Slater Trout at Payette River Games
Trout has put in very strong performances the past two years at the Payette River Games. It seems it’s only a matter of time before he wins one.

Photo: Greg Panas

All eyes are on Slater Trout

The 20-year-old is leading lap one during the men's technical race at the 2015 ISA World SUP and Paddleboard Championships on a cloudless day in Sayulita, Mexico. Many of the fastest paddlers in the world are right on his tail, including two-time ISA gold medal winner Casper Steinfath, perennial finalist Mo Freitas and the most dangerous SUP racer in the world, Connor Baxter.

"This is what we've been waiting for from Slater since he got second at the BOP in 2009," Jamie Mitchell exclaims from the announcer's booth. "Is this going to be Slater Trout's year?"

Trout rounds the outside buoy and cuts across the choppy water toward the peak where he looks to catch a wave to extend his lead. He's searching for any little bump to propel him away from the clutches of the hungry pack.

It doesn't come.

Steinfath and Baxter catch a wave behind him. He has to hustle to get into it as they rest.

Baxter hits the beach first, two steps ahead of Trout. Three laps later, he nabs gold while Trout ends up back in seventh.

It is not Slater Trout's year. At least at the ISAs.

In other ways, this might be the best year of his life. On one hand, you have Trout, the elite racer, who some argue could join the likes of Kai Lenny, Danny Ching and Baxter on the world podium. One result is all it would take.

"Slater is one of the elite paddlers, no doubt," Lenny said. "I would say one of the top-10 best guys on the planet."

On the other hand you have the trendy, globe-trotting photographer that puts out Kickstarter-funded books and dates celebrities like Ireland Baldwin, Alec Baldwin and Kim Basinger's daughter (they're no longer together). There's Trout the pro SUP surfer. And the whitewater river runner. Or the good son.

It begs the question: Who is this guy?

Slater Trout, Mentawai Islands
In between competing, traveling and brand commitments, Trout always finds time to surf. Mentawai Islands, Indonesia.

Photo: Matt C. Bauer

All eyes are on Slater Trout

He's in position and has priority. He stands up on his 7'4" X 24" board, wobbles for a second and strokes into the perfect takeoff spot. Two blasts of vertical spray fan out the back, followed by a roundhouse cutback and rebound off the whitewash.

The eyes are mounted to shortboarders on the outside, watching Trout do his thing.

"Ya just can't help but respect that," Chris Mackinnon, an Australian surfer, says as he turns slowly back to the waves rolling in.

I'm embedded with the shortboarders at a playful right in the Mentawai Islands of Indonesia. It's our first day of the trip and Trout is already knocking down barriers. Sort of.

"Can't you get vertical on that thing, Trout?" Simon White, another Aussie from Mackinnon's group kids, as he strokes back into the lineup.

"Only if you show me the way, Whitey," Trout says. He pauses. "Is that nipple tape you're wearing or are you just happy to see me?" He smiles that big, wide-chinned grin.

White is indeed wearing nipple tape under his white t-shirt to prevent chafing. He balks.

"C'mon, Trout, you're supposed to be the pro around here," Whitey says, without emphasis.

One day in and he's already one of the boys, SUP be damned.

Slater Trout

Photo: Bauer

How many Instagram celebrities can do a power carve like this?

Photo: Kandui Resort

111,800 eyes and counting are on Slater Trout's Instagram.

A quick scan of his account gives you an idea of the world he inhabits with his fans.

Comments on a shirtless trail running shot:
"Totally resembles Leonardo [DiCaprio] in ‘The Beach.'"

"Man bun as f!@k."

Comment on a shot of Trout sitting in the lineup, smiling slightly:
"Have my babies."

Comment on a shot sprinting with Kai Lenny, training for Molokai (Slater's shirtless, again):

Yes, a majority of the comments come from the opposite sex.

"The girls, they get intense man," he says. "I get some things I'm stoked on and some things I probably shouldn't see."

It baffles Trout's father, Casey, too.

