Pipeline, Meth And Returning To The Lineup: A Hawaiian Tale By Jason Frederico
Off the deep end and back again.
It’s early afternoon and the party at Jamie O’Brien’s house has already started. Weed, whiskey and kick-drums fill the courtyard outside as Jason ‘J Fred’ Frederico comes clean on two years of methamphetamine addiction and crime inside. “I went off the deep end,” he begins.
Renowned for his fearlessness and recklessness at heavy Pipe, J Fred was once the top of the food chain. Likened to a new school Shawn Briley, he was applauded by everyone from Kelly Slater to Andy Irons. But the story of the prodigy, burn-out, sucked up and spat out the wrong end of surfing’s infamous underworld of vice and excess, is so familiar it’s almost cliched. As routine as it may be, when a man like J Fred hits the skids, there’s no manual for repair.
“This time last year I didn’t want him around my house,” says Jamie O’Brien, J Fred’s best friend growing up. “It was hard, him being one of my best friends. You’re like, ‘I can’t believe this guy’s a chronic ice smoker.’ And to hear he’s in jail and going back for another three or four months, it was hard as a friend.”
Born into a poor (and at times, abusive) family, the severe beatings and near-death experiences of surfing Pipe was catharsis for his troubled mind. His raw bravado at the wave would keep crowds entertained for years, earning him a major deal with Hurley. Not to mention the pick of pretty much any wave he wanted at Pipe.
“The first time I realised I might be good at this surfing Pipe thing, it was me, (Kelly) Slater, Jamie and a bunch of people in the water, and Slater was like, ‘Yeah Frederico! Sick wave!’ I was like, ‘right on!’ Ten minutes goes by and I’m like, ‘how does Slater know my name?’ Then I started getting a bit cocky and going on everything and anything,” he says.
Sitting opposite J Fred, it’s impossible to ignore the sheer physical presence of the man. He’s intimidating, with a chest like a bull, tree trunk legs and a jaw cut from stone. The immediate reaction is that this man is too big to surf well. But that’s the secret to Pipe. It helps to be big. Not only in manhandling the wave, but also asserting your dominance in what is unquestionably the most violent and intimidating lineup on the planet.
“Nowadays I can part the sea without even having to say a word,” he says. “Guys are like, woah, woah, woah!”
Jason Frederico at Pipe shot by Brian Bielmann would’ve been a familiar sight in surfing mags growing up if you’re currently in your thirties. It’s always a pleasure taking a trip through the archives and digging up iconic gold like this.
Photograph by Brian Bielmann
It was a different story to begin with. Back when J Fred was starting out at Pipe, the wave had never been more contested. Infamous enforcer Johnny Boy Gomes was peaking. Perry Dane and the Ho brothers were the senior regulators. Kauiian enforcer Braden Dias had assembled the Wolfpak in a house right on Pipe and they’d locked arms with the Da Hui to reclaim the wave from a flood of haoles. “These were the guys that put localism on the map!” explains Jamie. J Fred was an impressionable, under-fathered teenager, watching it all unfold from the shoulder. “You had to watch out for the Kauai boys, the Wolfpak…(Kauai’s) Braden Dias would give me the heaviest grom torture ever, like, pester me to death,” remembers J Fred. “Derek Ho, he gives me tough love… Mike Ho, Sunny (Garcia), Slater, Andy Irons, Bruce. Johnny Boy (Gomes), he was so intimidating. He’d shout, “WHAT’S UP FREDERICO!” I’d be like, ‘is this guy mad at me?’ Perry Dane, Chava Greenleigh, (World Jujitsu champion) Kai Garcia – they’re not the best of the best, but if they’re in the lineup, good luck brah. Those are the locals.”
His first time surfing was with his father. A brutal man and the patriarch of their family salsa business (J Fred is part Mexican), J Fred felt the back of his father’s hand more times than he’d like to remember. The first time he took him surfing was the only time. Instead, J Fred fell under the tutelage of Mick O’Brien, Jamie’s father and North Shore lifeguard, as well as Freddy Patacchia Snr (father of former World Tour surfer, Freddy P Jnr), whose surf shop, Hawaiian Surf, became J Fred’s first sponsor.
The water provided solace for his troubled mind. It was when it was flat he’d get in trouble. Jamie was his partner in crime. The pair terrorised the North Shore through their teenage years, breaking into cars, breaking into their high school, “car bowling” with the coconuts they stockpiled near Sunset Bridge (they’d roll them into oncoming vehicles)… and the rest. “Brah, we did it all,” says Jamie. “Just stupid shit.” It got so bad that Mick (Jamie’s father) was forced to step in and stop the pair hanging out. But having a friend like J Fred had practicalities on the North Shore. Namely, protection when brawls with the Polynesians kicked off.
“We didn’t have a problem,” he says. “As a matter of fact, if anyone had a problem, it was the other guys. The Hawaiians would trip on us. Straight up. But we’d put up a good fight for being white.”
