The past, present, and future of Kekoa Bacalso

Bacalso bounced around from the Tour to a valet service to where he is today, and he's better off for it. Photo: Noyle

I lost my main sponsor not long after getting knocked off the World Tour in 2010. That wasn't easy, but I'm really proud of how I handled it. For a while there, I literally had almost no money. I was still surfing all the time, but I had to find other ways to pay the bills. I got a job as a valet at a hotel in Waikiki, but I still wasn't ready to give up on surfing as a career just because I got knocked off the Tour and lost my sponsors. I had a few months of dental insurance left, so I fixed up my teeth and lost a bunch of weight. It sounds ridiculous, but I was doing everything I could to be more marketable. I ended up getting fired from my valet job for a few little accidents I had at work, but then things started to go my way again. Brian Toth flew me out to Puerto Rico for a comp with some extra miles he had. I won the comp and $11,000, which I stretched out to the last dime. I was doing everything I could to get back in the game. That wasn't going to be the end of it for me. I just kept plugging away trying to get a deal going on with someone. And then it happened. I ended up getting back on the Rip Curl team again and couldn't be happier. I wasn't pulling my weight before, but now, I'm doing everything I can. I'm working and I'm doing what I love. It feels good. Really good.

Bacalso has transitioned into a different role for his sponsors after they gave him a fresh start. Photo: Noyle

Now that I've been on the other side of it, I give 100 percent for my sponsors. I'm picking groms up from the airport, prepping them for heats, working on representing all my sponsors the best I possibly can. It feels like a fresh start. I'm so glad I didn't just give up and say "maybe professional surfing wasn't for me." I'm proud of myself for working hard to make it happen. In the end, I think it made me a man. That sounds weird, but I look back on when I was younger, and I was acting like a boy. But being at the top, then falling, and then being able to get back up again, I think that made me a man. Those were really important life lessons to learn and I'm glad they happened.

Getting dropped was a speedbump in his career, but it did little to slow down his momentum in the water. Photo: Noyle

I want to stay in the surf industry for as long as I can. This feels like a family to me. Ten years down the line, I hope I'm still working and promoting my sponsors in Hawaii as best as I possibly can. Of course, I want to be surfing every day. I'm also excited about helping out the next generation of surfers behind me. I'm not only talking about in the water, but helping to build their character, too. I'll hear some young kids talk about hurdles in their career, and I'll stop them mid-sentence and tell them to really think about what they're saying. I'll tell them that if you want it bad enough, you can get it. Just don't quit and say it wasn't for you. I hope to help mentor the next group of young Hawaiians to be not just great surfers, but also great ambassadors for the sport.