Bridging The Gap

You’re 14-years-old. Sitting out the back on a 5’11” gun. A legit 8-footer swings your way at Lakey Peak—a towering teepee that’s literally blacking out the evening sun—and your hero, Damien Hobgood, yells at you to go.

What do you do?

Jett Schilling, along with Kyuss King (16), Jackson Bunch (13), and Wyatt McHale (16), each faced that exact scenario during the biggest swell of the season (so far) in Indonesia last month.

And on each occasion, they went.

So, how did they find themselves in such a nerve-racking position in the first place? With three simple steps: They answered Damien’s phone call, boarded a plane to Indo, and followed one of the world’s best tuberiders out into the most serious surf of their young lives, waves that Damo would later describe as similar to Teahupo’o.

“Like with Camp Hobgood back in the day, I just tried to find a need, and [working with kids] is where my passions are at right now,” Damien told me, when I asked him how this trip—mentoring a handful of the best teenagers in the world—came to be. “None of this is about me. It’s 100-percent about helping out these kids.”

But his most important advice? When you're in position to catch a bomb, you always, always, go.

[Intro By Zander Morton / All Photos By Scotty Hammonds]

[Tune Back In To Watch The Full Edit Drop On Thursday, July 20th]

DAMIEN HOBGOOD

37, Satellite Beach, Florida

“Being away from the Tour, I’ve definitely fallen back in love with surfing again. It took a little bit of time, but when it happened, it got me thinking: How can I give back, but also do something I’m passionate about? I’m good at forecasting, and picking good places to go, so I figured I could put a few trips together with a bunch of up-and-coming kids, and show them everything I know. That’s basically what these trips are all about.”

“I’ve found out I enjoy [mentoring] even more than I ever thought I would. A lot of times I’ll sit on the beach and not even surf. I’ll just watch them. I wouldn't have been able to do that five years ago. And when it’s big and I get them into a big one—I really feel like I can push their boundaries further than if I wasn't there. I can help out with those mental hurdles. That’s been really rewarding for me.”

“On the way here, when the swells were picking up steam, I was stressing a little bit. I started thinking about a Plan B, and bringing the kids somewhere that wasn’t so gnarly. But, in the end, it all worked out great. The kids charged way harder than I ever imagined they would. I think I was able to push them right to that edge and have them grow and learn that they can really handle this stuff.”

WYATT MCHALE

16, North Shore, Oahu

“I used to love watching Damien when he was on Tour, so it was good to get a chance to get insight from him, especially in super fun waves. He’s really helped me with small tweaks in my form on this trip. He’s really good at seeing things to work on and passing on that knowledge. He knows how to do everything. He’s one of the best in the world in waves that are big and small, and he makes things really simple and easy for me to understand.”

“The big day at Lakey’s was crazy. There were 10-foot bombs coming through that were borderline unsurfable, but then there were also doable ones that Damo was calling us into, and he was making sure we were always sitting in the right spot in the lineup. It was cool just to be out there when it was that big, and to watch Damien surf that wave, and then to try to do the same thing, but in my own way.”

“This one set came in that day…I was baffled. The way it came in, how thick it was, I didn’t want to be anywhere near it. Damien caught the first wave, and even though he got barreled, he was so bummed he wasn’t out the back to catch the unridden ones. Those two waves looked exactly like Teahupo’o.”

JETT SCHILLING

14, San Clemente, California

“I’ve learned so much from Damien. He’s such a nice guy. And he’s really good at helping us feel comfortable in big waves. When it was big, he just kept telling me, 'If you feel like you’re too deep, just go.’”

“On the big day, I was about to paddle over this one wave, and I just heard Damo yell, ‘Go, go!’ So I turned around and went, and I was dropping into this wave, and I was like, ‘Oh, shoot, I’m not gonna make it.’ I was thinking I would just kick out, but it was too low-tide, so I just pulled in, and this chandelier hit me in the barrel and threw me off my board. There was a big one behind that wave and I was trying to paddle away from the dry reef, because your leash can get caught on the coral. I tried to get my leash off, but I couldn’t, so I bailed, hit bottom, and got a little bit cut up. But it wasn't too bad, so I was stoked.”

“Damien gives us a bunch of waves. If he’s in position, but you want to go, he just tells you to go every time. When it was big and gnarly, he’d try to give us waves, but everyone would be like, ‘No, I’m not going,' so he would turn around super late and just go, and he’d make it every time.”

JACKSON BUNCH

13, Paia, Maui

“My first thought when I got invited to Indo was, Just charge. I didn’t know Damien before this trip, but I knew he was going to get us barreled. My dad didn't tell me it was going to be 10-feet [laughs], but I knew it was going to be big, so I brought some bigger boards. My shortboard is a 5’2”, and I brought a 6’6”, and also an impact vest — I was ready.”

“I wasn't too nervous in the beginning on that first big day. It didn't look that big from shore, but once we were on the boat, it got wayyy bigger. Damien was gnarly. The first session, we were sitting more on the shoulder, watching where he sat. The next session, he just said, 'Try to take off a little deeper with every wave.’ That really helped, because we all got our best waves that evening.”

“My best Damien impersonation? Boys, get out there, it’s firing! Let’s go surf! He’s pretty much the biggest grom ever and he's always so on it. He’s always so stoked to go surf, or just to go to the beach, or to go out in the tower, or boat to watch us and give us advice. I used to watch him in all the surf videos charging the biggest, gnarliest lefts, and to watch that in person was just awesome.”

KYUSS KING

16, Byron Bay, Australia

“Damien is always making sure everyone is having a good time. He’s been getting us out there a lot, and pushing us every session. He’s a legend. He’s super cool with us. He’s helped a lot with positioning in the different lineups and encouraging us to go deeper. He was showing us the boils to look out for, how to line up with the towers, and a lot of little things that we might not have even thought about, if not for him.”

“The big day was 6-foot plus and really heavy, and there was no one out but us, just trading waves and taking turns. The day before, he actually brought us out there when it was even bigger and heavier—like 8-to-10 foot—but it was onshore and not very good, just so that we could get comfortable with the lineup, and I think that helped us all a lot the next day. That’s not something I would have done if it weren’t for Damo.”

“I’d like to do more trips with him. That would be epic, especially before I start doing the 'QS events. This is my last year on the junior tour, so I’d really like to do well on that, and trips like this really help.”