It's 8 a.m., just a fortnight before the race for the 2012 World Title kicks off on Australia's Gold Coast an ocean away, and 17-year-old Kolohe Andino is under some pressure. His sponsors have organized a video shoot in his hometown of San Clemente, California, but he's running late. The crew of a half-dozen camera operators and producers have been in the San Clemente Pier parking lot, futzing with equipment and looking at their watches for an hour, when Andino finally arrives. Kolohe, often called "Brother," has chosen the Pier because he knows he can launch a few airs on the wedging closeout sections and satisfy the fidgety adults.
Tall and gangly with jagged blond bangs, broad shoulders, and a goofy smile, Andino could easily be mistaken for a sophomore water polo player at any of the nearby Orange County high schools. His stereotypical square-shouldered good looks make it easy to forget that he's the most highly touted surfer to come out of California since Dane Reynolds.
At the Pier, Andino paddles out with Sam McIntosh—the mischievous publisher of Stab Magazine—who happened to be laid over on a trip to the East Coast. McIntosh scratches into the lion's share of the set waves, while Kolohe seems less than interested in the morning's assignment—tossing up some unenthusiastic airs for the sake of the crew that has driven for over an hour from L.A. to witness them. The two bob in the lineup, trading waves and casually shooting the breeze during the lulls. That's when Dad arrives.
For those familiar with the family, it's no surprise that Dino Andino's sudden appearance on the pier coincides with the anxiety level ratcheting up a notch. Dino isn't thrilled that the two are out the back having a chat while Nike's crew waits for some action, and he starts verbalizing his frustration.
"Tell him to hunt for waves," he instructs McIntosh when the Aussie gets within earshot of the pier after kicking out of a wave. It's obvious that Dino feels like McIntosh is distracting Kolohe, diminishing his focus on the task at hand. Despite the instructions, Dino is trying his best to tread lightly. Trying not to be a "soccer dad," as he puts it.
Dino's probably right. Kolohe isn't surfing to his potential, but the regularfooter lofts a few trademark airs as Nike's RED camera rolls.
You don't have to be a talent scout to see that he's special. His style has the nuanced contradictions that are a mark of giftedness—relaxed but aggressive, instinctive but premeditated. His surfing is a combination of a young Bruce Irons and a mid-career Mick Fanning, with a touch of Curren thrown in for good measure.
After pacing around the pier for 30 minutes like a caged wolf, Dino breaks. "Come on!" he urges his son when he gets near enough to him that he doesn't have to yell.
"Can you see what it's like out here?" Kolohe responds.
The interaction lends some credence to the rumor that the inseparable-father-son act has become strained. It's been reported that the two often travel in separate cars to surf sessions—Kolohe riding with his coach of 10 months, the former pro surfer and longtime Andino family friend, Mike Parsons, and Dino trailing a few car lengths behind in his Toyota Tundra.
Dino denies the two-car dynamic exists (so do Kolohe and Parsons), but he's aware of the tension that can exist between a teenager and their parents.
"The older he gets, the harder our communication can be," Dino tells me a few days later. "Before I used to push him, but now I just try to calm him down. I really have to pick and choose how I say things. Otherwise he gets mad."
Regardless of how they get to the beach, Dino and Kolohe have been surfing together for more than a decade. In 1994, when Kolohe was born, Dino was a fiery mid-level pro with wild eyes and an infectious grin, chasing a career on the World Tour. With no father to speak of, Dino was raised by an unconventional single mother who, when it came to the idea of a structured life, left the boy to fend for himself. He wholeheartedly embraced the early-to-bed, early-to-rise regimen of the surf lifestyle as his guiding principal.
He had his share of success, too, including wins on the Bud Tour and a pro event at Haleiwa, as well as Rookie of the Year honors during his first year on Tour. "I was the guy who had less talent but a ton of emotion and passion," Dino laughs.
There may be some truth in that self-deprecating assessment, but one of Dino's strengths was as a connoisseur of style. Any competitor who's ever held an oversized cardboard check knows that when you're evenly matched in a heat, style will be the decider, and Dino got an edge by incorporating his observations of other's strengths and weaknesses into his own performances.
By the time Kolohe was 4, his dad was taking him everywhere. As soon as he was able to push a skateboard around a skate park, Dino started sharing style observations with his son, pointing out the kids with "good" style.
Kolohe was a natural on a skateboard, and that translated seamlessly to a Morey Doyle his dad bought for him when he was 6. By the time he was 7, the kid was riding waves all the way into shore at San Onofre, and at 8 he won the first contest he ever entered.
"From the beginning, he had a mechanism that made it so that even if he wasn't surfing good, he could find a way to win," Dino remembers. "He'll be having a shocker of a warm up, but then he'll put a jersey on, and he just clicks in. He has crazy focus as a competitor."
While it might seem serendipitous that a guy like Dino would have a kid like Kolohe, environment played the leading role in shaping his son's path. The Andino house was the SoCal crash pad for visiting pros, from Andy Irons to Carissa Moore to the Ho family.
