Kai Garcia – The SURFER Interview
When Andy and Bruce Irons were asked to pick an interview subject for this issue, it took all of three seconds for them to come up with a name. Kai Garcia is the man we were ordered to talk to. The reason? Nobody better represents the many moods, facets, and faces of Hawaii than “Kaiborg.” Through the years, his steady hand and unique brand of tough love has been dished out liberally to Andy and Bruce, and he continues to serve as a pivotal force in their lives. As Bruce puts it, “He’s one of the only guys who can get through to me. Other people will tell me the same thing, but I won’t hear it—not until Kai says so.” Over time, Kaiborg evolved from parking-lot comedian and lineup standout to the celebrated leader of Kauai’s ever-present Wolf Pack, a gathering of talent that essentially runs not only the Garden Isle, but these days, Oahu’s North Shore as well. That role affords Kaiborg many unique opportunities and a nice lifestyle, but it also comes with serious responsibilities, not the least of which is keeping a watchful eye on the people and places he holds dear.
How early on did you get sucked into the surf scene on Kauai?
Since I was…I don’t even know. That’s all I remember. We grew up at the beach. My only outlet was the beach, the ocean, my friends there. Most of my friends had parents that were pretty much doing the same thing: being waiters, waitresses, doing construction, or fishing. We were so tight-knit, everybody knew you and your business. That’s how it is. You knew who was having problems, who was screwing up, who was screwing who. You knew more than you ever wanted to know.
At least you knew your neighbors, because that’s become rare on the mainland.
Yeah, people over there really don’t know their neighbors the way we do. And they’re always surfing with a constant stream of new people, you know? Nobody knows who the local is at Lowers; nobody knows who the local is at—well, you name the spot—Rincon? Who are they? The locals change every two or three years over there.
Kauai has a bit more of a caste system. You’re born into a hierarchy and you pretty much stay right there.
Yeah, what it comes down to in the end is respecting others. If they can’t respect you, how are you supposed to respect them? For us, that was the primary lesson we were taught. We’re all brought up in this little cave watching the older guys, like Titus, and all those older guys saw the evolution coming up behind them, and they nurtured it, and now we’re the ones watching all these kids coming through. It’s crazy how quickly there was this whole new shift going on—and all this money and things exploding into it. I mean, my generation made a few pennies off of surfing, some lunch money and stuff, but now, now it’s just….
Now you have 6th graders making more than their teachers?
Yeah! So the whole thing has changed a lot. It’s like, “Hey, look at this, you can make a living off this.” Now it really pays for a kid to surf. And, of course, when you give kids that option, they’re going to want it, because over here that means they’re not confined to waiting tables or construction or being a commercial fisherman. I guarantee you that if not for surfing, Bruce [Irons] would be a fisherman today and Andy would probably be a valet or a bellman, something in the hotel business.
They’d both still be surfing pretty well though, wouldn’t they?
Oh yeah. It’s in their blood, you know, the whole Irons family surfs. It’s in their DNA. Now there are a bunch of kids following in their footsteps, and all these kids have grown up in this little place and they’re just like, “Woah, these kids are the best in the world, what’s going on here?” It’s fun just to sit and watch.
How are the older guys like Titus reacting to all of this?
They trip out like everyone else, but they’re still a guiding force, helping to create paths for all these kids, because they understand that only a handful of them will actually make a real living off it. As much as things have changed, they’re still pretty much the same. It doesn’t change the fact that everything has to be passed down. They’re still right out there on waist-high days with these kids.