Attitude Adjustment:Is Jamie O’Brien growing out of his cockiness and into his surfing?

By Aaron Checkwood

Nearly a year ago, I did an interview with Jamie O’Brien, and afterward I was convinced Jamie hated me for it because all I asked him about was his attitude. This time I wasn’t looking forward to the interview at all—in fact, nobody on the staff wanted to do it because the twenty year old has a rep of being extremely cocky. I mean, he can come across as a jerk—if you don’t know him. He can also be harsh, but in his world, you kinda have to be.

According to him, he’s cocky because he’s a product of his environment: the North Shore of O’ahu—the macho-man surf capital of the universe. In order to get respect, and more importantly waves, you have to carry an attitude—if you don’t, people will walk all over you.

Jamie was raised by a North Shore lifeguard around the best and toughest surfers in the world, and smack dab in the middle of the famous wintertime media frenzy. The kid has traveled the world to surf contests, has already been a Pipe Masters trials finalist, and won the three-star Hansen’s Energy Pro event at Pipe this year as well.

Despite his travels and transition out of adolescence, he still retains that edge—he’s never afraid to say what’s on his mind. And that’s cool. The surfing world needs that flavor. As this interview shows, reputations are different than reality—the kid’s definitely growing up, but has his attitude?

Do you ever regret anything you say?

Not really. I just want to say it how I feel it. I don’t want to be the guy who holds back and tries to be a nice guy in the interview, and everyone’s like, “How sweet.” If everyone told it how it was, then that’s how it would be. I’m not cocky, I just feel like I have to say what I need to say.

What made you that way?

Where I grew up—living around Pipeline. When you’re younger, all these older guys are always yelling at you, and the next thing you know, you’re yelling at the younger guys. But not really younger guys from Hawai’i, these little guys from frickin’ California, or Florida, or whatever. It’s cool, you know, if they wait their turn, they get their wave, but if they don’t, you got to say something if they paddle straight out. If you don’t say anything, people are just going to shit on you. The other local guys are going to look at you and say, “This guy isn’t saying anything.”

If you could change anything …

I would change my phone number. No, I wouldn’t change anything. I just want people to know that considering where I grew up, seeing guys fight and stuff, I think I’m doing well for living in that environment. It’s hard to live around that kind of stuff. I draw myself away from all the parties. I like how I’m doing it. I’m not going to change myself and be this nice kiss-ass person. I don’t want to change myself for other people. I just like to be myself.

You don’t drink or do drugs. Why?

It’s kind of weird. You know how all parents are like, “Don’t drink, don’t do this or that, and if you do, tell me.” That’s how it is for every kid. That’s what my dad told me. And I always listen to my dad, because if I didn’t, I wouldn’t be where I’m at. I was kind of over it when I was younger, but then I got to the point where I was like, “Should I drink with these guys?” Then a couple times I was forced to drink by a couple big guys when I was younger. It just became something I fed off—I just felt stronger than that. I try to make it so things aren’t holding me back. [IMAGE 1]

You just don’t feel the need? You don’t care?

I’ll go out to a club, and everyone’s trying to get me to drink, and I’m like, “No.” Next thing you know, I’m dancing all night. I get my own high in the club. I’ll go dancing when I’m not even drunk, and everyone’s like, “You’re so ripped!” I’m like, “Whatevers, brah.”

Was your dad important in your surfing career?

My dad has been a big part since the beginning. Him and my godfather, Derek Doerner, used to take me surfing all e time. My dad was a lifeguard, so they would go to the beach seven days a week, and I would go with him every day. When I was little, he was like, “You want to be a pro surfer?” And I was like, “Yeah!” I was all stoked with my first board from Wayne Lynch. Ever since that, my dad’s been on top of it. He’s been pretty hard on me. He’d tell me, “Go surf or you’re not going to eat.” That’s kind of funny. I look back and laugh, and I’m like, “Right on, Dad, thanks for pushing me so hard.” If he wouldn’t have pushed me, I wouldn’t have made it this far. I would’ve been surfing, but I wouldn’t be at the level where I am now without my dad’s help.

It looks like Bruce is currently eleventh on the ‘QS—he might make it. How does he motivate you?

What motivates me is good contests in good waves. It’s good to see Bruce making it. I put myself in a category below those guys, but I still want to get to their category. I see Bruce making his heats and qualifying, and I kind of feed off it. It’s like, “Wow, if Bruce can do it, I can do it. Guys who surf good influence me, and guys who surf good with bad style and are real aggro don’t influence me. It’s good to see guys like Bruce and Wardo (Chris Ward]) and Bobby Martinez, just the new guys and not just from America, even young guys from Australia. There’re a lot of really good surfers with good styles coming up right now. It’s hard for us to take out those ‘CT guys. [IMAGE 2]

Do you consider Bruce a rival?