Similarly, Dino's careers—first as a pro surfer, then as the Surf Manager in Oakley's sports marketing department, and later as a special projects coordinator for Billabong—ensured Kolohe surf-industry "insider" status from birth, not to mention all the trappings that entails—from an endless supply of custom boards to annual weeks-long trips to the Gold Coast every year since he was just 7.
With the full support of all the adults he knew, Kolohe went on to have the most successful amateur surf career of the modern era (if you don't count Carissa Moore, of course). In 2009, he bested Bobby Martinez's record seven NSSA titles when he won his ninth. He left the little leagues just in time to be swept up in mainstream corporate America's first legitimate attempt to become part of the surfing world.
"We could stay with a surf brand, and there are plenty of good arguments why we should, or we could take a chance with somebody outside of the surf industry and see what happens?" Dino told ESPN back in the fall of 2008. "It's the most difficult decision we've ever had to make."
Kolohe's talent surprised no one, but his choice to eschew the typical sponsorship route did. By turning his back on longtime benefactor Billabong to sign contracts with corporate giants Nike, Red Bull, and Target—a move Dino played a major role in engineering—the father-son team set a precedent for his generation to maximize their earning potential. The deal was highly criticized by an industry that couldn't believe one of its prized ponies would bolt, but by the time the ink had dried on the contract, professional surfing had changed.
Though no one would assign an exact number to the value of Kolohe's current deals, an insider close to the family put it this way, "There are only a handful of people in surfing making NBA money—like Kelly, Jordy, Julian, Dane—and now Kolohe is one of them."
That's about the time Kolohe and Dino's relationship began to change. "It's like he needs that thing we have," says Dino, "but I needed to step back, and someone else needed to help."
Enter Mike "Snips" Parsons. Dino and Parsons had battled on Tour back in the day, and a friendship had formed. The hot-blooded nature of the Andinos was drawn to Parsons' cool-headed patience and calculated approach. "Mike is the most solid, stable, grounded person I've ever met," Dino says. "Whatever his dad did, it was the right thing. He's very soothing."
So Kolohe and Dino made their next unprecedented decision, hiring Parsons full-time to guide Kolohe to a world title. "I'm still helping," says Dino, "but Mike's taken over a lot of that."
It's hard to tell if he means coaching or parenting.
Two. The Son.
The Andino family lives in a cavernous tract home on a quiet suburban street less than two miles from where you kick out of the left at Lower Trestles.
I knock on the oversized front door, and Dino summons me upstairs to the 500-square-foot kitchen where he and Kolohe's teenage girlfriend are standing on opposite sides of the kitchen island eating middle-eastern food from cardboard containers. Kolohe is late, so the three of us chat, each waiting to impose our differing agendas on the 17-year-old.
I've arrived on Kolohe's last evening at home before embarking on a three-month trip to Australia that will include his debut on the World Tour at Snapper Rocks, an Indo filming excursion with his favorite surfer, Dane Reynolds, and several other competitions, freesurfs, and sponsor obligations. His dad and Parsons take turns staying with him over the next few months, but in large part, he'd be on his own. It's essentially the eve of his surfing bar mitzvah.
When he finally arrives, in typical teenage-guy style, he sort of half acknowledges everyone in the kitchen. I'm struck by how much he's grown since last summer, when I saw him place third at the US Open in Huntington Beach. While it wasn't his best result of 2011, the fact that he beat Julian Wilson, Dane Reynolds, and John John Florence on his way to the semifinal had instilled in him a sense of his own potential.
Though, like many in his generation, he looks up to the improvised nature of Dane's adventures both in the water and out, Kolohe isn't afraid to admit that he's hungry for competitive success. "I want to be remembered when I'm older," he says, "like Pottz and Curren." And he's been putting in the kind of work necessary to make that goal a reality, including daily spin classes, yoga, an intense form of massage called Rolfing designed to help strengthen connective tissues, and a newly acquired dedication to sports nutrition. He's eating mostly raw foods ("Don't tell anyone, but I had a hamburger tonight," he laughs), and he's even talking like an athlete on a mission.
"Present, connected, protected," is both his motto and his mission. An NFL rookie couldn't have said it better.
While many struggle out of the gates to translate a stellar amateur surf career into success on the big stage, in 2011 Kolohe soared. The goal had been to finish at least 90th on the One World Ranking by the end of 2011, building a seed to make a push in 2012 for World Tour qualification in 2013. Instead, he bookended his US Open result with great finishes at contests in Spain, Brazil, California, England, Virginia, South Africa, France, and finally Hawaii, finishing 24th in the world and becoming one of the few new faces on Tour this year.
Dino suggests Kolohe and I go talk in Kolohe's "room," which would be better described as his wing of the house. I notice an NSSA Nationals Open Mens first place trophy acting as a doorstop, and when I ask him what year it's from, he shrugs.
