Makai McNamara Is Officially Out of Dad's Shadow

Daniel Jenks

McNamara at Backdoor
McNamara was dominant throughout the event.

It's not easy to make a name for yourself on the North Shore on Oahu. It's even harder when your father and uncle are both surfing legends. But twenty-year-old Makai McNamara has made incredible strides this winter, most notably at the Volcom Pipe Pro, arguably the most prestigious event of the year for local Hawaiian competitors. Young McNamara, whose father Liam is a Pipe legend, and uncle Garrett has ridden a few big waves, ripped his way into the final with a series of commanding performances.

Makai McNamara (HAW) stalling through the Quarterfinals. Makai McNamara's North Shore season has been solid from the start. His Pipe Invitational performance in December was also a head turner. - WSL / Laurent Masurel

The other finalist, Kelly Slater, Jamie O'Brien, and Bruce Irons each had a dozen years on him, but that didn't matter. Just like it didn't matter when McNamara was hit with an interference call in the semifinal. If you know anything about McNamaras, you know they don't roll over. Five minutes later Makai had regrouped, recovered, and recommitted, dropping into one of the biggest bombs of the day and disappearing behind the curtain. When he emerged from the massive spinning cavern a few seconds later he earned not only a perfect 10, he earned some serious respect, and long-overdue attention of his own. So just in case you haven't been introduced, meet Makai...

WSL: So you're out of the Juniors and on to the QS. What are you hoping to achieve in 2016?
Makai McNamara: Yeah, I have had a lot of good memories and fun contests in the Juniors and been doing some contests on the QS for the past few years, but never had too much luck. My main goal for the QS this year is to make it into the Primes by the mid-year reseed, and with this result [at the Volcom Pipe Pro] I have a good chance of doing that. Once you're in the Primes, it kind of seems like a level playing field between the guys and who ever makes it are the people who want it the most and put the time/work in. So now I'm just focused on staying healthy and moving on to the next QS 6,000s in Australia, a big difference in waves than at Pipeline though so it will be a whole different challenge.

Liam Mcnamara (HAW) Makai's dad, Liam McNamara, was a regular competitor of Kelly Slater's during his early 90s visits. - WSL

WSL: Given your lineage, is it a rhetorical question to ask who you looked up to growing up on the North Shore?
McNamara: Haha. My two biggest idols would have to be my dad, Liam, and my uncle, Garret. I always heard a lot of crazy stories about them and thought I would be too scared to ever do what they do, but it also gave me confidence knowing that they had done it. As for non-family idols, Andy Irons was my favorite to watch anywhere in the world by far, but coming from the North Shore there are so many great surfers to watch that I can't name them all! I love watching my dad's old Pipe videos of all the old school guys to get psyched up.

McNamara's Perfect 10
Makai McNamara is gaining confidence in a jersey.

WSL: Did that upbringing play into your desire stand out and compete?
McNamara: My dad and uncle have definitely made a good path for me, but you can't just think you're the man because of someone else's accomplishments. It used to affect me a lot more because I felt like I would always get the raw end of the deal, but feeling bad for yourself doesn't help anything. Now, all of their accomplishments in surfing give me motivation to do better. Like how my dad won the Pipe Pro and Pipe Master trials many times, it just makes me want to do the same things and beyond!

Makai McNamara during Round 1. In 2014, Makai finsihed runner-up at the Men's Pipe Invitational and earned a spot into the Billabong Pipe Masters. - WSL / Laurent Masurel

WSL: What's the hardest part about proving yourself as a local on the North Shore?
McNamara: This stretch of beach is definitely the best in the world. There are so many good waves and I think it's hard to get recognized if you are just surfing random spots. I grew up surfing Rockies as a kid. As I got older I started migrating down the beach to Pipe and that is where the real "Spotlight" is and where you can really gain respect. If you can get bombs at places like Pipe and Waimea, I think you have definitely proven yourself. Of course there's a respect level, if you treat the people right out here you will go a lot further. Don't try and yell Uncle Mike or Derek Ho off a wave, and actually look back before you go on any wave out here.

WSL: If you could live anywhere, but Hawaii where would you live?
McNamara: I'd say Tahiti, I guess it's kind of like Hawaii was 100 years ago. I have a lot of friends there, the waves are perfect and you can live off of the land. The first wave I ever remember catching was in a Tahiti river mouth by Pension Bonjouir, so that has got to be it. But I could never move away from Oahu.

Landon McNamara (HAW) at the 2015 Volcom Pipe Pro. Makai's brother, Landon McNamara, at the 2015 Volcom Pipe Pro. - WSL / Brian Bielmann/Volcom

WSL: Your brother Landon wears a helmet at Pipe, but you don't, why?
McNamara: I get asked this a a lot, and it kind of trips me out. Landon goes on the craziest looking waves I have ever seen and has some of the craziest wipeouts I have ever seen so I hope he keeps wearing a helmet! As for me, I'm kind of a scaredy cat but I try not to think about wearing or not wearing a helmet and focus on making the waves I go for. I do believe that if it's your time to get hurt, it will happen no matter what. Even if you are wearing full body armor, when it's your time it's your time.

There are a lot of characters out here, but if you come over and are actually respectful and are not too shy to say 'Howzit' you will be treated good.

WSL: What's a misconception about growing up on the North Shore?
McNamara: That everyone is so gnarly and mean. If you are stupid, you will be dealt with. There are a lot of characters out here, but if you come over and are actually respectful and are not too shy to say "Howzit" you will be treated good. I don't go anywhere and paddle straight around the locals, it's just not how it goes!

WSL: Tell us about your gnarliest experience surfing on the North Shore.
McNamara: I've been pretty lucky so far (knock on wood) the gnarliest experiences have to be just watching guys like my brother and other madmen take off on bombs when you're in the lineup at Pipe. From the beach you have no idea how crazy it is out there.

Makai congratulated by his dad Liam Mcnamara Makai McNamara - WSL / Kirstin Scholtz

WSL: Tell us about the worst travel experience you've had getting to a contest.
McNamara: We travel real last minute, so there's always something that goes wrong. On our way to Santa Cruz last October my brother's board bag was left under the exhaust of the luggage cart (by airport workers), it burnt a big hole through the bag and gave the boards a huge air bubble. I grabbed the board bag out from the oversized luggage and almost burnt my hand.

WSL: What's a trait you dislike in yourself?
McNamara: Not being confident enough of my abilities.

WSL: What's your best trait?
McNamara: I think that I am a pretty good friend, if you treat me with respect, I will treat you the same way. It's simple, were all human.

WSL: Of your friends, who drops in on you the most?
McNamara: Hahaha. They all do there fair share, but only my real close friends. We all catch a lot of waves to ourselves so there's not really a need to drop in on each other, but sometimes it's necessary!