Surfer Kelly Slater

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Rafa Rivas / AFP / Getty

U.S. surfer Kelly Slater has been crowned the World Surfing Champion, winning the ASP Championships a record nine times.

Champion surfer Kelly Slater has the body (ripped), the lifestyle (jetsetting), the girls (supermodels) and now he has the world. Slater just won his ninth world title in surfing, making him both the youngest (in 1992, at age 20) and the oldest (now 36) surfing champion in history. His new book, Kelly Slater: For the Love, is a visual tour through the taut, tanned world of competitive surfing and how a young boy from Cocoa Beach, Florida rose to the top. Kelly Slater talks to TIME about surfing, his new world title and why he is always late.

How would you describe the feeling of surfing to someone who has never tried it?
Um, I dunno. Exhilarating? Fun? It's pretty challenging though, you know. People don't always know that. There's obviously a lot going on at once — you've got to use your balance and learn how to paddle, and once you get the basic things down, you learn how to line up a wave and time it. You're dealing with something that's moving. It's a very challenging thing.

In For the Love, you say that surfers are like addicts and that they use waves for a fix. Can you explain?
Well, for me, I can never get enough. I mean, I do get satisfied. I do get my fill in a day, I get tired and want to go home and sleep or eat, but the next day if the waves are happening, I'm out there again. It's not something that necessarily gets old. You push yourself to a certain limit and once you've done something new you've want to keep going, you want to do something further. I surf, I walk, I sleep. It's that much a part of my life. In that way it's very addictive.

What's the longest you've gone without surfing?
I've gone like 5 weeks before, without being injured. Maybe 35 days? I like to step away from it sometimes, but if there's been good surf and I miss something then I get agitated. If friends are calling me going, "Oh, you missed this," then I get irritated. It starts to eat away at me and I have to get out there.

You seem very easy going and relaxed, but you're also a very focused competitor. Do you find those two aspects of your personality conflicting?
It works for me, I guess. I'm relaxed but I always want to improve myself when I'm surfing; in that way you can say I'm focused. But otherwise I'm pretty low-key, I do my own thing.

Yeah, in the book people mention "Kelly time" and how you're frequently late.
I am. I get frustrated at myself just for the fact that I don't want anyone else to wait based on me. I travel all the time for competitions, I just came home for the first time in a year. So when I'm looking at flights, I don't wanna sit at the airport for an extra hour. I want to get in and check in and get on my plane. Once I had less than 20 minutes before an international flight took off, and they let me on the plane, probably because it was not an American airline. It was South American airline and the manager said "No problem, I'll get you on the plane, walk you up there take your bags." I would say most of the American airline groups that fly would go "No, you're late, you can't fly today. Your bags won't make it." It's really that lack of people just willing to go that extra — well, not even that extra mile cause they would have had to do the same thing if you showed up 3 hours early. It just comes down to rules and regulations, and I know there's a reason they have them, but I end up pushing them sometimes cause I'm stubborn and I hate being told what to do.

Wait, you hadn't been home in a year?
Nah. I just tend to stay where I'm at, I don't like to fly to Fiji or Tahiti or Australia or Indonesia and fly back home the next week and then fly somewhere else that far away again the other week. I tend to stay where I'm at and then fly to next place, it makes it easier for me to deal with. Why not chill in Fiji for a while if you can?

You mention in the book that you felt burned out on competitive life in 1998 and retired but then you ultimately returned. Why did you feel burned out?
I'd been doing the same thing every year for a number of years. I was probably — well, not even probably — I was definitely tired of it in the end. I mean, for surfing, our year is not like a 4- or 6-month thing, it's basically a 10-plus-month tour, so that is tiring. You go to the same places each year, surf the same spots, see the same guys mostly. It just got to a level of monotony I was bored with.

So why did you return?
I was excited about competing gain, to start pushing myself. I wanted to see where my level was compared to other people. It all sort of made sense to me.

2005 was your comeback year: you won a world title seven years after your last win. What were your expectations going into that?
It was a little daunting because I had come really close in 2003 to winning a title and literally lost out in the last surf of the year. It was very upsetting. And then the following year I didn't have a very good year. But in 2005 I was doing well, things were good and it was scary to think I might get close but not pull it off again. When I did pull it off, it was just an amazing feeling. At that point I was the oldest world champion ever, people said I couldn't win again, they were doubting that I could do it at that age [33] just cause it hadn't been done. Then they said the same thing in 2006, that it would be my last. Now here I am again and I just won my ninth world title.

Are you going to try next year?
Well now it's expected, isn't it? Everyone's saying, "Good luck for your tenth!" Everyone's expecting me to go for it. We'll see, I don't know. I haven't made a decision yet.

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