In 2015, San Clemente native Griffin Colapinto finished the Qualifying Series ranked No. 147. In 2016, his first full year of trying to qualify, he jumped to No. 32, After a solid Hawaiian campaign. Yet, as solid as it was, he was still 20 spots removed from the traditional qualifying cutoff line to join the elite ranks of the Championship Tour.
During the 2016 Triple Crown, his 9.93 during a Round Three heat at the 2016 Hawaiian Pro was his coming-out party. It was a ridiculous, last-minute Hail Mary aerial that served as an incremental improvement on Dane Reynold's "turn heard 'round the world" at the same venue back in 2012. A few weeks later, in early 2017, he took home the runner's-up trophy to Ethan Ewing at the Junior World Championships, then capped off that achievement with a 3rd at the Volcom Pipe Pro.
And the hits just kept on coming. On the North Shore this winter, Colapinto exploded like a supernova. Buoyed by a 5th in Portugal just weeks before arriving in Hawaii, he went on the competitive roll of his career. Second at the Hawaiian Pro, followed by 4th at the Vans World Cup (he failed to qualify for the right to surf in the third jewel, the Billabong Pipe Masters), he earned enough points to win the Vans Triple Crown of Surfing -- pro surfing's second-most coveted title next to a World Championship.
In a blink of an eye, Colapinto's the first Californian in history to win the Triple Crown and stand alone atop the 2017 QS rankings.
Yet there was a method behind the apparent meteoric rise from regional phenom to bonafide star. The thing is, it was always in the plan. "We committed to this path when I was 15," said Colapinto, "and the goal by the time I turned 19 was to be qualified [for the CT]. I nailed my goals at Haleiwa. I'm so proud of that, it's a lot to process."
"We" is his family -- Mom, Dad, little brother Crosby and his primary sponsor, Billabong. His father is a beloved middle school teacher who runs a surf camp in San Clemente during the summer months at a beach called Poche (the camp was one of many shuttered this year due to an unusual spike in shark encounters plaguing south Orange County). "I'd just go down there and run around on my boogie board, play games," he recalled. "That's why it became so fun for me, because I was never really forced into anything, I just liked it so much on my own. It was good."
Any story about his breakout year, however, would be incomplete without mentioning the impact of two individuals in particular -- World No. 7 Kolohe Andino, another San Clemente star, and coach Jake Paterson.
After a short, yet successful, time inside Glenn "Micro" Hall's camp two seasons ago, it was a competitive crisis that compelled Colapinto to jump all-in with Paterson. A former CT standout, Paterson's had great results with the Quiksilver young guns team, including Kanoa Igarashi, Zeke Lau and Leonardo Fioravanti.
"I had like five events in a row where I lost first round, so I messaged Snake saying, 'I need your help right now, I'll do whatever it takes, anything,'" Colapinto explained. "From there I went to Brazil with him and before the contest he was helping me and I listened to everything he said, did everything he said. I didn't care because I knew my strategy wasn't working."
Prior to working with the Australian, Colapinto's heat tactics were to rely on his talent alone to get him through. "My strategy was just to go out and hope for the best, basically," he said. "I thought, 'Maybe I'm good enough to just make it through,' you know? But Snake worked with me on what to do during heats and I just did everything he said and I ended up getting some of the best results I've had. So yeah, that was crucial, I think."
Ultimately, Paterson was able to take the young Californian's vast potential and turn it into successful achievement. "Obviously Kanoa and Leo are doing so good with him and I like the way he works with his guys and he runs a lot of heats and stuff, it's just really fun," Colapinto continued. "So yeah, he's a good person to work with. I know he's really serious and competitive and stuff, but he also seems to enjoy the guys having fun. Jake always says that you have to enjoy it if you want to do well, and not be too stressed about anything, just be happy with it."
Andino's influence has been more subtle, but the wisdom gleaned from a local legend and mentor can't be underestimated. "Kolohe is definitely an older brother to me now, after traveling with him and surfing all around San Clemente with him," he said. "He and his dad [Dino] have always helped me a lot, and in Hawaii he let me stay with him, so yeah, they've taken me under their wing."
Getting to witness Andino struggle on the Championship Tour in 2015 was also enlightening for the 2018 CT Rookie. "It was interesting to see his process because I think in '15 he was having a bit of a shocker, like pretty bummed, he ended up having to re-qualify through the QS," said Colapinto.
"And then he started training really hard during the off season and I think he just worked on a lot of things mentally and physically. It was really cool to see the difference last year, like he ended up getting No. 4 in the world. It just shows that the hard work pays off every time."