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Kalani David On Red Bull Airborne

Like Finn McGill, Kalani David is another young Hawaiian with talent above the lip, and he's ecstatic to get a shot at the Airborne World Title in 2019. David was personally invited to the Airborne France last September by Josh Kerr, and after landing one of the airs of the event and making the Final, he earned his way into all three stops on this year's Airborne schedule: Gold Coast, Bali and France.

"It's crazy," said David. "I've been telling people about it, like, I made the CT! But just for airs [laughs]. I'm really just still in shock that it's all finally happening on the WSL stage."

Red Bull Airborne: Kalani David with Full Rotation
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The surfer from Hawaii earns the highest score of the Qualifying Round with a 5.83 at the Red Bull Airborne France.

The World Surf League: What are you most looking forward to about being a part of the inaugural Airborne series?
Kalani David: From what the airshows were back in the day, to what they are now…it's insane. There's a lot of good surfers out there, they might not technically be into the CT, but they will definitely put on the jersey to do some big airs. I think we're going to see some really gnarly airs this year.

You got the chance to be a part of the first Airborne stop in France. What was that like? Did it feel competitive, or more like an expression session?
It was so sick. Towards the last few minutes of the final we were all like, "Oh, crap. We gotta get something. We gotta get a score" [laughs]. But before that it didn't feel competitive at all. You're going for the best overall score, so it doesn't really matter what the other person does. As long as you get your own waves and find your own sections you're sweet.

Kalani David of Hawaii heading out for Heat 3 of Round 1 at the Billabong Pipe Masters Trials at Pipeline, Oahu, Hawaii. Kalani David of Hawaii heading out for Heat 3 of Round 1 at the Billabong Pipe Masters Trials at Pipeline, Oahu, Hawaii. WSL / Ed Sloane

I take it you're a fan of the leaderboard format?
Yeah. I really like how we surfed in groups in France, and how the whole contest doesn't take very long. I grew up doing skate contests, like Dew Tour and all of that, so I'm used to this format, and I love this format. There's no pressure - you just go out and do the biggest thing you can do. And you're actually more inspired by your competitors, rather than jealous when they get a good wave or score.

Do you think having that Dew Tour experience with its similar format is an advantage for you?
Definitely. Some of the guys seemed a little confused in France because they're so used to one format. Almost like they put on the jersey and immediately get competitive. But, for me, all I did was pray and then go out and have fun.

Kalani David (HAW) Ericeira World Junior 2016 Kalani David (HAW) at the Ericeira World Junior 2016. WSL / Poullenot/Aquashot

It's so sick to have the opportunity. I did an airshow when I was like 10 years old in Hawaii, and I somehow won. That was against all the best kids my age at the time and I really liked it. It's pretty classic that it's come full-circle and now we have a full tour. I've been telling people about it, like, I made the CT! But just for airs [laughs].

You're in all three stops this year, so congrats - you have qualified.
[laughs] Yeah, thanks! I'm really just still in shock that it's all finally happening on the WSL stage honestly.

Kalani David of Hawaii advances in 1st to the quarterfinals from round 5 heat 8 of the Volcom Pipe Pro held at Pipeline, Oahu, Hawaii, USA.. Kalani David of Hawaii advances in 1st to the quarterfinals from round 5 heat 8 of the Volcom Pipe Pro held at Pipeline, Oahu, Hawaii, USA.. WSL / Keoki Saguibo

How much has skateboarding influenced the way you surf?
A lot. Skating the vert ramp, being in the air…there's a lot of things that once you've learned in the air, you can kind of do it anywhere, like surfing. I feel like punting on a huge surfboard, compared to a skateboard, is way harder. So it helps that I got comfortable on a skateboard first. I'm lucky that I skated, because I don't think non-skateboarders understand certain things in the air.

Talk about Snapper. Is it a tough wave for airs?
I've actually only surfed Snapper one time in my life. I've surfed D-bah a lot more. I don't really know what to expect out of Snapper, but I'll do my best to pull something big out.

Kalani David of Hawaii advances to round 2 after finishing first in round 1 heat 8 at the WSL 2019 Volcom Pipe Pro at Pipeline, Oahu, Hawaii, USA. Kalani David of Hawaii advances to round 2 after finishing first in round 1 heat 8 at the WSL 2019 Volcom Pipe Pro at Pipeline, Oahu, Hawaii, USA. WSL / Tony Heff

Will you go into the event with certain airs in mind? Or will you take off and react to the wave and sections as they come?
I have my one air that I kind of go to. The one that made me the final in France [frontside full rotation]. I might try that one again, but it really depends on the section. Honestly, I just want to get one big score on the board first so I can get creative, because I still want to win. But I'll mostly just stand up and do what the wave tells me to do. I think it's hard to pre-plan too much on a surfboard.

What would it mean to you to be the inaugural WSL Airborne world champion?
That would be my dream come true. To me, it's basically the same as winning a World Title. It's so cool we have three stops, and that they're at Snapper, Bali and France. How much better does it get? I really want to thank Josh Kerr for putting this together. I'm just super honored to be a part of it.

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