Here’s The Best Wave Of Kolohe Andino’s Life

After winning everything for 17 years, including six WQS events in 2011 on his way to Dream Tour qualification, Kolohe Andino spent the better part of 2012 and 2013 losing in the first or second round of nearly every WCT. His contracts with Hurley, Target and Red Bull still deemed him one of the best surfers in the world, but his ho-hum results told another story. Life on tour ain’t always an easy adjustment, especially for a teenager.

Kolohe turned 20 on March 22, and less than two months later, he turned in the best result of his young career when he finished second in the Billabong Rio Pro to Michel Bourez. Since Brazil, he’s been a staple on the final day of nearly every WCT. New age, new outlook. Currently, Kolohe sits at 10th place in the world and recently surfed the “best wave of his life” in Portugal. Back at his house in San Clemente, California, I figured that was as good a place to start as any. –Zander Morton

SURFING: How good was that day?
KOLOHE ANDINO: It was crazy good, but that was the best wave that came in. When I paddled into it, I was looking at Jordy, John and Josh. The J’s. [laughs] It was just us four out. I was in the barrel looking out at those guys and I was just screaming. I came out and went straight into a really good section, and for some reason decided to do an alley-oop. I never do alley-oops.

Yeah, that doesn’t seem like your go-to air at all.
I’m more of a frontside air-reverse guy. I always see John John doing huge alley-oops on big sections, and that wave wedged together perfectly. The night before, John made a big one, so when I launched mine I was like, “I’m just gonna go for it — try to make it.” I’ve seriously been studying those things like crazy. Everyone says they’re super easy, but they’re really hard for me.

It’s the opposite of your normal rotation.
Yeah, exactly. When I did that one, I was trying to keep all those little things I had studied in my mind. Usually, when I do airs that big, I straighten my legs all the way because I’m not used to being that high, but when I do that, I land super hard and fall. So on that one I was telling myself, “keep it sucked up, keep it sucked up,” and somehow I made it. I stood there for a second, flung my board out in front of me and then I went in. Done. That was the best wave of my life.

How good did it feel to land that in front of those guys?
You can see in the clip, they’re all clapping right at the end. Yeah, it feels good. It’s a lot better that they were there.

People like to claim biggest and best, but that’s gotta be up there…
It’s definitely the highest air I’ve ever done.

How was Portugal?
The event was a little anticlimactic. But a lot was happening over there. Your air, Slater’s 540. Speaking of which, were you out that day, too? Yeah, I was. It was that perfect wind where you could get barreled and also do airs. Kelly paddled out and I was like, “Oh man, this is your kind of air wind.” It was the same kind of wind as when he did that air at Bells. I saw him take off on that wave, and then he did… that. I didn’t think he made it because I couldn’t see him ride away.

After he over-rotates, you wouldn’t expect him to land it.
Exactly. Myself, Mitch Crews, Brandon Guilmette and Brett Simpson all watched it from the back. We were tripping. When I was younger and I’d see guys like Kelly do crazy shit in person, I’d almost freeze up and not want to catch a wave afterward. I feel like I’m almost used to it now because I’m around the tour and people are always doing crazy shit, but after Kelly’s air, Mitch didn’t catch a wave for the rest of the session. [laughs]

Julian Wilson says the best surfing is happening on tour because of the added pressure. Do you feel the same way?
Yeah, totally. And all around it. Like I said: Jordy, Josh and John John were all out there when I caught that wave in Portugal. I definitely want to try my hardest not to get smoked by them. Which can be frustrating, too, if you’re having even a little bit of a shocker and they’re ripping super hard. Sometimes I’m just like, “F–k, this sucks. I suck.”

You basically spend an entire year surfing with the best guys in the world and pushing each other.
Yeah, it’s crazy. Kelly did that 540, the next day I got my wave and then later that afternoon Jordy did a really big backflip. I was overwhelmed with crazy surfing.

On a different note, did you always know you were going to make it on tour? Was there ever any doubt?
When I was younger I was always winning; I didn’t really know any other feeling. But I guess the only time I doubted myself was at the end of last year and the beginning of this year. I had to ask myself: “Am I good enough to actually be in the top 10, or the top five? Or am I just going to be one of those guys that are scraping at the bottom, just trying to requalify every year?” Which is fine, there’s no other place I’d rather be than on tour, but last year the best result I got on tour was a ninth. I got one ninth. I was asking myself, even though I was only 19 years old, “Am I good enough? Is it ever going to happen for me?” I was really frustrated and really down on myself.

You’re a big sports guy; did you take any comfort watching other star college athletes stumble in the big leagues as rookies? You see it happen all the time. And what’s changed the last six months?
As much as I watch sports and watch rookie athletes having shockers, I’ve always been really hard on myself. I would never — and I still don’t — make any excuses for myself. Like, I’m young, but that’s not an excuse. I think my big turning point was when I beat Travis Logie in the fifth round in Brazil. I beat him with an interference; I got a wave right at the end. It’s one of those things in sports, like if a young, struggling quarterback finally scores a big touchdown at the end of the game to win, after that it seems like everything goes right.

Are you going into 2015 with a different confidence? Treating yourself like a world title contender?
I’ll be 21 at the beginning of next year, so I’ve got so much time. Realistically, I’ll probably start going for the title when I’m 25. The main thing I’m stoked on is I’ve been surfing a lot and having a lot of fun. I feel like my surfing is improving in the areas that it has to. I just keep trying to get better and better because I’ve got John John and Gabriel that are the same age as me, and they’re obviously doing really well.

Who is your biggest motivator right now?
Definitely John John, and obviously Gabriel, but John is my friend and he’s from Hawaii and I think his surfing has been incredible this back half of the year. Watching him surf, how he approaches a wave, how he approaches a session, how much he surfs…it’s super inspiring. Also Nat [Young], for his work ethic and his grind mode. Plus, he’s my best friend on tour so we hang out a lot.

Since Andy won the world title in 2004, it’s been all Kelly, Parko and Mick. Those guys will be in the conversation for as long as they’re still on tour, but are we seeing a bit of a shift in power?
Yeah, totally. Gabriel has been the ratings leader pretty much this whole year. John, I think he’s fourth. So now, you’ve got two guys that are under 23 in the top four. When I first came on tour, I was still star-struck by all my favorite surfers. It takes a while to adjust because you’ve got to believe you are going to smoke those guys when you come up against them in the quarters — not just be happy to surf against them. I think that’s what Gabriel has done really well. He thinks everyone’s there to watch him. You can just tell he’s got so much confidence. He believes he’s going to win the world title and that he should and that he’s better than everyone. You can just tell by the way he walks in the room. And that’s the thing; you have to feel that way.

Gabriel’s stepdad came straight out and said, “He’s not here to make friends. He’s here to win the world title.” Which is true. How’s your relationship with Gabe?
He’s gotten a lot better and everyone’s noticed it. A couple of years ago, he was really hard to surf with just because he would get so many waves and be burning people, and it was kind of abrasive and overwhelming. But he’s super cool now and takes his turn. He knows his spot in the lineup. He’s rad, I have nothing against him. I actually love how focused he is and how patriotic he is. All of those Brazilians. They’re sick inspiration for me. I’m trying to get the Americans together like them. One of them will lose first round and they’ll still be at the event at the end, cheering each other on.

What are your thoughts on Medina winning the title this year?
It’s just going to fire me up even more.