Up Close With Jason Shibata

Up Close: Jason Shibata
Domo Arigato, Mister Shibato

Interviews are giant contradictions in what being human is all about. Some people have crazy stories about the time they were drunk and drove their car off a cliff, got arrested at the zoo, or whatever. Sure, those are the stories that interest everyone-they’re great reading-but nobody gets any real benefit except a good laugh. Other interviews are with good, honest, hard workers like Jason Shibata. Although it may not be a story about pimpin’, Jason’s example shows us all how to succeed.You see, Jason isn’t known for vices-he’s known for his hard work. While other famous surfers his age were traveling the world, Jason was at home, going to a private school, surfing Barber’s Point, and doing what he’s doing now as a professional surfer-working hard. It’s not uncommon for “Alotta Shibata” to simply e-mail his sponsors and the magazines to let everyone know where he is and how he can be contacted-a very, very uncommon trait. This is the Jason Shibata interview-a tribute to persistence and the success that follows.-A.C.

CALLOUTS
“It was tough watching my friends always go on magazines’ photo trips or enter a contest here and do good. It really drove me to stay motivated and focused.”

“The first year on the WQS was spent taking knocks on the head, sucking up a lot of losses, and trying to figure out what I should do better next time.”

“I think competition is really important-kids grew up surfing in competition, and that’s pretty much who you are as a kid.”

“I’m just trying push myself and find out who I am.”

“If you want something, work for it, and sure enough, you’re gonna get it. That’s something I believe.”

[IMAGE 1]Tell us a little about growing up.
I started surfing at the age of ten-my dad taught me. I learned at Barber’s Point on the southwest side of O’ahu with Kekoa Bacalso, Joel Centeio, and Macy Mullen. It was fun. I’d just go surfing, catch a couple waves, and do something else.Then I started entering contests, maybe when I was twelve, in the Menehune division against Bruce and Andy Irons, and Mikala Jones. They’d already been surfing competitions for about three, four years and had a whole bunch of years ahead of them surfing. That’s kind of what pushed me to be where I am today and just made me work-step up a level quicker than most kids do when they’re starting off. I’m grateful for that.Also, I got really good support from Ben Aipa, who was shaping for Town and Country at the time and made my boards. He helped coach me, and showed me the things I kind of overlooked-style, quality of surfing, and quality of waves. There are a lot of people who kind of helped me along the way, and Town and Country really did a lot for me when I was really young, like by giving me some free boards.Brian Surratt took me on some trips when I was riding for Gotcha-a lot of people helped and pushed me to become better. But I still concentrated a lot on school, and surfing was kind of like my hobby. It wasn’t like my future career. It was just something to do on the weekends-I never surfed during weekdays, just Fridays after school and Saturday and Sunday probably until I was about a sophomore in high school.It was tough-the more I got into surfing, the more I wanted to surf. But I knew I had to get my school work done-the first priority was my studies. That’s why when I graduated and went to turn pro, I hit it head-on. Then, every chance I got to surf, I went surfing, and every chance I got to travel, I traveled. It was tough watching my friends always go on magazines’ photo trips or enter a contest here and do good. It really drove me to stay motivated and focused.

At what age did you figure out you were gonna be a pro surfer?
I didn’t really know I was gonna be a pro surfer until I was about seventeen-my junior year in high school. I went to a private school and had a lot of work. I never got to takeff for trips or contest stuff. I never really took surfing that seriously until I was just about eighteen.

So in a sense, you were like a late bloomer in this whole process?
Yeah.[IMAGE 2]Do you think that’ll keep you in the game for a long time?
A lot of kids my age have been doing it since they were thirteen, fourteen, or fifteen, so it’s old news to them. For me, it’s all fresh-going to Australia-basically, going anywhere. I always look at it traveling to contests in a positive light. Like going to Brazil for a contest-the waves are small, yeah, but not everyone gets to go there and see the people and their culture. I’m really enjoying myself, and I’m grateful for it.

Is it safe to say no matter what career you chose, you would’ve succeeded?
Yeah. If I were to stay home and shoot photos, I’d stay home and do the best I could at that. My goal is to make the WCT Top 44, so I went out my first year with that goal in mind. Starting from the first round, it was tough seeing younger kids having a higher seed in events. I had to surf so many more times, but then again, it was an opportunity knocking on my door.I can get that much more experience and play off of other people’s mistakes surfing from the first round-learn the system-and I did just that. This is gonna be my third year doing the WQS. The first year was spent taking knocks on the head, sucking up a lot of losses, and trying to figure out what I should do better next time. That’s kind of what I do in everything-if you make a mistake, at least you learned a lesson. That’s kind of where I went. If I were to stay at home and just shoot photos versus traveling, I think I’d be successful because I put everything I have into that.

Did your family push you to study and work hard?
My mom’s Glenda a really hard worker, and for her, studies came first. My dad David really wanted me to surf, so he let me do the studies on my own. He knew I had to do it, and he didn’t push me. He was like, “Hey, do it later. Let’s go surfing or something.”The way my mom molded me was school first and surfing second. That stuck in my head, and it’s the way I go. Sure, you really want to go on to college, but once she saw my sponsors were really pushing me-sending me on trips, doing ads, and really stoked on my results-she understood that surfers can actually make a living off of surfing. She asked me what I wanted to do, and I told her I wanted to be a professional surfer, so she backed me up on it. She supports me as much as any mother could. My dad still pushes me to surf and do my best.

What do your parents do for a living?
My mom works for the Navy as a program analyst, and my dad is an electrician for the Army.

