surfing on clear blue waves

Surfers of UC San Diego: Evan Slater ’94

man in front of wall with writing

Evan Slater ’94
▪ College: Muir
▪ Major: Sociology
▪ Hometown: Ventura, CA
▪ Currently Lives: Carlsbad, CA
▪ Career: VP of Men’s Global Marketing – Billabong

What do you remember most about surfing at UC San Diego?

Surfing was such a big part of my life. Right when I got to UCSD, I was fortunate enough to connect with a roommate who was just as passionate about surfing as I was. In our hall, there were a number of surfers, and we all bonded. Our shared love for Black’s Beach is how we all got through college together.

What about being on the surf team?

The surf team in particular was interesting. Surfing isn’t like playing a traditional college sport where you’re getting yelled at by coaches and stuff. It was more about having a good time, and it was definitely fun to win. I valued the experiences that we had together, like going to contests and celebrating afterward.

Most of my amateur career in high school was all about individual achievement. There were a bunch of contests every month that you go to on your own. But when I went to UCSD, suddenly I felt this camaraderie with the team. It wasn’t about individual achievement as much as just doing right by UCSD. I love working with a team and succeeding or failing together; that was something I missed in surfing throughout high school. It really reminded me how much I love athletics at a team level—the kind of sports that I love doing. 

The skill level on the team tends to be pretty well-rounded. It was a fun mix of people who are enthusiastic about surfing at the highest level, but then once it would get to the quarters and semis and finals of any given event, it would get pretty intense with all the aspiring pros battling it out.

three young surfers at the beach holding surfboards
The surfing Slaters – (L-R) Mady Slater ’99, Evan Slater ’94, and their brother.

What inspired you to join the team?

The current team members are always looking out for the new crop of surfers to help the team. There was one guy in particular, Allen Johnson ‘XX, he was about at the end of his journey at UCSD. I already knew him, and he reached out to me and encouraged me to join. It was a pretty easy transition.

The more social part of it with the surf club was a nice complement, too. The surf club and team were a way to bond. We would all socialize together and do all kinds of cool stuff. We even had an event called “The Surf Club Semi-formal,” and that was so fun.

Do you have a favorite memory?

 My second year there, we had our town rivals: Point Loma Nazarene University. There was one particular team member on that team named Rick Irons. If you’re familiar with surfing, Andy Irons was his cousin, and he was Kelly Slater’s arch-nemesis. Our joke was that it was Slater versus Irons, albeit vicariously, and he beat me for the national championship. He never let me forget it, but he happened to graduate that year.

The following year, we went back and ended up winning the national title, and I won the event. For me, it was redemption. The national title was recognized by the school, and we felt pretty special. It felt reaffirming that we’re doing the right thing for our school.

surfing on clear blue waves
Evan Slater ’94 catches a pristine blue wave.

Where did your career lead after you graduated? 

I was a sociology major at UCSD, so hopefully any student who’s there now who still isn’t entirely clear what they want to do in life will be at ease knowing that not everybody comes out of college knowing exactly what you want to do. I still was very passionate about surfing, and by luck and determination, my passions were able to combine into what I do now for a career.

I was passionate about writing and loved understanding different points of view. So I started a career in surf media in 1996 as an editor at Surfer Magazine. That lasted a good 12 years. I helped start the website Surfline in early 2000.

From there, I transitioned into a job on the brand side–I was at Hurley for 10 years, and now I’mour team VP of Global Marketing for Billabong, basically working as the voice of the Billabong brand. Billabong makes clothing and wetsuits geared around providing everything you need for surfing. My background in the media world was a good training for amplifying stories around the athletes that we sponsor. We get behind moments that drive the surf culture forward–sponsoring events, making unexpected product collections, organizing trips. Honestly, it’s very similar to what I did in the media world, but we’re actually selling products.

Can you tie anything about your career journey back to what being on the surf team was like?

One of the most important revelations I had with the UCSD surf team was realizing how fulfilling it was to work with a team and succeed. Well, we succeeded or we failed, but we did it all together. Having an aspiring pro surfing background felt like I was a big part of the team. It gave me a foundational ability to actually lead a team and that carried on throughout my career. I also learned how to start at an introductory level and work my way up by learning and collaborating with people.

What advice would you have for students or alumni trying to get into the surf industry?

Have a pretty good idea of what your passions are because there are a few different ways you could go, whether it’s design, media, or marketing. Once you do have that, I’m a big advocate of internships and I think that’s the best way to make yourself known and start making connections. People can accuse any industry of being these internal bubbles that just hire their friends. I have seen so many people that we brought on as interns become amazing contributors to the industry. So it definitely can happen, and I think that’s the best way to do it.

What is your vision for the surf team or what would you like to see?

Given it’s location, UCSD can breed the best surf team in the country every single year. I would highly advocate for a university that looks at surfing as a true sport that can help boost the profile of the university. It does help bring more people and points of view in as part of the university makeup.

What would you say to a student thinking about joining the surf team at UCSD?

I formed an real connection to UCSD by joining the surf team and club. I still see the men and women from that time now, and we still have a laugh together. I’d say more than anything, the surf team gave me a true emotional connection to my college years, one that I can reference back at any time and feel good about it. I really cherish that shared experience from that time. I would recommend it to anybody. 

Read more Q&A’s with UC San Diego surfers here.

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