Surfers of UC San Diego: Mady Slater ’99

Woman on blue surfboard surfs through a big wave.
Mady Slater ’99

Mady Slater ’99

  • College: Muir
  • Major: Psychology
  • Hometown: Ventura, CA
  • Currently Lives: Carlsbad, CA
  • Career: Infectious Disease Specialist, Self-Employed

How did you first learn to surf?

I was heavily into gymnastics as a kid. After those years, I re-engaged back to normal daily life because I didn’t have to train so hard. When I was in high school, both of my brothers were into surfing, including Evan Slater ’94, who went to UCSD as well. So I fell into it with them.

What inspired you to join the surf team?

We grew up in a surfing family; it was always the undercurrent of our lives. All of us were in competitions. For years, I was a competitive bodyboarder. So it was a guarantee that we would try out for the surf team.

Do you have any favorite memories from your time on the team?

I remember going down there during one of those winters where it was frequently big, so much so people actually got tired of it. There was a major swell one day, and the crowds were down. It was probably around 20 feet, and it was just me, my brother and two other guys, so nearly empty. It was magical and memorable.

What makes Black’s Beach special?

As I understand it, the underwater topography makes it a magnet for swells. That in itself just makes it one of the best spots around. It feels like you’re truly out in nature. It’s a secret non-secret spot, and it takes work to get there. When you walk down the hill, you’re sort of isolated, especially because there’s no parking lots around. It still gets crowded, but the relative inaccessibility of it gives it a bit of secrecy.

What did you study?

I started out undeclared because I was trying to do the professional bodyboarding women’s world tour. During the school year, I did at least one of the competitions a quarter. I didn’t have the best academic focus when I first started at UCSD.

I crafted my classes around my travel schedule, and then I got disillusioned with the competition part of it. I came back to school with more focus and became a psychology major. I ended up going pre-med and decided I want to be a doctor.

How did your time on the surf team influence your education and lead you to your career?

When I went to medical school, I already had a network of teammates who were also on the same pathway. I decided late in college that I wanted to go into medical school, so I had to jam everything in at the end. The community and the support network from the team helped me later on. Other teammates, who were going through a similar thing or already finished, gave me guidance.

What do you do now?

I’m an infectious disease specialist. I trained up in San Francisco, at UCSF and Stanford during all my training years, which was 12 to 14 years. I moved back here afterwards to be closer to family.

What is it like to bodyboard?

At the time that I started, there weren’t that many women who surfed. It was a different time, before Roxy and the Blue Crush movie. My dad bodyboarded, so that’s how I got into bodyboarding. I took to it pretty quickly, then started competing and went down that road.

It doesn’t require as much balance, so on big barreling waves, you have a little bit more control and you’re closer to the wave so there’s potential to get certain views. An advantage of being on a bodyboard is being able to get barrels, and I love riding barrels, especially at Black’s.

And what about competitive bodyboarding?

I am so grateful to be part of the whole culture around it and the lifestyle. It really defined who I was, who I am, and the trajectory of my life. The bonds that you form with the people and the travel makes your life so much richer. My best friends surfed with me, and we’d go on adventures. The competing part of it was a whole other aspect that was stressful at times but always fun. There were full weekends of competition, hanging out and free surfing, but then having the heats as well. I started traveling on my own at a fairly young age and went all over the world, really.

While I completed my fellowship, I made all these connections too–there’s a nonprofit organization called Waves for Water that basically supplies access to clean water to people of need all over the world. I knew the founder from competing when I was younger, and I started talking to him about their needs and I became their public health director and traveled a ton over the last five years, doing good work for people too.

What do you feel you have learned from being on the team and surfing in general?

The surf team in particular is a great example of how to combine dedicated purpose with fun and community. I’m very much grateful for my experiences with the surf team. I think one advantage of surfing is it’s not a “formal” sport–you don’t say, “Let’s meet at the field at four.” It’s more of a free-form sport; you have to see what waves you get. It’s an adventure; there’s always an unknown, an element of surprise.

I appreciated all the support that all of us on the team had for each other. There are people on the team that I still see here, and they’re out in the water. It continues on just because there is that kind of free form. You go down to the beach here in Carlsbad even, and you’ll see one of the old team alumni out here. There’s always that chance that you’ll see people.

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

Go for it. It really can be defining of your college career. You’ll make lifelong friends with shared interests. And you never know what direction and avenues it can lead you down. Plus, you always have someone to go surf with.

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

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