"I could name a dozen instances where we're in a restaurant in L.A. and the waitress is like, ‘Are you Slater Trout?'" Casey says. "He takes it very well, around us at least. It does continually blow me away."

But to assume it's simply because of his looks would be a mistake, though they never hurt.

Trout realizes the power of social media and the leverage it gives him in the world of standup paddling and beyond. It's key to his image. He started getting into Instagram early on through his interest in photography and before long, social media became part of his contracts with sponsors (companies will write in X amount of Facebook and Instagram posts per year featuring their brand explicitly). He picked up momentum and then, about a year-and-a-half ago, Instagram recognized his account because of his unique lifestyle, photography and pro status, encouraging people to follow this young standup paddler. It was huge.

"Companies started hitting me up," he said. "Not even for paddling; they wanted to pay me to post a single photo of their product."

His sponsors reap the benefits of the package: his social media prowess, his good looks, podium potential and travel schedule. Corey Farrell, marketing manager at Sperry Top-Sider, says Trout's a great fit for their brand. And that the future looks bright.

"He gets it," Farrell says. "He understands the value we need and he understands his own value and yet doesn't overvalue himself."

The Slater Trout brand has given Slater Trout the man a freedom that most standup paddlers­ do not enjoy—and most people, for that matter. In a relatively small sport with limited money, most pro paddlers are lucky to travel at all, even if it's just to the races their sponsors tell them to attend.

"I know guys who are being forced to do a lot of this stuff and it's hard to see happiness in their eyes," Slater says.

Trout is not held to that kind of schedule, in large part due to his marketability. In the past year, he raced in South Africa, paddled under frozen waterfalls in Iceland, represented the USA at the ISA Worlds and went to the Mentawais for a surf trip.

"I'm all over the place," he says. "But that was my goal this year: travel."

And the future?

"When I'm ready, I'll jump on the (World Series) and go for a world title, race my ass off and do nothing but train for the whole year," he says. "I feel like when I focus and want to be the hardcore SUP-racer guy, I think I could be one of the best and win a world title very soon. I'm really confident in that."

Others, such as standup paddle pundit Chistopher Parker of, aren't so sure.

"The training you have to do these days is really full-on. It seems like such an amazing lifestyle and that he's having so much fun," Parker says. "But if he wants to be one of the best racers, he's gotta decide what he wants to do: be the SUP version of Dane Reynolds or be super serious and train like Danny (Ching) and Travis (Grant)."

The choice is his.

Photo: Bauer

The beginning: Trout finishing his first race at the 2007 Duke’s OceanFest. Photo Courtesy: Trout Family Archive

Captain America helped his team take gold at this year’s ISA Worlds. Photo: Panas

Photo: Kandui Resort

All eyes were not always on Slater Trout.

In 2005, he was just a 10-year-old boy on vacation with his family in Maui. His parents, Casey and Jennifer, avid world travelers, made sure the boys, Tanner and Slater, got to see the world, too. They lived in Bend, Oregon; they lived in Florida; they surfed in California; they rode snow in Sun Valley, Idaho. They owned a chain of storage units that allowed for flexible schedules. Their world was full of possibilities and they made sure it was so for their sons as well.

On that fateful vacation, Trout was out surfing and saw a man in the distance, standing on a board and paddling with a long blade.

"What is that?" he asked his Dad. Casey did not know.

They went to a surf shop to look for a paddle but the only one they found was far too expensive. When they returned home to Florida, the Trouts went to West Marine and bought him a cheap wooden oar. He started paddling a soft top around the Gulf of Mexico.

"I can 100 percent, positively say I was the first person properly standup paddling in Florida," Trout says.

The next year the family moved to Maui. Trout started paddling every day.

"(SUP) was extremely uncool," he said. "To be a young boy going through puberty with sensitivity and emotions, it was a hard time to push through."

But he did and was the first grom on the island to start competing in SUP. His first race was in 2007 at Duke's OceanFest, on the infamous downwind run from Hawaii Kai to Waikiki.

"I borrowed a 10-foot by 33-inch wide foam board," he says. "It was the worst fricking thing ever. That was pretty brutal but it fired me up to start training."

