Facing some of the most talented Pipe surfers in the world, Kaimana Henry — a name you won’t often hear blasted over a contest’s loudspeaker — came away with a rather convincing win recently at the Da Hui Backdoor Shootout. Thanks in large part to threading one of the heaviest tubes of the season, Henry seemed to manhandle Pipe and Backdoor, muscling through one meaty barrel after another. Following his win, we reached out to the Maui native to get his perspective on the event, the history of Maui’s talent pool, and his new lease on life.
Before we get into talking about your win at the Shootout, let’s get some backstory. You’re originally from Maui and helped usher in that first wave of Valley Isle surfers into the mainstream in the early 2000s. How would you describe the surf scene on Maui when you were a teenager and coming of age?
I think Maui has always been a strong household name in the surf scene. In the early days, you had guys like Lloyd Isimini and Matt Kinoshita [of Kazuma Surfboards] that not only shaped really good boards, but also charged some of the craziest waves ever, laying a lot of the ground work for what was to come. Then you had guys like Steve Cooney who were winning air shows and helping to put Maui on the map even more. Of course, there’s Eric Diaz, who was blowing minds at Nationals, or Kaleo Roberson and Tai Van Dyke, who were pushing the air movement in the early Volcom movies. I think we’ve always been on the scene, but it was just a little more underground and raw than it is now.
Fast-forward to today and the current young generation of surfers from Maui are really taking hold. Did you imagine that Maui would ever become such a hotbed for talent worldwide?
I think it was only a matter of time until the talent level we had here on the Valley Isle was recognized across the world. I think the internet—and a little air wind—led to the Marzos and Kai Bargers of the island getting more attention. Today, these guys are putting out some of the most entertaining web clips I’ve ever seen.
Are you still calling Maui home, or do you live full-time on the North Shore?
I’ve been living full time on Oahu for a few years now and have really been enjoying myself. But Maui will always hold a very special place in my heart. I’ve had so many great memories and fun times there. It’ll always be home to me.
In the early to mid 2000s, it seemed like the North Shore was heavily regulated. But today, while matters in the lineup are obviously still kept in check, it feels like the vibe has mellowed down a bit. Would you agree with that?
Yeah, I think that it’s definitely a lot more mellow now that all the mad dogs are a little older and think twice before beating someone up or breaking out their fins. No one likes going to jail. Plus, these big companies don’t want someone that’s a loose cannon representing their brand. Let’s just say kids are getting away with murder these days compared to a few years back.
Okay, now to the Shootout. For those in the know, you’re always a standout at big Backdoor and Pipe. But at this event, it looked like you were really competing on a higher plane, and you came away with a huge win over some of the most well-known surfers on the planet.
I’ve been trying to put in a lot of time and just get comfortable out there. When you’re surfing against the best of the best, and you make even the tiniest mistake, you’re done. I’ve never been big on competition, but the Shootout’s format gives everyone a chance to relax and really showcase their skills. My whole plan was to approach it just like a freesurf.
Can you describe that 11-point ride? That must have been one of your best waves of the winter, or even the year.
I just paddled over from Off the Wall to Backdoor when Tom [Dosland] and Jamie [O’Brien] scrambled for a left. I went over that one and was hoping there was another good wave behind it, and bang—there it was! It kinda looked like a closeout, but I figured what the heck. I dropped in, got to the bottom, gave it one big pump, and my board took off on me. I had a quick second to collect myself. That’s when I saw the wave do the craziest vacuum-suction spit-trip. At this point, I couldn’t see anything. Finally, I was able to sort of navigate through it. I felt like I just might have a chance to make this thing! So I gave it a couple more hell pumps and it was like slow motion watching the lip fall and I remember thinking, Stand tall when you come out. It was definitely one of the best Backdoor waves I’ve ever caught.
It really looks like you’re surfing sharper than ever. Do you feel that you’re more on point now?
In the past, after getting dropped by my sponsors for being injured and getting into trouble with the law, I realized that I had taken surfing for granted. It was really just in the last five or so years that I got that fire back. I realized that surfing is what I love doing, and I want this to be a part of me for the rest of my life. Being in the ocean and surrounding myself with good people has helped me to be stronger in and out of the water more than I’ve ever been before. So yes, I do feel like I’m surfing better than ever. It feels great.
So what’s next for you in the coming months?
I’m just trying to soak it all up. We have the Volcom Pipe Pro just around the corner and there’s still a lot of winter left, so I’ll be staying busy. That being said, I think I’m really overdue for a trip somewhere, so I think it’s going to be a busy few months leading into summer. But with everything I’ve been through, having a great winter and winning this event really makes me appreciate every little thing.