Taking advantage of a lay day in Fiji last year. Photo: Todd Glaser
"In golf, as with surfing, even when things are going well, you’re always flirting with disaster. The perfect round, like the perfect wave, is only one lousy putt or errant tee shot away from being a wash out."
Kelly Slater picked up his first golf club in 1995 and never put it down. Today, he plays upwards of 150 rounds a year at courses around the world. It’s an odd image, a surfer on a golf course, especially one as prestigious as Kelly Slater. But once you start to unpack it, a marriage between golf and surf makes more sense than you’d think.
So how did Kelly get into golf? On the surface, the two couldn’t be more different, because, well, they’re played on two completely different surfaces. The first is played on land, the other in the ocean. One has a very firm set of rules, the other’s is less exact. And yet, for Kelly, it’s that yin-and-yang that makes the two sports such great compliments to each other.
Kelly in the most recent issue of Golf Digest. | Outerknown's limited edition capsule of Pebble Beach Gear.
“I’ve played with a lot of pros over the years, and they like the freedom that surfers have,” Kelly told Golf Digest. “When they play on their own with no cameras around, the shoes come off —they want to peel off that layer of formality. Surfers are kind of the opposite…We sort of feel like we’ve joined society again.”
Despite their many differences golf and surfing do share one thing in common: challenge.
Kelly calls both a ‘never-ending challenge,’ and that description couldn’t be more apt, because in golf, as with surfing, even when things are going well, you’re always flirting with disaster. The perfect round, like the perfect wave, is only one lousy putt or errant tee shot away from being a wash out.
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It’s that constant challenge to improve that drives a natural competitor like Kelly. Even last year, when a bulky prosthetic boot kept him out of the water for months, he was still hitting the links, working on new swing techniques to transfer his weight from his injured back foot to his front foot. It’s this level of dedication that’s made him a 3 handicap. Not bad for someone just playing for fun.
Kelly receiving the Arnie Award. Photo: Marc Howard/Monterey Peninsula Foundation.
But it’s not his long drives or even his effortless mastery at Pipeline that took the spotlight this week at the Pebble Beach Pro-Am. Tuesday night Kelly joined country-music artist Clay Walker and hall of fame golfer Juli Inkster as recipients of the Arnie Award. Named after legendary golfer and noted philanthropist Arnold Palmer, the Arnie Award honors each’s charitable contributions and efforts to help others.
Kelly’s resume of charitable giving is extensive. With Outerknown, Kelly launched the It's Not OK program in partnership with Ocean Conservancy, He’s participated in several Omaze giveaways, auctioning off trips to the Surf Ranch, and teamed with Shane Dorian on the More Than Sport program that builds skate parks around the U.S. He’s kept it local by contributing to Skate to School, a program that offers college tuition to students in Lemoore, California. And that’s just the start. With more initiatives planned for the future, Kelly will continue pushing his charitable efforts forward, illustrating that helping others is, like golf and surfing, another “never-ending challenge.”