Skip to main content

Surfing Legend Kelly Slater Opens Up About Suicidal Thoughts

Editor’s note: If you or someone you know is having thoughts of suicide or is in emotional distress, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK(8255) or at

Kelly Slater is widely considered to be the best professional surfer to ever live with a record 11 world titles on the World Surf League Championship Tour. At 50 years old, he’s still competing in the sport that he loves. 

It hasn’t always been a smooth ride for Slater in his career. In a recent interview with Brandon Sneed for Sports Illustrated, Slater disclosed that at one point he felt so low that he contemplated suicide. Just a year after winning a world championship at 20, he ended an engagement, he lost the world title and he was six figures in debt. He said he found himself at the edge of an apartment building’s roof in Coolangatta, on Australia’s Gold Coast.

He remembers “just looking down. … Like this would all be over in a few seconds. That’s where my mind was. … I was suicidal for a minute.”  

“That’s not something I want to identify with. … It’s just factual,” he said. “I was in that state of mind. And once that thought creeps in your head, it can always creep back in.”

He shared that he tried therapy inconsistently and antidepressants, but didn’t like how they numbed him. Slater said that surfing became a place of solace. 

“I learned how to focus and channel that energy [into competition],” Slater told SI. “It consumed me. I became really obsessive about it.”

Slater feels a great connection to Nikola Tesla, who is famous for his breakthroughs around electric power, because the mechanical engineer accomplished all that he did in spite of crushing migraines. The 11-time world champion finds comfort in his ability to overcome pain like he did.

“The lows are almost like Tesla’s migraines,” he says. “[They] exaggerate everything in my life. I feel like that’s sort of my superpower. Ultimately, it’s probably why I’ve done what I have.”