Kainoa McGee tells us how he transformed from world-class bodyboarder to world-class surfer in four, short years
SURFING MAGAZINE: What inspired your first session on a surfboard?
KAINOA MCGEE: We had a really shitty season in 2001. And since I've been bodyboarding so long, I'm spoiled. I want the waves to be a certain way. And so I was tired of driving out to the North Shore, looking at it, and turning around and going home. So, one day we were cruising and the sandbar looked, like, 2 to 3 feet and fun. I wanted to go out, but I didn't want to bodyboard. So I pulled out Sunny's 6'10" and gave it a try.
SURFING MAGAZINE: A little over a year later, you made the semis in the Hansens event at Pipe — standing up. How did it all come together so fast?
KAINOA MCGEE: Well, I'm very competitive and very impatient. I'm so competitive, I won't even let my kids win when we're playing cards. But it still happened quicker than anyone ever expected. I guess I just can't stand being mediocre.
SURFING MAGAZINE: What got you so hooked on surfing?
KAINOA MCGEE: I've been bodyboarding for 27 years, so if I don't know 99.99 percent of everything there is to know by now, I suck. But with surfing, I'm learning something new every time. It's a good feeling, feeling that challenge. I'm a really hands-on guy, so I started shaping my own surfboards, learning about design. I even shaped, glassed and sanded one all by myself.
SURFING MAGAZINE: It seems like a lot of the top bodyboarders have followed your lead in recent years, taking up surfing. Does it have anything to do with the bodyboarding market drying up?
KAINOA MCGEE: It doesn't have anything to do with the market. It has a lot more to do with boredom. Like I said, once you reach a certain level on a bodyboard, the waves need to be extra heavy to really make it worth it. These days, I go out in anything, because any conditions on a surfboard excite me right now.
SURFING MAGAZINE: How hard was the transition? As one of the best drop-knee guys in the world, you just had to bring one leg up.
KAINOA MCGEE: The hardest thing was getting used to the size of the surfboard. Some waves I could easily take off on a bodyboard aren't even approachable on a surfboard. And I'm not used to that. The other day, we were out at Pipe, it was pissing me off I didn't have a bodyboard. It was so good, but there were so many waves going unridden 'cause we had to pull back. To this day, it's the single most frustrating thing about riding a surfboard. Pulling back is just something I'm not used to. And God willing, I hope I never get used to it.
SURFING MAGAZINE: The more you develop as a surfer, do you ever find yourself looking down on bodyboarders?
KAINOA MCGEE: Never. It's always been a part of me and always will. I've been surfing for four years and bodyboarding for 27 and that makes me a surfer now? I don't think so. I've never looked at it that way, anyway. No matter what you're riding, either you know what you're doing or you don't.
SURFING MAGAZINE: What's easier: going from bodyboarder to surfer or surfer to bodyboarder?
KAINOA MCGEE: Hey, I challenge any surfer in the world — top surfer or not — to have them do on a bodyboard in four years what I did on a surfboard. If they can match me, I'll quit. I'll stop everything I've ever done. Have you ever seen a top surfer get on a bodyboard and try to ride Pipe? They're kooks, and they'll be the first to admit it.
SURFING MAGAZINE: At night, do you dream about surfing or bodyboarding?
KAINOA MCGEE: I dream of big, perfect barrels. As far as what to ride, I guess I'm the one of the few who really has an option.
For more “Raw Hawaii”, pick up the April 2005 issue of SURFING on sale February 22nd. Or click HERE to subscribe.