Stab Magazine | The Thunder And The Reef (Chopes Paddle Battle, 2016): Nate Florence vs Koa Rothman

The Thunder And The Reef (Chopes Paddle Battle, 2016): Nate Florence vs Koa Rothman

“I want Koa to do it; I want Koa to paddle into a really big wave. Then I’m gonna paddle into a bigger one!” – Nate Floz 

news // Sep 30, 2016
Words by stab
Reading Time: 5 minutes

Is everybody in? The showdown is about to begin.

Last year, two of North Shore’s best friends, Nathan Florence and Koa Rothman set out to paddle the biggest waves of their lives at Teahupoo. It was the same swell where Nathan got his ride of the year nomination. You remember, it was that impossibly late drop where he shot out of like a flame greeting a powder keg drenched in kerosene. Well, during that session, Koa and Nate were going wave for wave, trying to one-up each other as the swell rose and Chopes grew over the shallow reef. A month back, they called up esteemed Shaper John Pyzel, and asked him to make them a board small enough to knife the Chopes drop, but with enough volume to paddle into the biggest wave possible at the notorious break. Right now, we are waiting on the right swell, and when it comes we’ll be out there documenting the boys as they go head to head. The two will shed blood, sweat and tears, but only one will be victorious.

First, let’s analyse the gear:
“Nathan’s board is the same model he rode out there last year, except I packed the 6’9 paddle power into a 6’6 and pumped up the volume,” Jon tells Stab. “The whole idea is to make a couple boards that could surpass the wave Nate got in 2015. It’s my bread and butter step up called the Next Step. The same one John (Florence) has been riding for years. The challenge with making something like that is not making the rails too beefy. The thickness needs to be under the chest, with refined rails so it doesn’t feel like too much board.” 


Weapon Number One: 6’6 x 18.65 x 2.75 x vol 33.15. Photo: Daniel Russo

“The two boards are totally different,” he continues. “Nate’s regular and Koa’s goofy, so I had to design them with a gnarly slabbing left in mind. Since Koa’s frontside, although he’ll still be coming in late, he’ll slide in more sideways so he can get away with less rocker. Koa’s is based off my big wave boards. The same one the John won the Eddie on; it’s called the Crazy Train. It’s also a 6’6, it carries the thickness through the nose and has an old school beak on it. Koa really wanted the beak. He kept saying, ‘the nose knows.’ It’s the same board that Koa, John, Nate, Mark Healey and all the guys I make boards for ride at Jaws, except those are in the ten-foot range.” 

KOA board

“The nose knows.” Weapon Number Two: 6’6 x 18.65 x 2.75 x vol 35.9 Photo: Russo

The two pals were suffering from separation anxiety at time of this interview. Koa coming off a concussion at the hands of Bali, and Nathan, well, he’d just gotten out of the water at home. The press conference went as follows: 

Koa: Is this simple Nate? It’s been a while. It takes a magazine to reconnect us huh? 

Nate: Koa abandoned me and went to Bali. 

Koa: I got hurt though, so it’s a sign to never to that again. So what’s happening here? 

Nate: Morgan’s going to interrogate us. 

Stab: I hear you guys are on the quest to paddle into the biggest wave of the year at Chopes. 

Koa: We’re gonna attempt.

Nate: Koa came up with this style of board to see if he can catch the biggest wave. So I decided to come up with a better design, which I did.

Scenes from that fateful day, last year.

Koa: No! (laughs) We don’t know that yet. But we’re gonna find out.  

Nate: I’m not gonna shy away from a little wipeout action. 

Koa: I’m sure that’ll be a factor in our next session out there. 

Nate: I was looking at the boards, and I don’t think you can even take off on a small wave on them. 

Koa: You gotta feel these things to understand what we’re dealing with.

Koa ain’t scared.

Stab: How’d it go down last year? 

Koa: We were really fired up going into that swell. On the plane ride over me and Nate were saying how we were going to paddle into the biggest wave we’ve ever paddled into out there. And Nate was like fuck yeah me too! What happened was I got my biggest one, then Nate got the biggest one ever so… It was all about that mindset.

Nate: (Laughs) Koa pushed me into a corner, I had nowhere to go. 

Koa: Nate just took over and turned on the one that nobody wanted. 

Nate: There was a certain set we were looking for… well, Koa was. I wasn’t even looking for it in the beginning. Then Koa caught the biggest wave I’ve ever seen paddled into out there.

Koa: I ate shit, got picked up in the lagoon after getting pounded and looked up to see this tiny human drop into what looked like, from where I was…and what actually was, a tow wave. And I thought, Oh my god, who just died? Then I saw somebody come flying out into the channel and fly off his board. All I could see was those red stripes, and I was like, Holy shit, that was Nate! It was the biggest fire-hoser I’ve ever seen someone shoot out of. I was like god dammit!

Nate: Yeah, but you caught three of the bigger waves that day. One was the biggest wave I’ve ever seen anyone paddle out there. After that, I got so psyched, caught a couple more and thought this has to stop! (laughs) 


“I don’t know, I didn’t really look at it.”- Nathan Florence. Photo: Brenden O’Neal

Koa: Nate turned on the biggest wave that came through, it wasn’t fair. 

Nate: Oh, well, I don’t know. I didn’t really look at it.  

Koa: Obviously! 

Nate: I was just looking for you in the lagoon, that’s what happened. 

Koa: That’s why you were so far in huh? 

Nate: Yeah, from my position I was either going over the falls or making it into the channel. Luckily the result was the latter. 

Koa: The thing is, someone needs to push you out there. I don’t want to be the only one looking at big waves, and I don’t want Nate to be the only one looking at them. If he’s looking, I’m looking. 


“All I could see was those red stripes, and I was like, Holy shit, that was Nate! It was the biggest fire-hoser I’ve ever seen someone shoot out of.” – Koa Rothman. Photo: Brenden O’Neal

Stab: So this is the rematch then? 

Koa: It’s gonna happen. It has to happen. I can’t take it! I’m so stoked for you Nate, but I just wish it was me (laughs). Seriously, you should’ve won Ride of the Year, that was bullshit. 

Nate: (Laughs) It doesn’t matter I’m just hungry for another swell. It’s been too long, for a while me and Koa were just so high off that session but that fades, and we’re jonesing for another one. 

Koa: For a while I didn’t think I was ever going to go back. 

Nate: Same I was satisfied, but it has to be done. If we don’t push the level somebody else is bound to do it. 

Koa: Yeah, like little Jack Robinson or Russ Bierke. 

Nate: Or the Tahiti boy, Matahi Drollet. It’s going to happen sooner or later; we might as well get it while we can. 

Stay tuned… 


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