Kevin Schulz Is Sharp, Realistic, And Freakin' Ripping
"I'm almost 24. It’s a turning point. If surfing isn't putting food on the table, I've gotta start looking for a more realistic job."
You'd be forgiven for not knowing much about 24-year-old San Clemente native, Kevin Schulz.
The slim young blonde has been lurking in the wings the last few years - qualifying for the USA Surfing team, earning points on the QS, dropping some clips, but not really breaking out into the public eye.
That changed at Stab High. A massive backflip during the pre-event surf went viral, combined with a raging storm, and earned him a cool $10k as winner of the Freak Peak Challenge. He blew up against a cast of killers, coming in second at the main event to an on-fire Chippa Wilson.
It only takes a moment to kick-start a career, but keeping it running requires effort, dedication, and no small amount of support. Which Mr. Schulz knows all too well.
We caught up with Kevin to talk about his plans going forward, making the most of his momentum, and b-plans should the surf gig not work out.
Stab: Let's start with a little background. Where'd you grow up?
I grew up in San Clemente, California. The local hotbed of Orange County.
How do you like it down there?
I really like it. It's a good place to grow up surfing. It seems like everybody in town surfs really well. So it's kinda nice to be surrounded by people that push you all the time.
Yeah, but on the flip side, you've gotta compete a lot harder for waves.
Exactly. It's never not crowded. I feel like the last few summers have got more and more crowded, at Lowers and stuff, T-Street... Everyone wants to surf now. Which is awesome, but it's definitely hard to get waves.
Did you graduate from high school, do that whole deal?
I went to San Clemente High School all four years. I graduated from there, but I missed graduation because I wasn't home. I was on a trip.
Right now I'm going to college online through Northeastern. They offered a little scholarship program a while back, through the USA surf team. They were, like, “Anybody interested in going to college? You can hit us up and we'll give you a scholarship.”
It's not a full ride, but it helps. It's cheaper than it normally would be.
So I'm wrapping up my bachelor's degree in Health Management at the end of this year.
That's really cool. The idea of going to college while competing came up during our little staff meeting the other day. How's that worked out?
Well, when you're traveling you just want to surf the whole time. You have to make time to finish work. You have to maintain grades and pass your courses. I think that's the hardest part–the self-discipline.
But, other than that, it's been great. Most of the professors I work with have been really understanding about professional surfing.
If I need a couple extra days to finish a paper, or take a test, or whatever, they give it to me.
It's really not that hard. I think so many people could be doing it. And I haven't surfed any less. I just do my schoolwork at night.
I think the temptation isn't really surfing. It's going out and tying one on and raging all night, instead of reading.
Yeah, and there are definitely those nights I've blown off school to go drink beers. It's college, dude! [laughs]
You started surfing fairly late, right?
I didn't pick up a surfboard until I was about ten years old. And then, once I did that, I got hooked on it pretty quick. I didn't start competing until I was thirteen.
It's pretty funny that ten years old is late to the game. But everyone seems to start surfing when they're two now. So I definitely picked up the ball a little late.
I fucking hated the ocean, man. I hated it. And then I did Junior Lifeguards and I just got psyched. It was, like, 'Oh, the ocean's no big deal. I like this.'
And I guess that was that. Junior Lifeguards got me comfortable and my dad started taking me surfing every day.
I did Junior Lifeguards too and I fucking hated it so much. Because I was a dumb kid and wanted to do other shit. But now, as an adult, it's one of those things that you look back on, like, “Now I understand why my parents made me do this. I guess I should appreciate them. God damn it.”
I was in that space too. I didn't want to be there all day but, looking back on it, that's probably why I love the ocean so much. Spending all that time at the beach.
And you know how to swim well and you're confident in the ocean...
Yeah. I think I owe the San Clemente Marine Safety division some thanks.
Who do you hang out with?
You know what? I feel like I don't really hang out with too many guys who surf competitively. I have a lot of friends who are firefighters. Got a good friend, Brandon Hawkins. He surfs really well. I think he, like, won the firefighter Olympics this year, or something. I hang with my buddy, Scott Kennow. He's from Australia. I spend heaps of time with my boy, Taylor Clark. I'm with my girlfriend quite a bit.
And then, yeah, I surf with the local boys all the time. I end up seeing Kolohe, and Jeremy Carter, and I've got a little friend, David Economos... Just kinda the whole crew. I bounce around a lot.
I've got a really good friend in Florida, Luke Marks. He just moved back to Florida not too long ago. He's Caroline Marks' brother. So I'm tight with their family.
And Kyle Flath. He's the one that filmed my backflip. I've been hanging with him heaps and he's a lord.
I've got a good crew of people around me. And I've been trying to drag my dad out and surf with him a lot. I like hanging out with my dad. He's the man.
I mean, all my friends definitely surf. I guess I just don't hang out with many professional surfers.
Now, I don't want to come across as a dick, but it might sound that way. Before Stab High you weren't really on my radar. Like, at all.
But in the course of two or three days you really blew yourself up. Does that feel crazy?
It feels really good. That doesn't sound dick-ish at all.
I know I didn't have a huge presence in the surfing world. I wasn't rated super high on the QS. I knew it. It's cool, man.
But going to Stab High, I felt like I could do really well there. I definitely felt like that event was up my alley. And I just kinda wanted to go into it and not stress about it. Just show the world I could surf and have fun with it. That whole event, I was smiling.
I wanted to show everybody I could hang with those guys and, basically, keep pace with the world's best aerialists. You know?
