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Close READER POLL 2017
We promise this won't (really) hurt.

Wanna win a new surfboard? We have a custom Chilli ‘Black Vulture’ to gift (plus all the trim you’d expect from a premium dealer). To be in the running, just answer a few questions for us. It won’t take long.

Unlikely Heroes Of The Volcom Pipe Pro: Cam Richards

Maybe my memory is fuzzy, or perhaps my Volcom Stone sunnies came with an excessively rosy tint, but it’s hard to recall a year when the QS’s best event, the Volcom Pipe Pro, didn't deliver pumping surf. Logic tells me this must be a timing thing, which is probably why the WSL is attempting to push their Pipe Masters window back to February, but nevertheless the Volcom Pipe Pro has become synonymous with great waves and huge performances.

Oh, and underdog stories.

Despite the event’s short and mostly high-profile list of champions, it seems that every year we’re introduced to new or unlikely heroes over Pipeline's shallow ledge. This year, though, the group of transplant chargers was longer and more successful than ever before.

The best day Pipe has seen all year, and gosh did they put it to good use. Volcom/Redbull


Not to take anything away from the event’s first and second-place finishers, Josh Moniz and Jamie O’Brien, but their achievements were more or less expected at a wave like Pipe. Alternatively, we thought it’d be cool to chat with contest’s most improbable performers -- guys whose names you may or may not know, but who proved themselves as world-class tuberiders over the past four days.   

First up is Cameron Richards, the 22-year-old South Carolina native who in his life had “never caught a good Pipe wave” until this event, but somehow managed a 10, a near-perfect heat, and a finals berth at this year’s Volcom Pipe Pro. Before this event, Cam was most famous for his forehand rotation and his 2013 internet duel with Dane Reynolds. Though, as I came to learn, he’s totally sick of the latter.

Screen Shot 2018 02 05 at 1.43.07 PM

Cam's two best scores in the event -- a 10 and a 9.87 -- came in the same heat and were both at Backdoor. This was the better of the two.

Photography WSL/Keoki

Stab: Cam, first of all congrats, but... where the hell did this come from?
Cam Richards: If I had the true answer I would tell you, but honestly I don't know. I think just after sitting on the beach for three years watching that contest, seeing all the East Coasters to do so well out there, I just always wanted to compete in the Volcom Pipe Pro, but could never get into it. But I finally got my chance this year it was the best time of my life.

I know you've surfed Pipe before, but I'm not sure if you've ever had the chance to get waves like these. How did you mentally prepare yourself to go on a bomb when the opportunity finally presented itself?
I don't know, I mean, before this event I'd truly never gotten a good wave out there. I packed closeouts when I was younger, but I haven't even surfed Pipe in two years. When I finally got to surf in this event and a good wave came, I was definitely tripping. But at the same time it's like, I’m out there for 25 minutes, I knew I might never get a chance to surf waves like this again, so I didn’t really have a choice but to go. Then I kept getting so lucky with all of my waves, and I was just like wow... I couldn't believe it.

Beyond the mental side of things, there's still a major skill aspect to surfing Pipeline, and it looked like you knew exactly what you were doing out there. Where have you had practice at waves of this caliber?
I... don't know. I mean, Outer Banks I guess [laughs]. But that was honestly my first time getting big barrels like that and making them. The barrels I got yesterday were barrels that I've never gotten in my entire life, and it just happened to be in a heat. I actually felt pretty comfortable out there, probably because there was so much adrenaline rushing, and I just remember thinking I need to keep making waves so I can keep surfing.

From nobody to somebody at Pipeline, just like that.

Photography Carey

How does an experience like this, where you learned that you were able to excel in heavy waves, change the way that you think about your own surfing? Does it make you want to go to Chopes on a massive swell?
Yeah, I mean I've definitely wanted to get footage in bigger, heavier waves. I always thought I would go on a big wave if it came to me. So I've been trying to go somewhere like Tahiti, but I've just been so busy these past couple years with contests and all that, so it's been hard to get to a place that’s so far and expensive.

You're one of those guys who walks the line between being full-blown Q Warrior and a freesurfer. What path would you say you're leaning more towards at this point, or is it both?
I’m definitely doing everything I can to be a hybrid. I would love to qualify, but I'm also not one to train and do all of that stuff. Like, I know how to grind out a 4.5 in a Q event, but I’d rather go film for a video part than go jump rope or lift weights. Ideally for me, I would be going to QS events with a filmer, so that when I'm not surfing heats I'm able to film stuff on the side. That’s how I got all the Portugal footage for ‘22’. (Watch Cam's latest short, here.)

And I’d imagine it’s especially good when you get to surf a wave like Pipe in a contest. Have you ever had an event that was all about getting barreled?
Yeah, I actually did well at Pipe in the Jr. Pro when I was like 15. The waves were actually pretty good, and I got to the quarters or something. Then I surfed an event in Chile and I made the quarters there, so I was like, "Okay, I know I can do this." I actually feel like I have a better chance in waves like that than I do at small wave events.

It really would seem as though he's done this before.

Photography Carey

But you won a small wave event last year (the Carve Pro in Maroubra).
[Laughs] I did, I did. But I just have so much more fun surfing events in bigger waves. Contests like that, like yesterday, I didn't even feel like I was in a heat. I was just surfing perfect waves in a jersey. It didn’t feel like I was in a QS event at all.

Now, because the waves were so good for this year’s Volcom Pipe Pro, everyone in the surfing world was watching. Do you think your performance here will help validate you as a great all-around surfer -- not just another air guy or East Coast guy?
I hope so. That was definitely one of my goals. I will say that I'm pretty sick of how everything I do ends up coming back to the Dane Reynolds thing. Like I get it, it was a big deal, but I'm just get pretty sick of it. I want to be known for something else, so hopefully this events helps with that. Even just yesterday, I met people that I never thought I would meet, because I’m too scared or whatever. It was cool to finally get respect from a lot of people that I never thought I would get respect from.

Do you think you'll be able to get waves at Pipe now, freesurfing?
No [laughs], I'm definitely still at the bottom of the pecking order. Which is totally reasonable. I would never expect to get waves out there, so I'm just really glad I got my three-hours in over the last few days. There’s no way I would get better waves freesurfing than I did in that contest, so I'm probably gonna leave it at that.

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