Last month, Mike Parsons made a life-changing decision. He chose to amicably end his decade-long sponsorships with Billabong and take up a full-time gig coaching and mentoring the well-paid, high-profile protégé Kolohe Andino. There is perhaps some precedent in Luke Egan's role as coach for Joel Parkinson, but at more than twice Andino's age, Parsons will be something more than just a coach, he'll be Andino's mentor—his Mister Miyagi. On its face, the gig seems both unusual yet perfectly natural. One of the most progressive 17-year-old surfers in the world is now the boss of a 46-year-old who also happens to be one of the greatest big-wave riders, and most obsessive competitors who ever rode a surfboard. —Chris Dixon
Mike, you've left a solid, longtime gig at Billabong to call a kid less than half your age "boss." What the hell's going on?
Well, I've known Kolohe since he was a little kid on a skateboard—before he even surfed. I've grown up surfing against his dad, and have been great friends with him and his wife Tina. I would always surf with him and Dino and then when I was sponsored by Billabong, he was sponsored by Von Zipper. So I just always had a special interest in his surfing. I mean, I took Kolohe to Todos Santos for the first time when he was 9—introduced him to bigger waves, and took him to Scorpion Bay back in 2004. I helped him in different contests, including the NSSA Nationals—did that for a couple of years, and then he left Billabong and Von Zipper, and obviously went with Nike, Red Bull, and Target. That was hard for me because I liked surfing with him and his dad so much. He was my favorite guy to try to help out.
Why is that?
He's super humble. Always willing to learn. He's always been very respectful of his elders. He's just a really good kid. And I think that's why working with him was way more attractive to me than anything when this job offer came up. I really know his character and his family, so it was just a job I was comfortable jumping into.
It's not a job that existed when you were competing in the NSSA and first jumped to the ASP.
No. It's a pretty unprecedented thing for sure—especially to have a 17-year-old in a position to hire me. Because really, I'm hired by him. I'm employed by Kolohe Andino Incorporated. So that's an amazing position. Really, I think the sport's going in those directions anyway. I'll be working with Kolohe from A to Z. The entire program.
So are you going to be both coach and agent?
Well, he has a full-time manager, Mark Ervin—the same guy who was with Shaun White for most of his career. Mark was involved in putting this together. So I do have an actual contract and all those sorts of things, but this came about as a mutual thing between Kolohe and Dino and myself wanting it to happen.
I'm looking at this very long-term. I know where his surfing and attitude are going to take him. He's going to benefit from at least two influences. Since the time Dino and I were competing, I was always the tactical guy where Dino was the technician—positioning of your hands, arms, and feet. That's the reason for his style. He got all that from his dad and that's a huge factor in why he's so good. I mean, his frontside wrap is as good as any 17-year-old alive. And that's what separates him from the other guys. He can do airs with the best of them, but his fundamental surfing is just so solid. But tactically, I think I can really help him too competitively. So for me, ultimately, it came to the thought of, "How rewarding would that be: Helping this kid reach his dreams?" I just thought that would be an amazing thing to be a part of, because ultimately surfing, competing, that's what I think about all day anyway. And it really entrenches me on the beach again, 100 percent with that single focus. I won't have to be multitasking—coaching, team director, team manager, wearing multiple hats. This makes it crystal clear. I'm working with one guy and helping him fulfill his dreams.
You have a reputation for being one of the most obsessively competitive surfers alive. I mean, you're famous for staging mock heats with your buddies at Trestles to this day. Is this job a way to maybe channel some of that competitiveness without competing?
Yeah definitely. It's no secret I can help him in contests, but also places like Pipe, Todos or Chopes. I can teach him to drive a jetski in huge waves and read a swell model. It's not going to just be standing on the beach at surf contests, a lot of the elements will revolve around mentoring more than just coaching.
This seems a marked contrast to the way things were when you and, say, Brad Gerlach were competing against and despising each other. You both had your dads to help coach, but something like what you're doing today was essentially unimaginable back then. How would you have benefitted from something like this arrangement back in 1989?
A lot. If you look at any sport, the best players have someone they can trust and listen to. "Hey what club/racket should I use?" "What board should I ride?" You have to have someone you can trust and has your best interest in mind regardless of the situation. I mean you can ask friends you travel with for advice, but ultimately you're competing with them and they just don't have that life experience. And nowadays, there are so many facets to it. I mean, he's literally got something going on every day—another surf trip, another contest, another photo shoot. Balancing that whole act, we have to make sure that the most important parts of his week are covered, that he's still improving his surfing, and more important, that he's having a good time—that surfing's his escape and that it's still fun.
You've earned two XXL Awards and set two world records for big-wave surfing. What are you going to do if you're supposed to be with Kolohe at a contest and a giant west swell is looming out the back?
Kolohe's got a 9’8″ in the garage, and he wants to ride big Todos, and I'm at the point in my life where I'm a little less worried about catching the biggest wave—the pressure's off. But I'm sure there are going to be moments when I'm going to freak-out and have to go hit Cortes. I mean that doesn't just go away. So hopefully, Kolohe will wanna be out there with me to. I mean, that would just be amazing.