Kelly Slater’s Baldness Journey: From Flowing Locks to Iconic Look

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Kelly Slater is one of just a handful of people to become a world-famous athlete in a niche sport. Surfing doesn’t typically produce household names, and yet Slater’s popularity is undeniable.

He’s also considered to be an iconic bald man – but has he always rocked the bald look? Is there a reason for it? And was he bald when he was dating Pamela Anderson?

I’ve got all the answers.

Quick takeaways:

  • Kelly Slater is one of the world’s greatest surfers
  • He went bald in 2002 as he returned to surfing following a hiatus
  • He chose to shave his head quickly once his hairline started receding

When did Kelly Slater go bald?

Kelly Slater went bald in 2002. It was just after he returned to the World Pro Tour in surfing, following a four-year break.

This means that, despite Slater being renowned for his bald appearance, he actually won more world championships with hair – six from his debut win in 1992 through to 1998, with five coming after he shaved his head, from 2005 until 2011.

The release of the video game ‘Kelly Slater’s Pro Surfer’ in 2002 is an interesting time capsule of his appearance – in the videos that he appears in during the introduction of the game, he still has his hair. But the playable character version of Slater during actual gameplay has the shaved head.

Why is Kelly Slater bald?

Kelly Slater chose to shave his head as he had started to lose his hair naturally. Rather than sporting a balding look, he decided to shave it off completely and kept his head shaved from then out.

Slater has described how he was struggling with losing his hair as he returned to the pro surfing tour in 2002. Three months after he returned to the tour, his father passed away, and in an interview he described a night when he fought with rival Andy Irons who had been mocking him about his hair loss, unaware of his father’s passing.

It could be that Irons’ teasing spurred him to act faster and shave his head, but considering how Slater had admitted to already feeling upset with losing his hair, it was probably inevitable regardless.

As to why Slater was losing his hair, there could be many reasons. At the time he had just turned 30, which is a relatively average age for men to start losing their hair.

He also was under a lot of stress from his father’s cancer battle, but also the everyday stresses of being a professional athlete – and not just any athlete but one at the very top of his sport, who would’ve no doubt felt a lot of pressure to maintain his spot.

He wasn’t just a pro athlete at the time, either. By the time he started losing his hair, he’d also done a lot of acting, including movies and TV shows. Most famous was his recurring role on Baywatch where he met Pamela Anderson, dating her for a few years.

So that could’ve added to the stress, along with the fact he was in a high-profile relationship at a time when media interest in the world of celebrity was really starting to peak.

Then you can throw in the physical stress he would’ve put his hair under. As a surfer, he spends a lot of time in the sea. While salt water can have pros and cons for hair, it definitely would’ve caused his hair to become more brittle, which would exacerbate any hair loss he was already suffering.

These are all purely speculative reasons that could have contributed to Slater’s hair loss. In truth, hair loss is usually genetic, and often stress isn’t a factor at all. But these are all potential causes that could’ve sped things along.

Kelly Slater’s hair loss journey

Kelly Slater doesn’t have much of a hair-loss journey to document. That’s because he didn’t really allow himself to enter the public eye for long when he started balding.

In Slater’s early career, he had long flowing hair that was typical of many 90s surfers, though he sported a much shorter cut later in the 1990s. Even then, his hairline was still intact and hadn’t started to show any real signs of receding.

After leaving the tour in 1998, he returned in 2002, and in his few appearances before shaving his head, you could see the progression as his hairline had rapidly fallen back.

Because he then acted relatively quickly – potentially prompted by the teasing from rivals – Slater’s journey to hair loss ended as he shaved his head and kept that style for the remainder of his career in the public eye.

Kelly Slater bald
Kelly Slater with his signature bald look

It quickly became a good look for him – he had a new modern style at a time when baldness was starting to become fashionable.

What helped was the way that Slater looked after himself. I’ve always said that the best ways to look good bald are to put on some muscle, get a tan, and grow a beard. Slater’s done two out of three – he’s never been seen with a beard – and he looks fantastic for it.

That’s one of the perks of being a professional athlete who primarily works outdoors, often in sun-kissed locations. With the hard work needed to stay as an elite surfer, Slater will maintain his fitness levels and his tanned look – which means he’ll keep looking great with the bald style.

Kelly Slater with hair

If you’ve only known Slater when bald, or you’d forgotten what he looked like prior to shaving his head, it’s fascinating to compare what he looked like when he did have longer locks.

In the early 90s, he had that classic long-hair surfer style, though later in the decade, he cut it a lot shorter. Even then, it wasn’t a super-short trim and his hair was thick and well-maintained.

Check out some other great before-and-after shots of bald celebrities too if you want a shock at how some iconic bald men used to look.


How have fans reacted to Kelly Slater’s bald look over the years?

Over the years, fans have largely embraced Kelly Slater’s bald look. Many admire his confidence in embracing natural hair loss, and it’s become an iconic part of his image.

What do hair experts say about the effect of frequent exposure to saltwater and sun on hair health?

Hair experts suggest that frequent exposure to saltwater can strip hair of its natural oils, potentially leading to dryness and brittleness. Prolonged sun exposure without protection can also damage hair and fade its color. While these factors might not directly cause hair loss, they can affect hair’s overall health and texture.


Kelly Slater is an outstanding athlete, but also a fantastic example of how awesome you can look with a bald head if you take care of yourself. 

But we can’t all be surfers – so feel free to share your own ways of staying healthy and topping up your tan in the comments.

Next up: Check out this list of athletes and sports stars with shaved or bald heads, including photos before and after they braved the shave.

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This post was written by Matt:

I've been shaving my head for nearly 20 years. I'm here to share that experience, good and bad, help you embrace your hair loss, and live your best bald life.

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