Interview by Andrew Oliver
There will forever be a significant portion of the surfing tribe, who are at best, aloof to the ebbs and flows of the competitive arena. Paradoxically, there is no shortage of surfing purists here on the North Shore, the mecca of professional surfing, who find a way to tune out the din of the annual competitive circus. Nevertheless, there are moments that transcend personal biases of sport’s place in our honored pursuit which are able to tug at even the most hardened of heartstrings. One such moment played out this past February at the Hurley Pro at Sunset Beach.
Barron Mamiya, the strapping 22 years old North Shore phenom, has been quietly blowing minds since his late teens. The powerhouse regularfoot is a consistent high performance standout in the fun stuff, but it’s his ability in waves of supreme consequence, especially Pipeline, that have him in a class of his own. Despite being at the forefront of progressive surfing, Mamiya carries himself decidedly old school. While clearly ultra-driven to become the best version of himself, this soft spoken young man epitomizes the mantra “Let your surfing do the talking.”
Of all the events on tour, Pipeline is the event known for wildcards stealing the headlines. Stop number two, Sunset Beach, was seen as the event where things got back to regular business, the 2022 Tour would start in earnest, and the established names of the CT were expected to dominate. Pipeline is Mamiya’s known specialty, and Sunset is a challenge to even its most devoted riders – which he is admittedly not. On paper, Mamiya was an unlikely longshot. But, as the event came to a close, it was Mamiya, who reigned supreme. A storybook moment that will go down in the annals of North Shore lore. One of those moments that only sport can create. A humble local kid, with a devout following of family, friends, and surf fans in the know, but to the wider surfing world a relative unknown, wins his first Championship Tour Event as a wildcard, qualifying for the Tour, and earning the Yellow Jersey in one swoop. Mamiya is living his dream in front of our eyes.
Let’s talk about how crazy the last few months have been for you. You had a wildcard at Pipeline, which probably wasn’t too much of a surprise, but at the same time I would imagine you were thinking it was more of a one time thing. But fast forward, and you’ve won a CT, basically qualified for the World Tour, and at the end of the Hawai’i leg of the season you’re number one in the world. It must feel like a whirlwind?
It all started at the end of last year, at the HIC Pipe Pro. Going into that, it was known that whoever won was gonna get a wildcard into the Billabong Pro Pipeline. So, I had that in the back of my head. I also just really wanted to do well because I hadn’t had a good heat in a while. The challenger series was a bit a shocker for me that year. And obviously prior to that, COVID happened and we didn’t surf for events like two years. So, going to that contest, I really wanted to perform well and get a good result.. And I ended up making the final, I got second to John, and I was stoked. I mean, obviously I wanted to win, but losing to the best surfer ever out there was all good.
But, obviously John didn’t need the wild card being that he was on the CT. So, they gave me the wildcard into the Pipe CT Event. And, I was super stoked to get that wildcard. That was kinda the goal for the whole comp, get the wildcard for Pipe. Just get into Pipe.
I was like, “Hey, if I do good in Pipe, or put on a show, there’s a chance I’ll get into the Sunset Event.” And, I kind of knew in the back of my head, if I do good in both those, I could have a chance of being on the CT. Cause there’s only five events before that mid-year cutoff. So, I kind of have that in my mind, but it was a pretty long shot for sure.
Mostly I just wanted to go out and have some good heats and put on a show in front of everyone. That was my main goal. Yeah. Obviously, I could qualify, but that’s just such a far out goal. But, you know, if you shoot for the stars, you’ll usually make it to the clouds. So, I wanna go out there, put on a good show and you know, have fun.
And, then you had some amazing moments in the Pipe contest. So, you’re probably like, “Yeah, I did it!”
I definitely was stoked. I had a few pretty good heats. That heat with Kelly was super sick. Surfing with him out there has been a dream of mine since I was a little kid. To get to surf a heat with him out there before he retired was amazing for me, I was super stoked. After I lost that heat, it got me super fired up to get into the Sunset Event.
But, I felt like if I made that heat with Kelly, I was gonna do really well in the event. I was fired up on Pipe. I put in a lot of effort and really practiced for it.
And, that’s your spot. That’s what you’re definitely known for. So I’m sure that was the one you had the most focus on, right?
I felt really good about that event. I had no nerves. I felt like everything was going my way. I just really felt that it was my event to do good in, and then I was surfing against Kelly, and anything is possible with him. I was definitely bummed to lose, but before that contest, I was not as fired up as I would be to get the season started. I was definitely in more of a cruise mode. I was psyched to be in the Pipe Event. But, after that, I would be cruising. Maybe I’ll go on a surf trip or two? I’d get ready for the Challenger Series.
