Dave Kalama Interview from the 2002 Towsurfer Vault

Dave Kalama/Professional Athlete/Stuntman/Actor
DOB: 10-31-64
Height: 5’10”
Weight: 185lbs.
Color Hair: Brown
Color Eyes: Hazel
From: Newport Beach, CA
Current Residence: Maui, Hawaii
Marital Status: Single
Children: 2
Years Surfing: 30
Years Wind Surfing: 17
Years Tow Surfing: 11
Years Hydro Foiling:2

Manager:  Jane Kachmer Management

Other Talents: Long Boarding, Canoe Surfing, and Paddle Boarding

Objective: Fun and Fitness

Films: OO7 James Bond –Die Another Day

Video/DVD: Rail to Rail, Wake Up Call and Strapped

Sponsors: Quiksilver, Timpone Surfboards, FCS and Mama’s Fish House


Dave is an all around Hawaiian waterman who comes from a lineage of surfing champions. He is a master wave rider, who began as a world champion windsurfer, and has evolved into one of the pioneers and premiere big wave, tow-in surfers of our time, along with Laird Hamilton who is his tow-in partner. Dave has become a key team rider for Quiksilver and will be seen in upcoming feature films, television and video/DVD programs.He’s good at everything but remains humble and respectful. Says Gerry Lopez, who has known Kalama since he moved to Maui over a decade and a half ago: “He started at the bottom, paid his dues and worked his way to the top. In many ways, he is a throwback to surfers of yesteryear, but he also takes the whole surfer’s image we are accustomed to and kind of blows it all away.” And what Lopez is referring to is Kalama’s poly dimensional approach to wave riding. He’s not just a longboard, wind or tow-in surfer; he’s everything you can be or do in or around the water. He does them all well.

“Dave has an unbelievable amount of drive and motivation, and he’s really strong. I would say probably of any surfer I have watched, he has evolved and improved consistently at a higher level, greater than anyone I have ever seen. He’s always getting better. He’s doing some of the greatest surfing in the history of big-wave riding right now. He’s one of the main guys setting some benchmarks out there and pushing it to a higher level.”

“I didn’t sponsor Dave just because of his talents. I really respect him as a person”. He embodies the essence, the real Hawaiian attitude, and is solid as a rock, inside and out. Both feet are firmly on the ground. He has a quiet, but strong personality. I also have to say that in my 42 years of surfing Hawaii I’ve never seen anyone who can do all the things he does, and do them so well.”

Towsurfer.com: You’re an all around waterman who comes from a lineage of surfing champions. Could you tell us about your family heritage?
Dave: My grandfather was one of the top body surfers in Hawaii during the 30’s, 40’s, and 50’s. He brought outrigger canoeing to CA. My father was the 1962 U.S. Surfing Champion at Huntington Beach. Both are full-blooded Hawaiian and that makes me half.

How long have you lived in Hawaii?
Since July 2nd, 1985

How did you and Laird hook up?
We hooked up in the latter part of the 80’s as windsurfing buddies. I was at that time, making my living and competing as a windsurfer, while Laird was also surfing. We had a great connection due to our common ground with respect to both our fathers being very involved with the sport.

When and how did the whole tow scene begin for you?
It was 1991. Some of my windsurfing buddies and I started to experiment with single front foot straps on our normal size boards that were around 8’ long. During this time, Laird, Buzzy and Darrick were already doing tow-ins on Oahu. When they came over to Maui, we all got together and collaborated our ideas and efforts and the rest is history.

When you look back and realize how much time, commitment and energy has gone into your tow surfing efforts, what are some of the most important aspects you have learned?
HOW TRULY POWERFUL THE OCEAN IS AND CAN BE! Through this experience and all that power, solid friendships can be made and held on to for a lifetime. There is also an addictiveness that can overcome you when one is always around all that power and energy. There is a fulfillment and true joy that this type of natural power can bring to someone who knows how to ride these waves. At the same time, when one has obtained true respect for the ocean and her power, one understands how fragile life really is.

What would you say has been the most rewarding thing for you by becoming a full on ocean lover and all around waterman?
Being able to live a lifestyle, which is essentially a dream come true. I mean, really living the dream! I live on an island that lacks a lot of good surf and that’s what keeps us so hungry for good surf. We are always wanting more and bigger. This keeps my drive for wanting good waves, really intense. Living the dream and being fortunate enough to be in a position to surf every day and when it is good, take full advantage of it.

What was your very first tow session like at JAWS?
Buzzy towed me into a 12’ wave, which at the time seemed really large and I did it on my 8’2″ normal surfboard with one front foot strap. He dropped down on the wave in front of me and I rode right into the wake. Right then, it was one of those moments and I took a mental snapshot and I’ll never forget it. It was a full rush and very memorable. The wave was very quick and basically uneventful and I made it.

What is your personal objective with tow surfing for the coming season?
I just want to ride whatever comes my way and I want to be prepared for it all whether it’s a 6’ day or a 60’ day. I am also working hard to push equipment and designs a lot farther into advanced stages.

What about for the coming years?
Continue to expand our knowledge and create new designs at a steady rate. I think on another note, that legal issues will come up and access will become a problem to some of the tow spots. With new laws and regulations, come further training and experience. So for the more serious tow teams that are towing, they will become an asset in the water instead of a liability.

Tell us about your hydro foiling and where you see all this energy going.
Hydro foiling is a full blast. It allows you to take full advantage of small days and make it an epic experience. The equipment is still so very new and we are working hard to refine and improve all elements that we can.

