Unchained: Is Shane Dorian retired or finally free to explore, create, and devastate?

Shane Dorian was thrust into the spotlight over a decade ago, and he’s been squinting from the beams of bright lights ever since. His facial expressions and aura of true cool are reminiscent of a young, tan, Hawai‘ian version of James Dean. The way he used to dress, you might even say James Bond. Regardless of Shane’s out-of-water stylings, one thing is for sure, in the water, he’s a calm and collected wave slayer who fears nothing. While we’ve barely caught a glimpse of his psychotic big-wave abilities, you can bet this year we will see Shane on some of the biggest waves Earth has to offer. Free from his ASP chains, he has the freedom to explore, create, and devastate surf spots of the world. Just minutes before boarding a plane to Morocco, Shane opened up his seemingly mysterious persona and spilled his guts about the tour, big-wave surfing, drugs, and growing up.–Chris Cote

Let’s start with the obvious–why did you decide to retire from the tour in your prime?

I decided to retire from the tour in my prime for a couple reasons. First of all, I want to get better at surfing. I just want to surf better, and during the tour, I was always conforming to the judging criteria. I would look at waves in terms of points, and I didn’t really want to do that anymore. I just want to be able to go surfing and not care about anything, do big airs and catch big waves–stuff like that.

It’s kinda like the show Sex And The City–they decided to call it quits at the show’s peak of popularity. Maybe that’s a stupid analogy, but was that a conscious decision for you?

It was more like Jay-Z’s retirement than Sex And The City’s.

What’s your life at home like, now that you’re not traveling ten months out of the year?

It’s nice at home. I’m definitely not a retired pro surfer, I’m just retired from the tour. I’m gonna be really, really active, you know–lots of trips and all kinds of projects going on. I’m going to be home a bit more than I have been in the past, which will be nice. But I’m also excited about all the trips and projects I have going on.

You’re a solitary, wandering ninja–a freesurf ripper.

Freesurf ripper, yeah (laughs). It’s cool, because I’m not just the big-wave guy or the video guy. I get invited on trips with the Billabong Odyssey to surf big waves around the world. I get to go on all different kinds of trips. I feel really lucky that way.

Everyone says that you’re absolutely not scared of anything. Do you get scared of waves?

No, I do. I get scared for sure. I think anyone who doesn’t get scared is lying or really stupid. To not fear the ocean ever is not smart. Always respect the ocean. There’s no human being who could ever outpower the ocean. I mean, just last week I was in Tasmania surfing Shipsterns. The waves were ten to twelve feet, and I was scared of that wave for sure. That thing’s a gnarly double-up with a big rock headland right in front of it.

Do you charge harder than Laird?

(Laughs) When I look at Laird, I don’t look at him as someone who charges harder than everyone else. He’s really inspiring as far as taking performance surfing to the next level on big waves. He’s on a whole other level as far as ripping big waves is concerned. I think that’s the future. As far as him surfing bigger waves than anyone else–it’s a matter of opportunity really. I could name 50 people who would charge any wave that breaks, as long as they’re towed into it. It’s not a matter of charging so much as it is just having the opportunity. Luckily, I’m involved with the Odyssey and stuff, I get invited to go on these trips, and we go looking for big waves.

Is there such a thing as 100-foot wave?

Yeah, I think there is. I don’t think anyone’s really seen one yet, but it exists. That Cortez (Bank) place, (Shane pauses for a moment) it’s definitely not just some hype to sell some idea about big waves or clothes or whatever. That place has the potential. When I look back at that day, last year or the year before, there was a movie made called One Hundred Foot Wednesday about Mavericks, and it was 80 feet. If Mavericks was 80 feet, and the fetch of the swell is pointed at the direction of Cortez with that same amount of power–it would be over 100 feet.

Really? Come on.

Yeah, for sure. Nothing can stop it–Cortez Bank is in the middle of the ocean 100 miles out to sea. The swells don’t get broken down at all.

What’s going on in your brain when you’re towing in? I wonder what the f–k you’re thinking. A lot of people don’t understand it. I wouldn’t understand even surfing a twelve-foot wave. I mean, that’s a gnarly size to most people. But at twenty feet, 30 feet? What’s different about you than all of us? What mindset do you have in this situation?

