While those outside of Hawaii may be asking, “Billy who?” 20-year old Billy Kemper from Maui recently won the HIC Pro Sunset Beach, putting his name alongside Andy Irons, Pancho Sullivan, Sunny Garcia, Michael Ho, Ronnie Burns, and Bruce Irons; some of the greatest surfers to ever tackle the shifting peaks at Sunset.
I first met Billy years ago in Tahiti when his mom, Lisa, took then nine-year old Billy and his friend Nalu Wallace there for a summertime surf trip. Little did I know then that little Billy would grow up to win one of the most prestigious contests on the North Shore at arguably the toughest places to surf in the world.
Growing up in the shadow of his late brother, Eric Diaz, and Maui surfers like Kai Henry, Kaleo Roberson, and Tai Van Dyke, Billy’s surfing is amazingly well-rounded; he can punt airs at Pavilions and tow-into Jaws all on the same swell. We caught up with Billy just before he paddled out at Haleiwa for a Reef Hawaiian Pro warm up session…—Justin Coté
Billy Kemper vitals…
Kazuma Surfboards, DaKine, Sponsor Me, HGA, Skullbase
TransWorld SURF: Tell us about where you grew up?
Growing up at Hookipa on Maui was great; it’s filled with lots of good people and positive vibes!
Who were some of the guys you looked up to when you were young?
There’s so much talent on Maui, I really had a lot of people to look up to, especially my brother Eric Diaz, Kaimana Henry, as well as Andy Irons.
What influence did your brother, Eric, have on you?
If you’ve seen him surf you would know, he was different then anyone, he surfed like a grown man at 15 and was never scared. When I surf I feel like I’m surfing with and against him. Nobody has influenced me as much as him—he’s my favorite surfer ever.
What was your brother like as a surfer and a person?
He was fearless and psyched! He loved big waves—his dream was to be in the Eddie one day. As a person, ask the girls, they all seemed to love him, he was always smiling and always up to have a good time.
You mentioned Andy Irons earlier, how did he shape you as a surfer?
Andy was someone that inspired me to surf in every and any kind of wave. I looked up to him my whole life—he is the best surfer to ever live!
What’s your last memory of AI?
I was coming home from the Teahupoo trials this summer and he was just getting off the flight. He had pure determination in his eyes and was so psyched for that event. He was telling us to stay and watch him smoke guys!
I read somewhere that you had a special feeling the morning of the HIC at Sunset. What was that all about?
I went for an early surf before the comp and as I was walking across the street at Sunset I was singing a song in my head that reminded me of my brother and Andy. Just then I looked up into the sky and a gust of wind and a few raindrops hit me. I got the craziest chicken skin… I knew right then and there that was going to be my day!
Do you feel like the memory of Andy and your brother helped you win?
Yeah, it gave me a lot of motivation to go out and have fun like they would do… I felt as if I was surfing with them.
After your win at Sunset, you received a wildcard into the Reef Hawaiian Pro at Haleiwa. What’s it going to take to do well there?
Same thing as any contest—heart and confidence. I’ll just surf hard and just take it heat by heat.
Give us some predictions for the North Shore this winter…
A lot of pushing the limits and underground guys making names for themselves.
Who’s gonna paddle into the biggest wave?
Who knows? Whoever has the biggest balls!
Who’s gonna get the biggest, most badass barrel at Pipe?
Who’s gonna win the Eddie?
Who’s gonna pull the most chicks?
My brotha, Tom Dosland!
Tow in or paddle?
It depends on the wave. If you can paddle then definitely paddle! If it’s too big and nuts to paddle, then tow, but you better pack it [charge a big one] if you’re towing in!
Sunset or Pipe?
Both! You can’t just surf one of the spots to be the best.
Blonde or brunette?
Come on now, brunettes any day!