But the second I lost that heat to Kelly, I got so fired up to get in the Sunset Event. It definitely got me fired up. So, it was kind of a good thing I lost.
Over the years you’ll hear it from full time free surfers who’ve received wildcards and have had remarkable heats, they get a taste of that energy from these big events. And they’re just like, “Wow. There’s nothing that really compares to that feeling.”
Yeah, for sure. I was so fired up. I asked for the wildcard at Sunset and then it took a while and I finally got it like four days before the comp started. And, I’m not gonna lie. I definitely like the wave and it’s a fun wave, but it’s just so hard to freesurf out there. There’s so many people, it’s hard to get waves. I definitely did some practicing, but I never really felt I was ready for Sunset. And, all of my boards were made for Pipe. I never had any focus toward Sunset. So when I got called up, I was like, “Oh, I gotta start figuring this out.”
I was not as prepared as I should have been. Which was fine, because it was like a mental challenge for me. “Okay, you’re probably the most unprepared person in this contest. So, why don’t you just go out and surf like you have nothing to lose?” I felt like I had to change my surfing a little. My boards were way smaller than what I would have wanted. So, I felt like I had to attack the lip more to get scores. Where the other guys were doing these huge carves and getting big scores. And their carves were always gonna look bigger than mine. Because their boards were built for open face surfing. a lot better and like all this stuff was factoring. So I was like, “I’m just gonna have to attack the lip and surf with a lot of energy.” And that was my mindset and going into that contest.
That’s super interesting. Because of not having “traditional” Sunset equipment, it forced you to surf with a unique approach.
Yeah, I said to myself, “ I’m not gonna be able to out carve someone who’s on a 6’6.” Their open face turns are gonna look way bigger than mine.
What were you riding?
I was riding a 6’3.
Wow. Some of those days were pumping.
Yeah. My board was way too small, for the big days for sure. But it’s funny, I had this mindset that reminded me of the 2014 Tahiti Event, when Medina won at Teahupoo. That was the year John John and Kelly had that crazy heat and everyone thought John or Kelly was gonna win. And, I kind of just pulled a lot of motivation from that, in this strange way. I was like, “Look, Medina went out and he was the last guy that should have won the contest at that time.” I’m not saying that he’s not good enough, he obviously was. But he was the guy anyone expected to win. Kelly and John were the best guys in the draw. But, Medina found a way to win that contest, and then went on to win the World Title that year. So I felt, “Hey, if he can do it when it’s like that, and he’s never seen a wave that big and never surfed a wave that big and to go out there and do that then I should be able to figure this out pretty easily.” And, it’s not like I’ve never surfed anything like this before.
So you’re kind of under the radar until you’re not. Everyone’s like, “Whoa, okay. Here he is.” And then you’ve taken it down at the end.
Are you still pinching yourself? Or does it feel real? Like, “Okay. This is what I’m doing now. This is my job.
I tried to get myself out of that mindset, because going into Portugal, I was kind of like, “Holy crap. This is crazy.” I went from literally being like the worst surfer, in the sense of I wasn’t even in the top 100 on the QS, last year. I mean I did so bad on the QS, I almost didn’t get into Hale’iwa And, I was so defeated. And then now I’m the number one surfer in the world on the CT. Yeah, I was definitely tripping out for sure. But, I needed to get myself out of that mindset.
In a way I felt like a little kid around all these people who have been doing this for a long time. I wanted to get outta that mindset of, “Oh, this is crazy. I can’t believe I actually made it here.” Obviously I’m still very grateful to be here. And, I’m stoked that I won Sunset. That was a great start to my year. And it gave me a huge conference booster. But now I’m like, “Okay, you’re on the CT, it happened.” Let’s grind it out till September. After that, you know, we can reassess.
My whole mindset had to change because I was not prepared to go a whole year on the CT. I didn’t even think that was gonna happen. I was in a totally different mindset, it was, “Okay, do Pipe, work on my surfing, and get ready for the Challenger Series.” So, I had to do a full 180, and reevaluate everything. But, now I’m definitely in a mindset where it sunk in that I qualified, and of course this is what I wanted all along. So now, let’s keep grinding and making heats and see where I fall at the end of the year.
As you said, your mindset was focused on getting ready for the Challenger Series, which can be pretty grindy. Now that you’re on the CT, and you’ll be going from one legit wave to another, have you been scrambling to get your equipment dialed? Has your prep mode had to change?
