Jamie O’Brien And The Art Of Joy

There's more to the (over the top) picture than meets the eye

WAIMEA BAY_HAWAII_©HANK FOTOPhoto: Hank

I was supposed to be on the raft.

But as a result of poor timing, I never got on the raft. I arrived on Oahu a little too late. Jamie O’Brien was already focused on Pipe Masters and the conditions weren’t looking very raft-worthy anyway. So instead of rowing into a wave on 20-something feet of inflatable disregard, I drove a car over to Jamie’s house one evening.

I parked on the side of Kam Highway, walked down a dirt path, through a gate, up some stairs and through Jamie’s door, petting an old black Labrador Retriever on the way in. I sat on a stool and admired his décor — a mix of surf and Ikea, with a very clear and tasteful ode to Pipe — then asked him about his life, his stunts, his raft and his reason. Here’s what he had to say:

“I think surfing was in need of something different. For a while now, a lot of the same people have been doing a lot of the same things. It all seemed really predictable to me. So I’ve been trying to catch people off guard and give them something new to watch and enjoy.

Our show, Who Is JOB?, tries to capture all the fun that comes with the surfing lifestyle. We’ve been trying these crazy things and having such a good time, and now people are starting to realize how enjoyable it all is.

The cool thing is that everyone can relate to having fun because everyone is capable of having fun. People might have a hard time relating to high-performance surfing — even I do, sometimes. I’ve watched John John do a crazy air into the flats and felt like I couldn’t even relate to it. But when it comes to having fun, anybody can do it. So it’s easier to inspire people this way.

We’re great at failing. We fail a lot, but that’s just part of it. We went big-wave rafting at Phantoms this one day. It was about 20 feet and really scary-looking. I swear it was the most balls-to-the-wall thing I’ve ever done. I had friends calling me to go to Jaws for that swell and I’m like, no, I’m going rafting. We whipped into one and got killed. It put us in a pretty heavy predicament, but those are the things that keep everything real.

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We actually started to call ourselves Team Grom because we kind of act like kids — we’ll just think of something fun and then go make it happen, regardless of the consequences. I think there’s still that kid in all of us, the kid that does what they want and doesn’t worry about being weird or worry about what people might think. And you can either reminisce about those days you had as a kid or keep the ball rolling. It’s pretty clear which route we chose.”

Eventually, the conversation trailed off into Pipeline, then into pleasantries and before I know it I was saying goodbye to the big black Lab. As I walked back down that dirt path to the car, feeling suddenly childish, I realized something.

Maybe I was on the raft. Maybe I’ve been on the raft all along. Maybe we can all be on the raft, if we choose to be.

Sure sounds better than a scowl.