By Todd Prodanovich
It’s a pristine January morning on the North Shore, and Pipeline is the best it’s been in years. Tube-riding savants are taking turns pulling into turquoise caverns, either getting chewed up by Pipe’s foamy molars or spit out onto the shoulder to a symphony of hoots and whistles. It’s an aquatic gladiator pit if ever there was one.
Nick Marshall would love to paddle out, but something is holding him back. It’s not the fact that Marshall is only 15 years old and that one heavy Pipe lip could vaporize him (although no one would blame him if that were his deterrent.) The reason is that the Volcom Pipe Pro is on, and Marshall is not an entrant.
The idea of Marshall competing in powerful Hawaiian surf, however, is not at all hard to imagine. The young goofyfoot spends his winters with his family on the North Shore, at a house just up the path from Rocky Point. Most days, he’s out there splitting the peak with his natural-footed brother, Jake, and doing a pretty spot-on impression of a miniature Mark Occhilupo. Marshall has a low, powerful stance, which gives him plenty of projection when he’s bashing some of the North Shore’s less-fortunate lips. But Marshall’s true passion is heavy barrels.
“When Pipe is good and I can get waves, that’s my favorite place to surf,” Marshall tells me as we sit on his family’s lanai, drinking fresh green smoothies his mother, Hillary, made. I ask him if he’s gotten any solid ones at Pipe. “A couple,” he says with a steely thousand-yard stare that looks slightly comical on a 15-year-old face.
It seems strange that Marshall should have swagger in heavy surf, considering that he learned to surf at Naples Pier along the Gulf Coast of Florida. Marshall explains that when he was 4 years old, his dad would drag him through the nearshore ripples by the leash of his bodyboard while Marshall tried to stay on his feet. But it didn’t take long before he upgraded to a fiberglass craft (a paper-thin 4’2″) and started tearing those ripples to pieces.
While Marshall’s roots are in waves of little consequence, today he spends much of his time traveling abroad to serious breaks. Marshall’s itinerary last summer included visits to thumping Nicaraguan beachbreaks, dry-reef barrels at Kandui, and Tahiti’s most infamous slab.
“Teahupoo is so good, it’s insane,” Marshall tells me. “It’s the most perfect barrel ever. Plus, the crowd is super sick. If you wait your turn and commit to a wave, the locals will let you go, even if it’s a really good one.”
Marshall explains how he wants to keep traveling and improving his act, especially in barreling surf. He’s also highly competitive, with aspirations to one day be a dominant force on the World Tour.
“Yeah, there’s pressure,” Marshall admits with regard to his lofty goals. “But I like pressure. That’s why I work hard, so I can be ready for that.”
Suddenly, Marshall doesn’t seem like a grom at all. He’s echoing sentiments heard in post-heat interviews with hardened WSL competitors focused on improving their surfing through long hours in the water, strict dieting, and supplemental exercise routines.
I wondered if Marshall was taking surfing a bit seriously for a 15-year-old, and if it was possible that the childish fun of gromhood was already in his rearview. But then he mentions a detail about a recent trip to Bali.
“You can get the weirdest stuff there,” he says. “I got, like, five samurai swords, and they’re so sick. They’re pretty sharp. I actually don’t know how we got those back from Bali on the plane…”
Never mind. He’s still a grom, 100 percent.