I want to get pitted.

You want to get paid?

No, I want to get pitted.

I thought you said you want to get paid.

I want to get barreled is what I’m thinking. When I look at

photos of Cortez or Jaws, that’s what I want to do. See what it looks like to get barreled on a wave that big. That’s all that I want to do. It would be fun to rip the wave, but I want to see what it feels

like to get a barrel so big it doesn’t even seem like you’re inside it. There’s so much space, you’re like, “Am I really inside this thing?” I can’t even imagine what it would be like to get barreled in a 100-foot wave.

What wave is the craziest?

Jaws is definitely the gnarliest wave I’ve ever surfed. You know what? Teahupo‘o actually is the gnarliest and by far the most critical wave.

As far as, like, death-defying?

At Jaws, if you fall on the takeoff, there’s a pretty good chance you’re not gonna die. But during that session last year at Teahupo‘o, when Malik got that really big one, if you fell on a wave like that while you were in the barrel, there’s a really good chance you are going to die–a really good chance. There’s nowhere else like that in the world.

I heard that your dad was a stuntman. Is that true?

Yeah, he was, among other things.

Do you think that played into you having this ability to overcome fear and just charge?

I don’t think it had a whole lot to do with that. It had a lot to do with when I was a little kid. I was one of those kids who loved to make ramps for my bike and jump ’em. I don’t know. I was always super pumped on dangerous things–always. Just by nature–it was

always fun for me to be in a dangerous situation and not get hurt.

Speaking of dangerous, I heard when you were a kid, on your way to your driving test, you drove off a cliff?

(Laughs) Who told you that story?

Taylor (Steele).

Yeah, I did.

What happened?

I felt so terrible. My mom bought me this really cool truck. We had no money, so she worked two jobs, and saved up forever to buy me this little four-by-four Toyota flatbed when I was fourteen and a half. In Hawai‘i back then, you got your permit at fourteen and a half, and you got your license at fifteen. I had my permit for a few weeks, and I was driving my truck every day with my mom. When you have a permit, you have to drive with a licensed driver. The waves were really good the day I was going to go get my license. I got home from school and I told my mom, “Yeah, I gotta go get my license today.” She started getting ready to come with me, and I said, “Look, I want to go surfing right after I get my license, so don’t worry, I’ll just drive down and get my license, and then I’ll be sweet. I don’t have to drive all the way back up the hill and drop you off. She didn’t want me to, but I somehow talked her into not going with me, which was not a good idea. So I’m flying down the hill from my house, driving like an asshole–just speeding and stuff. I lost control, drove off the road, through a guardrail, a wall, and landed in a tree down in a cow pasture. So there were like cows mooing and getting out of the way. It wasn’t funny at the time, but looking back at it now, it’s kinda comical. It was terrible at the time.

New car–wrecked.

Yeah, it wasn’t cool.

There’re are a lot of badass Hawai‘ians on the scene these days.

That’s me (laughs).

I’ve never known you to scream at people or kick someone’s ass. Why are you so mellow? How are you so different than some of the “intimidators”?

I was always the guy who was friends with those guys, but I was never one of those guys. In school or whatever I never got hassled. In Hawai‘i you have a choice of who you want to be, or who you want to be around–I was always friends with the gnarly guys, but I never had wanted to be that way. It was way more fun to be friends with them than to be one of them.

What about on the North Shore? What do you think when you see someone getting their ass beat on the beach–not saying that that happens a lot, but it happens.

Oh yeah, it happens all the time. It’s hard. I’m torn, being from Hawai‘i. I’m pretty tight with the guys who are doing the regulating. In the early 90s, there would be 300 guys out at Pipe trying to be the hotshot. There were no rules. If Johnny Boy or Dane Kealoha weren’t out, people would do whatever they wanted. People would paddle out there and try to get the wave of the day no matter who they dropped in on. It’s not like that anymore. There’s a full-on pecking order. It’s enforced. When you paddle out there, all the boys who surf the best are the guys who run the place. To tell you the truth, I think it’s way better now. It’s way more enjoyable for me to surf Pipeline now, because people aren’t getting out of line. It was more dangerous before. It does get out of hand–people like to go over the line with it. The intimidation factor is usually enough to keep everyone minding their manners out there. Sometimes people like to get excited and beat guys senseless.