Sitting 8 feet apart on a massive black leather couch, we talk at length about his year, which culminated in getting a wildcard into the Pipeline Masters, where, by advancing just one heat, he qualified for the World Tour. On the beach that day, Parsons played the role he'd been retained to perform—half coach, half eye of the hurricane.
"Before my first heat, Snips and I just sat on the beach for a while and watched," Kolohe remembers. "He told me not to put any pressure on myself, just check it out and get the feeling for it. He said, 'I'm sure once you get out there, you'll want to go.' He put it in my hands, which felt good."
In Kolohe's mind, roles are pretty easy to define. His dad is in charge of his boards, wetsuits, travel logistics, style, and technique. Snips captains heat strategy, routine (which means daily surf sessions together), preparation, and "mental state." A big part of Parsons' job, Kolohe infers, is as a buffer between himself and his dad.
"He keeps my dad level headed," Kolohe says. "My dad is super passionate and Latin and fired up, and he's amazingly smart about surfing, but a lot of the time he's so passionate that he explains what he's thinking in a way I don't want to receive it."
The more I talk with Kolohe, the more I get a sense that, despite not yet receiving his high-school diploma, he's found a way to maximize the benefits of his dad's wisdom without driving a wedge into the relationship. In a way, Snips provides the other half of what Kolohe needs to achieve a tall set of goals, which he spells out to me in no uncertain terms: a Top 10 finish, Rookie of the Year, and a higher ranking than John John Florence in 2012, followed by a World Title in 2013.
Suddenly, around 8 p.m., a sliding glass door opens and several of Kolohe's friends file into the room. Our time is up, so I wish him luck and make a quick exit. At the bottom of the stairs, with my hand on the front door, I pause momentarily to catch a few sentences of a phone conversation drifting out of Dino's room. He's on the phone with Snips.
Three. The Coach.
According to Mike Parsons, Dino Andino is the best technical surf coach in the world.
"No one knows it, because he only does it for his son, but when it comes to breaking down technique and helping people improve what they're doing on a surfboard, he's better than anybody out there," says Parsons. "Out of all the younger pro surfers, I think Kolohe has the best style and technique, and that's all because of his dad."
And that's the point. For the past decade, Dino has been fine-tuning his son's surfing, and the result is a surfer who has—and will continue to have—an impact on the sport. But, as Snips puts it, "They just got to a place where they felt the need to have someone else involved."
Though Snips isn't just anyone. From trips to Scorpion Bay to countless surf sessions closer to home, he's been surfing with Kolohe as long as Dino has, and though he only officially quit his position with Billabong in May of 2011 to become a full-time employee of Kolohe Andino, Inc. (yes, there is such a thing), Snips has been playing his current role in the Andino family dynamic for the better part of a decade.
"In some cases, I find myself trying to get everyone on the same page," acknowledges Snips. "Dino is one of my best friends. We've been surfing together for 20 years, and we have a unique relationship. We talk a lot about how to best handle lots of different kinds of situations, from how to deal with the judges after a close loss to questions about parenting. He bounces a lot of stuff off me, and I've been the voice of reason in some of those situations."
"Dino wants Kolohe to win everything, and to win it now," Snips continues. "And I'm there to constantly remind him that we're not in a sprint, this is a marathon.
While his daily work with Kolohe is comprised of surfing together, discussing lineups and strategy, watching video, and monitoring his workouts, Parsons, who has a son of his own several years younger than Kolohe, sees his role as more spiritual than physical. What he feels he brings to Kolohe's career is as much about frame of mind as it is refining the act of surfing.
"The right person saying the right thing at the right moment is everything," says Parsons. "When someone knows you really well, one bit of wisdom that improves your confidence can make you unstoppable. It goes beyond just standing on the beach and saying, 'Surf over there.' People misunderstand coaching. They think it's this rigid thing, where you teach someone to do certain things during a heat. But the reality is, coaching at this level is really more like mentoring. It's about teaching someone how to be relaxed and feel confident. When you feel the confidence to surf as freely in a heat as you do when there aren't judges scoring your rides. That's how you win."
That's why Dino doesn't feel threatened by his old friend's new role in his life.
"Whether my delivery is perfect or not, no matter how it looks, Kolohe and I are crazy tight," Dino says, aware that some may judge him for his parenting style. "I've always just wanted the best thing for Kolohe. And I think Mike is the best thing for him."
"People around us trip out on our interactions, but they're used to it by now," he laughs. "Look, I don't have all the answers, I've never had a dad, so I don't know exactly how to be. Mike's dad would show up at the contest, and sit in a lawn chair 200 yards off the contest peak, and after the contest, he'd tell his son that he surfed great. Mike would say, 'I got third, dad. I lost.' But Mike's dad would say, 'But you tried your hardest. You did such an awesome job, man. I love you, Mike.'"
"I wish I was like that, too. But I'm not."