It’s unlikely old age will be kind to Kalani David. The 14-year-old Costa-Rica-born-Hawaiian-pro-skater-slash-pro-surfer is looking very uncomfortable seated across from me at a roadside eatery in Bali. The World Junior Championships are on and as of yesterday, he is now the highest ranked surfer in the world for his age (having lost out in Round 4 to one of the event favorite’s, Conner Coffin). His biggest battle at the moment, however, is trying to reach the fried chicken on his plate.
You’re supposed to sit with your legs crossed in this restaurant, but due to the amount of scar tissue beneath his knees—a legacy of the countless slams he’s taken in the bowl—that’s an impossibility for David. “We’re always wrapping him in ice,” his father tells me later. “And I’m constantly watching his body and making sure he’s got muscle on his bones for the slams. It’s pretty nerve-racking, actually.”
As David confronts the painstaking decision of whether to pursue a career in skating or surfing, you might think the injury toll alone would be enough to make up his mind. But you’d be wrong. “If it was life or death, and I had to choose skating or surfing, I’d choose death,” he says. So how exactly is he going to get out of this pickle? — Jed Smith
You’re struggling to decide whether you want to be a pro skater or pro surfer at the moment. Run us through the pros and cons.
Skating you don’t really have to do contests. Converse really helps me out a lot. They’ve got all the mags on board so I just go with some of the photographers and skate streets and cool spots and get sick photos in mags. That’s what it’s all about in skating—the way you live life. Skating is like the opposite of surfing. The fewer contests you do and the more videos you’re in, the cooler you are. Like Craig Anderson and Dion Agius—that’s what they’re doing: getting sick video parts and that’s what skating is. Surfing would be so much better if it was more like that.
Who were your big influences growing up?
I’d have to say I was influenced a lot by Justin Bieber [laughs]. The only guy I looked up to as a kid was Kelly because I really didn’t know anyone else. I’d just see this bald guy killing it. And in videos I’d see him and I’d want to surf like him. When I moved to Hawaii, then Andy came up, and I just loved his surfing. When Kelly and Andy were battling it was so hard to choose. Andy was such a good guy.
You knew him?
I stayed at his house. He was the coolest guy ever to hang out with. My manager was Blair Marlin and he was Andy’s manager. They put on the Irons Brothers Pinetrees contest and I just went over there for that and Blair would take me to his house. He would make you so happy. He would full on make you stoked as a grom. He was like Santa Claus. And when I was 8, Mick [Fanning] cooked me a steak at the Red Bull house in Hawaii. My dad saw that and still, to this day, only really roots for Mick. Well, and he roots for John John. I also really looked up to Parko, but at Backdoor one time I pulled into this wave and it looked like I wasn’t gonna make it and all of a sudden I got spit out and Parko was paddling out near me and he freaks out and ditches his board. I was like tripped out. “Where did he go? What happened?” And I jumped off near him and when I came up he like fully cussed me out and I was so bummed. Ever since then, I don’t know. He was my favorite surfer at the time and ever since that happened I was a little off him. Then I saw Julian Wilson, who saw the whole thing and he was like, “Aw, don’t worry, he’s just tripped out about his foot.” [Parko was returning from a badly lacerated heel suffered at Snapper.] But I was still so rattled. It was like looking up to Rocky Balboa and him coming up and yelling at you for something that’s not your fault.
What are the strengths and weaknesses of your surfing?
My strengths are airs and my weaknesses are definitely turns. I’m working on my turns. I’ve been filming a lot lately, and I’ve got some sick footage of my turns, so I want to improve that. If I could combine more rail surfing with my airs, I think I’d do a lot better.
You recently beat skating icon Bob Burnquist in a contest. Doesn’t it wig you out to be beating full-blown legends at your age?
To tell you the truth, I forgot Bob Burnquist was doing the Bowl event at the Dew Tour. And then I thought he made it. I didn’t know he’d lost. It was pretty crazy that I beat him but I don’t really think of it like that. It makes me feel cocky, so I’m just like, “Oh, I got a 10th. I’m stoked I made it through.” I let my dad do most of the talking.
I saw you were interviewed recently by Jay Adams, the original surf/skate crossover dude. What was that like?
That guy is such a legend. Every time I see him he’s always like, “Ahhhh, you gotta come to church with me. Praise to the God, give your respects!” And I’m like, “Sure, I’ll come tomorrow. What’s tomorrow?” And he’s like, “Sunday! Yeah I’ll come pick you up.” And when he comes to get me, I’ll go hide in my closet. He’ll call my dad and then we lock the door and hide in our closets until he leaves [laughs].
What are you aiming to get out of your career?
I want to get money [laughs]. I’d be stoked to make a video game. I want to come out with a video game that is surfing and skating. You do missions like Tony Hawk and you get a skateboard and you put fins on it and you have to do kick flips and tre flips in the water. But you have to manually skate using the analog sticks.
How does the skating/surfing crossover help your surfing?
The lifestyle really helps surfing. Skaters always say good things about everyone else and they don’t forget where they came from. You know Andrew Reynolds? Well, Tony Hawk brought him up and he just recently got a Tony Hawk tattoo. With skating I like to go to foam pits and try new stuff, and that definitely helps your spinning. Right now, I’m working on a 540 air in surfing—a full rotation and a half alley-oop.
Fourteen is young to be making decisions that will shape the rest of your life. How do you do it?
With skate events, I seriously don’t know. I just think of which one is bigger, the location, how much money it takes to get there, which one is cheaper. To tell you the truth, skate events make more sense for the money than surf events. The most I can win surfing is like $20,000. That’s a super small skate event. The X Games are $80,000. The Street League was like $200,000 with like a $200,000 Nixon watch and like a $100,000 ring and a brand new car.
But which one do you enjoy?
That’s hard. I love doing them both. They’re so fun. It’s not really about the money. Skating is so fun and for me skating is no pressure. I can do what I want to do without getting hassled, so it’s fun.
What do you want out of life?
I just don’t want to be hurting in life. I want to have enough money to buy my own house and a car. I want a beautiful wife, a beautiful family, a nice house, and good waves everyday.