Most 22-year-olds thrive on irresponsibility and poor judgment. They live for nights of binge drinking and random encounters with the opposite sex. And Brett Barley is the same as those people, but only in age. He resides in a simple home on the grand sandbar called the Outer Banks of North Carolina, and his soft-spoken Southern drawl drips with kindness. He’s got a sweetheart of a wife and a 5-month-old son who rarely cries. But is this quiet existence all a hoax? Brett does, after all, like to do large airs (when there are no deadly tunnels of ocean for him to ride inside). His dangerous crush on Pipeline reflects his life in the same way a Ke$ha song reflects intellectualism. So what’s truth? Well, it seems that while Brett may have settled in, he’s a long way from settling down. —Brendan Buckley —Brendan Buckley
BRETT: I didn’t go to Hawaii until I was 17. I had always assumed that it was more powerful there, and it is a little bit, but that’s only because you’re dealing with waves twice as big as what you get when it’s big at home. If I grew up somewhere with softer waves, I feel like it would have been a lot more intimidating for me.
The first few times that I surfed big Pipe, I mostly just ate it and caught closeouts. But that helped with my confidence because I spent more time underwater than I did riding waves. You don’t get a lot of opportunities to catch set waves out there, so when the time comes, you basically have to go. I’ll just see a wave nobody is paddling for and be like, “Sick I can get this one.” Then I take off and realize why nobody wanted it and get drilled.
Surfing here [in the Outer Banks] is a lot of work; you paddle a lot, take beatings and get swept down the beach. When it’s big, the power and the rawness of the surf is crazy. And if you make a barrel on one of those days it feels just as good as making one anywhere else. And because the waves aren’t good here all the time it makes it more special because you never get jaded. Surfing here is more rewarding than anywhere else in the world.
I used to like bigger waves more, but now I have just as much fun when it’s head-high with air wind. I love messing around with airs and trying to figure them out. It’s a good way to progress your surfing when the waves aren’t big. It feels good not to be confined to one set of conditions.
Growing up in a small town is great because you get to know everybody. When I graduated high school I knew every single person in my class because there were only about 50 of us. It was positive for me to socialize with a ton of other people that weren’t just surfers.
I’ve known my wife, Casey, since I was 13 and fell for her when I was 16. I pursued her and we started dating when we were 18, and then we got married a year later and now have a little boy. When Casey was in labor, we were sitting there anxiously, thinking about how this was the last time it would be just us. But right after he was born, we couldn’t have imagined it being any better or any different. Now, we can’t even remember what it was like not having him around.
Having [my son] Masen has been different from anything that I’ve ever experienced. He’s a whole new light of joy in my life and we’re so blessed that he’s a happy little boy. We flew to our friend’s wedding in Kansas last weekend and he only cried for the last 10 minutes of the final flight home. We were really worried about that, so it’s awesome to know that he’s good with traveling, because he’ll be getting a lot of it.