Now the preparation is getting ready for Bells and Margarets. I just got a bunch of boards. And, both those waves are very similar to waves we have here in Hawai’i. But in general going from good wave to good wave, especially the back half of the year with G-Land, El Salvador, J Bay, and Tahiti. At the end of the day, those waves are so good. Like you could basically take out a door out there and surf good on it. Compared to the challenger series where if your board isn’t flying in two foot waves, you’re pretty much done. On the CT, going from good wave to good wave, you definitely need to have the right boards for all these waves so it’s definitely a little switch up.
On the Challenger Series, I’m bringing like five grovelers and two good wave boards. But now I’m every single one of my boards that I’m packing is made for really, really good waves. So, my boards have changed, but the end goal hasn’t really changed. I’m out there to make heats. The difference is I’m just gonna go surfing in a lot better waves.
Talking about all these good waves on the schedule, how many of these spots have you been to before?
The only spot I think I’ve been to is Teahupoo.
Well, that’s probably the one where the experience pays off the most. For some rookies that don’t have any experience there they really have a hard time wrapping their head around it.
Yeah. They see a 12 foot closeout coming at them and they’re like what the hell is this?
Speaking of heavy waves, watching you surf at places like Tahiti and especially Pipe, it looks so natural. How did comfort in waves like that come to you?
When I was young, I always loved to watch Pipe. I always thought it was such a fascinating place to see live. You’re watching people trying to ride the deadliest wave and its all right in front of you. So I was always very fascinated with it as a kid. And, I always wanted to learn how to surf it.
The first time I ever went out there, was with my dad and Uncle Derek, and Uncle D pushed me into my first wave and I cartwheeled down the face and just got absolutely smoked. I was like nine years old. It was small, but I got smoked and I was kinda baffled. Then he pushed me to another and I went right, I got barreled, and I came out. I was like, “Oh my God, that was the sickest thing ever.”
Ever since then, I was hooked on the wave. I would get out of school at Sunset Beach Elementary and I’d go straight across the street and we’d surf it. Little Backdoor, or Aints. And, I would get these fun little barrels with my friends. I was so psyched on it and had so much fun surfing it.
Then over the years, you test your limits on how much bigger you can surf it. And, I remember going out there one day, it was pretty big. I was sitting in the channel, not anywhere near anything, but it was probably like six to eight feet. And, I was watching these guys trying to go on these waves, just like, “How are they doing this?” It just looked like such a crazy thing to me.
As I started getting older, I just started trying to push it and push it a little more. Obviously every time I paddle out at Pipe there’s always that fear that you could hit your head and die. That’s always out there. It’s the most dangerous wave in the world. But I tend to believe if you think about those things, that’s where you’re gonna go. So, I tell myself, “Don’t look where you don’t wanna go.”
I try to surf it with no fear, but, obviously I’m scared shitless in my head. It’s just the more you can surf it like that, the better you are. I mean, you look at John he definitely doesn’t look like he’s going on waves scared.
When you think back on those moments as a kid watching the best out there and you’re asking yourself, “How do they do that?” Now that you’re mixing it up with the very best in the world out there. Do you ever think, “Wow, there’s probably kids in the channel right now tripping out on what I’m doing?”
I always think about that. And, probably one of those little kids watching us, he’s gonna do something. Five years from now, he’s gonna be taking off on a shortboard in the barrel, under the lip, and just airdrop with ease. At the end of the day, the reason why John, John got so good for example is because he watched Andy, Bruce, Kelly, Jamie, all those guys, he watched them from the channel. And he was like, “Yeah, I’m gonna do this, but in my way, and I’lI do it better.” He watched that and he was the next generation. It’s just gonna keep getting better. And the sport of surfing, it’s gonna keep evolving. I think the sport of surfing right now is at the highest level. And it’s gonna keep going up because the kids are just gonna be gnarlier and gnarlier.
Speaking of surfing at the highest level. You started the year at number one. What if you come to the end of the year into the finals at Trestles, number one? Have you given that any thought?
My whole goal since I was a kid was to win a world title. I didn’t think the chance for me to gun for a world title was gonna come up this quick.
But you have as good a shot as anyone.
This is the time to do it if there is ever a time, you know?
I’m not putting pressure on myself because first off, I’m a wildcard, and no one expects a wildcard to win a world title, but no one also expects a wildcard to win a CT event either.
My goal is to make it to that top five and we can see what happens at the end of the year.
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