Nearly 10 years in the industry under his belt already, at a young age Joe Turpel has become one of the most iconic voices in professional surfing. But Turpel's roots in the sport and his passion for broadcasting go well beyond his time in the booth calling heats. What started out as a summer school project turned into a potential career path, becoming more refined as Turpel put aside team sports to focus on his love of surfing.
Before heading into another season of delivering you the latest action in surf news, Turpel shares how Living the Dream became a viable reality.
Daniel Jenks: Where did you grow up and what are your first memories of surfing?
Joe Turpel: I lived in town called Mānoa on a campus of this school called Punahou. My dad lived here when he was a kid too and was a lifeguard and a surfer. My dad was the one that got my sister and myself in the ocean all the time. I remember I'd be playing with my friends outside and we had this big yard where my friends and I would hang out. My dad would be like, "Let's go to the beach," and I'd be like, "We're in the middle of a game, Dad." And he'd say he's give me a quarter for each wave I caught and I'd be like, "Guys, I gotta go, I got to make some money." Then I'd surf all day with him.
We'd ride boogie boards in Waikiki and he had this old 7'8" single fin shaped by this guy named Morlock -- I still don't know who that is -- but it had no leash plug and he'd shove us into waves at Waikiki. I don't remember ever putting wax on that board or ever knowing about trying to do turns. It was just about riding a big white water ball all the way in and dry docking it on the beach.
DJ: Does your sister still surf?
Turpel: My sister still surfs. She's the marketing director of Volcom Women's. She got into tandem surfing. She's super graceful and stylish. Rides longboards and stuff. She's awesome.
They'd be like, 'Ok so you're the intern, you're going to do a public restroom story.'
DJ: You went to college at UC Santa Barbara. Is that where got your start in broadcast?
Turpel: I ended up getting an internship at KEYT, this Channel 3 of affiliate of ABC. I worked in the sports and news department. They'd send me on random assignments. I interviewed Jessica Simpson once in the Ventura mall and there were all these teeny boppers hyperventilating to meet her. It was so radical. Then sometimes they'd be like, "Ok so you're the intern, you're going to do a public restroom story on State Street in Santa Barbara." They'd put a hidden microphone on me and I'd just ask random people where the bathroom was (laughs). Those were really fun times. At that stage, the early webcasts were happening in surfing and I was sort of feeling something deep down inside that I wanted to give that a shot.
DJ: How did you make the transition over to surfing?
Turpel: I was on the [UCSB surf] team for a few years. It was such a fun lifestyle and when we were on the team there we'd see webcasts with Martin Potter and all these guys. We'd sort of just do the play-by-play of each other's waves in the water in Santa Barbara. After (graduation) I went to the NSSA Nationals and I asked Janice (Aragon) and Gayline (Clifford) if they needed someone to do beach announcing. They said to maybe come back next year. I sort of had forgotten about it and the next year they called me and asked me if I still wanted to give it a shot. I said, "Yeah, sure!"
I did the Southwest Open that season, Kolohe Andino and Conner Coffin were right around 12 year old and Nat Young was still doing them too. So it was really fun to get to know all those families and they were so supportive. After that my sister was working at Billabong and Graham Stapelberg was there and Megan Villa was the Billabong team manager. After that first year of NSSA they had a CT in Brazil in Bahia for the women. It was (Stephanie) Gilmore's rookie year, Rosy Hodge's rookie year and they asked me if I wanted to do the webcast over there. That was my first time doing anything in front of the camera.
DJ: What's the best part of your job?
Turpel: Best part is traveling the world and going to places that you never thought you'd ever go in your whole life. Places you saw in magazines as a kid. And the friendships that you make on Tour. You're gone for months at a time. I moved around a lot as a kid and you find your place on the road. You get comfortable with that and the people are the best things that you take away.
When everybody is firing it's a choir, where everybody's singing together.
If I focus on the job part of it, the actual act of doing it, the adrenaline rush of going live is something that's so exciting. When the waves are firing and there's a World Title on the line, there's this natural connection to what's happening in the water. When you're feeling good that day and the guys in the truck -- from the guys that are switching cameras, to the guys that are doing the replays to the sound guys -- when everybody is firing it's a choir, where everybody's singing together.
DJ: What's the toughest part of your job?
Turpel: On the other side of traveling, you're away from friends and family. You get used to watching perfect waves, instead of surfing perfect waves. You're up in the dark everyday, which is minor, but you have to make sure you're awake, that you're sleeping right. You treat yourself like an athlete because your voice is a muscle and you don't want to burn your voice out. It's those little things that you have to be aware of, but once you do it for a couple of years it doesn't feel that hard anymore.
DJ: You mentioned being gone is tough. Who do you miss most? Where is home these days?
Turpel: Definitely my family. My sister and I are really close and my mom and dad are epic people. Also friends that I grew up with and went to college with. I've been gone for a while now. All my friends have kids and are starting families. I've sort of been bouncing from San Clemente to Laguna Niguel (in California) in the last couple years and now I'm in Laguna Niguel by Salt Creek. It feels like a good home base. I've got family and friends nearby so in between events it's a great place to check into.
DJ: What's the longest you've spent in one place in the last year?
