Hector Santamaria walks into a room and — BAM! — it comes alive. Colors change from fluorescent-lit drab to sparkly rainbow, royal purple, diggity-diamond and, best of all, platinum. Platinumch (Hector adds “ch” to many words). “I see it, all around,” he says. And his eyes, his mad, squinty eyes, widen. “What? You don’t see the colors? You don’t feel them?” he says. And his voice, his Puerto Rican-tinged voice raises to higher and higher octaves of disbelief.
On paper he is merely a surfer. A sponsored Puerto Rican surfer from Jobos Beach. “I’m from Jobos but you can put Slowbos. That is what I call it. Hahahaha!” I ask him if the locals will be upset and he says, “I don’t care. It’s all about having fun. It’s not what people think. I don’t care what people think. I don’t care nothing. Hahahaha!” And the wildest thing is, he really does not care, which makes him the rarest bird. A giant breath of fresh air. We all, every one of us, walk down the street caring what people think. Professional surfers care especially. Professional surfers sit for interviews and hem and haw but not Hector Santamaria. He sings.
His surfing is a thing of wonder, combining all the progressive airs with all classic style. Lately he’s been working on frontflips, because “nobody else is trying them.” And he is most definitely filled with chi power. Chi, or qi, is best described as a “life force.” It is the active principle forming any living thing. And Hector is filled with it. “That is the thing I loved about surfing first, the chi, for sure. Just like the energy I got when I stand up for the first time it’s like, ‘Ooooooh what is that? What is happening? Ayeyeyeye!’ I just felt the love and I’m like, ‘I’m doing this forever.’” And how, exactly, did Hector learn about chi? “I read books. The Power of Now. I reeeaad chchch C.S. Lewis. He’s sick. He has chi. Mega chi. I just love the chi of surfing. The first time I went everything turned into particles and then my mom started taking me surfing all the time and I thought, ‘Oh yeah! This is the best, heh? I’m not going to school. Hahahaha!’”
So where, exactly, has the most chi? “Florida has no chi. Cali has good chi. Puerto Rico has good chi. You know where’s good chi? Fiji. They have chi but it’s kinda slow. It’s not like I thought. But Cali has the most chi for sure. I feel Cali is wicked ‘cause a lot of people live here so everything is moving.”
Hector Santamaria does not compete. “I don’t like contests. First of all, you need time to do what you love. You don’t want 30 minutes of stupid. Like, you cannot do a double rotation in a contest because you don’t have the…the…the chi is not there.” He just lives. He lives bigger and wilder and more colorfully and without any sort of restraint. A giant breath of fresh air.
I heard a story from a friend that said he paddled out one completely crowded Trestles day and as he paddled he heard a loud siren coming from the lineup. When he got closer he heard people yelling at the siren, “Hey, shut the f–k up!” But the siren continued. And then he saw Hector Santamaria sitting on the peak, waving his arms in circles, head to the sky, screaming out a siren sound. What does he think when people yell at him to shut the f–k up? “I don’t care. I don’t care. I’m just giving it my best. I’m not trying to kill anyone. When they yell, ‘Hey! Schut up!’ I yell back, ‘You don’t pay my bills!’ Hahahaha! And then I say, ‘Chi power. Chi power. No chi suckers!’” The rarest bird. In a world that has turned fluorescent-lit drab, Hector Santamaria is our color. –Chas Smith