Haven’t talked to Brock Little for five years, give or take—no particular reason, just drifted apart—but we were pretty good friends for 20 or so years before that. Another one of those slightly inexplicable relationships I’ve managed to forge. Brock was a natural-born big-wave surfer, a street fighter, almost suicidal in his driving style. I drank tea, surfed T-Street, drove a Valiant. But Brock was also ambitious, smarter than the average bear (his Jim was on his way to becoming the Plumeria King of Hawaii; mother Doric was a lauded academic), and as interested as he was amused by people outside the North Shore bubble. So he carved out a little space for me.
Dude was always having girl troubles, too, and I lent a sympathetic ear whenever he needed it. That was the other part of it. Brock called me about two hours after that career-making runner-up performance in the 1990 Eddie. Spent 10 minutes going over the event (mad at himself for digging rail at the end of that famous tuberide; he would have won otherwise), then abruptly turned the corner and chewed my ear for an hour about how his ex had started dating somebody else. I was Brock’s shrink as much as I was his buddy.
Anyway, if he gently used me, I did the same thing back to him. Brock was my ticket to New York. Literally. Six months after that conversation, I cold-called Interview magazine, introduced myself as the editor of SURFER, and pitched an article about the cool-crazy Hawaiian who rode the world’s biggest waves. The editor was interested. A week or so later, on my own dime, I dressed up, flew into LaGuardia, and was spot on time for my appointment at Interview. Brought a couple of SURFER mags with Post-It notes on Brock’s pictures from the Eddie. Talked him up. Got the assignment. My first bite of the Big Apple, bang, just that easy. Opened the door to almost everything that followed, including getting me the hell out of Orange County shortly thereafter.
The interview with Brock was a piece of cake, as I knew it would be. He’s a funny guy; his default is to laugh at almost everything, himself included. Also honest to a fault. My favorite line, below, is when he says “People ask what I do for a living, and I do nothing. I pick up a check in the mail and go surfing.” The professional surfer, summed up in 23 words.
The magazine came out in December, 1990. Great cover shot of Johnny Rotten, looking demented and tugging on his ears. My interview with Brock ran full page, near the back of the mag. The photo that went with it was shot down the street from my San Clemente house, and it was ironic and posed and a little sexy: Brock rinsing off after a surf and spitting water over his shoulder. (Wish I had a better version of the shot; what you see below is scanned from a Xerox copy.) I remember being disappointed that Interview sent over what was clearly an intern-level photographer. Nice enough guy, quiet, said he was a skateboarder—but he looked about 17 years old. I would have forgotten him instantly, except for his catchy made-up name: Spike Jonze.
An excerpt from the interview:
What scares you?
I’m afraid of heights, and I’m claustrophobic. Just those normal kinds of things.
You’re not scared of drowning?
No. People think that would be one of the worst ways to die, but it isn’t. I was held underwater so long one time last year that after a while everything went black and these red dots were going off in the blackness. Then I went from fighting—I never panic, I fight; there’s a big difference—to just relaxing. And after a while I just swam up. So I realized that if I die underwater, I’ll die relaxed. I’m not worried about it that much. If I die surfing, people shouldn’t feel bad.
Is riding big waves a kind of spiritual quest?
Nah, nothing like that. It’s just the funnest thing ever. There’s nothing better than coming in from riding a huge wave; I’ll be high for a week. And the bigger the waves, the higher I get.
How is it that you ride huge waves, when millions of other surfers don’t?
I’ve thought about it, and I just don’t have an answer. I guess the risk scares people off. For me, it’s worth the risk.
Why don’t you want anyone to know how much money you get from your sponsors?
It’s unfair, how much I get. It’s way more than other guys who ride big waves, and I feel sort of guilty about it. It’s not right. I shouldn’t get so much.
Do you ever think about how unusual your life must seem to the average person?
Oh yeah. It’s comedy, what I do. People ask me what I do for a living, and I do nothing. I pick up a check in the mail and go surfing. And when the waves aren’t good in Hawaii, somebody pays me to surf somewhere else.
Do you ever think that you have some kind of death wish?
No, not at all. It’s just that if I get myself into a radical experience—getting in a fight, or driving fast, or riding a huge wave—and live through it, I’m totally stoked. I don’t mind bleeding. I don’t mind getting held underwater. I’ve walked away from everything that’s happened so far and been better off every time.