Kai Garcia embodies respect. A respect well earned and honored.
But much has changed for Mr. Garcia in recent years as different things took on new meanings and what used to be important in life just wasn’t anymore. Kai has been going through some significant life changes, some documented, some not, so we jumped at the chance to catch up with the man himself and to hear first hand what he’s up to and where he’s headed. What Youth’s, Tom Carey, who happens to be a close personal friend, sat down with Kai while he was in So Cal on some business and simply hit record. Hope you enjoy it. – WY
How did you break onto the surfing scene?
I grew up in Hawaii. I grew up with everyone. I come from the 80’s generation.
Who are the guys you came up with and looked up to? In the 80’s Kauai was pretty far off
the map, right?
Yeah, I basically grew up with a lot of local guys that nobody had heard of. A couple guys that people
would know is Byron Wong, Titus and Ali Kai Kinimaka, and Terry Chung. There’s a
whole bunch of them but those are the ones that made a name for themselves.
What were the things they taught you growing up?
It was really old school back then. It was pretty hardcore. Black and white with everything.
Dog eat dog, respect your elders?
It was respect your elders but you know, it’s a ‘you’re in or you’re’ out kind of deal. You have to
earn your way. Nothing is given and everything is earned. It was hard knocks. It wasn’t easy
that’s for sure.
Was there an annual pilgrimage to the North Shore every year? Did you have to prove yourself there
before anything else?
No, there was Titus, Max and Ali Kai. They were known on Oahu back then. Ali Kai brought me
and my brother over in ’86 for our first trip to the North Shore. We stayed at Max Medeiros’ house
right next to where Foodland is now. We basically met everybody. All our idols, our heroes and everyone
at the mags. All the Hawaiians. All the Aussies. It was an eye opener. I wanted to come back as soon as I left! I
already had an intro and had met all the hardcore guys already and had one foot in the door but
didn’t even realize it.
Was that Kauai crew there to help pave the way?
It was more like this is Hawaii. This is our place and you’ve got to hold it down. You’re in or
The North Shore has changed so much since the Volcom house days. It obviously
used to be much wilder in those days. Do you still see guys that go over there and try and be
a tough guy, or whatever? What do you say to kids like that? There’s got to be a pecking order no matter what. There has to be respect. When people come to surf Pipeline, they think they’re tough. I don’t see that. There’s no tough kids that want to come
here and surf Pipeline. If you’re tough, you’re a full-time fighter. There’s no time to do that and
still go surf. If you are claiming to be tough, you are a wannabe. A poser. Who wants to be
tough? There’s always someone tougher than you. It’s a big facade and it never ends well.
Do you like the scene on the North Shore more now or 20-years ago? I think everyone is nicer now probably because of social media.
Everyone gets along. I think it’s fine. It wasn’t exactly fun back in the day when you had to do what you had to do. Times change
and you have to evolve with it. I’m not living in the past. Before is before. Now is now.
Switching gears a bit, at what point did you pick up jiu-jitsu?
I picked it up because there was a lot of Brazilians coming to Hawaii at the time and an influx of
them in the surf. I got introduced to it and I loved it from the beginning. It was go surf and then
go train. I loved it and never stopped.
Tell me about your time in Brazil.
In jiu-jitsu everything was in Brazil back then and I wanted to go to the motherland of training. I started
training there and Royler Gracie had me enter the state tournament. I won that and he wanted me
to enter the Brasileiro against all of Brasil. I broke my foot in the final but that ignited it. I came
back the next year and did a couple more tournaments. Worlds came along and I won that. That
was 97 and 98. It was just a blur. Feels like so long ago. I don’t even look back on it anymore to be
What do you think has given you more. Surfing or Jiu Jitsu?
Surfing has given me everything I have in my life. It has given me a job. It has given me a life. A
passion. Healing. Free of stress. It’s a really pure moment to be out there in the water. Grappling
was just an add on to it all. It has been a getaway and escape for me from everything that was I
dealing with internally. It helped me not get it out on the streets or with the wrong people or anything like
that. It was an outlet for me.
What are some of the things you might mention an up-and-coming surfer from California that is super-green and knows nothing about jiu jitsu and wants to learn?
You got to be consistent. No matter what you do, you have to practice. You have to drill. You
can’t just bang your head and roll, roll, roll. You drill to instill.
When did it become competitive for you and when did you feel like you had a future in it?
I never knew I had a future in anything. Everything was day-to-day all the way till I was 29 or
30. There was no plan for the future. Everything was blooming and happening but I had never
been a real ambitious guy, to be honest.
What is your biggest achievement in your eyes?
To be able to raise my kids and love my wife. Giving them the love and guidance that I never
had. What you do in life, that’s not your legacy. Your legacy is your kids. Whatever you do in
life, if you’re a top athlete in the world, that’s your God-given talent. That doesn’t mean anything.
You were born with it. What matters is when the rubber hits the road and how you carry yourself
and how you treat people. It’s about how you treat your family.
I’ve had the chance to hang out with your son, Kaikoa, he’s such a humble and nice kid. What are the things you try and instill in him?
I try to instill humility and to appreciate what you have. There’s no handouts in life. Everything
you get you have to earn and keep moving forward. Learn from your mistakes because they are
all life-lessons. It’s not what you did, it’s what your doing today. As long as you keep moving
forward and progressing, even if its baby steps, you’re still moving forward. Don’t have any
regrets in life. All of your regrets are stepping stones to where you are today if you are lucky
enough to learn from them.
Do you have any regrets?
I have zero.
Do you think your family is proud of your achievements?
I have no idea to be honest. They are just happy that I’m married and healthy. That I have a house
and am paying my bills. Being a good a member of society. That’s all you can really hope for in
What’s your role now with RVCA? What have they allowed you to do in regards to
growing as a person? How happy are you to be with a company that has the same passions
It’s a blessing. To go to RVCA and see Pat Tenore’s vision and the direction he’s going in is a
blessing. I don’t have to be apart of surfing or go babysit anyone anymore. Being apart of RVCA
Sport and having launched that brand and being an advocate for them on the North Shore and
how they have their hands on the pulse, I love it. I have access to all the top grapplers, boxers
and fighters in the world. Since the day Pat started RVCA, its been incredible.
Did you ever envision surfing and jiu jitsu becoming so intertwined?
No, but in retrospect, I should have because when I was in Rio everybody surfed. I didn’t connect
the dots at the time. Even if they aren’t affiliated with RVCA, they come to the North Shore to
surf. We get to train and pass knowledge. It’s incredible. We get to train and meet so many high-
caliber people from every aspect.
What do you want your legacy to be? What do you want people to know about the real Kai
That I’m a God fearing man and that I’m a good father, husband, and uncle. Everything else doesn’t
matter. You don’t have to be blood to be family. I try and treat everyone as kind and evenly as I
can nowadays. I still look how I look but I can’t help that. God made me look like this. I can’t
help my old reputation, it is what it is but what I can do is control myself and how I treat
Last question. Who gave you the nickname “Kaiborg” ?
I have no idea.