100 And 2%: The Stab Interview With Kolohe Andino - Stab Mag

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100 And 2%: The Stab Interview With Kolohe Andino

“I’m just saying, ‘Fuck it, this is who I am.’ If I don’t make another heat for the rest of my life, at least I’m happy and I know who I am.”

// May 7, 2023
Words by Kuio Young
Reading Time: 14 minutes

I grew up idolizing Kolohe Andino. But I only surfed with him for the first time in 2021. 

We were out at Haleiwa and it was solid 10-foot. As I sat on the outside chip section, I remember seeing Kolohe paddle out. It’s a strange feeling, to surf with people that you wanted to be as a kid. I had the urge to say something, or ask him a question. 

Sadly, I didn’t get the chance. He didn’t even look at me. Kolohe paddled right around where I sat and positioned himself for the next set as it rolled in. I was in disbelief. What the fuck? Did this guy really just back paddle me at my home break? I ended up burning him. At that point I didn’t care if it was my hero — or a blow-in on a soft-top — I was going. He straightened out, probably got washed, and I surfed to the end bowl. When I kicked out I remembered feeling really strange. Was that really him? As I paddled back out, I contemplated the idea of your heroes being different in real life. I was in a filthy mood.

Over the last two years I’ve seen him in passing, but never had the chance to have a real conversation. But in March of this year, I was at San Clemente Pier — one of his home spots. He was walking in from a surf, conversing with his father, Dino. To my surprise, he said hi and called me by my name. I was blown away. I could feel my inner grom freaking out. Dino said he’d known my parents from way back; the surf world sure is a small one. 

Later that afternoon I returned to the pier. The waves were smaller, the wind was onshore, and the water was fucking freezing. Quite the inverse of 10-foot Haleiwa. A set came in, and Kolohe was in the spot, I watched to see how he would approach it. Instead, he yelled “Go Kuio,” and called me into it. Had the cold water caused my ears to malfunction? I went down the line, and did my best impression of a Kolohe air rev. As I made my way back to the outside, Kolohe had disappeared. I didn’t get the chance to thank him, but that day stuck with me. 

With the-mid season cut drama, and his recently formed 2% crew posting on Instagram every day, Kolohe seemed to be a worthy interview subject. The powers above granted me the opportunity to try my hand at an interview with one of my childhood heroes.

I walked away the conversation with a completely new understanding of Kolohe Andino. 

Photo: Will Stiles

Hey Kolohe, thanks for the time to connect on this interview. I know it’s early there, so I’ll get right to it. What about surfing inspired you as a kid? 

Growing up around my dad and all his pro friends, surfing just seemed really cool. At that time, Shane Beschen lived at my house and was doing really well on the tour. My dad would always have Wardo, Cory, and Andy cruising through the house too. 

When you’re young and impressionable, you look at those older guys, their boards, and their whole deal in awe. At that age, you also want to be like your dad, so that probably made it extra cool. 

I think that’s relatable for people who grew up with parents in the surf world. You aspire to be like them and almost outdo them in a sense. So, what inspires you now?

I’m inspired by different things all the time, but today I feel really excited to help younger kids — show them the ropes, and lead by example. Going into this year, I was really inspired by Griffin’s performance in 2022, as well as how good Jack and Filipe were doing. I was really trying to make that final five.

But now, with the position I’m in, maybe I’m meant to go down to the Challenger Series to help this younger crew live out their dreams — while still surfing at a high level to get back on tour and live out my dreams. That’s where I’m at right now. 

You recently started a media company called 2%. How do you feel surf media has changed over the years? 

Unfortunately, it’s gotten really bad. I think the whole Instagram/social media wave really took over surfing. Especially during Covid, it seemed like surfing was an Instagram sport. That was really sad to me because I still want to go to surf film premieres and be blown away by the surfing on a huge screen, with sound that hurts your ears, and that party/surfers on a pedestal mentality. 

Everyone was just swiping through their best clips on this little device — the same one we’re now talking on. You have algorithms to deal with. You have to talk into the camera all the time — people are even talking unclothed. I could go for days about all the formats, the reels and squares, but I think they take away all the art of surfing. 

