Editor’s note: This is one in a series of Q&As with members of the Big Island sporting community.
Shane Dorian has been one of the Big Island’s biggest sports stars for more than two decades. He learned his craft here and then took it to the Association of Surfing Professionals, where he ranked among the best in the world. He’s starred in a feature-length film (1998’s “In God’s Hands”) and documentaries. And he continues to make waves, as evidenced by his Billabong XXL Ride of the Year award in 2013. As he wraps up a documentary series on surfing for ABC and ESPN, he sat down with West Hawaii Today to discuss his career, the sport of surfing and the Big Island.
Q: You were recently in Mexico. What was that about and where are you now with your career?
A: I was in Mexico for a docu-series that I’m doing for ESPN. I went to Mexico to finish up filming for that. I got to be part of a series that will be on ABC and also ESPN. I was there filming kind of the wrap-up for that.
There was a really big, an unusually large south swell going to Mexico. Part of my job is to chase swells, and this docu-series that I’m working on is all about chasing big waves around the world.
Q: You said you chase swells all over the world. How does that work?
A: It’s pretty weird. People ask me what I do for a living all the time. I’ve been doing it for over 20 years and I have no idea how to answer them. It’s still confusing to me that I get paid to go surfing.
I don’t think of myself as having a real job. I’m really, really lucky to do what I love for a living. The gist of my job now is to continue surfing at the best of my ability and try and be relevant with my surfing performances. I surf in a limited amount of competitions each year. Most of those consist of big-wave events. I surf in the Eddie Aikau Invitational on the North Shore of Oahu, which is probably the most prestigious big-wave event. I surf in the Mavericks Invitational in Half Moon Bay. I’ll be surfing in the Jaws event this year, which is an invitational event over on Maui. It will be the first paddle-in event at Jaws in history.
I have a limited amount of events. I do things for my sponsors, a lot of editorial surfing trips for magazines and movies and stuff like that. Mainly, exposure is my job. I don’t know. It’s probably more confusing after I explained it.
Q: The Keiki Classic will be coming up on its 20th year in 2015. What is and how it has grown?
A: Our Keiki contest is the same as when we started. Basically, what we wanted to do is provide the kids in the community of the Big Island just something cool to look forward to. Simple, grassroots, surfing event. Not so much, hard-core competition or anything like that. The kids have a lot to choose from in regards to serious surfing competitions that are prestigious and lead to this or that.
We’ve really tried to make our event just about having a great day in the community, bringing your kids down, bringing your parents down, having fun. The kids need a 2.25 grade-point average to get into the event. It’s free besides bringing a couple of cans of food to give to a food bank. It’s a free event for kids. They’ve got to get decent grades to get in. It’s as simple as that.
I invite my pro surfer buddies. They come over and help judge and surf with the kids and talk to the kids. They’re on site all day, just to make an appearance and hang out. It’s a really mellow, community-based event. It doesn’t have any ulterior motives. We’re not making any money off it or anything like that. It’s just something fun to do for the kids.
Q: What advice do you give to young surfers?
A: Kids ask me that all the time and parents, too. My advice is: Surfing, first and foremost, should be all about having fun. It’s something to share with your friends and have a good time with.
It’s interesting. Nowadays, it’s a lot different. I really started getting into surfing in the early and mid-80s. Things were very simple back then. Traveling to other islands to surf was a big deal. Traveling for a competition on Oahu was a big deal. My family didn’t have any money. I didn’t really have sponsors that are like the sponsors these days, so it was very simple back then.
These days, it’s a lot different. Kids have a lot of support at a young age. Once they show potential, things get real serious. Sponsors come in, the parents get real serious and parents start taking their kids out of school and putting them in home school, traveling full time, trying to get real serious about competitions and building their kid into this eventual pro surfer.
I think it’s a mistake to get caught up in a lot of that stuff. It’s so neat when you see kids that just love to surf. They simply love to go surfing. Once they’re done with their homework for the day, they just want to surf until dark. That’s the real beauty of surfing. It will be there after you’re done with your contest. If you lose, if you win, surfing is always there for you as just something really fun to do. If you base your surfing on that, then good things happen.
Q: You described it a little bit in that answer, how has the surfing world changed since you started?
