And then what?
I was raised as a Christian, and I’m not saying I’m super religious but I believe in God, and at home I was going to church trying to figure out who I was and what I was going to do. I was looking for answers. I was about to be a dad but I had no real job and I felt like a loser. It took about four months before things sunk in. At that point, I was over surfing. I was bummed with my surf career. I’d taken a wrong turn and I just wanted to open a new chapter in life and do what I needed to for my coming son.
I’m sure that was added stress, though, becoming a father.
Yes and no. Before the news I was in such a dark place—I felt like I had no soul. I was depressed, even when I was surfing and getting paid. So at first I was terrified, but after the news settled a switch flipped in my mind. I wanted to have a kid. It was the thing that was going to wake me up and get me motivated. Everything started to take a turn at that point. I was going to church and focusing on positives.
How did it feel watching guys like Dane that you grew up surfing with flourish while you were working shitty side jobs?
After six months of hardly surfing, I paddled out at Strand. My surfing had gone to shit and I was out of shape. But that day I showed up early, and the waves were firing. It was really, really good. For the first time in years I was excited, and realized I hadn’t felt that in so long. I could hardly get my wetsuit on fast enough—I ripped through my booties. But I sprinted out there and surfed all day, and it made me remember why I love surfing. I got a natural high, and I hadn’t felt that in so long. That was the moment I realized surfing was the only thing I know how to do well.
That day at Strand, I let go of the pressure I put on myself and the negativity I harbored toward surfing, and I finally went out and enjoyed myself. I was like, “Who cares if I suck on this wave or surf like crap all day, I just need to have fun.” That was a turning point. From there I started surfing a few times a week and then before I knew it was surfing every single chance I had. I was still working my ass off and Darlene was getting really pregnant [laughs], but I quickly fell back in love with surfing. I no longer had any pressure to perform and good things started happening.
Sounds like you had to build some positive momentum.
After that day the good things in my life started snowballing. Of course it was a process, and it still is. Todd Proctor was another big influence. He made sure I had boards, he surfed with me, he settled me down when I started getting negative and frustrated, and he kept me in check. It was nice of him; he tried to get me back on track. He didn’t want me to waste my talent. He told me recently, “I didn’t know when you were going to snap out of it, but I knew you would.” He was a genuinely good friend, not just a shaper giving me boards. And he wasn’t the only one: My parents were always there for me; they stuck by my side through the good and the bad. Once I had Roenn, that was when everything came full circle. That was it. My life made sense.
Can you describe the feeling of becoming a dad?
It’s not really describable. It’s a mixture of every emotion in the world: happy, sad, scared, excited, nervous…you name it. It fried my brain for a while. But, it’s the best thing that has happened to me. That day my life changed. I get teary-eyed thinking about it. Having a child made me feel like all the things I’d been doing my whole life, how selfish I’d been, it all went out the door. All my focus and energy went to him.
I’d assume that’s not a fleeting moment either—you have a son now and you have to take care of him.
He’s an everyday reminder for me. Some people have wake up calls in other ways, but this is what it took for me. I had no purpose, but he came out and now I do. I want to raise him and love him. He’s a gift and a reminder to never to do the things I was doing before. I can’t be an immature, stupid, cocky kid. I want to be a focused dad. It sounds crazy, but I want to yell at the world, “I’m back, I’m here, I want to do something with my life!” He’s four-and-a-half months now and he’s been the biggest blessing in the world.
When did you get reunited with Reef?
At the beginning of January.
How does it feel to have a second chance? In surfing a lot of guys who blow it once never get that opportunity.
I have to say, my buddy Chris Papaleo has had my back so hard through all this—along with my family and shaper Todd Proctor—and he was there for me and believed in me every day. Chris poured so much into helping me. He’s been the one filming in the cold and missing his real job, losing income, just to help me. It was his idea to film and edit and get stuff on the web—and that was before he even owned a camera. If it weren’t for Chris I wouldn’t have gotten another chance. His web edits have been my foot back in the door.
That’s a rad thing about the Internet—it’s the perfect place to showcase good surfing and get people’s attention.
Like you said, it’s hard to get another chance and I couldn’t appreciate it more. This time, I’m not going to blow it. I get it now. This is work. Before I didn’t know what I was doing. I was just f—king around doing stupid stuff. I’m 24 now; it’s now or never. I’m focused on my son, my surfing, Darlene, and my family. Everything is simplified. I have a good mind-set and a lot of hope. I’ll no longer put myself in situations to be around the things that ruined me last time.
Things are certainly looking up. How’d it feel when Slater tweeted he thought you might be the world’s best unsponsored surfer a few months back?
It was crazy, because as soon as my attitude changed good things started flowing right to me. I was in disbelief; I didn’t believe it was really Kelly that said that. I was shocked. I felt like a little kid again. In a million years I never expected Kelly Slater to tweet about me.
Having the best surfer in the world backing you had to be a vote of confidence if there ever was one.
For sure, that made me think: “Maybe I’m not dreaming. I’m not washed up. Maybe I really can do this.” I couldn’t believe he paid any attention to what I was doing. And it was rad, because Chris spoke with him over e-mail afterward and he came up to meet us and surf, and he was really cool. We had a good time. Chris filmed, and of course he’s all jazzed to be filming the king, and his presence made us feel like what we were doing was important. Like, if we’re getting Slater’s attention, maybe there is more to this than we originally thought.