The recession of 2008 stripped surf team rosters to the bare bones, forcing many mid-level pros to face the reality of losing sponsorships and potentially giving up on surfing as a career. Some gave in, but others, like Kauai's Evan Valiere, persevered. After finally solidifying a sponsor, Valiere recently put on an inspired performance at the Pipe Masters that left people talking. In the wake of the event, we met with Evan to discuss life as a modern-day blue-collar surfer.
Take us back to a year ago. Where were you?
I've been at the bottom a few times and had to make my way back up. But this time last year, it was pretty tough. I lost interest in the surf industry and was living back home on Kauai running surf lessons. I was sponsorless and was ready to let the whole pro surfer thing go and move on. I've never doubted my ability, but I thought the sponsorship thing might not happen. Now I am staying at the Hurley House on the 50-yard line on the beach at Pipeline, and things are great.
Can you talk to me about what it's like hunting for a sponsor?
It's tough, really tough. It can be really depressing. It's like being out of work and looking for any job. You'll spend a lot of time and effort trying to get a sponsorship, and most of the time you don't even get an answer at all.
And about a year ago, you finally got one and signed with Hurley.
Yeah, I'd been trying to work something out with Hurley for a while and then it finally happened. It definitely makes life a lot easier, but living in Hawaii is really expensive. I still teach surf lessons. I pay for all of my own boards at about $400-plus per board and I get about 20 boards a year. It's sort of a weird thing in pro surfing--once you get to a certain level, it's a lot easier to move forward in the sport, but if you're not at that level, it can feel like you're always climbing up a hill.
You turned a lot of heads at the Pipe Masters last week and put on a really inspired performance that had a lot of people talking. Did it feel like a bit of redemption to you?
Thanks, I definitely feel I am here to stay. I was just very happy to be in the event and was really excited about the conditions. Surfing Pipeline with three guys out and getting to pick out the waves you want is a dream. I know I can win that event, and the only positive thing for me about not going all the way is that I will be back again next year, more hungry and determined for it.
How did you like being in the spotlight?
To be honest, I was having so much fun that I didn't really even notice. But then I signed 10 or 15 autographs after one of my heats and I thought, "Wow, this is new." But at the time I was just focused on the conditions and the waves that were coming in.
You've been labeled as being an underground guy. How does that sit with you?
A part of me actually likes it. I feel like I can connect more with people who surf just because they love it. And back on Kauai, there's so many good surfers that have no recognition, it doesn't really feel weird at all. But you know, the fact that someone is labeling you as being "underground" means that they know who you are...which is a little ironic.
You were riding a board at the contest with a Live Like Sion sticker. Were you guys close?
Even though we're both from Kauai, we weren't really all that close because there was about a generation of guys between us. But we became really good friends just a few years ago. There was a day where he and I were both at Pipe watching it from one of the houses and it was pretty big. This was a few years ago when the whole paddle-in movement was just starting up again. He and I were looking at some of the Outer Reefs and thought that we could pull it off. It was getting dark and we finally made the decision to go for it. We went out there and had one of the most amazing sessions of my life. From there, we went on to surf some other Outer Reefs and he basically put on a clinic and paddled into the biggest wave ever ridden. He was a good friend and I just really respected him as a surfer and a person. We shared a few experiences in the ocean that I will remember for a lifetime.
So what's next?
I'm just winding down. That was the biggest event and opportunity of the year for me and now it's gone. But ultimately I'm looking for the biggest barreling waves and some fun surf trips around the world. I want to show people that I'm not just a Pipe guy.
Video by Tom Aiello