It’s a bummer for me because I grew up in a different era. I remember going to the Bruce movie premiere. There were 2000 people at the Volcom warehouse, and Iggy Pop was playing in the movie for the last part. Then they had Pennywise playing and skateboarding after the movie. It was just… fun. That’s what surf culture was built on. I think the brands gotta stop looking at all their analytics and start looking at what the kids want to see. 

What’s the story with 2%? 

2% has done a lot for me because I was super down after my Hawaii season. I’m a believer in Christ, and I heard something in a Christian podcast. It said, “Community heals and isolation festers.” I had to keep that one with me forever. 

When I got home, I just let the floodgates open. I wanted to roll 15 deep to the beach, get this crazy energy together, and make something out of it. Then I thought I could potentially help these kids with their careers — whether it was with competing or media. I could give them that boost from a veteran perspective.

We all got together, and I said, ‘Let’s make a movie, a YouTube channel, and an Instagram.’ They’re all into the Instagram thing, so they wanted to be a part of the movie. They want to be on tour and I’ve been on tour for 11 years. I

We just wanted to do it old-school style, keep it core, and show the industry what we want to see: rock-n-roll and surfing paired up, not talking to the camera for every Instagram post. I sent a filmer with them to those regional events and they won three or four events in a row. We’re really just helping each other. It all goes back to leading by example. 

What does the name 2% mean? 

Before, it was ‘Stagnant Ambition,’ which was kind of my thing. We made ‘Reckless Isolation’ and a bunch of edits. But I couldn’t really bring everyone into ‘Stagnant Ambition’ without changing the name, so I wanted to switch it up.

The name 2% literally means nothing. My sister just said it and I liked it. Then I thought, ‘How can I make that have a little angsty, witty story?’ And I figured we could make fun of millennials that complain about their phone battery. Like, ‘Oh, my phone’s at 2%.’ [laughs] 

Holy shit. That’s hilarious. What are your goals for the group moving forward? 

My biggest goal would be taking someone who wouldn’t necessarily have a career in surfing, and because they’re part of our crew, they get sponsored and are able to enjoy life as a pro surfer for some years. 

For example, if there was just some loner kid, somewhere up the coast, he would never get sponsored. But, if he’s part of a crew that’s putting out movies and doing rad shit all the time, someone would want to sponsor him. I think that would be a huge win.

So, you’re essentially building a media collective as an independent rather than depending on a third party to create that for you. What’s the thought behind that? 

It just goes back to leading by example and being fed up with all the social media. I think there’s a place for it — to put your B and C clips. Like, for some reason, people love to see me surfing tiny waves, which I would never use in a movie. So it’s cool to put those on social media. But the whole put your best clip out on social media mentality — and the bullying that goes on there — is just disgusting. 

When we made ‘Reckless Isolation,’ I didn’t want a series to cut up for Instagram reels. I wanted to do it big and make something that could last forever, in the surf-movie catalog. Have 14 premieres around the country, make the music slower, shoot film, and get interviews. And then it was a huge success. We were even able to give $20,000 to a foundation in Indonesia for Covid. I was psyched.

Although, after that, I had four other premieres for other projects I did, that were complete duds. Less than a hundred people showed up to each one of ’em, and that was sad. I realized that we had to get the crew back together to make it big.

The Reckless tour. Photo: Sam Moody

You’re going to compete on the Challenger Series at 29 years old. How has your mindset changed compared to the year that 17-year-old Kolohe qualified for the tour?

Well… My year’s been pretty bad. I haven’t won a man-on-man heat for almost a year, so I was kind of prepared for it. I think other people that didn’t make the cut were more shocked than I was. I feel like my enthusiasm to surf shitty waves has always been really, really high. The waves on the Challenger are usually worse than the tour, and it’s just a surf contest. I’m ready to compete and have fun.

On a deeper level, I thought, ‘Oh man, maybe I’m here for a reason.’ Maybe I’m supposed to take these kids that I’ve known my whole life and help them. Take ’em under my wing around the world. Show them how to compete at a high level and get on tour. If I help two or three guys get on tour, I can continue to live my dreams out on tour with them, for another four or five years. It’s always been my goal to try to retire at the Olympics in LA. I think it’s in about five years, so that’s still my goal. 

If I get back on tour for next year, I don’t miss a season. I’m not dumb. I know how hard these things are, how hungry these kids are, and how hard four-man heats can be. I’m just gonna try my best, all why trying to help these kids find themselves. 

