EDITOR’S NOTE: We spent a good portion of the 2012 summer with Kolohe. He was dealing with his first major injury, right in the middle of his rookie year on the ASP World Tour, amid all sorts of expectations and spotlights and noise, and we got an odd glimpse of him then.
Today, things are very different than they were during this angst-filled Indian Summer. But it’s within these offbeat moments where we truly figure out where we’re going. Kolohe was no exception. Lucky for us he let us come along.
We’re currently in production on a new film project with Kolohe and his friends (coming 2015), but to kick off the fun, we thought it’d be cool to take it from the top. Two years ago today. —Travis
Kolohe Andino is not himself. Or maybe he is. I can’t tell. He’s fucking up a bit. Giving in to demons a tad (thank God). It’s August and he hasn’t surfed in over a month now. He isn’t interacting with media. He’s occupying time with photography and mind games on social media. He just sat through the US Open of Surfing, watching from the pier. He’s wearing a Nike jacket that makes him invisible in photos. He’s tripping people out. He’s rougher than usual. He’s shaving his head a lot and may have been seen uncharacteristically sneaking sips of vodka tonic at parties. Just sips. Totally illegal. Totally being a talent-blessed 18-year-old boy. Totally fine.
We’re going on a road trip to San Francisco. Kolohe says he’ll sleep at my house the night before so we can leave before sunrise. He arrives at 2 a.m., leaps onto my couch and falls asleep, assuring me he’ll be ready to go in three hours. “I don’t need sleep. Everything I do, I do it big,” he says. It’s a Wiz Khalifa line. Kolohe is restless, extremely restless, but he remembers how to sleep.
In the morning we get large, black cups of coffee. Kolohe is really excited about this, the coffee. Everything about it feels like a morning surf trip, only the best surfer in the car has no boards. Kolohe is under strict orders not to ride any. Teahupo’o starts in a few days but he is not there for his rookie showing. He’s now driving with me through Big Sur to San Francisco.
A few hours later we stop for gas. He skates around the parking lot shirtless. Doing ollies. I cringe at each of them. I think of his still-fragile ankle. I think of his dad, Dino. I think of Nike, Target, Red Bull, Skullcandy, Neff, Oakley, and I think of their investment skating through a small-town gas station with extremely rough pavement doing ollies on a busted joint. He is still a boy. And it’s fun to do bad things.
We take the scenic route through Big Sur. Kolohe perks up at every quick glimpse of whitewater through the winding coastal road. “Look at that! Look at that wave. I’d ride that on an alaia, something weird, anything! I’m psyching!” he says. “Remember when you guys interviewed the psychedelic guy when you were at Surfing magazine? The guy who surfed on acid? Who was that?” he asks.
It’s probably best I not remember. I actually do remember but I tell him I don’t. I think of Dino. I think of Target. I think of Nike. I think of Kolohe.
He continues. “For me, when I’m super on surfing wise, when I’m doing an air, I feel like it takes five minutes to come down. I’ll be in the air, move my back foot up and adjust it so I can make it. Very slow motion. I’ve heard Kobe say that, that when you’re on everything slows down. I feel like that sometimes when I surf.”
It’s obvious at this point that Kolohe’s out-of-water experience with this injury has been causing existential turmoil. His brain lacks its usual aquatic stimulus and it’s got him sounding like a Kobe Bryant/Christian Fletcher/Albert Camus cocktail.
“Your iPod sucks,” he tells me. “Let’s do a road trip and just surf a bunch of weird little waves in here.” He points down the Big Sur bluff towards kelp-riddled rock crags with occasional glimpses of whitewash. It doesn’t take much to send his brain into a surf-obsessed panic. “Should we do a trip into the forest with Dane and we’ll just chain-smoke cigarettes and he’ll convince me to quit the tour?”
I tell him I don’t think Dane has any interest in convincing him to quit the tour, nor does either of them smoke.
He agrees. I think I need to push him off one of these cliffs into the ocean soon.
“I feel like right when we hit civilization on this road, there’s going to be a sick antique store.”
Twenty minutes later, there it is.
Travis: Do you party?
Kolohe: Loaded question.
Sorry, Courtney [Dane’s girlfriend] was asking us that question straight up and it’s a funny question. OK, mmm…is there any time in your life you didn’t think you were going to be a pro surfer?
Wait, someone just texted me and said, “Someone just put your number on Instagram, so I thought I’d text you.”
Heavy. Is it a girl?
I don’t know.
So it was a random number.
This is the shit that you deal with?
Do you wish you lived in a different era?
I’ve thought about that a lot, but then I wouldn’t be able to do airs. I like airs.
The ‘50s would be sick. Fifties or the ‘20s. I think that if I was one of the first people to surf, that would be the sickest. First people to surf, not dealing with Instagram and Twitter. But doing airs somehow.
Your generation is fucked by social media, huh?
Yeah. Did you see the photo I took yesterday on Instagram, of the kids all sitting at the table eating and every single one of them was on their phone, not interacting at all?