Do you drop in on people out there?

I don’t really need to. Like I said, there’s a pecking order out there. If you have a clue, you kind of know where you stand. If there’s someone above you in the pecking order paddling for the wave, you don’t paddle for it. If there’s someone below you, they usually let you paddle for it. I try to be the deepest guy, so hopefully I don’t have to drop in on anybody.

Have you ever kicked ass on anyone?

I’ve never been in a fight on the North Shore. To me, nothing’s really worth fighting over except your wife and family.

Okay, back to surfing. Taylor Steele told me that out of all the guys in the original Momentum crew, you’re the most concerned with being modern in your surfing. Not saying Slater and all those guys aren’t trying new stuff, but when we were on that trip to Indo, you were trying crazy Supermans and shit. I don’t really see the other guys your age trying that stuff. Why is that?

I’m just constantly inspired. When I was on tour, I’d surf with Andy, Taj, Parko, and Bruce. Those guys would be flying around. The guys from the generation after ours are doing crazy shit. I want to do that, tdy to come with me, and I said, “Look, I want to go surfing right after I get my license, so don’t worry, I’ll just drive down and get my license, and then I’ll be sweet. I don’t have to drive all the way back up the hill and drop you off. She didn’t want me to, but I somehow talked her into not going with me, which was not a good idea. So I’m flying down the hill from my house, driving like an asshole–just speeding and stuff. I lost control, drove off the road, through a guardrail, a wall, and landed in a tree down in a cow pasture. So there were like cows mooing and getting out of the way. It wasn’t funny at the time, but looking back at it now, it’s kinda comical. It was terrible at the time.

New car–wrecked.

Yeah, it wasn’t cool.

There’re are a lot of badass Hawai‘ians on the scene these days.

That’s me (laughs).

I’ve never known you to scream at people or kick someone’s ass. Why are you so mellow? How are you so different than some of the “intimidators”?

I was always the guy who was friends with those guys, but I was never one of those guys. In school or whatever I never got hassled. In Hawai‘i you have a choice of who you want to be, or who you want to be around–I was always friends with the gnarly guys, but I never had wanted to be that way. It was way more fun to be friends with them than to be one of them.

What about on the North Shore? What do you think when you see someone getting their ass beat on the beach–not saying that that happens a lot, but it happens.

Oh yeah, it happens all the time. It’s hard. I’m torn, being from Hawai‘i. I’m pretty tight with the guys who are doing the regulating. In the early 90s, there would be 300 guys out at Pipe trying to be the hotshot. There were no rules. If Johnny Boy or Dane Kealoha weren’t out, people would do whatever they wanted. People would paddle out there and try to get the wave of the day no matter who they dropped in on. It’s not like that anymore. There’s a full-on pecking order. It’s enforced. When you paddle out there, all the boys who surf the best are the guys who run the place. To tell you the truth, I think it’s way better now. It’s way more enjoyable for me to surf Pipeline now, because people aren’t getting out of line. It was more dangerous before. It does get out of hand–people like to go over the line with it. The intimidation factor is usually enough to keep everyone minding their manners out there. Sometimes people like to get excited and beat guys senseless.

Do you drop in on people out there?

I don’t really need to. Like I said, there’s a pecking order out there. If you have a clue, you kind of know where you stand. If there’s someone above you in the pecking order paddling for the wave, you don’t paddle for it. If there’s someone below you, they usually let you paddle for it. I try to be the deepest guy, so hopefully I don’t have to drop in on anybody.

Have you ever kicked ass on anyone?

I’ve never been in a fight on the North Shore. To me, nothing’s really worth fighting over except your wife and family.

Okay, back to surfing. Taylor Steele told me that out of all the guys in the original Momentum crew, you’re the most concerned with being modern in your surfing. Not saying Slater and all those guys aren’t trying new stuff, but when we were on that trip to Indo, you were trying crazy Supermans and shit. I don’t really see the other guys your age trying that stuff. Why is that?