Bruce isn’t a rival, he’s more like my idol. I look up to him and look forward to surfing against him in a contest. I’ll take second, but if I get the good waves, I could win. It’s kind of like surfing with your favorite surfer.

In the whole scheme of things at Pipe, do you ever look at yourself like, “I’m up here on the ladder at a certain point for getting waves”?

I look at it like I’ve been there every day since I was little—summer, winter, summer, winter. Nobody’s there in the summer, and that’s how you see who really lives there when they’re there in the summer. I don’t know. When I paddle out to Pipe, I don’t go, “I’m gonna go out there and rule the peak.” I just paddle out there and hope I catch a good right or a left. I just want to catch one good wave per session. Sometimes you get three, sometimes you get ten, sometimes you get none, hit the reef, and go in. It’s all spur of the moment, you know? That’s the advantage of living there, you just sit back at home, wait ’til everyone goes in, and you paddle out and get all the waves. That’s how it is.

Do you think growing up at Pipe and getting comfortable in a place like that has allowed you to be comfortable as a person to say anything you want and do anything you want?

Well, Pipeline’s the kind of wave, like any other gnarly wave, that teaches you respect. It teaches you to be humble. Mother Nature just lays you down. It kind of sets you right in your spot. It’s such an amping wave, you kind of get rowdy. If someone drops in and gets pounded and grinds across the reef, you’re psyched. Even if you eat it at Pipe and it’s your fault, you pop back up screaming. It’s a real psyched thing. You can’t get that feeling anywhere else. It’d be like getting knocked out and jumping right back up. It’s pretty cool. [IMAGE 3]

Do you ever worry about your safety in the water?

Sometimes I start thinking about it because I broke both my legs at Pipe. Sometimes before I take off on waves, I start feeling my ankles and think it’s good to have my ankles all good—not taking it for granted. Just in case that next wave takes me out, I know I took some time to feel good before I went downhill (got injured).

What would you do if you were hurt and had to lay up for a while?

It happened to me before. It’d be kind of cool. I’d just cruise at home and drive my truck around all day. I’d go to all the car shows and sound shows and do different stuff.

Was winning Pipe in February a big deal for you?

I figure a win at Pipe is a win at Pipe. It’s like a champion belt in boxing to me. I don’t care if it’s the Pipe Masters or a one star. To win at Pipe is definitely a big thing. It was the first time I got around a 64 seed at Pipe. In the morning it was pretty big, and it was getting big(ger) quick. My dad was like, “Which board are you going to ride? The one you’ve been riding?” And I was like, “No. I just waxed up a brand new 7’2″.” My dad just went, “No. Ride your other board.” I just waxed up a new board and won my heat. My dad’s all baffled, like he doesn’t know what to tell me. The next thing you know, I was in the quarters, just waxed up a brand-new 7’4″, and paddled out. My dad’s just shook his head again. It was kind of cool. Just being at home and relaxed with all the support on the beach. Everything went my way that day. I thought I got second, but I didn’t know. There was such a vibe in the water, because Bruce caught that first wave, and I heard the whole beach light up. I just thought, “There goes my whole dream of winning a Pipe contest.” Next thing you know, there’s a wave right behind it. When you kick out of that wave, you hear the whole beach clapping and stuff. It’s a really cool vibe. And that’s how it is at Pipe Masters, too.

Do you think someday you’ll get a Pipe Masters title?

big deal for you?

I figure a win at Pipe is a win at Pipe. It’s like a champion belt in boxing to me. I don’t care if it’s the Pipe Masters or a one star. To win at Pipe is definitely a big thing. It was the first time I got around a 64 seed at Pipe. In the morning it was pretty big, and it was getting big(ger) quick. My dad was like, “Which board are you going to ride? The one you’ve been riding?” And I was like, “No. I just waxed up a brand new 7’2″.” My dad just went, “No. Ride your other board.” I just waxed up a new board and won my heat. My dad’s all baffled, like he doesn’t know what to tell me. The next thing you know, I was in the quarters, just waxed up a brand-new 7’4″, and paddled out. My dad’s just shook his head again. It was kind of cool. Just being at home and relaxed with all the support on the beach. Everything went my way that day. I thought I got second, but I didn’t know. There was such a vibe in the water, because Bruce caught that first wave, and I heard the whole beach light up. I just thought, “There goes my whole dream of winning a Pipe contest.” Next thing you know, there’s a wave right behind it. When you kick out of that wave, you hear the whole beach clapping and stuff. It’s a really cool vibe. And that’s how it is at Pipe Masters, too.

Do you think someday you’ll get a Pipe Masters title?