The Young Grom and the Sea
Behind the scenes with 17-year-old pro Kolohe Andino
Where there’s Kolohe Andino, there’s buzz. And chaperones.
In March, for his first time ever, mainland America’s great white hope in competitive surfing hit the ASP World Championship Tour and exited with a 13th place finish. This scion in surfing is at the top of the new school class and has a hefty stack of nontraditional sponsors. He’s also 17 (that’s where the chaperones come in).
What’s life like now, for a guy who’s spent a chunk of hours on the waves every day since he was 8 and has expectations in front of him? Here, an unplugged conversation with this unabashed competitor and young guy (aka “Brother”) trying to figure things out on the pro scene.
Where are you staying?
I’m staying at the Target House near Off The Wall. It’s the most I could ever ask for, the most I could ever have... the most I ever have had. Doing well over here is huge for someone’s career, so I’ve got to say thanks to them. They only have two surf riders, and they also have a house for Carissa [Moore]. She keeps some boards in the garage here as well, though.
Is it just you in the house?
There are a couple guys here working for Target—the team manager, JD Johnson, and a guy on the business end named Troy Michaels. Then my Dad is here with me, and so is my friend, Jeremy. My dad travels with me most places. If he’s not traveling with me, I’m with my coach, Mike Parsons.
Do you get tired of traveling with chaperones?
Not really. They help me a lot with my competitions, my surfing and heat strategy. I think I’m at that age when I want to get my own identity and do some things on my own, but they still help me with a lot. To be honest, I think without my dad or Snips, it (traveling) would be kind of a shocker. I watched a lot of guys try to do it on their own, and it was difficult for them.
You’ve been sponsored in one way or another since you were seven. Does your life feel like a job?
No. I’m in Hawaii. Even when it’s small, I still surf three times a day. If you are mobile (have a car) on the North Shore, you can always find a wave. But sometimes different things do start to feel like jobs, like lifestyle photo shoots—those are the worst. I’m not a model; I don’t know how to be a good lifestyle guy. On-camera interviews are also hard. In interviews like this you just kind of get my voice, but on camera you see my eyes wandering, looking around for the answer. You can tell I’m more confused. Really, text message would be the easiest way to do interviews, because you have a lot time to make yourself sound smart.
Would you call yourself media-savvy?
Ever since I was young, I’ve always been into style and the way people think of you is your style. I’ve always wanted to be thought of as a nice, hardworking kid. I always try to be thankful, too. I look at interviews as opportunities; places to say “thanks” and express my feelings.
What’s the question you hate the most?
The pressure question is the worst, because they think my dad pressures me and they want me to have pressure. They even say: “How do you deal with the pressure?” I don’t have any pressure. Or here is another one: “So you must have a lot of pressure from your parents”; I don’t, and I never have. I surf for a living, and I love what I do.
How do you approach surfing when the waves are heavy and the crowds are tight?
You have to have the right mindset: be super aggressive, but not too aggressive, and don’t disrespect the locals. Last year I got one good wave. I waited four hours and someone gave me a good wave.
Are you partying some?
I don’t really like to party that much, plus I’m competing over here and this is “stay focused” time.
Are you tempted by the party scene?
Not really. I think my dad did really good raising me. He gave me enough freedom to make my own decisions. He just always told me drugs will take you down and you won’t be able to surf any more. I think there are two polar opposite ways to raise a kid: you let them go party and do whatever they want, or keep your kid super enclosed and once they have freedom they’re 18 and move out and go crazy. I was raised in between and I think that helps my perspective now.
How much are you traveling?
This year I didn’t do the full tour, but I was probably home six months of the year. Next year, I’ll probably be home closer to three or four months.
Would you call yourself a competitive person?
I get angry if I lose. For instance, my friend Jeremy and I were playing NFL, and he kept doing onside kicks and recovering the ball until I took the remote and threw it against the wall. I wouldn’t say that I have a bad temper at all; I just don’t like losing. I’m almost less dramatic in surfing because I’m competing against people I know, and I feel kind of bad if I win, so I won’t go walk beside them after a heat or do anything like that. But if it’s not serious, like video games or ping-pong, then I love to rub it in their faces. I mean, I’m not the best ping-pong player in the world or anything, so I can just laugh at my friends when I beat them. But if I did that in surfing...it’s almost too delicate and I take it too seriously.
We hear a lot about your dad, but do you have any siblings?
Yeah, I have a 10-year-old sister and a 16-year-old sister.
Do your mom and sisters travel with you?
Sometimes. My mom came with me to England. I wish she could have come with me to every event, but traveling with a big entourage can be tricky. When you go to these places, you just want to win and not have a ton of distractions.
Your name is often associated with innovative surfing. What do you think the future of surfing is?
I think things go in trends. Power surfing will come back. I’ve never been a guy to try and re-invent the wheel. I just watch guys and try and do what they do. People put me in that category a lot with new school and airs and blah blah blah. But I always just try to surf my best. Airs, depending on the condition, are my best surfing. Even so, my whole life I have been trying to stay in the water, because that’s what my dad taught me.
Do you think he has influenced your style a lot?
100 percent. My dad has taught me everything about my style. Sometimes it’s basically like he is in the water when I watch myself on video.
Do you film yourself a lot?
At home I have a filmer who films me every day. But I usually don’t have one at contests because of the whole entourage thing I mentioned. I don’t want tons of people with me.
What’s it like watching yourself surf all the time?
It depends on how I’m surfing. I try not to be too critical of myself. I’ve been doing it for three years, and before then I’d have shots in the mags. Sometimes you think you’re surfing really well and it turns out you’re not. Now I can almost get an image in my head about how I look from the beach.
Are their parts of the media that annoy you?
I don’t like favoritism, though it’s a natural human thing to do. But when magazines run a lot a lot of photos of this guy or only care what that guy thinks, it looks a bit silly. I mean, I’ve been that guy, I’ve gotten shots in mags that I didn’t even think were good just because I was hot right then. Now, since I’m competing, I see the other side of the spectrum where they run only three guys in the whole mag. The two or three people making the decisions obviously have their favorite surfers and that’s normal, but it still bugs me.
Have you ever thought about being a photo or video pro?
Ever since I started surfing, I’ve always wanted to qualify when I was 17 or 18. I always wanted to be a good competitive surfer. I never thought about it because for me, photos are a still, and a lot of times the surfer doesn’t make it, or he tries a trick one million times and makes one. With clips you see a video part made from 35 different sessions and they’re not even consecutive. They are putting a lot more time in than people think. I want to do things they do in movies in my 30-minute heats.
This interview first appeared on The Inertia.