Kelly Slater

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Kelly Slater is the most successful professional surfer in history, with nine world titles and a record number of pro tour victories, but he has a big passion for music as well, both as a listener and a player. He picks a track by a surfing buddy who happens to be a chart topping musician, a Ramones cover song, a road trip tune from his childhood, and more. A new book co-written by Kelly, Kelly Slater: For the Love, is out on Chronicle Books.

For More:


1.) Jack Johnson- Upside Down
2.) Paolo Nutini- Rewind
3.) Jackson Browne- Running on Empty
4.) Pearl Jam- I Believe in Miracles
5.) Stevie Wonder- I Wish


Liza Richardson: Hi I’m Liza Richardson from KCRW and I’m here with surfer Kelly Slater. Thanks for coming down, Kelly.

Kelly Slater: Sure, thanks for having me. Long time listener of KCRW.

Liza Richardson:: Really? Awesome. Today we are here to talk about some of the songs that have inspired you, so what did you bring to share?

Kelly Slater: Well, first on the list is a Jack Johnson tune. I love this tune. It’s just got a great little rhythm to it, and I love playing it and singing it. And it’s one especially a lot of our friends’ kids love. It’s “Upside Down” from the “Curious George” soundtrack.

Song: Jack Johnson’s “Upside Down”

Kelly Slater: I watched “Curious George” with my daughter and she met Jack when she was about two years old. She didn’t remember him at all, you know? I’m like, “Remember we were at this house and we were playing with this and that?” And she’s like, “I don’t remember.” Special moment for dad, you know.

Liza Richardson: “Upside Down” by Jack Johnson, chosen by our guest today Kelly Slater.

Kelly Slater: The next song is … this is a guy I’ve been listening to, Paolo Nutini. He’s got a little depressed sound. He’s very Van Morrison influenced.

Liza Richardson: How did you get turned onto Paolo Nutini.

Kelly Slater: I left the TV on one night and I woke up and I heard this melody he was singing.

I was sorta singing along in my head as it was going and I go, ‘if I don’t wake up quick, I’m not going to see what the guy’s name is.’ So I woke up, it was about 4 in the morning. And I saw his name on the TV and I went and got his album. This song “Rewind” is a very simple song to play along with.

Liza Richardson: You write songs and you play songs?

Kelly Slater: I write almost everyday. Play music everyday. I mean it sounds so stereotypical, but honestly we still have the occasional camp fire. In Hawaii especially, we literally would make a campfire on the beach and we sit around and there would be 1 or 2 guitars and we’d pass them around and we’d have sing alongs and that’s basically how we all learned to play the guitar.

Song: Paolo Nutini’s “Rewind”

Liza Richardson:: So that’s Paolo Nutini and it’s the choice of our guest today, surfer Kelly Slater.

Kelly Slater: So funny when you say “surfer” Kelly Slater. I think if I was out there listening, people out there driving around in their car, like ‘oh great, surfer, yeah.’ But I was thinking about what kind of music to pick and, how about something from when I was a kid.

Liza Richardson: And you grew up in Florida?

Kelly Slater: Yeah

Liza Richardson: And so what turned you onto music back then?

Kelly Slater: You know my dad played guitar and my mom played banjo and used to sing. My mom loved country. I think she had aspirations of being a country music star when she was younger. I use to go on these road trips with my dad and we’d listen to Jackson Brown. It seems like we’d listen from start to finish and we had this VW van, and it wouldn’t stay in fifth gear. So my dad had this bungee cord rigged up and locked it on the back of the seat next to him and he would say, ‘okay, I’ve got it back in fifth gear,’ so whoever was sitting in the passenger seat would pull that little bungee cord up and lock it around the gear shift and keep it locked in. But we used to listen to Jackson Brown, this song “Running on Empty” was such a driving song for us.

Song: Jackson Browne’s “Running on Empty”

 Kelly Slater: Seven, eight years ago I met Jackson at a birthday party here in LA. It ends up, Jackson loves to body surf and to surf a little bit. So I come to find out he knows some of my friends in Hawaii, actually one of my best friends in Hawaii. They’re good buddies and they body surf together. So he invited Jackson to go to Fiji with us a few years ago. We flew down to Fiji for a surf event I was doing. He came and played music for three days and just hung out and surfed. He said he hadn’t written songs in about six months, and he got over his writer’s block and wrote like three or four songs in those days while he was there. Just another story that sorta feeds into this -- I have a daughter, her name’s Taylor, and I always wanted a Taylor guitar. So we finished the trip and he’s leaving -- and he knows nothing about this -- Jackson shows up and he’s got a Taylor guitar. He goes, ‘Kelly, I’ve got a present for you…’

Liza Richardson: “Running on Empty” by Jackson Brown chosen by our guest Kelly Slater. Now, you picked a Pearl Jam track…

Kelly Slater: It’s actually a cover. “I Believe in Miracles” by Pearl Jam, but originally by the Ramones.

Eddie and I’ve been friends for about, I think like 11 years ago we first met. And listening to Pearl Jam songs, I could feel his connection with surfing. There’s like a song called “Corduroy,” and that’s like corduroy on the horizon, like when you see big lines in the ocean. You can just feel his connection to the ocean, you know? Anyway so, a couple friends and I were – Eddie invited us to come visit him for, like a little three day trip. He goes, ‘hey guys, let me throw something in the stereo and see what you think.’ And this one just blew me away. So this is “I Believe in Miracles” by Pearl Jam but originally by the Ramones.

SONG: Pearl Jam’s “I Believe in Miracles”

Kelly Slater: A lot of people who know about Eddie know he was really close friends with Johnny Ramone. About three days before he died they did a little tribute concert for him here in L.A. A lot of people from the LA music scene, they were all there to cover the Ramones songs. Eddie had invited me and they played “I Believe in Miracles” at the end. I think it was the last song they did and CJ—who plays bass for the Ramones—he got on the mic and said, “This one is for Kelly Slater!,” and then they just went into it. It was a pretty special moment for me.

Liza Richardson: That is a Pearl Jam cover of a Ramones’ song, “I Believe in Miracles” chosen by our guest today, Kelly Slater.

Kelly Slater: And then, the last guy we’re gonna play, isprobably my all-time favorite musical artist and that’s Stevie Wonder. You know, they just don’t really make singers like this anymore. I really fell in love with his album “Inner Visions”, which was, I think, the very first album that he totally produced and I think he played all the instruments on it too. He’s unbelievable. I had like 100 songs on my computer and I went through them, each of them, one by one, I got online I started getting the tabs for them and stuff and trying to play all the songs. It made me start to study music a lot more and learn my chords. This is one song I actually found pretty easy to play. There’s a couple strange jazz chords in it, but it’s pretty straightforward. And this is “I Wish” by Stevie Wonder.

Song: Stevie Wonder’s “I Wish”

Liza Richardson: Is there a direct relationship that you can think of between surfing and music for you?

Kelly Slater: There’s a certain melody when people do things the right way. It’s like watching an artist paint. A great artist can make a great painting with a few strokes. You know, that’s like listening to a good melody—visually. It’s like seeing a melody on paper or something. So surfing has that thing too where when you draw the right line on the right part of the wave and you make a good link between the two turns, that’s like art in surfing. That’s what it is for us.

Liza Richardson:: So that’s “I Wish” by Stevie Wonder, the choice of our guest today Kelly Slater. Just to wrap it up, you’ve picked some amazing songs here today. Thank you so much for your time and thank you for putting so much thought it, I really appreciate that.

Kelly Slater: Thank you.