Koa Rothman’s having a hell of a winter. Each Pipe swell has seen the youngest of the Rothman brothers nabbing some of the season’s deepest and heaviest tubes, most recently when it mattered most: on a mind-bendingly perfect afternoon during the Da Hui Backdoor Shootout.
A favorite event amongst those who’ve earned invitations, the Shootout – which is organized by Koa’s father’s brand, Da Hui, and is held in honor of The Duke – is one of the most respected events in competitive surfing, with recent winners including Mason Ho and John John Florence.
While Uncle Eddie can lay claim to much of the event’s success in highlighting young Hawaiian talent, no one would chalk Koa’s win up to North Shore nepotism; the young goofyfoot earned every point. His impossible Day Three cavern not only earned across-the-board perfect-12’s and the event win, but also sits firmly in the running for this year’s Wave of the Winter.
We caught up with Koa the night before he and Nathan Florence caught red-eyes out of Honolulu for SFO, hellbent on scoring Mavericks (And, as we know now, score they did).
You have to be feeling pretty good after that win, Koa.
Oh, man, I’m having the best winter ever.
The Shootout’s gotta be a special event for you and your family. Was that you first big win, too?
Yeah, that was my first win. Period. Like, ever. And yeah, it’s my dad’s event, so it felt really good to win that thing.
Thinking back over the last few years, you haven’t been able to get into a lot of Pipe events where it was really firing. This year’s Shootout was insane, though. Tell us about what was going through your mind during the event.
It’s hard, you know, I never really do enough contests to get the points I need to qualify for other events, so I’ve never had that many opportunities to surf Pipe in heats when it was really good. The waves were so good this year, though, and I’d been surfing Pipe a lot. I was watching it really closely during the event and I knew exactly the type of waves I was looking for. And then we had a really good window [on Day 3]. I had a good wave earlier that scored around a 9, and then I got that wave.
That thing seemed like it just stood up and let you in so perfectly. You got it from the only place that would have let you take that line.
I got a good little bump into that one and bottom turned, and it was so square. I got one really good hard pump in and up through this crazy foam ball. For a second, I thought it was a full closeout, but then I got blown out. Just as I came out, I got lipped super hard in the head, and I thought I was going to get knocked down. When I didn’t, I had this moment where I wanted to claim it so hard, but I didn’t. I paddled back out and someone asked me, “How was that one?” And I was like, “Yeah, uh, I think that was a good one.” [Laughs] I think that was the best wave of my life.
Did you think you had it pretty well wrapped up at that point?
No, not at all. I think it was Jamie [O’Brien], Mason, and Bruce [Irons] right behind me. If any of them had gotten a ten or higher, I think, they would have beaten me. I was just sitting there biting my nails.
So what’s next? You gonna go back-to-back at the Volcom Pipe Pro?
I didn’t get into it. I thought I’d get the wildcard or something, but I didn’t, which is frustrating. I’ve been trying, but I haven’t even gotten an email back.*
Are you going to stick around the North Shore anyhow?
It’s huge right now. It’s hard to leave home this time of year, for sure. But Nathan [Florence] and I are actually packing right now and headed to Mavs.
You guys are going to get there in the morning? It looks like it could be amazing. Winds look good.
We’re excited. I surfed it last year, and I didn’t get the wave I wanted. I really want to surf that left. That thing is a full-on slab barrel. We want to give it a go. We’re still trying to figure out rides and how we’re getting out there. Last time we lucked out and got a boat out. It was an amazing time.
*A previous version of this piece stated that Rothman would not be able to compete in the Volcom Pipe Pro. After this interview was conducted, Rothman was notified by the WSL that he’d earned a spot. According to the WSL’s Lauren Rolland: “Koa did in fact qualify for the Volcom Pipe Pro via his regional rankings, and WSL Hawaii notified him as of Friday.”