Who’s Now/Who’s Next: Ten Surfers To Watch In 2011

Billy Kemper. Photo: Epes Sargent

Billy Kemper. Photo: Epes Sargent

Maui Power Broker: Billy Kemper

The maneuver de jour may be a big, smooth air reverse, but there are damn few people in the world that can bust out that, and get an XXL-contending barrel at Jaws. Maui’s Billy Kemper is on the short list, and at twenty years old, he’s just getting started.

Billy Kemper

Billy "the Valley Isle kid" Kemper.

Kemper had a solid junior career and can compete in the small stuff, but things got interesting with a massive barrel ride at Jaws last year that shot him into the limelight. It was the day before the Eddie, when the surf was even bigger and more out of control. Jaws was off its face, and Kemper got whipped into a big dog. Even though it looked unmakeable and his tow partner screamed at him to pull out, he had a feeling he could make it, and gunned it. “It was hands down the best barrel of my life,” says Kemper. “Going down the line I was talking to myself saying, ‘Is this really going to happen, am I going to fall, am I going to die?’ But I got this weird feeling that I should go for it.” He squeaked out the doggy door on the end, and on to the next level.

“I think my brother gave me a little help from up above on that one,” he says. Kemper’s brother, up-and-coming surfer Eric Diaz, passed away in 1998, and has been a major source of inspiration.

His style and attack are reminiscent of Hawaiian legends Sunny Garcia and Pancho Sullivan, which makes perfect sense since both are among his favorite surfers. He’s a modern ambassador of the Hawaiian power surfing tradition, and evidenced by his mean ass pocket power carve, which he pushes as steep and far back as it’s possible to throw a face carve.

If chasing WQS points around the world were his goal, his small wave game could use some tightening, but after bigger game. “What Ian Walsh does is inspiring,” he says. “He and Makua [Rothman] kinda have the same deal; they do a few contests here and there so they can do the Triple Crown, and the rest of the year they’re surfing the biggest, best waves in the world. Whether it’s paddling in to a twenty footer, or towing into a 50 footer, that’s all I want to do.”—Casey Koteen

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