Firsthand: Sharing the lineup with Kelly Slater in Waco

Throttled by COVID-19, surf travel today rarely includes exotic, far off destinations like the Mentawai Islands. Instead, surfers are booking domestic sessions to wave pools where available. BSR Surf Resort has seen an uptick in domestic visitors this year as they come into their own as a legitimate surf destination. Americans are dropping into Waco for a few days instead of flying to Cabo from LAX.

One of those domestic surf tourists is Kelly Slater. The King hit up the PerfectSwell tech last week to share a few sessions over three days with longtime friend Shane Dorian and son Jackson Dorian. On hand to film and shoot was staff photographer Rob Henson.

Like everyone who happened to be at BSR during Kelly’s whirlwind three days, Rob was stoked to be in the water with the 11-time world champion. Below he shares highlight images and insights from Kelly’s visit.

kelly slater surfing in texas
According to sources, it took Kelly just a few waves to figure out BSR’s tricky air section. Photo by Rob Henson

“There were some conversations we had that I don’t feel comfortable sharing,” says Rob. “But I can tell you without a doubt he had a really fun time and says it’s a really fun wave. I can safely say that he’s wanted to surf our wave knowing that it’s different. Even though there are so many technologies out there, it comes down to the fact that at the end of the day it’s fun and it’s surfing.”

Henson says Kelly showed up solo and that his goal for the trip, despite the cyclone of internet speculation, was just to hang out and surf with Shane and Jackson.

“It’s really as simple as that. People were saying he was taking notes and talking pools. But at the end of the day, it was just that he wanted to surf with Shane and Jackson.”

kelly slater and jackson dorian
Kelly’s main reason for the visit was to hangout and surf with good friends Shane and Jackson Dorian. Photo Rob Henson

Kelly joined in on Shane’s private sessions and enjoyed about five hours of private surfing according to Rob.

“They had a morning private session that he showed up for, and we had given him a VIP at a private cabana but he was out at the public cabana signing autographs and never got agitated or uncomfortable. He was completely gracious. He could’ve gone upstairs and hid but he hung out on the cabanas and chatted with anyone who would come up to him.”

BSR is known as the premier air-wave, hosting Stab High events and acting as a backdrop for thousands of Instagram clips. It’s a totally different beast from the Surf Ranch.

kelly slater air
It can be safely said that Kelly dialed in his air-game even more after the visit. Photo Rob Henson

“I don’t think he thought too much about it when he surfed. He took a couple of waves to get used to the pocket and get it figured out. The wave here has a really tight pocket and BSR can take some getting used to. But by wave four or five his surfing was completely on point. At first, the air section did give him some trouble, but then you could tell he just wanted to land it. That section is really hard to hit. Those other air guys who visit here make it look super easy to hit. So Kelly had to figure out the timing to hit the section. His backside air reversers were on point after a while.”

Rob, who puts in long summer days at BSR from sunup to sundown and often into the night, said the thing that struck him the most was how approachable Kelly is.

“I watched him interact with all the people here. He was out there hanging out and talking for a long time with Neradah (wave pool connoisseur and BSR local). Other times Kelly was hanging out in the shallows giving pointers to people.”