What about Mavs? Are you ever going to come over and try our cold, dark and gloomy monster?
I would love to go do Mavericks once! So long as it’s not a scene and full of drama when we come over. It has to be cool with the Mavs crew and the situation would have to be just right. I’m pretty tight with Petey and Skinny, and I am sure there wouldn’t be a problem. My biggest concern is the cold water.

What are your feelings and thoughts overall with respect to tow-in contests that are being held at JAWS?
To me, the contest being held at JAWS is too normal and run of the mill. This spot and wave at JAWS warrant much more than that. This is a very special place and needs to be treated with due respect, which I don’t think has been the case. I think it can be so much more than a normal contest. More than a big dangling carrot and a bunch of guys putting on a show.

So how do you see the contest being held?
I don’t care to give out my thoughts and ideas.

You hear a lot of talk about ocean safety and rescue experience. How important is this aspect of tow surfing?
I think that ocean safety and rescue is HUGE! When one is trained and experienced, he is an asset and not a liability. I am not the most qualified ocean rescue waterman. Through my experience and education with guys like Brian Keaulana and others, I feel I am qualified to be out there and a part of this incredible experience.

Could you use more training?
Yes, I could always use more training. Just because you are a good tow surfer doesn’t mean you are going to be a good driver or rescue guy and just because you are good at driving and being the rescue guy, doesn’t mean you will be a good tow surfer. Balance is everything and this comes from training, commitment, and experience.

How much time do you feel a team should spend together training on the ski and with rescue techniques during the down times?
Depends on how long you have been a team. New teams need to train as much as they can. With careers and family obligations, this can be tough at times. It is very important that a team develop common skills and techniques and learn how the other thinks in all situations.

When you’re not towing with Laird, who do you team up with?
Brett Lickle is my first choice and if he’s not available, I call on other friends.

Do you run into individuals out in the water who you feel just don’t have the experience and are more of a risk than anything else?
All the time, but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be out there. As long as they are not breaking laws or endangering myself or others, then it’s o.k. Besides, who am I to say that they shouldn’t be there doing what they want and trying to have fun like the rest of us.

Tell us about the most serious situation you ever experienced while towing JAWS?
NEW YEARS DAY, 2000! I tried to pull into a 20 footer and ended up going over the falls and not having enough time to get a breath. I wasn’t wearing a life vest at the time and I remember going down deeper then I have ever experienced. I was so deep; my body started to go into some kind of convuls ions and jolted around like three times pretty hard. It was pretty freaky and when I realized after the third jolt that I was still alive, I knew I had to fight my way back to the top and do it now because I was r unning out of time. (Not until later when I got home, did I realize that I tore a bunch of muscles in my back.) Any way, when I finally broke the surface, I was able to catch my breath real quick before the next wave ran me over. I remember seeing my partner on the ski right there getting ready to pick me up and when I managed to grab on to the rescue sled, it was all over. We got steamed rolled by the next wave and my body was ripped right off the sled like a rag doll and everything including the ski, went for the most intense tumble ride that I had ever experienced. I ended up getting pulled down deep again and I couldn’t believe all this was happening. I was so tired and exhausted by this time and knew once again I had to get to the surface in hopes of a successful rescue before the next wave ran us over. I made it to the surface and saw another driver at arms length once again, saw the sled and grabbed hold as tight as I could, knowing the next wave was right upon us and made the decision to hold on for dear life know matter what. Sure enough, I held on and everything went tumbling again and it was like a car wreck going over the mountainside. We both managed to hold on the entire time and when we surfaced, we flipped everything over, did a full body check to make sure we were both o.k. No broken bones, lungs were working, no cuts but more wiped out than ever before, and screaming, “Thank you, Thank you”. Yeah, I’ll never forget that whole scene. It was pretty scary at the time. Needless to say, since that experience, I always wear a life vest when I’m in big surf and towing!

So after experiencing something like that what happens to your approach?
Right after we surfaced and did the full body check and realized we were fine, we went straight back to the boat and got another board and headed back out. Still shaken from the whole experience, it takes a while to get back into the swing of things. After about 4-6 waves, I was starting to get back into it but it took a while to feel confident again. I have since then always worn a life vest and know that if I had one on that day, it would have been a lot different. I would have surfaced much quicker and timing is everything during a rescue.

What is the most difficult part of the wave at JAWS?
As a driver, it’s when your friend wipes out and you have to go in and get him. There is a good chance that you won’t be able to get anywhere near him. This is because of all the foam, which makes it impossible to move the ski. You are sucking a bunch of air. It’s not as easy as it looks in the films. As a surfer, it’s putting yourself deep enough to get a good ride and not put yourself behind the section. Also a nice easy shoulder will almost everytime, turn into the most intense beast.

What advice do you have for guys that want to tow JAWS for the first time?
The guys that want to tow surf Jaws, don’t think for a second that what you see in the pictures is what it is going to be like.  Ninety percent of the time it’s blowing 20 knots or more, the bumps are bigger than you can ever imagine, and if you ever wondered why we put so much weight in our boards, you will find out quickly during your first drop!

Thanks Dave
Thank you

If you or your company would like to contact Dave Kalama or his Manager Jane Kachmer, you may drop either one an e-mail at [email protected] . Or: Contact: Jane Kachmer Kachmer Management 5111 Ocean Front Walk #4 Marina del Rey, CA 90292 O: 310.821.0656 F: 310.821.7044 e: [email protected]

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