Lessons from Kelly Slater on How to Achieve Greatness


Sheer greatness is the greatest rarity in any field. When it comes to surfing, there’s one name that automatically comes to mind: Kelly Slater. 

Winner of an unprecedented 11 world championships between the ages of 20 and 39, Slater was both the youngest and oldest surfer to claim the men’s surfing crown. Having repeatedly pushed the boundaries of the sport, he’s one of those peerless individuals who can claim “Greatest of All Time” status. Yet, as great as Slater and his GOAT colleagues (Michael Jordan, Tom Brady, Lionel Messi, Wayne Gretzky, etc.) are, greatness isn’t confined to just a few eminent athletes or individuals. We can all embody our own version of it. 

People like Slater display vulnerability by sharing the lessons they’ve learned along the way. Let’s be thankful they do. Those hard-won lessons are like breadcrumbs that lead to success—a concept I’ve borrowed from Mel Tucker, Michigan State’s head football coach. Smart people grab as many of those breadcrumbs as they can and figure out how to apply them to their own lives and success stories.

So, let’s delve into some of the lessons that Kelly discussed in his recent Men’s Journal Everyday Warrior Podcast:

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Lesson 1: Follow Your Passion

Kelly Slater has been surfing since he was five years old, and it has always been his number one priority. He gave up other sports to focus solely on surfing, even skipping football practice to hit the waves. This level of dedication and passion is what has driven him to succeed in the sport for nearly five decades. The message: Find what you love and pursue it relentlessly. If you have a passion for something, let it guide you, and be prepared to make sacrifices to achieve your greatest goals.

Lesson 2: Prioritize Your Health and Well-being

As a young surfer on tour, Slater saw many of his idols drinking heavily and partying before competition—and paying the price of self-indulgence. This made him reassess his own priorities and focus intensely on his health, training, and well-being, which he firmly believes has given him an edge in competitions. The message: Take care of your body and it’ll take care of you.

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Lesson 3: Keep Moving Forward

Slater has faced numerous obstacles throughout his career, including injuries and burnout. He’s never let these setbacks either discourage him or weaken his incredible resilience. Instead, he’s kept pushing forward, determined to break through any barriers standing in his way. The message: Don’t let setbacks define you. Stay positive, never give up on your goals, and keep pushing forward.

Lesson 4: Believe in Yourself

Success isn’t just about talent and hard work. It’s about unwavering self-belief. Slater always knew he was capable of achieving greatness, even when others doubted him. Armed with confidence and determination, he knew he could achieve anything he set his mind and tireless work ethic to. The message: Believing in who you are and your abilities to the nth degree is what separates champions from the pack.

Lesson 5: Embrace Change

Throughout his career, Slater has adapted to new board designs, styles of riding, and various other evolutions in surfing—which has kept him at the forefront of the sport. He’s never been afraid to step out of his comfort zone, bust beyond the familiar, and try something new. This has paid dividends. The message: Be open to positive change and new ideas in order to keep growing.

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Lesson 6: Focus on Legacy and Positive Impact

Kelly Slater has always been mindful of the impact he leaves behind. He’s been a proponent of sustainable and socially responsible practices in the surf industry, despite facing backlash for it. He’s launched a sustainable clothing brand, knowing that it would be more expensive than traditional surf brands while espousing the bigger picture. His most recent venture, KLLY, a recyclable and eco-friendly footwear brand that utilizes rPET & BLOOM foam derived from algae, holds fast to his belief in sustainable products. The message: Strive to make a positive impact on the world, even if it means going against the grain—and let this be your greatest legacy of all.


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