Interview: Makai McNamara’s Big Day Out

Unknown[1]Photo: Brent Bielmann

Before yesterday, Makai McNamara hated walking on the beach. It's not the sun or the sand or the caramelized bottoms that worried him, it's just that he was always trailing his dad and uncle. When Liam and Garrett cruise Oahu's northern shores, their languid strides are immortalized by the mammoth paw prints left in their wake. For 20 years, Makai has worked to follow in their footsteps and fulfill his waveriding legacy as a McNamara. After a few solid performances over the years, (including a Pipe Masters berth via the infamously cutthroat trials) Makai has teetered on making the leap from North Shore standout to internationally acclaimed surfer. That is, until yesterday.

With a 3rd place finish against the world's best barrel-riders in absolutely, unquestionably, my-brain-is-still-hurting-it-was-so-perfect Pipeline, it's clear that Makai has officially arrived. We caught up with the young Hawaiian and discussed what the hell happened yesterday, what it means to him, and how he plans on moving forward. -Michael Ciaramella

SURFING: So yesterday was a pretty big day for you, how are you feeling now that you've had a chance to reflect on everything?

Makai: Yeah I mean that was pretty much the best day of my life… Surfing perfect Pipeline all day—well for two days really—and then making a final against 3 of my heroes, it's pretty surreal. I definitely didn't expect it.

One of your pivotal moments, probably the turning point of the event for you, was during the semifinal against Dusty, Tommy Whits, and JOB. What can you tell me about that?

Well yeah basically I just made a stupid mistake against Dusty. I thought he was going right, but he ended up going left, and at that point I had already started dropping in so I was screwed. After the interference, I was bummed for about 5 minutes, kinda thinking I was out of it at that point. But then I thought, Pipe is absolutely perfect right now, I should just sit out there and try to get a crazy wave. When that wave came in, JOB and I were both sitting pretty deep and inside, so I scratched over to the corner and slipped into the perfect position. I didn't really know if I was gonna make it, but it let me out and I was so stoked.

Makai_finalday_brentbielmann0054Makai, parked. Photo: Brent Bielmann

Getting through a heat with a one-wave score of a 10 is pretty legendary, especially considering the conditions. Coming in from that semi, I'm sure you were full of emotions… What did you and your dad talk about before you paddled back out for the final?

When I got to the beach, my dad ran down, and he was almost crying, just so happy for me. We didn't have much time before I paddled back out there, so he just told me to focus and put together one more strong heat.

A strong heat is an understatement, coming up against the likes of Kelly, Bruce, and JOB! That had to be fairly daunting.

Yeah, I was really stoked to be out there with those guys, 3 of the 5 best surfers to ever surf Pipe, but I still wanted to win. Part of me was thinking that it was impossible to win against those guys, but Pipe was so good, and I had just gotten a 10, so I was feeling pretty confident. I just tried to get inside position and control the heat from the beginning, which I did, but unfortunately I couldn't get a good backup.

Makai_finalday_brentbielmann0056Makai’s agonizing wipeout in the Final. Photo: Brent Bielmann

With a high 8 in the early stages of the heat, it looked like you were in a pretty strong position, but then you got freaking whomped! Tell me about that wipeout.

Well I didn't have priority, so I was sitting deep and trying to find some of the ones that would go under the boys. Then this teepee popped up, perfect left and right so I started paddling. Bruce had priority, and he was paddling too… I couldn't tell if he was going right or left, and I didn't wanna make another mistake like I did against Dusty, so I waited until I saw him going left. At the last second I tried to dig in and go right, but it was too late so I just went headfirst over the falls. I probably shouldn't have gone, but I didn't want to look like a chicken. Luckily I didn't slam into the reef.

No doubt! So what was the vibe like in the lineup? Were those guys chatting it up or did they seem pretty focused on winning?

Everyone definitely wanted to win, but we were all so shocked about the waves we had seen the past 2 days, that during the lulls we were all just laughing. It was pretty serious when we were jockeying for waves, but in between sets it seemed like everyone was too happy to be super serious.

Kelly_finalday_brentbielmann0067Makai’s oppenent, and eventual winner, Mr. Kelly Slater. Photo: Brent Bielmann

This event has certainly spring-boarded you up the QS rankings, does that mean we'll be seeing more of Makai sluggin it out on the QS, or do you prefer to spend your time basking in the Hawaiian sun?

I've been thinking a lot recently about whether or not I want to do the tour, and I think this contest gave me enough confidence to at least give it a try. It just sucks, because 90% of the waves for the QS are really bad, but I'm in a good position now so I feel like I have to try. My current train of though is that I want to be able to do the Primes after the midseason cut off. If I can't get into them by then, I'll probably reevaluate.

Maybe Makai will surprise himself and find success in the contest route, or maybe he'll just keep packing 10 footers at Pipe. Either way, we'll be watching.