Hawaii’s Kainoa McGee stunned the professional surfing world earlier this year by making the semifinals of the Hansen’s Energy Pro at Pipeline. Since this 31-year-old father of two has really only been surfing for two years, you could understand why veterans like Shane Beschen were somewhat surprised to become casualties of his rise, especially since McGee is famous for his skills–brace yourself–on a bodyboard. He was an integral part of the 1980’s pioneer group of pro boogers like Mike Stewart, Pat Caldwell and Keith Sasaki. But now McGee is a reformed sponge rider, catching a whole new glimpse of the tube these days. A perfect candidate to be strapped in the Hot Seat. — Chris Mauro
HOT SEAT: What inspired you to finally go out and ride erect?
KAINOA MCGEE Well, let’s just say I woke up one morning and the idea just sort of came to me.
HOT SEAT: Right, of course, and now you’ve been stand-up surfing for two years?
KAINOA MCGEE Yeah, but it’s different over here because when we were groms we all learned how to surf on boogie boards. Braden Dias, Sunny Garcia, Larry Rios, Bonga Perkins, they all used to ride them.
HOT SEAT: Well, now that you’re finally joining their ranks on the hard boards aren’t your old boogie-rider friends feeling a little betrayed?
KAINOA MCGEE No. Not even. They’re stoked. I think they want me to go out there and kick ass more than I do.
HOT SEAT: Don’t you feel better carrying a nice blade of glass under your arm when you’re walking across the beach?
KAINOA MCGEE I don’t know. Surfers have this thing with having hard things in their hands. I think that’s creepy. I like things soft, but firm.
HOT SEAT: Did you put up with a lot of abuse growing up as a boogie boarder?
KAINOA MCGEE It wasn’t that bad for my generation, because it was still fairly new and we all did it. It was a little harder to earn the respect of older guys like Dane Kealoha, but they didn’t really call us names. It was just, “Whah? You fu–in boogie board-ah!” These days the kids get called every mane in the book. Sponge riders, boogers, speedbumps.
HOT SEAT: Speedbumps was always my favorite.
KAINOA MCGEE There’re tons of others, but my generation didn’t have to deal with it nearly as much. The young guys today put up with way more, but you should see the stuff they’re doing on waves. They’re light years ahead of where we were.
HOT SEAT: You beat Shane Beschen at Pipe, that must have been pretty funny considering you used to bodyboard T-Street back when he was a grommet there. How did he react?
KAINOA MCGEE It was classic. He came running up to me, super stoked for me, because we’re old friends, but he still cracked jokes, saying, “Damn, I can’t believe I lost to a bodyboarder!” But I’d been surfing out there a lot this past winter; it was my first full one surfing the North Shore. I’d seen Beschen and those guys out there, so it wasn’t a total shock for them because they were the guys who talked me into entering the contest.
HOT SEAT: Are your bodyboard sponsors stoked or bummed?
KAINOA MCGEE They’re stoked because they’re getting a two-for-one deal now. keokisurf.com, Huff Surf Designs, Guerrilla Union are all backing my program. But I have kids so I also have a good job.
HOT SEAT: Do you think elements of bodyboard design will ever be applied to surfboards.
KAINOA MCGEE They could. I think it’s a two-way street, really. My generation was really into design, because we all had our own model boards. We learned a lot from surfboards but I think it could easily go the other way too. There might be a place for the parallel rails on a surfboard, for that vacuum effect, but I don’t want to get ahead of myself here, my shaper and I are experimenting.
HOT SEAT: Could you beat Mike Stewart on a surfboard?
KAINOA MCGEE Easily. Mike’s the Laird Hamilton of bodyboarding, but I’ll take him on a surfboard any day. He’s got a funny style.
HOT SEAT: How’s your style. Is it smooth?
KAINOA MCGEE Never. I didn’t even have smooth style on a bodyboard. Finesse and beauty was never a part of my repertoire. I was pure animal, just Ahhrrgggh!
HOT SEAT: And you have no plans to work on that at all?
KAINOA MCGEE Nah, screw it. I am who I am.