Do you think traveling with the 2% crew will help your results? 

I think enthusiasm has been my biggest weapon throughout my life. Most of the people that do well on the Challengers have a lot of enthusiasm about being there — positive, present, and excited in the moment. People can get sour and negative, and I think that I’ve had a lot of different perspectives in my career, so I’m in a really good place now. I can almost be like the hype man of the house now. 

So what would you say you ultimately get out of their presence? 

Community. It can get lonely on the road. You can get in your own head and start thinking X, Y and Z. I could get into a weird place and start thinking things like, ‘How much longer do I have? Do I want to be just be a dad? Do I just want to be a free surfer? That would be a terrible feeling because then I have nothing to strive for…’ 

Having that community around me — young energy, fun laughter, and joyful moments — is gonna be really good for me. I’m already here at Snapper and they all arrive soon. I can’t wait for ’em to get here. 

There’s an old saying: “To teach once is to learn twice.” Do you feel like taking these kids through the paces and showing them what you’ve learned along the way will ultimately help you be the best version of yourself? 

100%. I’m at the point where me forcing the clenched down, angry Kolohe in order to get what I want in the short-term isn’t worth my long-term happiness. I wanna help them and have fun, but I also wanna learn from them, like you’re saying, learn again. I’ve always competed and carried myself differently around these types of events, compared to how I have in this Australian leg, and I just really want to continue that. 

I think having them around will help me with that. 

There’s a good group of guys from San Clemente coming up the ranks. What’s the women’s surf scene like there? 

We basically adopted Caroline. She’s lived here forever, but I guess she could still rep Florida.

But I think there have been hotbeds for talent for the men’s side — like Coolangatta, the North Shore of Oahu, or even San Clemente. I don’t think there has ever really been a single town that has come up with a lot of good surfers on the women’s side yet. Why is that? Maybe San Clemente can be the first hotbed to produce a handful of really good girl surfers. We have some great girls — Kirra Pinkerton, Sawyer Lindblad, and Mia McLeish on the younger side. I think Sawyer’s good enough to make the tour, and Kirra is as well. They just gotta have the right year.

Unfortunately for the women, it’s nearly impossible to get on tour. It’s also nearly impossible to make the cut — they basically have to win two events. It’s crazy and super unfair. It needs to change. Sawyer had a crazy year two years ago, where she got two 3rds, two 5ths, and a 9th, and still didn’t qualify.

What did competition represent to you when you were younger? 

When I was super young, contests represented fun. Even during my early years on the QS, being with my friends, and having fun, that’s when I used to do my best.

But at one point contests became an opportunity to showcase my talent. I viewed it as an opportunity to make everyone shut the fuck up — to do what they said I couldn’t do. That’s when I started getting in trouble, when I was worrying about what other people thought. Actually, not even that they thought it, just imagining it in my own brain. 

I’ve been at the highest level. I’ve competed and had great success. But no matter what, you’re always chasing more — because when you get there, it’s very empty and your life doesn’t change at all. All you get is people congratulating you. In the end, whether you advance that heat, make that final, or even win that event…that singular moment or feeling — the ecstasy of winning — is all you’re competing for. Knowing that has put a little bit of peace in my mind. 

Do you feel a difference in terms of the pressure you feel then versus now? 

It was live or die basically my whole life, until these last three events.

I was super tense, high-strung, lots of anxiety, lots of depression, sleepless nights. But now, I feel like what’s meant to be is what’s meant to be. It’s acceptance of my whole career and acceptance of my future. I’ve been sleeping good. [laughs] 

When you go through all that and finally say, ‘I’ve had enough,’ you start to lead with fun. Now I’m slowly stacking all these things — waking up early, working out, eating right — while still having fun. I can try when I surf, and still have fun. I don’t have to be that asshole. I don’t have to be that isolated kid. I don’t have to be locked in all the time. Right now, I’m in that phase, and we’ll see how it goes. 

Kolohe’s first heat as a full-time CT competitor was at age 18 on the Gold Coast in 2012. He lost to Dane Reynolds and Kelly Slater, who was defending a World Title at the time. Photo: Kirstin/ASP

What did it take for that outlook to change? 

When I first started the tour, I was probably the most confident I’ve been in my whole life. Then I just got my ass kicked for four years. They were all just like I am now — they had kids, and had been on tour for 8-10 years. They just manhandled the little 17-year-old cocky kid. 