In 2008, Trout attended the Battle of the Paddle, finishing 32nd. He saw the opportunities that this race might provide. His goal for 2009: top 10.

Over the winter he trained with his Uncle Wes, went through puberty and put on 35 pounds.

In 2009, at age 14, he finished second to Jamie Mitchell, arms raised above his head as he rode a wave to the finish at Doheny State Beach. Slater Trout's career was officially launched.

Slater Trout, looking toward a bright future.

Photo: Bauer

Our eyes are on Slater Trout

"Dudes, it' firing out there!" Trout says. "Let's get it. We're in Indo!"

Even though he's been paddling for nearly a decade, he's still a grom. At Kandui Resort, where Dave Boehne, Trout and I are staying, outside of surfing, there's not much to do. Play ping pong. Read a book. Eat. Watch a surf movie. Sleep. Surf.

Boehne and I need rest between sessions. Trout always wants to go right back out.

But the wind's on it and there's plenty of swell for an evening session. We pass.

"Slater's the man, but he has so much energy," Boehne says. "Sometimes I have to remind him that I'm almost twice his age."

Trout is un-phased by our lack of commitment. He heads back out.

When he does take breaks, he's using the down time to build his brand. By my count, in the 10 days we're in Indonesia, he posts 19 Instagram photos to the tune of 48, 946 "likes" and 477 comments.

And then he gets back in the water.

Standup has changed a lot in the six years since Trout's marquee performance at the Battle.

Standup has changed a lot in the six years since Trout's marquee performance at the Battle. Racing has become a legitimate sport and the bar has been raised. Racers are getting faster. People who started paddling three years ago are fighting for podiums today.

"The level of competition is getting insane," Trout says. "Guys are getting so fast. I think it's just going to keep progressing. With my lifestyle, I've been lucky to keep up with that progression."

Some people think Trout is already over the hill. But at 20, it seems like it's just a matter of figuring out what he wants. When he puts his mind to something, he gets it done.

Take his "Northern Waters" project from his trip to Norway and Iceland with his buddy Connor Davidge. They wanted to make a book, so they made a Kickstarter page to fund it with the goal of raising $10,000. The book—featuring Trout's photography—comes out this fall.

"I don't know what I was thinking about at 20 but it wasn't that," Casey said. "I'm super proud. And now, since they made this one, they want to do another."

Then there was the 2015 ISAs. While it wasn't his best individual performance—partly due to his "Northern Waters" trip ending less than a month prior—Trout was instrumental in helping get the gold medal-winning team together.

"(In 2014) I went down there and it was one of the best events of my life," he says. "I came back and I was like, ‘Next year we have to build the best team.' Every time I saw Candice (Appleby) I was like, ‘You've got to come to this event.' Danny (Ching), we train together five days a week, we're neighbors. I'd always put the bug in his ear. Jack Bark (prone paddler) is my best friend and I nagged him every day. And the week before, we had spots confirmed for all three of those people. It was huge and it changed everything."

The US Team walked away with the gold at the most competitive ISA World Championships yet. Trout sees it as a stepping stone to a larger stage.

"I'm going to stick with standup until it gets into the Olympics," he says. "It's my dream."

Ching, who trains with Trout in the South Bay of Los Angeles and is one of the most well-respected racers in the sport, sees the Olympic prospect as the goal that might get Trout engaged at the level he needs to be a champion, although the earliest SUP might hit the Olympics would be 2020.

"He's got all the gifts," Ching says. "Honestly though, he'll probably be better off in the next five or six years doing what he's doing as a marketable athlete and personality. It's not going to be important (to him) until the Pan Am Games or the Olympics. Then I see him gearing down and being good enough to pull it off."

And that's the crux of it: What does Slater Trout really want to do? To be a world champion racer? To be a free-surfing playboy? An Instagram celebrity? I don't think he knows himself. But when he decides—if he decides—he has the talent to make anything happen.

That, is Slater Trout.

Photo: Panas

That, is Slater Trout