The Hard Yards

World Tour rookie Keanu Asing on what it takes to make it in competitive surfing today

Photo: Frieden

Keanu Asing capped his winter season off by qualifying for the Tour. He’s ready for those WSL singlets. Photo: Frieden

"Hard work beats talent when talent doesn't work hard," Keanu Asing tells me. It's been the mantra of the 21-year-old Hawaiian for the last year, during which he climbed the 'QS ratings to earn a spot on the World Tour. It didn't come easy for Asing, whose lifestyle of strict dieting and rigorous training is more in line with an Olympic athlete than a South Shore surf rat. But with the first World Tour event of the season just around the corner, he knows the real hard part hasn't even started.

Tell me about growing up in Ewa Beach. It's a lot different than the North Shore, and even the rest of Honolulu, right?

Yeah, it has a reputation for being kind of a rough part of town. It's not considered a surf town, but we've produced some good surfers. Guys like Joel Centeio and Dustin Quizon both came from Ewa Beach. If you wanted to get into trouble in Ewa Beach, it wouldn't be hard. I'm hoping that by qualifying for the Tour, I can motivate some of the other young kids to follow their passions and work hard and do better for themselves. I want to be a role model.

Did you ever feel like you could have fallen in with the wrong crowd and blown your shot in surfing?

Absolutely. There's only one road into Ewa and one road out, and people get stuck in that bubble surrounded by some pretty negative stuff. But I have great parents who have supported me and helped push me forward. I see a lot of kids whose parents don't really believe in them and they get lost, but anytime I stepped out of line, my parents set me straight.

How much has the sport and people’s perception of it changed since you were a grom?

Surfing has just grown so much. The money you can make is substantial now, and the sport, in all its incarnations, is really moving forward quickly. People have a different outlook on the sport than they did decades ago. But it's not all like that. Like what Noa Deane did at Surfer Poll. That doesn't really resonate with me. I understand that side of surfing exists, but I look up to the Parkos and Fannings who take their jobs seriously. So when I see things like what Noa did, I feel like it takes the sport back a level. I want to show people that we're athletes and we're above that.

So you consider professional surfers athletes?

Definitely, especially those that surf on the World Tour. You have to take it seriously to succeed at that level. Some people have amazing genetics and are just naturals at what they do, but a lot of us have to work harder for that. I wouldn't consider myself a natural talent. I'm blessed to do what I do, but so much of where I'm at is from working really hard.

Photo: Lawrence

After years on the ‘QS grind, Keanu Asing is amped for his chance to make some noise among the Top 34. Photo: Lawrence

Tell me about your girlfriend, Kailin Curran. She's a UFC fighter?

Yeah, she fights in the UFC. We support each other a lot. She'll watch me surf or I'll watch her train and we can relate. And she's not a surfer, which helps balance me out. Surfing is such a big part of my life that some days when I get home I'm dying to talk about anything else.

Is it weird at all watching her fight?

It's nerve wracking. Watching her walk into the ring literally gives me goose bumps. I've been so emotionally involved in watching her fight that I'm just completely drained the next day. It taxes you watching someone you care about go into the ring.

What role has Damien Hobgood played in your career?

He's like an older brother and a father figure and a friend all in one. He's got great advice, whether it's for competing on the Tour or surfing big Pipe. I got a good result in the Azores last year and all my friends were congratulating me, then Damien chimed in: "It's not over. You gotta get back in it and focus on tomorrow!" He keeps me on my game, and he'll tell me if I'm surfing shitty or what I need to do better. It's been great to have him in my corner.

Now that you've made the Tour, is there an event that you're looking forward to?

The night I qualified, I looked at the schedule and it was surreal to see that lineup of events. I'm really excited about Tahiti. I could barely keep it together just watching that event last year. You can get the wave of your life there, so to be out in that lineup in a jersey is a dream.

You've been hashtagging #HeartOverHeight on your social media channels. What is that?

I'm obviously pretty short, and there are so many big guys on Tour. Guys like Jordy Smith just tower over me. I feel like a lot of the small guys are overlooked—like literally, sometimes people don't see us. The hashtag actually comes from Nate Robinson, a shorter basketball player who was a three-time dunk champ. So yeah, I'm embracing the smallness.