In the surf world it’s amazing how much significance we place on the words and actions of human beings that have existed for less than two decades. Doheny, like many budding pro surfers, is still figuring out his place in that world, but has gained enough wisdom to know that too much of any one thing leads to stagnation. I caught up with the Newport kid to discuss what he’s already figured out about competing, shaping his own boards, and staying motivated in today’s intimidating sea of staggering young talent.
So how do you feel about competing these days?
I feel good about it, I like competing. I think a lot of people think I don’t, for some weird reason. But when the waves are good—I guess when the waves are bad it gets pretty lame—but when the waves are good, it’s really fun. You know, it’s like you’re surfing for people on the beach and sometimes they get excited. So, that’s what makes it fun.
Do you think that competing, at least when you’re a grom, is crucial if you want to be relevant? Obviously people break away later and become freesurfers, but even Rasta had a super successful career competing as a junior.
I think if you want to try not doing contests, and you’re a good surfer and you’re photogenic and you work hard on trips and everything, you’re gonna be sponsored and probably even getting paid, you know? At least a fair amount of money to get by, however you want to get by. It’s tough though, it could go both ways. Some people are really creative and into art and other stuff that interests more people than they would if they did contests. But, I mean, I don’t know, it’s just tough to say. I think it depends on what you do with it, as far as if you decide you’re just going to be a freesurfer guy. I don’t know, it’s hard to explain, but I guess I don’t have a good answer for that question.
What motivates you outside of just riding waves?
Ever since I was a little kid I’ve been into doing some different things, like I love shaping. If you do too much of any one thing, you get kind of burnt out, so I have these little side interests that keep me loving surfing. So I like playing music and I like shaping—stuff like that. I just do the things, I guess, that a normal teenager would do. I don’t let a pro surfer career prevent me from doing the things I would like to do if I wasn’t a surfer.
So speaking of that, it’s not news that you’re shaping your own boards and stuff, but has that changed over time? Have you found yourself getting better at it and being able to make boards that ride the way you want them to?
Yeah, it’s fun. I’ve shaped probably like over 100 boards, so now I’ve kind of got it to where I know what I like and when I shape a board I can kind of make it exactly how I want it. It’s not always gonna go good or anything, but it’s just fun—it’s like an experiment. You make a board, and you try your best, if it works you’re so stoked. And if it doesn’t, whatever, just try again. But yeah, I think most of the time I’m just making small, little, weird boards that will work no matter what because they’re small and loose, you know? When it comes to making a shortboard, it’s a lot tougher because when you ride a shortboard, that’s when you’re surfing your most technical, I think. So the board has to be that much more technical.
Do you shape the majority of the boards that you ride on a daily basis?
Nah, Matt [Biolos] makes me my really good 5’10” shortboards for contests and what not, and I just kind of shape here and there on the side for fun. I surf my boards, just whenever, but I probably surf the Mayhems the most. But lately it seems to be closer to half and half, I’d say. In the future, I don’t know what I’ll be riding, but I think maybe in the long run I could be riding my own boards all the time, but I don’t really think about it in that way too much.
It’s just something to do?
Yeah, just gonna keep doing it. I’ll keep shaping ‘em, and if one works well I’ll just keep riding it until it breaks.
So you’re getting a little older now. You’re getting different kinds of opportunities. Like you had some waves in Lost Atlas, which kind of puts you in the same field as a lot of older guys who are currently in their prime. Does it feel like you’ve graduated to the next stage?
Yeah, being in that movie and having some waves was super rad. But at the same time, as flattered as I was to be in the movie, I watch John John and Brother—kids I surfed against when I was really young, that I used to, like, beat—and now I feel like they’re on a completely different level. When we were younger I thought I was at their caliber, so it’s kind of hard to watch that, you know? Like, shit, they’re surfing so good. I feel like my clips suck compared to everyone else’s in the movie, which is fine, but that’s my fault, you know? I went on a trip and I surfed like shit on it, but fuck, I don’t know. Right now, it’s kind of like I wanna try surfing a little better, try a little harder, try to be cool with the surf like those kids.
How do you mean, “try harder”? What does that entail?
That might not be the word I’m looking for. For a while there I didn’t really care. I was just surfing, and I don’t know, I kind of just got burned out, I guess. Then those kids kind of stepped over me so fast, and are so good now, that it kind of got to me—I just care more now. I’m more motivated to try to surf the best I can. I wasn’t completely burned out before, I just wasn’t super motivated, you know? It’s good for me though, because now I feel like I’m really excited to try to see what I can do.