Turpel: That's a really good question. Probably after the Pipe Masters last year. I spent Christmas at home and then came back to Hawaii so that was like a month and that was the most time I had at home.
DJ: What's the biggest misconception about your job and the best perk?
Turpel: You definitely have really good days where the contest gets called off and there's another beachbreak that's really fun. But you have to be on call, you have to take care of yourself and go to bed early. Everyone on the team does. You wake up in the dark, by the twelfth day of the waiting period you're definitely feeling that early morning call. It's a job that you prepare for, like everything else. But, as you can imagine, you're really exposed. So you have to be on your game everyday.
Best perk in the world is going to places like Hawaii and meeting your surfing heroes who you've looked up to your whole life. Getting to surf with them and become friends with them. That's pretty cool and it's something that'll last forever.
DJ: Do you remember any big flubs over your career?
Turpel: I remember when Bede Durbidge had his first baby and I said they had a boy, but they actually had a baby girl. I got a text message right away and they were laughing and it was funny. But on the inside, when you say something like that as a commentator, it just killed me. Maybe it sounds minor, but anything little thing like that can bug you forever.
DJ: What was the funniest moment you've had in the booth?
Turpel: My funniest moment is when I was calling a heat with Mark Occhilupo. We were in Brazil. He's actually really solid at understanding the broadcast format and he would just make you laugh every heat. But this one heat in Brazil we were in this little truck across the street facing the mountains and they had a little stage with our chairs and the legs were basically hanging off the edge of it. It was really critical part of the heat, 30 seconds on the clock, the waves were average. It was Jadson Andre versus Brett Simpson, I remember because was such a big moment.
I didn't have any air inside me to say anything because I was about to lose it and I think my first word was like a squeak.
Occy kept getting excited and he was backing up in his chair and then one leg of the chair went off the edge of the stage and he flew backwards. Did a full backflip, the headset flew off, and he landed on his feet. The guy is so talented. Landed on his feet in the back and I had to close the heat out by myself and I didn't have any air inside me to say anything because I was about to lose it and I think my first word was like a squeak and everybody in the production truck is losing it in my ear.
And Occy finally sat back down in his chair and was like, "Get it out mate, get it out." And I was crying I was laughing so hard. I've never laughed that hard in my whole life.
DJ: Are there any moments that you're particularly proud of?
Turpel: I go back to 2010 in Brazil. It was my first men's CT I ever called. Jadson beat Kelly (Slater) in the Final. My dad was having heart surgery at the time and it was one of those moments where I didn't know if I even wanted to go to the event. I remember I was so worried about him and talking to my sister and my mom. But my dad was like, "You have to go to this thing." I remember going home (to my hotel) after the event and trying to get an update from someone and the feeling when he finally made it through surgery and he was going to be okay. I was sitting in the water just going, "Oh my god." It was such a big lifetime moment for me. My dad wanted me to fulfill my lifetime goals and at the same time I was growing on the spot. Trying to deal with something like that while you're going on live TV and managing that. I think those moments where you finish an event, your adrenaline peaks. You look back at a break like Pipeline and you are just so thankful, being proud of where you are in those moments.
DJ: What's the best advice you've ever gotten or would give?
Turpel: What I learned when I first started doing this, there's a lot of people that give you advice on how to do your job. There's people on blogs that try to reach you, there's people that just want to take you down. If it's people you work for or work with, people on the beach, the best thing is you've got to live and die by your own sword. I'd rather fall on my face on my own terms than make a mistake because someone else told me to try something. If you have a vision that you believe in, follow through with it and don't let outside influences slow you down.
DJ: Was there a moment when you realized this is what you wanted to do?
Turpel: The first spark that came to me, I was in a summer school class at Punahoa. And my baseball coach had a summer school class called Sports Close-up. I was a die hard baseball fan, love the Dodgers, still do. You had to do a broadcast, almost like a Sportscenter thing. It's ridiculous looking at this video nowadays, but I was probably 10 and I was like, "The Dodgers went two for two today...," whatever it was and I did the whole rundown. The teacher told me to take the video home and show my parents saying, "You might have something going here." And then when I stopped team sports and just started surfing all day, surfing was all I thought about. I watched every movie, read every magazine, and when webcasts started getting better -- I just wanted to do that.
DJ: Tell me three words to describe yourself at 15.
Turpel: Oh man I miss that guy. Happy, stoked and skinny.
He was the guy that gave me constructive criticism that made sense.
DJ: Who were some of the influences in honing your skills as a commentator?
Turpel: I wanted to develop my own style. My main guidance in those early years was getting reports from my dad actually. He was the guy that gave me constructive criticism that made sense. I could go to the events back in the day and just start talking. You'd go in with an idea and be feeling pretty good after the day and then I'd get an email from my dad being like, "Hey try this next time," or, "think about that." And it would make sense. He's not only breaking down me, he's breaking down the whole thing. He used to work at Universal Studios for like 15 years and he's not afraid of sharing his opinion with me.
DJ: Do you still get those emails?
Turpel: All the time! Not as much as I used to. But every event, I'll get something. Sometimes it's just, "Way to go. I enjoyed the show." Other times it's, "How's your voice feeling?" It's kind of like a coach almost, motivating you for the next day. I took a lot of confidence in hearing from him and being able to have someone to feed things off. I didn't always have that on Tour.