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 old were you when you first learned how to surf?

I was heavily into gymnastics as a kid. After I quit, I re-engaged back to daily life because I didn’t have to train so hard. When I was in highschool, both of my brothers were into surfing, so I fell into it with them.

What inspired you to join the surf team?

Surfing was always part of my life. I have a younger brother, Evan Slater ’94, who went to UCSD as well. We grew up in a surfing family, and it was always the undercurrent of our lives; so much was built around that. 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.

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. When you walk down the hill, you’re sort of isolated, especially because there’s no parking lots around. It feels like you’re truly out in nature.

It’s a secret non-secret spot, and it takes work to get there. It gets crowded, but it’s just not as easily accessible. That gives it a little bit of secrecy.

My brother Evan was the first one to go to UCSD. During visits, I’d see the school’s proximity to Black’s. I cared about academics, of course, but this was the only school I wanted to go to because of the beach.

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 people actually got tired of it. There was a major swell, and the crowds were down. One particular memory that stands out of going down on a gloomy type day. It was probably around 20 feet, and it was just me, two other guys and my brother out. It was magical and memorable.

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.

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 multiple guys on the team that 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.

I appreciated the camaraderie amongst the teammates and going to competitions. We had that support and community with each other. Black’s was the main surf spot, so seeing all of our teammates down there on a daily basis enhanced my college experience.

What did you study?

I started out undeclared because I was trying to do a professional bodyboarding women’s world tour. During the school year, I did at least one of the competitions for 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.

What was being a competitive surfer like?

I grew up around surf contests even before I was in gymnastics. It was part of our family, and we followed the professional circuit. When I started to bodyboard, that’s when I became kind of a natural, so I started competing. 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.

It’s something that’s always there. The bonds that you form with people that travel instills so much and 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 have been all over the world.

While I completed my fellowship, I made all these connections. 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 competition when I was younger, and I started talking to him about their needs and got a job with them. It kind of has a surf aspect to it, too. I became their public health director and traveled a ton over the last five years.

What is it like to bodyboard?

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

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. If you’re lying down, you’re closer to the wave, and 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.

Do you still surf?

I surf when I can, and not as much as I like. Juggling everything is time-consuming; I have kids and my husband is a firefighter. But we live right across the street from the beach and near my brother. My kids are super into it, and my husband and I go as much as we can, but not as much as we’d like.

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 with surfing is it’s not like a formal sport; you don’t say, “let’s meet at the field at four.” And if the person who plays whatever position doesn’t show up, you’re screwed. It’s more of a free form sport; it is unexpected. You’re going to see what waves you’re going to get. It’s an adventure; there’s always an unknown. With surfing, you never know what you’re going to get; there’s always 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, and you’ll see one of the old team alumni out here. There’s always that chance that you’ll see people from the team.

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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And read and submit your surf memories on this group Google Doc!