You’re not a military family are you?
No. They’re both civilian, and that’s what got us on Barber’s Point. It’s a military base, and it’s pretty restricted. So it was easy to learn to surf there-it’s a really easy wave. It wasn’t crowded, people were really nice, and it’s a clean place to go surfing. There’ve been tons of great surfers who came from that side: Jason Gans, Isaac Kaneshiro, and Chad Delgado. It was a good place to learn how to surf.

If surfing never really panned out, what would’ve been your career?
My first love is surfing-everything I do is around surfing. I’d really like to give back to kids who are learning how to surf, so I’d want to be in the surf industry one way or another. And if that didn’t work out, I wouldn’t mind going back to school and getting my degree. Or maybe I’d start a company-I’d try to pursue anything that has to do with surfing.

If you were recently appointed the marketing director for the sport of surfing, what would you do to make it one of the most popular sports in the world?
I think competition is really important-kids grew up surfing in competition, and that’s pretty much who you are as a kid. If you win this contest, you’re this and you’re that. It really doesn’t necessarily say who’s the better surfer because there’re hundreds of guys like Margo (Brendan Margieson) and Dave Rastovich who don’t really excel in contests, but they’re great surfers. You’d have to do a format that’d entice a general market.Surfing has to be brought more together. Television’s really important-not everyone can go to the beach and watch it. That’s what’s good about the Internet-a lot of people can sit online like I am right now and watch the H.I.C. contest from their house. It’s cool because it gives people who’ve never seen surfing before an idea of what’s going on.

Where do you see your niche in the sport now and in the future?
Immediately, I’m just trying push myself and find out who I am. Do I really want to be in the Top 44?
Do I really want to just go on photo trips, surf good waves, and get a lot of exposure?
Right now, I want to make the Top 44, and there’re only 44 surfers in the world who can say, “Hey, I made it!” There’s only one world champ-why not strive for that?
At least give it my best shot, that’s what I want to do. Hopefully within the next year or two, I’ll qualify for the WCT, make more of a name for myself, and represent Hawai’i the best way I can.

Has there ever been a life-changing event that’s affecting you to this day?
When I was thirteen years old, Rell Sunn took me on my first surf trip to France. Basically, it was my first international trip. She took a bunch of kids: Fred Patacchia, Macy Mullen, Kekoa Bacalso, T.J. Barron-there were a whole bunch us. We fund-raised and worked hard to get to where we needed to go. We sold tickets and all kinds of stuff. Sponsors donated things to sell-they really pushed for us. Rell’s goal was to take us surfing and to show us the world while she still could. She was really sick with cancer, and she knew it. She took a handful of kids who did her contest, who she saw had potential, and I was fortunate to go-I’m really grateful for that. We went to France for about two weeks and had a great time at the Biarritz Surf Festival. Being twelve years old with 20,000 people on the beach is pretty exciting-we were signing autographs. She wanted to show us why she loved surfing, to spread the aloha spirit and have fun. That kind of grew on me as well, and I’m sure Fred Patacchia feels the same way. We were really grateful for what she did. We just try and perpetuate surfing to have fun.

Is your success a tribute to her legacy?
I think so. She taught us how to be good sports, be dedicated, and live our goals. If you want something, work for it, and sure enough, you’re gonna get it. That’s something I believe.[IMAGE 3]

ly doesn’t necessarily say who’s the better surfer because there’re hundreds of guys like Margo (Brendan Margieson) and Dave Rastovich who don’t really excel in contests, but they’re great surfers. You’d have to do a format that’d entice a general market.Surfing has to be brought more together. Television’s really important-not everyone can go to the beach and watch it. That’s what’s good about the Internet-a lot of people can sit online like I am right now and watch the H.I.C. contest from their house. It’s cool because it gives people who’ve never seen surfing before an idea of what’s going on.

Where do you see your niche in the sport now and in the future?
Immediately, I’m just trying push myself and find out who I am. Do I really want to be in the Top 44?
Do I really want to just go on photo trips, surf good waves, and get a lot of exposure?
Right now, I want to make the Top 44, and there’re only 44 surfers in the world who can say, “Hey, I made it!” There’s only one world champ-why not strive for that?
At least give it my best shot, that’s what I want to do. Hopefully within the next year or two, I’ll qualify for the WCT, make more of a name for myself, and represent Hawai’i the best way I can.

Has there ever been a life-changing event that’s affecting you to this day?
When I was thirteen years old, Rell Sunn took me on my first surf trip to France. Basically, it was my first international trip. She took a bunch of kids: Fred Patacchia, Macy Mullen, Kekoa Bacalso, T.J. Barron-there were a whole bunch us. We fund-raised and worked hard to get to where we needed to go. We sold tickets and all kinds of stuff. Sponsors donated things to sell-they really pushed for us. Rell’s goal was to take us surfing and to show us the world while she still could. She was really sick with cancer, and she knew it. She took a handful of kids who did her contest, who she saw had potential, and I was fortunate to go-I’m really grateful for that. We went to France for about two weeks and had a great time at the Biarritz Surf Festival. Being twelve years old with 20,000 people on the beach is pretty exciting-we were signing autographs. She wanted to show us why she loved surfing, to spread the aloha spirit and have fun. That kind of grew on me as well, and I’m sure Fred Patacchia feels the same way. We were really grateful for what she did. We just try and perpetuate surfing to have fun.

Is your success a tribute to her legacy?
I think so. She taught us how to be good sports, be dedicated, and live our goals. If you want something, work for it, and sure enough, you’re gonna get it. That’s something I believe.[IMAGE 3]