Growing up on the North Shore is tough. Growing up the son of a prominent father on the North Shore is tougher, the privilege often clashing with the need to pull away and establish oneself. Life for Makua Rothman changed when he let go of the rope on a giant November day in 2002. During one of the most historic big-wave sessions in history, Makua followed a borrowed, too-slow jet-ski into the biggest wave of the session–a wave that eventually won him $66,000 and acknowledgement in media as far-flung as Miller Lite beer commercials, all recognizing him as riding history’s biggest wave. More importantly for Makua, his success that day has brought respect from those surfers that he has been emulating for years. The respect only grew this winter when Makua won the Best Barrel Expression Session at the Rip Curl Pro at Sunset Beach, and received invitations to both the Pipeline Masters Trials and the Quiksilver in memory of Eddie Aikau big wave contest at Waimea Bay.
The son of Da Hui founder Eddie Rothman, until this point Makua’s life has been lived largely in the shadow of his father. But now, at 19, Makua is emerging by strides. With skills that have been incubating since birth, Makua is poised to actualize himself as one of surfing’s most central watermen for years to come.
One day in December after a harrowing injury–a violent bounce off the bottom at Backdoor that Makua thought momentarily had paralyzed him–he sat down on his father’s couch, where, amid phone calls from photographers and surfers checking in on his health, and under the glaring lights of an MTV camera crew, discussed life to this point. And what’s still to come.
A lot of knowledgeable people call the day that you got your wave at Peahi the best big wave session in history. You got the best wave of the day and won the Billabong XXL Big Wave Award. What did it mean to be the youngest person out there and get the biggest wave?
It feels just like a regular day to me. Because all that hype is just politics, brah. I don’t really like being hyped up by all kinds of people. I just want to be myself and do what I do–surf. Cruise with you guys, go on boat trips, have a good time. But it happened and it feels good, because I got a bunch of exposure and stuff.
How big of a role does big wave riding play in your surfing?
Now, since I caught that big wave, I guess it’s going to play a lot because guys are going to be after me. Or after my wave.
Does that inspire you?
Oh, yeah. Cause I always want to catch a bigger one. I just go day by day; if the waves are small I surf, if the waves are big, I’m out there. But yeah, big wave surfing is definitely something I’ve always been into.
What initially drew you into big wave surfing?
When I was a little kid, I was kind of fat, and I couldn’t get enough speed on the smaller waves, so I was over small waves. I always had Sunset, Pipe and V-Land and stuff like that so ever since I was young I just wanted to surf bigger waves.
What was your single most fearful moment in the water?
Probably yesterday. Backdoor. I took off on a nice sized wave. As I was going down my board went to the side and I missed my whole board as I was dropping in. I went to curl up into a little ball just in case I hit the reef, but the lip landed on my shoulders and piledrived my knee straight into the reef, and jammed my hip and smashed it in and knocked all the wind out of me. Both my legs and my right arm went numb, I couldn’t swim–only my left arm was working. All the air got knocked out of me, and I couldn’t say nothing, I barely got a yell out. Luckily Shane Dorian was right there, and Ian Walsh and a couple of guys were there and they got me into the beach, and put me on Dorian’s surfboard and picked me up.