Kohl Christensen Interview

The unlikely rise of a North Shore charger

Kohl Christensen stands in the sand at Waimea, a break that he has built his reputation on. Photo: Noyle/SPL

Kohl Christensen is not your typical professional surfer. He holds no NSSA title, has little knowledge of the ins and outs of the 'QS, and is by no means working on a 2011 Innersection segment. His life plan is simple. He is a contractor by trade, but a big-wave surfer by heart. The majority of his days are spent either installing solar panels or working on his organic farm, where he grows everything from tangerines to avocados. Oh, and he occasionally breaks up the monotony by paddling into some of the biggest waves on the planet.

"I guess I would consider myself a professional surfer," says Kohl, modestly. "I mean, it's something that I've always wanted since I was a kid, but then sort of lost track of. But now that I get paid to surf, I guess that does technically make me a professional. But mostly I think of myself as a contractor."

Growing up on the East Side of Oahu in the sleepy town of Kailua, an area of the island not particularly known for having the best surf, Kohl, now 33, ran with a group of friends who made it their mission to hunt down surf whenever they were given the opportunity. They may not have had Rocky Point or Ala Moana Bowls in their backyard, but they had initiative, and that initiative eventually took them from chasing the funnest surf on the island, to the biggest surf.

"I'd say when I was 16, me and a friend of mine sort of got into the whole big-wave thing. We just started going to the North Shore and surfing Waimea and got hooked on pushing each other into bigger and bigger waves," reflects Kohl. "Every time we'd head out there, we'd want to try and push it." And that's exactly what he did.

As the years progressed, Kohl's reputation for hucking himself over cliffs grew among other hard-charging surfers, and a certain amount of quiet respect followed. Here was a young man that was seemingly fearless, a man that refused to hesitate. Granted, the big-wave scene in Hawaii often flies under the radar of our collective attention, but for Kohl, the respect of his peers was all he ever wanted.

"I've never really been into trying to make a name for myself,” he says. “For me, the biggest honor I can think of is having the respect of your peers…being invited to The Eddie, an event where other big-wave surfers select you, that's one of the highlights of my life. When I received that letter in the mail…you know, that's something I'll never forget."

Respect is a common thread among Kohl and his ilk. They're not taking two-wave hold-downs at Waimea and Maverick's for paychecks. During my conversation with Kohl, he barely mentioned the fact that he recently won the Nelscott Reef Big Wave Classic, or the fact that he recently tackled some of the biggest waves ever ridden at Cloudbreak. That's because Kohl doesn't risk his life surfing waves that would gladly kill him for the fame or money. He does it because he enjoys testing himself against the heaviest conditions in the world among the heaviest surfers in the world. And as the entire surfing community turns to The Eddie, you can rest assured knowing one thing: the $55,000 paycheck that's up for grabs is the last thing going through Kohl Christensen's mind. He just wants to prove himself against the best.