Yeah, that’s a good example of what is happening. And you posted it on Instagram. Perfect.
That’s the next generation after me. They’re going to be so deep in it.
I find myself on it, and I can’t imagine what it’s like to be in high school surrounded by it like that. It’d just be stressful.
It is stressful, you get tired easily.
I had AIM in high school and that used to freak me out.
It would, huh? The thing about this new stuff is you can’t really do anything without everybody knowing about it.
You can’t be into something that is just your thing. Everyone has access to you and your friends and every moment or activity you do.
Yeah, you put everything out there. But even with surfing. If you go surfing and someone takes a picture, then everybody knows you surf there. You can’t just be on your own program for a couple weeks.
Yeah, and with people taking photos of you breaking your health program, having a massive McDonald’s sitting without somebody being like, “Kolohe is eating at McDonalds, he’s lost it.” [I posted a photo of Kolohe at McDonald’s on our road trip. People called him fat and deranged and sad, publicly.]
“He’s lost it, and he’s wearing a weird shirt.” I still have that shirt too. [On the same trip he bought a shirt that read, “Cayucos: 4th of July” at a liquor store while we got gas.]
Do you think your generation of surfers is as happy and as psyched as those in the past?
It did seem like they were more carefree back then. Like, just travel and get waves and try to get air. Maybe more psyched to wander and get waves.
Yeah that was their mentality, like for better or for worse. Then I look at the more modern generation’s surfers and it’s you and Dane and Perillo and Julian, etc. You all seem more thoughtful but somehow a bit darker to me. Maybe it’s all the access that people have to you that gives off that impression. Do you think it’s the added scrutiny brought on by constantly being surveyed?
Yeah, it sucks in a way. It’s amazing if you’re a fan, I think. You get direct access. But sometimes that can be a bad thing. In the early days of Kelly’s career you’d wait for a video or a rare magazine interview to know what’s going on in his head or to watch him surf. Now it’s all instant. You can spout off on Twitter, Instagram. There are no filters to help groom it. It’s more raw but it’s not the same being a fan nowadays. The allure is gone, I’d imagine.
There’s no mysteriousness to you guys as professionals or surf celebrities. You’re all out there in the open. And sometimes it just seems unnecessary and I could see how it would wear on you as a person. Some scrutiny is good, that’s why you’re in the public eye, but nowadays any idiot has a microphone and can easily defame you whenever they feel like it, to a pretty significant amount of people if it catches on.
I definitely understand if you were like an 18-year-old surfer in the ‘70s, you could say whatever you wanted whenever you wanted and be in the spotlight, but people wouldn’t be the first to know that you take photos or have a hobby or whatever and build it up like you’re trying to be something you’re not. If they really like you, then whatever. But, to be positive vibes, at least now there are a lot more waves you could get barreled on and ways to get to them.
There are definitely perks. You can see what it looks like where you’re going as you board a plane. Do you think it’s lost any of the adventure? Where you abandon everything and go for the surfing life.
That’s sick. I love that part of surfing. Like our trip to Japan last year when everyone said not to go and we went anyway and had a super amazing and memorable trip. Seems like that stuff is rare nowadays. Everything is so readily available and documented. The allure is fading.
You went through — or I watched you go through — phases of this recovery process. I did two different interviews and talked to you as a friend and observed. You were positive at the beginning, and then you were darker. What was the experience like of not surfing for a month, at a point in your career where everyone was like, “This is where Kolohe is going to make it,” and you’re like, “Fuck, now I can’t even surf for three months”?
I thought I had like a pretty good…qualified young, everything was coming together. And then my rookie year was very sobering, and now this.
It is an interesting time. In the middle of your rookie year…
All bad results. Then I got hurt and any redemption opportunities were put on hold. So now I had to listen and see everything being written and couldn’t defend myself or prove anything. What really worked me was the US Open, being around the event with all my friends and all the people and watching all the heats and shit. Even when people would check in for heats and run by me, I’d be like, “I just want to check into a heat, it looks so fun right now!” Then when they would run down and paddle out next to the pier I’d get so bummed. Last year I did well at the US Open, so I knew exactly what it felt like to be a part of that event and all the energy.
It’s fun, it’s a good environment.
Yeah, exciting. I was probably 20 lbs. overweight at the time, slowly losing my mind being out of the water. Then, I don’t know what happened, I had another phase of it. I started training a lot with Tim Brown. Like, super dedicated to it. I started shaving my head every four days. Little weird things like that. Just core. My dad wasn’t home so he wasn’t there to tell me not to shave my head and I started to become this training guy.
After the US Open?
After the US Open. And I wasn’t really hanging with my friends at all because I had no time. I broke up with my girlfriend, and I was just kind of by myself, just shaving my head every four days, swimming three miles, and then running three miles right after. Just doing crazy shit, which was good for me to get back in shape, but obviously I wanted to get back in the water and I’m not sure how good it was to my brain. Then I stopped shaving my head and tried not to be deranged anymore.
It’s like you went through some hard times but it was just injury and being out of the water.
