2014 Big Wave Tour Champ (and 2015 runner-up) Makuakai Rothman is one tough athlete. Rothman was injured for the second half of last year, having dislocated a rib from his sternum on a wipeout during the Final of the Puerto Escondido Challenge. That injury stubbornly stuck around for longer than anticipated.
He fought through the pain, though, and surfed the HIC Pro to make the Final, then surfed the Pe'ahi Challenge after that. Shortly before the Pipe Masters, however, he smacked his ribs on the reef once more, an injury that made his spleen swell up.
Back in the water and poised for his first heat in the Volcom Pipe Pro, Makua's been working overtime as a father to boot. With the recent birth of his new son, a budding music career and the 2016/2017 Big Wave Tour season in full swing, it's a wonder how he can manage it all.
The thing is, Makua can, and gracefully. The Sunset Beach local even makes time to give back to his home, spearheading events to help the homeless on all sides of the island. On a big and blustery lay day before the Volcom Pipe Pro, Makua filled us in on how he seems to do it.
WSL: How do you stay motivated after injuring yourself like you did recently?
Makuakai Rothman: Well, I just have to take a greater look at the picture. I have a family. I stay motivated by looking at my children. By being one of the elite athletes in the world right now. People only dream to be able to compete with the world's best. When I go out there, I surf my heart out and put myself on the line. Other than that, I'm just really proud to be a part of the Big Wave Tour.
And what's that like, competing with the world's best in the world's biggest waves?
To me, more than competing against the other guys I'm competing against myself. It's being true to myself and honest with myself and making sure I'm putting in all the hard work. With six people and no priority, I can't dictate what other people do, so you're really just competing against yourself. In a heat, some people might be in the spot and you're not.
Kelly Slater said something like, and I'm paraphrasing, ‘You gotta be able to be in rhythm in your heat and be on time in your heat. You can't just go out there and say you're going to get a wave; you have to catch the right waves at the right time in the heat.' You could catch a 10 in the beginning of a heat, but if you don't catch anything else you're still going to lose.
Would priority work in big-wave heats?
Yeah, I think so for sure. You could have the Top 3 - 1, 2, and 3 - and then there's the bottom three. Then when each guy in that Top 3 goes, they fall consecutively to that bottom three, right?
Is that something that the WSL could examine and take a look at?
Yeah, sure, that's something they could examine. But I can't answer that question. I just try and stay in my lane [laughs]. I'm sure they'll explore every option.
What does the Big Wave Tour need, in your opinion?
I think the Big Wave Tour is amazing. I don't think there really are many problems. The WSL has given us a chance to prove ourselves and I have, and I'm going to do it again. I'm going for multiple World Titles in my life. But I'm thankful for the WSL and everything they've done for me. Personally, I think we should get paid as much money as everybody else. If you showed somebody footage of Huntington Beach, then footage of what we do, it's like, ‘Are you serious?' There's no real comparison.
But as far as the organization, there's no other game in town. They're the ones footing the bill and they're the ones supporting surfing. I'm thankful that I have the opportunity to be an elite athlete and recognized as one and train as one and able to put my skills on the line. There are a lot of guys that are considered the best in the world, but they don't want to compete because they don't want to lose and then lose their mystique.
What else is new in your world; you just had a son, right?
Yeah, I've got a new son. He's six weeks old. I'm also working on some more music. I've got a music tour coming up so I'll be on the road.
How do you spin all those plates, what with the Big Wave Tour, being a father, and a music career?
My parents help out a lot and then of course my wife, Nalani, stays home and holds down the fort and supports me. She knows that what I do supports the family, but without Nalani behind me I don't know what I would do. I'm really thankful to have her in my corner.
What are some things you've learned from being a father in the last few years?
Well it's definitely challenging. It keeps me honest and it's all about teaching my children what I want them to learn. Which is to live the right way and to live with aloha in their hearts. I'm trying to live up to what my dad has done for us. He's been such a great father, not just to me but to so many people on the North Shore. So I'm just trying to take after how my dad raised us.
What are the most important things you've learned from your own father?
Stay a little bit below happy. Don't get too happy, because when shit goes wrong it can be hard to come down from way up there. Be humble. Respect the ones that respect you and if people don't show you respect, then there's no reason to show them respect. Be an honest and loyal person.
What's your favorite part about being a dad?
Watching my kids grow. Cherishing every day I have with them. We do some charitable work at a hospital and that puts things in perspective.
Nice, tell me about that work.
We have a foundation and a bunch of the big surf companies as well as the WSL donated a few thousand pairs of clothes, which we're giving out to all of the homeless kids around the island. We're going to try and have this as an annual thing. A couple of barbers are going to come down and they're going to cut everyone's hair, plus a few teachers are going to come to help some kids and families. We're going down to the Waianae Boat Harbor at the homeless camp down there. After that, we'll go to Town, and then the Eastside after that.
That sounds amazing. What else about surfing would you like to pass on to your own children?
How [surfing's] the sport of our people and how our ancestors created it. I just want my children to love the ocean because the ocean has given me everything that I have. I just want to push the spirit of aloha through surfing. Whether it's a one-foot wave or 100-foot wave. I want them to get out there and enjoy themselves. The ocean is there for everyone to enjoy and that's why it's special. Maybe that's why it covers most of the world? [laughs]