A strong pair of knuckles was also an advantage at Pipe. Jamie and J Fred have both been called on numerous times to punch out disagreements on the sand, though J Fred insists it’s a reputation he’s trying to distance himself from.
“Nowadays, I don’t like to fight,” he says, adding: “I don’t need to anymore. People hear these stories about me, that are mostly BS, but I’m trying to turn my whole life around. But yeah, I did get into a lot of fights which probably led to my reputation nowadays where I don’t need to do anything.”
The path to greatness at Pipe was a simple one, as he saw it. Put your time in, respect your elders, watch how they do it, and charge the ones they do give you. “If I see them paddling, I let them go, I respect that, so that’s how I got my respect,” he says. “I know there’s gonna be another wave after, so the next one comes and I’m going and I’m doing it right. They respect that and after a while they know J Fred’s gonna go. I’d go on everything and anything.” Naturally that meant a lot of closeouts and a lot of beatings, leading to his reputation as one of the most fearless surfers to ever surf the wave. It’s a reputation that is upheld a few days earlier at the Catch Surf Keiki Shorebreak invitational. Jamie organised a surfing contest for a bunch of his friends at a 10-to-12 foot closeout shorebreak. On a day when Outside Log Cabins was tipping at 20 plus, and Waimea folding at 15, Jamie, J Fred, Koa Rothman, Koa Smith, Poopies and a handful of others rode pink soft tops down triple stepping closeouts and onto dry sand. I’d thought I’d seen people die or break legs several times on the day but by the end of it all, only three competitors had almost drowned and J Fred was the winner. As he stood on the podium with his novelty check, women in bikinis doused him in champagne, leading to this awkward exchange: “The girl’s like, ‘why aren’t you drinking?’ and I’m like, ‘brah, cos there’s devil horns underneath this halo.’”
Where exactly fearlessness crosses the line to recklessness isn’t exactly clear at Pipe. Both are celebrated in equal measure. On land it’s a different matter. J Fred looks at his watch before telling me he’s been 131 days sober. His demise was rapid. A man of his size and volatility was a terrible mix with methamphetamine. “I started out just surfing and having a good time, enjoying myself afterwards at all the parties they have over here,” he says. “And I just went deeper, taking it to another level, experimenting with things.”
Poopies, one of the characters in Jamie’s reality TV show, Who Is Job, remembers the night J Fred slapped Jamie in the face at a party not realising there was an off duty police officer behind him. He was seized by the officer but broke the hold. J Fred turned to pummel the cop, but he produced a stun gun and tasered J Fred in the chest. J Fred simply ripped out the plugs and took off running. He was tasered again in the back – still nothing – before being apprehended 10 minutes later after a chase. It was time for Jamie to take his father’s advice and cut J Fred off.
“Jamie helped me by showing me tough love,” says J Fred. “That was such a bad feeling for me to come over and have him doubt me. Stuff would go missing and he’d straight blame me. I never stole anything, I wasn’t a stealer, but I can’t blame him for thinking that with the things I was into.”
For the next couple of years, J Fred was off the rails. He fell deep into drug addiction, ending up in prison on two separate occasions. Occasionally he’d turn up for a perfect day at Pipe but it wasn’t the same. “I never stopped surfing but it was different from my surfing when I was sober,” he says.
Eventually, the loneliness got to him. His life had been rendered meaningless by the loss of friends and surfing; the thing that had kept him focused for his entire life. He decided to get clean. That was a 131 days ago and the recovery has been something. “To see him stoked and not spending his money on drugs, buying boards instead and being up at 4.30am amped out of his mind just to go surf, it’s inspiring,” says Jamie.
J Fred feels it too. “(Jamie’s) so proud of me and it makes me feel so good to have my best friend proud of me, and want me back, open arms again, into his house instead of sketchiness,” he says.
On the morning of the Backdoor Shootout I follow J Fred and Jamie into the lineup at Pipe. It’s eight-to-10 feet and not a drop out of place. When a bomb refracts off second reef and steams towards Pipe, the crowd scatters like mice. Jamie strokes into position and lets out a shrill cry to clear the wave. Golden light pours through the pine-trees overlooking Pipe, the wave turns a surreal translucent green as it stands up, a light offshore peeling back the lip. Jamie is in the slot. It’s taken a lot to get here, to this place, with this kind of authority, but as he prepares to drop in the hulking frame of Jason Frederico pulls up alongside him and whistles him off. Jamie grimaces as J Fred disappears over the cliff on his tippy toes, finding his feet at the bottom, and emerging with the spit, and a cacophony of hoots.
“I’m a grateful addict in recovery,” says J Fred afterwards. “Grateful because I’ve seen all sides now, and I know what I don’t wanna do anymore. And I’m so happy. “I might not have much, but I’m so happy. I feel like a little kid again, surfing every day and getting high off that, and getting high off staying sober. It’s amazing, the best feeling I’ve ever had.”
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