On Surfing

Chelsea Slayter

Illustration by Matt Titone

Chelsea Slayter is a filmmaker, writer, and recent ex-pat. She’s based in London following a long trip in New York City by way of New Jersey where she grew up. Her writing has been featured in Interview, Vice, The Wild, among other magazines, and she is the editor for Pilgrim Surf + Supply where she has written countless interviews you should go read immediately following this one. Seemingly chained to a desk at all times, she’s worked on numerous short films and music videos, many under her direction. Keep an eye out for her forthcoming projects this year.

Can you describe one of the most challenging aspects of surfing to you?

I think of longboards as a challenge. I always appreciated bigger boards as a kid but never rode them. I ride them a lot now, but maneuvering and controlling a bigger board requires pre-emptive thinking—the way I paddle out, where I sit in the line up, how I paddle for a wave and where I ride it. Smaller boards feel more flippant. Also, letting myself experiment and not repeating the same choreographed dance is always a challenge. More recently I remind myself to listen, and to be inclusive and community minded in and out of the water.

What is one of the most redemptive or rewarding parts of surfing?

Surfing offers an overwhelming sense of relief that I haven’t been able to replicate. Things feel so simple post-surf, so in that way it’s rewarding.

I’m not an elegant person — I walk with heavy feet, I have thick fingers. Floating across the wave feels elegant and flashy, and in that way it’s redemptive.

What has surfing afforded you in your life?

Wiping out on a wave humiliates me in a good way — I can blush and laugh and move on to the next set. It’s given me a profession, a creative outlet, and something to talk about at dinner parties. A feeling of being in sync with wind, water, and weather patterns; an overall connection to the planet and a reminder to take care of it.

How long can you go without surfing?

I can go years without surfing! I moved to Manhattan when I was 18 for school and became wrapped up in my studies and new-found city life, I stopped surfing for 3 years and survived. I recently moved to London, which will inevitably mean longer bouts between sessions. I mind-surf almost daily now, it’s partly how I meditate.

How and when did you fall in love with surfing?

I wasn’t a natural at it. I was 8 years old in low tide New Jersey beach break and I remember feeling like I had to work hard at it, which I think made it all the more physically satisfying when I got those first long rides. Matt Kechele was there that day, and he told me that he made surfboards, which got my brain firing.

When I started working at my local surf shop at age 14 I really fell in love with the culture. It’s a shop that specializes in classic board design, so older guys would chat my ear off about the last swell, and I would eat up the stories of grandeur. There was a lot of passion and heart behind it, which kept me buzzing through the flat spells.

What’s one of your pre/post-surf rituals you hold dear?

The pre/post car rides, stuck in traffic with friends and acquaintances, is prime time for candid conversation. I also like ending my surf sessions with a swim in the white water followed up by a smoothie from Bob’s Natural Foods or beer.

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On Surfing is generously supported by our friends at McTavish

Michael Adno

Michael is a writer and photographer born in Florida as a first-generation American to Austrian and South African parents. His work has appeared in The New York Times, The Bitter Southerner, and The Surfer’s Journal among other magazines.

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