It was just my brain. When I got injured I was just thinking so much, and I had nothing to combat it. Every minute seemed like an hour, and a day seemed like a week.
Obviously there is all this pent-up energy.
You know what happened too was Mick won Teahupo’o and I texted him. I was like, “Hey, good job Mick! That was sick.” I didn’t know how long I wasn’t going to be in the water for at that point. I knew I was getting close but still wasn’t right. I hit him up and just said good job and to give me a ring when he got in town. I said he could go surf and I’d bodysurf or whatever.
He was like, “Oh sick,” blah blah blah, then at the end of it he wrote: “Stop being a loser, and start being the winner you are.” I think he might have sensed that I was losing it; I mean, he went through it. He wrote that and I was like, “Shit, that’s so rad, I’m so psyched on him and life and everything at that moment.” In the next week or 10 days, I texted him that I had got back in the water and was psyched to be surfing.
What do you think prompted him to say that?
Maybe he likes me for some reason. And wants to help me. When I was younger I used to shave my head because I wanted to be like him, not because I’d lost it and was bored. I just thought that was cool for him to take the time after winning and say that to me. Fired me up in a positive way.
And then you came back in a month at Lowers.
It almost just seemed like I never got injured when I paddled out at Lowers.
You had a bunch of sort of weird situations in heats…well, that’s always how it’s going to be in contests though, I guess.
I had a bunch of bad luck in heats, like at Snapper, Adriano had this weird priority and got this weird little chip and beat me. At Bells, Bede Durbidge got a wave with 20 seconds left and got a 9. Brazil, I got smoked by Jordy. Tavarua, it was perfect all day, then my heat came on and it was onshore and strange. So it was just kind of weird, and for some reason I thought being injured would change my luck. That was kind my backbone the whole time. Then in that heat with Heitor [Alves] I felt good at Lowers and realized I was surfing better. I was comfortable. I felt super relaxed and good, and then he made the flip.
It was on SportsCenter.
I know! It was crazy. But I made the Channel 5 news because a dolphin rode a wave with me. Pretty psyched on that. But I mean, I don’t know, I think I handled my losses really poorly before, and that’s really bad. I would never do that. Punching my boards, I wouldn’t surf for like a week after losing…I would never do that in the past. Usually I’d be all about retribution, but I just turned off, and then that led to my injury. Might have been a blessing. A little perspective.
You’re 18, you should be surfing for your high school surf team still in all reality. Most kids your age are still in high school, and you’re on a tour with the best surfers in the world at the top of their game.
Yeah, that makes sense. Yeah, that’s another thing that I learned with the injuries. I look at some of my other friends who are trying to qualify and who spent their whole life surfing, and would kill for my opportunity. But then I look at Medina and John John, and like…shit. But John John is two years older than me. It’s tough. I like where I’m at.
Want me to ask about you and John John?
Everyone else asks me about him. And it’s crazy how people have pitted us against each other. We’re honestly like brothers. We’re so mean to each other. Just giving each other shit nonstop. Like, gnarly stuff. We’ll push it so far. It’s weird. Then at the end we’ll just go off and go surf or something. It’s weird. Like brothers.
It’s going to be fun to watch you guys surf together.
We should do a trip!
Yeah it’s on. Umm, alright…is there anything you want to experience still, that you feel like you’re going to have to put on hold in order to focus on being like a professional athlete?
Yeah, I have a couple things I want. I want to get my pilot’s license eventually, and I want to go places to take photos. I’ve just noticed that all the photos I’ve taken all look the same. I’ve been taking photos of the beach, people, tour stops, the contest area. I want to go to like Middle America or places that aren’t part of my life yet.
Still September 2012
Kolohe Andino is sitting on a couch outside of his bedroom. He looks like a sultan. He’s stickering a board, using a butter knife to make precise adjustments to every sticker applied. His ex-girlfriend is there. The tension between them is sexy. They are no longer together, but here she is at the house, hanging out. She is a friend. And will probably be one for a long time. She puts up with zero of Kolohe’s shit. He gives her constant shit.
“Kolohe, someone is outside with a bunch of surfboards,” his mom, Tina, yells from downstairs.
“Tell them I’m gone. I’m sleeping. I’m away. I’m busy,” he says, smirking.
“You’re so mean,” says his ex.
“I hate dealing with people,” he says to me, never looking at her.
This may read like he’s a dick. I assure you he is not. A brat, yes. A dick no. His mom carries three fresh surfboards up the stairs and hands them to Kolohe. They’re not his normal Mayhems; they’re from a competitor. But they were made for Kolohe. He feels each of them. Under the arm. Subtle shake, three times. Tail on toe, staring at the nose, caressing. “Hmm.”
He puts them down, behind the stack of Mayhems, and resumes stickering.
Moments later a gaggle of friends come bounding up his back stairway. It is Luke Davis and others with rolled jeans and perfect hair and complexion and style.
Wanna go surf?” they ask Kolohe, all staring deep in the iPhone void.
“Yeah, let’s go. I’m psyching,”