I’m just constantly inspired. When I was on tour, I’d surf with Andy, Taj, Parko, and Bruce. Those guys would be flying around. The guys from the generation after ours are doing crazy shit. I want to do that, too, basically. I don’t want to say anything bad about the generation before us, but a lot of them were closed-minded about us. Gary Elkerton and those guys would be like, “Those guys are just sliding around and not using their rails–they’re kooks.” They were threatened by our generation. I’m not threatened by the next generation, I’m inspired by them. I want to do what they’re doing. When I see Joel Parkinson do a Superman–I want to do one, too. I want to do a bigger one. Now that I’m not on the tour, I can go do a ten-foot Superman and break my ankle–I don’t have to worry about doing a contest the next day.

So a big part of your life now would be video parts. Can you give us any hints about what we can expect?

In this next Taylor Steele movie I definitely want to have the best part I’ve ever had by far. I want people to be like, “Shit, I thought he was retired. What’s gotten into this kid?” I feel like a grom. I’ve been training for the last five years. I watch what I eat. I mean, I’m not an old man, I don’t have twenty kids, I’m not at home watching TV–out there I’m psyching. There’s so much left to do in surfing.

Are you getting all buff? Reading muscle magazines and all that?

(Laughs) I just want to be big enough to surf huge waves and light enough to surf tiny waves.

When you first got on the tour, it seemed like the 80s neon party vibe was dying out. But back then, there were fierce rivalries and people hated each other. When you and your friends got on the tour, it was like a lovefest. You guys would have group hugs before your heats and stuff. What was it like throughout that change?

You know what I think it was? People were so psyched in that older generation. It didn’t stop in the water. If you were going to the next contest in Japan and someone from the tour was on your flight, you would be trying to psych the guy out a week in advance. They went into the water and wanted to win no matter what. It didn’t matter to them if they won from an interference–that was fine to them. Our generation was the opposite. It was embarrassing to win by interference. There’s no way you could hang out and have a couple beers with the boys after winning like that. We wanted just to surf really well and beat the other guys fair and square.

What about the party vibe? The 80s guys were radical–you guys seemed like golfers or something.

When I first got on the tour it was a big coke party, literally. Full Miami Vice. Everyone was just blown out all night, no sleep–just coked out of their brains. Full glam-rock style. For some reason all of our friends–Rob, Kelly, Ross, Taylor Knox–we weren’t really partiers when we were young. We weren’t interested in doing a bunch of coke and getting sweaty with everybody else. We’d go have a beer and have a nice dinner–you know.

Now that you’re off the tour, what do you think about it?

It’s cool. Yesterday I was reading the ASP press release. This is the first time I’ve ever been at home when this whole thing is starting. It’s weird, but I don’t wish I were there at all. As much as I loved the tour, it’s great to be home.

There’re some rivalries starting up again, especially Andy and Kelly. What do you think of that one?

It’s great for surfing. I’ve been there since it started. It’s a really genuine rivalry. Most of the stuff you read about Andy and Kelly is true. It’s rare–they really, really want to beat each other. The only reason Kelly’s going on tour is to beat Andy. There’s only one guy on the whole tour he wants to beat, and it’s Andy. I’ve known Kelly for fifteen years. If he would’ve won last year, I almost guaranteed he would’ve retired. He only had one thing left to prove, and that was to beat the younger guys.

So is he more amped than ever?

Yeah. It’s great to see. He’s gonna put on an inspired performance. He’s coming out of the gates swinging, bloodthirsty, and he has to be in order to win over Andy. Andy’s really psyched too. Joel is, Mick is, they all are.

Who do you think is going to take it?

It’s even money. But you know what’s really cool about Andy? He didn’t have a really good chance of winning last year, but he doesn’t care about defending a world title. He never worries about points and all that–he just goes out there and shreds the waves to bits. He wants to kill everything and murder everybody. He doesn’t defend a title, but he goes out there and fights like he’s never even had one. That’s what people want to see. This is going to be a great year for the tour.

What about Bruce?

Bruce is amazing. He’s one of my favorite surfers. His ability is obviously there, and the waves on the tour are so good. He’s as good as anyone on the tour in perfect waves. He could easily win in Tahiti, F