Go Home Pops, You're Drunk
“My son’s not here, so I’m taking his place. We’ll have two more beers on Billabong…wait, make it four.”
I was sitting in the restaurant at the end of the road at Teahupoo. The contest had just ended and everyone on the point was keen to blow off a little steam, myself included. The last 72 hours had been a grind, and Trevor Robinson, the father of Jack Robo was going next level. Obnoxiously sauced, the group he was with closed their tab and peacefully headed for home. But he wanted to keep the party rolling.
“My son’s not here, so I’m taking his place and I get anything I want. We’ll have two more beers on Billabong…wait, make it four,” Trevor slurred to the kind, gentle woman behind the counter.
Over the years, as money and career opportunities have become commonplace at the “amateur” level of our sport, I’ve seen a lot of surf parents come and go. Some do amazing work sacrificing and supporting their children. I’m thinking of people like Tommy Asing, Chris Moore, Mike “Pops” Ho and Dino Andino who put their lives on hold to support their children’s dreams. They’ve helped guide them to fruitful careers, and more importantly, they’ve raised good humans capable of standing on their own two feet when the surf game finally ends. Tragically, other parents see their kids as a meal ticket and burn through their wealth and talent before they’re 21.
“Anything we want is on Billabong, okay?” he condescendingly added.
He’d gone rogue. Rude as all get-up. Had this been Hawaii and not Tahiti, his night probably would have ended with a couple well-deserved open-hand slaps.
Hoarding his four beers, Trevor sat down at my table and began to regale us with his drunk driving escapade from Papeete, which ended with him abandoning his rental car in a ditch somewhere.
“I don’t care what happens to you, man, but you’re going to hurt somebody driving like that,” I told him. “You gotta take it easy, man.”
He blew me off and kept jabbering. I’d heard enough.
“You’re winning, man,” I said, getting up to leave.
“Are you being sarcastic?” he stammered as I walked out into the rainy night.
The scene was heartbreaking. Jack's a great kid. He’s clearly got the talent to be one of the best surfers in the world. When I first met him some years ago, he was bright-eyed and eager to learn and see the world. It was so clear he possessed everything he needed to go far in his surf life. Now that he’s on the verge of stepping into the big leagues, he deserves better than his old man swindling free beers on his sponsor’s dime.
Sitting in the channel during the contest, I had a long conversation with a career team manager who’s dealt with these issues throughout his professional life. The conversation was off the record and he shall remain nameless, but he said something that resonated.
“I call bullshit on this stuff when I see it,” he said. “Because I love these kids. But I’ve seen too many tragedies in my life to be quiet. If you love them, show them, put their best interests first.”
Names like Nicky Woods and Shane Herring came up, as did the damage that Kalani Robb’s parents did to his career. It’s probably not kosher to call somebody out in public for poor parenting or substance abuse, but keeping quiet helps no one. We’ve seen this play out in surfing time and again. I never put pen to paper while my friend Andy Irons struggled with his demons. I regret it every day. Maybe if somebody had been able to say something it would have helped. Maybe he’d still be with us if he knew how much people really cared. I’ll never know because I didn’t have the guts to be honest.