at my local and he’s just sitting there.”

The serendipitous arrival of Slater left Brenden more determined than ever to lock him in for an appearance on IMAGI-NATION{TV}. “I just sat in the zone, and I had in my mind I’ve got to get the best f$%&ing shot of him I can, and maybe that’ll help me hook him for the show.”

Between waves, Kelly got chatting to Jesse Blair, a local bodyboarder and an ex- participant in the AIME program Brenden works for. “It was cool, Jesse hit up Slater too,” explains Brendan. “I know Kelly’s a cool guy and I didn’t want to be overbearing, but I had decided I’m just gonna rope him. With Kelly’s weight behind AIME we could take our program to so many more deserving people”.

You never know where Kelly is going to pop up. Photo: Brenden Newton

According to Brenden, Slater was content to patiently pick his moments at the notorious slab. “He wasn’t going to kill himself by pushing himself over the ledge on a closeout.  He was just sort of measured. It was cool when he scooped into a couple and was able to do that thing he does at Backdoor – just glues to the face and sits on his tail. It’s so sick.”

Fate bent Brenden’s way again when it was time to go in. Slater had reached the offshore reef in a Zodiac manned by noted surf cinematographer, Chris Bryan. Brenden had bought his camera off Chris Bryan and they were old friends. Chris offered to give Brenden a lift to shore, which he happily accepted.

In addition to avoiding the long, sharky swim in he would also get the chance to ride back with Kelly. Granted an audience with the king, Brenden took the opportunity to invite Kelly on his show. According to Brenden he more or less pulled it off. “So, I got in the boat with Chris and Kelly and his (Kelly’s) parting words were ‘yeah we’ll organise it’.”    

As it stands Brenden has sent Kelly his shots from the day and had some correspondence. He’s still hopeful that Kelly will bring his magnetic presence onto IMAGINATION{TV}. “His genius could inspire thousands of kids with huge potential but on the fringes of the mainstream system,” insists Brenden.  







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