A: The surfing world has changed, since I’ve gotten started, probably in every way, shape and form. The industry has expanded quite a bit. Surfing has become more popular. It’s much easier to travel to different destinations these days. It’s much more common.
There’s a lot more on the line. The surfing industry has grown. The brands have gotten very big. There is a part of surfing that has sort of become big business, but the one thing that never changes is surfing. Still, after all of these years, there’s nothing that makes me happier than just driving to the beach, grabbing my trunks and my surfboard and going surfing. No matter what kind of day I had, if my kids are stressing me out or I have to pay the bills and I’m worried about that, or whatever it is, surfing is always there for you. That’s the beauty of surfing.
Q: You’re into cross training now. How important is doing different kinds of training than when you first started?
A: Training for surfing, when I first got started, was really non-existent. Even now, for the majority of surfing and surfers, it’s not really that important to do cross training. The best thing you can do, for most types of surfing, is just surf as much as possible — for kids especially. I think the kids look at the pro surfers these days and see them doing cross training and think that’s really necessary, but most of what you need you can get through surfing — surfing every day as much as you can.
For my focus, which is big-wave stuff, I train a whole lot because I want to survive. It’s more of a survival thing. A lot of the big-wave stuff I do is really dangerous. People drown and die all the time. For me, I’ve had multiple friends pass away surfing big waves. If I can control any little part of surfing big waves, I’m going to do my best to be as fit as I can. For me, it’s more like a job requirement.
Q: The Big Island has undergone many changes since you first started surfing. How is it different, generally speaking, as well as it relates specifically to surfing?
A: I was born in Kona and raised here and it’s pretty interesting to see how much the town has grown. There was only a couple of stoplights when I was a kid, literally, in the whole town. So many people have moved here and it’s expanded and become a really big town. It was such a sleepy little town when I was a kid.
It’s funny, because you talk to a lot of old-timers and they kind of are baffled by the growth. I understand it. If I didn’t live here, I’d want to move here, too. It’s still a great town and I love living here, still, to this day.
But it’s undergone a lot of changes, in the surfing world as well. When I was a little kid, you’d never see a pro surfer living on the Big Island. It was like this place was completely off the map. Now, we have multiple pro surfers that are from Kona, and they’re very active, traveling in and out. We have quite a few pro surfers that visit the island as well.
Q: Excluding your own, what is your favorite surfing film?
A: That’s a good one. I don’t know. There was a film put out just over a year ago by John John Florence. He’s probably the coolest pro surfer these days. He’s a young guy from Oahu and the North Shore. I’m a huge fan of his. He put out a movie just over a year ago called “Done.” It was really ground-breaking for the time. His ability level is just hard to fathom. He’s an incredible surfer. He has this insane natural ability, and that film really showcases that.
It’s neat to see someone — especially as someone from Hawaii — someone that represents us so well. He competes full time on the tour now, going for a world title, but that was probably my favorite film.
Q: Sticking with films, what was the experience like, to make “In God’s Hands?”
A: Making the movie was awesome. It was really fun. There were a couple of buddies of mine who were also working on the film. It was a lot of fun. We had a blast making it. We filmed in Indonesia, in Mexico and California and here in Hawaii. It was like six months of getting paid to basically goof off and have fun.
But it was also a learning experience for me, because I didn’t have any kind of training. I never did any drama in high school or nothing like that, so it was literally a clean slate when I did it. I learned very quickly that that wasn’t the avenue I wanted to go down in the future. So, I kind of ticked the box and moved on.
Q: You mentioned some of the places there that you were filming and you’ve traveled over the world for surfing – I understand you even split your school years between Oahu and the Big Island for surfing – but you still call Kailua-Kona home. Why?
A: I don’t know. My family still lives in Kona and, for me, it’s home. My wife Lisa moved here from Los Angeles. At the time, it was a huge downshift for her, as far as pace goes. She was used to the city. For a little while there, I thought I was going to have to move away from home — for a long, long time. I’m really grateful that never transpired.
I really do like living here. It’s a simple lifestyle. People have their priorities straight. They’re not concerned with what you drive or where your kids go to school. It’s not important. This is a great place for me to raise my family. My kids are what’s important to me. It’s a simple lifestyle and it’s great. I think people just have their head on straight on the Big Island. I like that.