Normally, second place, you're kind of bummed. But I got second and I couldn't be more happy about it. Chippa won and he's the best aerial surfer in the world. To finish second place was insane. I was baffled. I was so shocked. It was, like, an honor to be held to his standard for a little bit. Because his standard is super high.
So, it's cool that everybody's been saying, “You're on the radar now.” It just feels good, man. I'm stoked that I showed the rest of the world that I could surf, and that I could hang, with those guys.
You should feel proud. You try hard at something, you get good at it... I don't know where I was, probably shopping for a cowboy hat or something, but I came back and everyone was showing me that flip you did and it was, like, “What the fuck is this? Holy shit. Who the fuck is this kid?”
And then you got second place... Honestly, that final was crazy and Chippa was absolutely on fire. It was such a gnarly display of everybody surfing so insanely well. You should be stoked on yourself.
So are you making this work for your career? Hiring an agent and manager and renegotiating contracts?
I guess so. I have an agent I've kind been working with, Brian Coe. He's been helping me a lot.
I'm curious to see how the rest of this year changes. Obviously, having money behind you is really nice. It allows you to go to more places and get better at surfing in other areas. And I think I haven't had as much as, obviously, say... Kolohe. Money-wise, he's got the big contracts and stuff.
Hopefully I'm able to get some bigger contracts in the next couple years and be able to pursue that, and keep pushing my surfing. I feel like I've got a lot left in the tank still.
I'm at that age, and I know it, I'm not afraid to admit it, where it's kind of a turning point. I'm 23, almost 24, and if surfing isn't putting food on the table, I've probably gotta start looking for a bit more realistic of a job that can provide that.
Not that Stab High was my last hurrah, or anything, but I felt like that was a really good platform to show people that I can surf really well. Luckily, I got the opportunity.
The flip... whatever... It was pretty cool. I was stoked on that thing. I've been trying it for years in the ocean and couldn't land the damn thing. Then went to the pool and made it second try. So it was pretty cool.
But I'm trying to be super real about all of it. I know that the surf industry isn't as big as, like, the fashion industry. There isn't as much money in it. But I definitely want to make my mark in the surf industry and continue to surf as a professional. It's a really fun career and I'm super thankful that I get to do it. But I also try to be super real with myself.
The San Clementine pops like a celebratory bottle of Veuve Clicquot!
I think you're right, in that your age is kind of a turning point. You've gotta go, “Alright, no more fucking around. It's time to start figuring out what my path is going to be.”
So say the surfing doesn't work out. Or that, like a lot of people, you hit a point where you go, “You know what? Maybe this isn't for me. Maybe I don't want to do nothing but surf for the rest of my life.”
Do you have an exit plan? Something else that you would want to do?
You know, my dad is a firefighter, and a lot of the kids I grew up with are going that route too. And I like helping people... and I'm too... I can't sit down for more than twenty minutes at a time. So I'd like to do something like that, where I'm outside and helping people and working.
But Stab High, it got me so fired up again to be, like, let's do this. Let's make surfing happen. Because I think I can and I believe in myself. I believe I can get there. I just need other people to believe in me too.
I'm not saying that they don't. It's just, like, Stab High almost reminded me that you have to put yourself into something wholeheartedly. Because, if you don't, you're kind of in limbo.
So I'd rather go one hundred percent at surfing, until I know it's not going to work, and then I'll make that exit plan. But right now my head is one hundred percent in surfing and I have no other focus than that.
Okay, so say it does work out. I know you're doing QS events, and you'd like an Olympics spot, but what would your dream thing be? A QS/WSL/CT competitor or freesurf guy?
I would definitely go freesurf. The QS is really... it kinda fucks with your head. You travel to all these places, for really average waves most of the time. And I enjoy competing, but I don't know if the QS is totally for me.
With the whole airshow thing coming about, like Stab High... and Kerrzy's doing the Redbull Airborne series and I've been talking to him a little bit about doing that. Just going in that direction. So still competing, but in the aerial sense. I like doing airshows, you know? That's what I'm good at. I like doing that shit.
And I like going new places. I like to go explore new waves. Out of the ordinary stuff.
So that's really the direction I'd like to go. And luckily there’s a platform for that stuff nowadays. There wasn't a couple years ago, but it's coming around.
That's my goal. I want to be a staple on the Airborne tour and then just film clips and go to cool places and surf weird waves.
So a more skate approach. Go get clips, drop really cool shit, focus on that. Then occasionally do an event. Because it's fun to compete and it's fun to try hard and it's fun to win. But don't have your entire career wrapped up in, “Oh no, what's my ranking this year? Oh god, I dropped out of the top sixteen. I'm fucked. What am I going to do? My career is over.”
Make stuff that makes people want to surf more.
I think that's where my head's at right now. Because I can do QS's, I can compete, and stuff, and it's not that I don't like doing them. But I think there are more platforms than just competing, or just freesurfing. There's in-between stuff, like air shows.
I really like the direction that surfing is going. And like you said, the skate approach, in just making other people want to go surfing because they see you have fun, that's ultimately, what it's about, right? You want to pass that ideal along to others.
Right on, Kevin. Anything you want add before we end it? Something I didn't ask?
There are a lot of people who have had my back through it all and been really supportive. It'd be really hard to list them all. But thanks to those people who’s been there since the beginning and believed in me.
I've been really enjoying where surfing is taking me and the future potential... I feel like I'm just making my mark now and continue to do that.
And I gotta thank the sponsors, right?