Danny Nichols Up Close

Up Close Danny Nichols

Melding Of The Manchild
Up Close: Danny Nichols
by Aaron Checkwood

Danny Nichols is the “Manchild”-a name given to him by his friend Ryan Sakal as a tribute to his “early maturity.” At five-ten and 175 pounds in high school, he wasn’t extraordinarily big; he was, however, forced to grow a lot faster mentally and succeeded in conditions where others his age might’ve failed. He was born not knowing his father, finished high school without parental support, and is quickly becoming one of America’s top up-and-coming surfers. Danny’s story isn’t uncommon, but it can definitely be looked at as hope for anyone who’s never been handed anything on a platter-he’s persevered, and it’s paid off.

[IMAGE 1]A second-generation Huntington Beach, California resident, the 21 year old grew up with only his mother, Joni, and the occasional father figures who were his mother’s boyfriends-guys he’s still friends with today. His mom has a free-spirited personality and was easy on Danny, which made the whole non-father issue a nonfactor. She was a good mother because he could talk to her: “She’s a free spirit and she’s always taught me that, so it’s been easy for me to just kinda go through life not worried, freaked out, or bummed because I didn’t have certain family members,” he says. “For some reason, not having a dad never really bothered me too much, like I never really gave my mom and my family any guilt about it,” he admits. “It was like, ‘I don’t have a dad-whatever.’ I know that when I’m a dad, I’ll be the best dad in the whole world. I think it’s a good benefit ’cause I’ll give my kid what I never had.”

His situation took a turn for the worse during his junior and senior years of high school when a couple tragedies occured in his mother’s life, including his grandfather’s death-“She spiraled and got lost for a while,” he says. “She didn’t know what do to or what her purpose was. I was at the point where, ‘Hey, I’m going through my junior and senior years, I need some guidance here,’ and she really couldn’t do it.”

[IMAGE 2]As a result, he turned to his grandmother and aunt, who were supportive, but he refused to live with them, eventually moving out to live with photographer Dustin Humphrey. Life in downtown Huntington Beach, California was simple because he could walk to school and work: “It’s Main Street and it’s right in the middle of everything.” From there the Manchild took control of things and aimed at finishing his senior year at Huntington Beach High, working at Huntington Surf and Sport, and essentially relying on his friends and his girlfriend and her family. “You always have your mom, the stuff I’ve learned and know, and what I’ve learned from my friends. I was living on my own my senior year of high school with Dustin. He showed me the ropes a little bit. I just grew up on my own early, and if it wasn’t for my friends, I wouldn’t be where I am now.”

“Some people could grow up living in Western Australia and just have the most stress-free happy life, surf perfect waves, and just be stoked on life-they just cruise and are happy with that,” he adds. “Growing up in Huntington has showed me a work ethic because I had to survive-especially since I didn’t have a rich family. I learned the life lessons early, learning the retail and sales industry-basically, primed for whatever.”

As for his surfing career, that never came easy, either. Starting slowly, he never really shortboarded until he was a freshman in high school. “I was longboarding and Boogie boarding, and I got into high school,” he says. “Andy Verdone Huntington High surf coach was like, ‘You’ve got to get on a shortboard. I want you trying out for the surf team.'”By his junior year he started doing all right in the high school contests and did some NSSAs, soon he got picked up by Rusty under a shop sponsorship: “They were gonna pay for my NSSAs because I was still in high school and I was on the surf team. II went through the whole NSSA season just struggling, barely getting by-working, pushing too hard, I guess-I wanted to do good.” His big break came when he made it to the finals of the Junior Pro during the U.S. Open in 1997. “I just graduated, hadn’t gone anywhere, and it opened some doors,” he explains. “That was huge because it was my hometown-I had all my friends and family there. It showed me I could do this.

“As a professional surfer, I’m a team player. I know it’s an individual sport, but if you ride for an apparel company like Billabong-that’s a team. They’ve got star players like Dorian, Ross, Taj, and Benji-they’re like the superstars. I’m more out there to help the company get photos, video-just marketing. You know, the guy right below the stars who picks up the rear.”[IMAGE 3]

Huntington’s long list of surf fame starts with guys he looked up to such as Bud Llamas, Gary Clisby, Barry and Jeff Deffenbaugh, Mark Moreno, and Jay Larson, with a new generation of guys including Tim Reyes, Micah Byrne, and Shaun Ward making huge strides.

“In competition, I’ve gotten over the nervous factor when you draw someone good in your heat. If you don’t have much contest experience, you’re like, ‘Whoa, that guy rips.’ Right there you give that guy an edge over you-I don’t feel that way anymore. I go into a heat and I’m like, ‘I’m gonna kick your ass. I’m gonna win!’ That’s my goal, and I try hard-it’s all trial and error.”

When it comes to the whole career, he had no idea things would go this well. Up until his senior year, nobody really knew who Danny Nichols was, and he wasn’t even sure he wanted to be a professional surfer: “I always thought it’d be insane, but I never really had the confidence or the backing to be looked at as a future pro surfer … things just started opening up for me. Every time something happened, I was all, ‘Okay, I can be a surfer. I can make a living out of it.’ I kept getting stepping stones.”

Hopefully, now people will know who the Manchild is.