Eli Olson: The Modern Pipe Guy

He’s a Pipe guy. Year after year, you’ve heard this moniker — mostly in reference to underground Hawaiian pros that make a living surfing Pipeline. As if they were a bronzed stable of one-trick ponies. As if becoming a “Pipe guy” didn’t require broken bones, concussions, scalpings and decades of determination. One such guy that deals with this subtle bigotry is the North Shore’s Eli Olson. But here’s the thing: Eli’s loyalty ain’t only limited to Madame Banzai. The kid’s carving a name for himself at heavy-water waves all over the world, from Maui to Tahiti to Oz. He’s also working with O’Neill to help make this path a little safer for the rest. So yeah, Eli’s not just a Pipe Guy, but if mistaken for one…well, he probably wouldn’t take offense. –Beau Flemister

Eli Olson: I don’t mind it at all if people just know me as a “Pipe guy.” I’ve put in my time and been recognized out there, and that’s tough because Pipe is one of the crazier waves in the world. But I do know that’s a lot more of a narrow route than grinding on tour. I just have a tough time paying a ton of money to travel to some tiny wave for a low-star ‘QS, stressing out, getting angry… I’ve seen too many people forget why they surf because of that grind. I’ve seen friends get depressed, even once they’re on the ‘CT! But as far as that “narrower” route, I’ve been trying to push it harder in big waves. I’ve done some trips to Jaws, giant Teahupo’o, Ours…I really love it and I think that’s my path.

I really admire guys like the Walshes on Maui. They’re so concerned with water safety, and instead of just worrying about themselves, they’re doing stuff that spreads all over the world for big-wave surfers and safety. I just helped make a paddle vest for O’Neill and then tested it. It’s a design I came up with. Right now it’s just limited issue, but I think in the future they’ll release more.

From surfing so many big waves, my small-wave surfing has gotten so much better. Maybe because I got so relaxed, now I’m thinking: ‘This wave won’t do anything to me.’ [laughs] I also don’t just limit myself to Pipe; I surf everywhere on the North Shore when it’s smaller. I’m 22 years old but feel like the most surf-stoked grom ever.
I’m lucky because I have a good group of friends and every guy in that group is a legend in his own category. Like, Kiron [Jabour] has potential to be on the ‘CT and do serious damage with John. Koa [Rothman], I mean, you’ve seen that Chopes wave. Nate and Ivan [Florence], they pull off stuff sometimes that’s like, How did you do that? And, of course, John is possibly not human. Our energy is really cool because we grew up together; I had John in classes in kindergarten right there at Sunset Beach Elementary. We have a good thing going where we have a strict rotation at Pipe. Everyone can get a good one. Like, if I haven’t gotten a good one in a while, and one of them is deeper than me, I’ll still get it and vice versa. It’s rad.

This winter I wanna push it as hard as I’ve ever gone. I feel like last winter I could’ve gotten more work done, so this winter I wanna be a hair more aggressive — but still nice to guys. From traveling I’ve seen that what goes around comes around. For instance, some dude in Mexico thanked me for calling him into one over here [at Pipe], and when I was there a year later I broke my boards and he hooked me up. It’s a small world and I’m all about building bridges, not burning them. I also believe in karma. There’s a fine line between being aggressive and being an asshole and I’m trying to find that balance. Like, I’ll never lose respect for any of my elders or try to take waves from them…but at the same time, people need to know — especially from outside of Hawaii — that we’ve put in so much time and we’re gonna be holding it down for a long time, and right now we’re stepping up to the plate and we won’t be holding back.

I’m just trying to be happy and live life to the fullest because life’s short and tomorrow’s never promised. And doing what we do — we put our lives on the line every session. So I want to make sure in the short time I’m here that I stay stoked and help as many people as I can and pass on the good vibes — to be a good role model to the next generation.