After that, I really clenched down and tried my hardest for the next five or six years. It was what I thought I had to do, almost like a punishment or pain would make me a better person. I put myself through the wringer, really. 

Now I’m a little bit older and I realize, man, that’s not who I really want to be. Getting results isn’t so important that I have to change my morals. I want people to have a good experience when they’re around me. I want to have fun, but really, spread love and be a beacon of light. Life’s short and you never know what’s gonna happen. 

What do you think is the biggest setback you’ve faced in your career so far? 

I think my biggest setback has been the times when I wasn’t myself. I’m myself when I think clearly, see people for who they are, compete at a high level, and enjoy it. Maybe I haven’t been myself, more than I have been myself, for last 10-15 years. That’s been super spotty for me. I’ve been number one in the world before, six or seven events deep into the tour. I was high-ranked and miserable at times. 

This year has been weird because I’ve done terribly, but this Australia trip has been my best, most memorable trip. And I’ve been able to share it with my family and friends. After Sunset and Portugal, I looked at it like, ‘Wow, I might never get to this point again. Now I’m just trying to enjoy it and let fun lead the way.’ 

What would you consider to be your greatest strength as a surfer? 

My biggest strength is probably my enthusiasm to surf a lot, in all conditions. I just want to be in the water and the waves are never really bad to me. I think that’s helped to round my surfing out to a point where I don’t really feel like I have a weakness — just cause I’ve been excited to surf in all conditions my whole life.

What advice would you have for kids that aspire to be professional surfers? 

Be yourself. Everyone can be caught up with who’s leading, who’s ripping, who rides what boards, who does what before their heat, who wakes up at what time… You start to build yourself based on what other people do. You don’t even know if any of those things work for you. You rabbit-hole yourself… into death, really. 

I think understanding your DNA is the most important thing about competition, business, or whatever you want to succeed in. Understanding yourself, and being yourself. 

What do you consider to be your greatest accomplishment? 

Being an American Olympian and finishing in the top 10 is huge, but I’m most proud of my willingness to be open to the youth. 

I’ve had a couple of epiphanies throughout my life. A recurring one is that people really look up to you, especially in your hometown. You have to lead by example, be present when you’re around them, be open, and help. I think being able to do that has been one of my best gifts. I’ve been helping Griffin since he was young, and now I’m learning from him. 

It seems like there’s been a complete deconstruction of the Kolohe Andino I thought I knew. Can you walk us through that hero’s journey and how it allowed you to grow into the person you are today? 

I think my parents raised me really well. It’s very important to stand up for what you believe is right. I’ve tried really hard, as hard as I possibly could at times, to build confidence through hard work. That works for a little bit, but then that work just becomes work, and you don’t get confident anymore. It’s this weird thing where you live and die by every result.

I’ve had very bad moments because of my passion. I’ve broken boards. I’ve screamed at people. I’ve screamed at my dad in front of a lot of people. Really, really bad moments, but that doesn’t mean that I’ve had those morals at the bedrock of my foundation.

People like to have opinions. If they don’t like me or think I’m just some whiny rich privileged kid from SoCal, that’s fine. I think the people who have those big opinions are also the ones who would ask for a photo if they saw me in a restaurant. [laughs] People only have the opinions because they care. 

My morals have always been there — and I’ve always tried to have them lead me — but I’m just leaning into them now. There have been times when I’ve steered away from those morals. I’m not ashamed of that, because they helped shape me, but those moments are when I felt my worst.

When competing at the highest level, you’re either competing against the ocean or with it. It teaches you a lot about life. I’ve had a conversation with Mick Fanning about having to deal with the cards you’re dealt. Everyone’s so good now, that sometimes it just comes down to having a bigger wave or section to win. You’re not always gonna go out there and get every good wave. 

It’s a great metaphor for life and it really teaches you how to look inward and figure out how you operate, what works for you. 

I get it. Dealing with the cards you’re dealt in the ocean and in life are one and the same. 

Totally. 

Be persistent, have the enthusiasm to meet people, show them the light, and tell ’em you love ‘em. That’s always been in my DNA. Now I’m just saying, ‘Fuck it, this is who I am.’ If I don’t make another heat for the rest of my life, at least I’m happy and I know who I am.

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