Last year was a big one for Griffin Colapinto. First he won the Pro Junior at the US Open. Then he finished runner-up in the Junior rankings to Kanoa Igarashi. But he capped his year with a head-turning performance at the Pipeline Invitational, where he put his big-wave prowess on display in some serious conditions and advanced all the way to the semifinals.
At age 17, Colapinto is still a Junior, but his focus in now shifting toward the Qualifying Series. We caught up with him between his recent trip to Bali and his next one to Japan, where's he's competing at the Ichinomiya Chiba Open.
WSL: Let's start with the Pipe Invitational at the end of last year, how was it to surf the heavy conditions?
GC: I was just so stoked to get the call up last-minute to surf in the event. I really just wanted to get a good wave. I ended up making the semifinals, which I didn't expect at all. It was my one chance to prove myself in big waves, so I wanted to go on anything. I think that was a huge stepping stone for my career.
I really just wanted to get a good wave. It was my one chance to prove myself in big waves, so I just wanted to go on anything. I would say I'm pretty confident in big waves overall.
WSL: You looked pretty poised in the bigger stuff, where does that comfort come from?
GC: I would say I'm pretty confident in big waves overall, just from spending so much time in Hawaii. A big wave that really sticks out to me was a first-reef Pipe bomb that barely had an entry. It was nuts to get in something like that.
WSL: At this point you're still a Junior, and an accomplished one, earning runner-up in North America behind Kanoa Igarashi last year. But can you explain your goals for this year?
GC: I'm definitely more focused on the QS this year over the Juniors because I feel that I can do well in those. But when I'm around I'll do the Juniors for sure and maybe compete in Cabos to get some points there. If I get into Junior World Champs then that'd be an awesome event to win. My goal is to get Top 50 on the QS by the end of the season and then step that goal up next year to try and qualify - really just want to take it step by step.
I'm definitely more focused on the QS this year over Juniors, but if I'm around I'll do the Juniors for sure. My goal is to get Top 50 by the end of season and then step that goal up next year.
WSL: What will you remember most fondly about being a Junior when this season is over?
GC: When I was 13 I did the Belmar when it was a 2-star or something and got 4th in the final with guys like Knox Harris and Evan Thompson. Then I got my first Junior win last year at the US Open and I was super psyched about that. It felt really good because the US Open is probably the best Junior to win and was stoked to win it the last year, when it was 21-and-under.
WSL: That was a title you took over Igarashi in his hometown. You guys had a healthy rivalry last year -- how did you view it?
GC: We definitely pushed each other. There was a month where we had a lot of heats together. It started in Ballito at the QS10000 where he beat me in Round Two. Then we had our battles in the US Open before heading to Virginia Beach where I bettered him the QS heat and the next Junior heat, but he ended up knocking me out in the QS and going on to win it. I haven't had a lot of heats with him since and now he's on the CT, but it's great to see him there.
WSL: What does that do for your confidence, seeing him on the Championship Tour?
GC: I'm stoked he's on tour because it makes me think that I can do it to. I don't mind that I haven't given the QS my all because I'm still young and get to go to places like Indo, where we scored, so I'm stoked to still being that. In the future I really want to be on tour but for now I'm just really focused on doing my best to get there one step at a time. I haven't really had a super-good result in a QS, so I'm hoping that comes this year.
I don't mind I haven't given the QS my all because I'm still young. In the future I really want to be on tour, but for now I'm just really focused to get there one step at a time.
WSL: What was something you noticed most about yourself last year?
GC: Last year I was training a lot more. I felt myself get stronger and more powerful. I'd say most of my motivation came from training a lot.
WSL: That training is paying off -- you have a big clip dropping right around the corner, correct?
GC: Yeah, Monster is doing ‘Whatever Beach.' There's six of us and mine is the first one going up so I'm stoked. It was filmed at the San Clemente Pier and in Riviera the whole time. It was a lot of windswell so it was a different kind of wave coming through, which was awesome to see on film.
WSL: Is filming something you use a lot in training, too?
GC: Yeah, I haven't really had a coach so I've been trying to teach myself. I'll have someone film me and compare that to the guys on tour and make those adjustments.
WSL: In all your travels at such a young age, what's a trip that you'll remember forever?
GC: The Cut N' Run boat trip I did to the Mentawais was sick a few years ago. Monster and Surfline got together for it and I had just signed on with Monster. They did those Red Bull trips on the big boat and that was just a dream for me to do something like that and Monster ended up getting the same boat.