Jamie O’Brien’s approach to surfing mirrors his approach to life. There are no half-speeds, no checked-maneuvers, no missed opportunities; nor is there pause for contemplation, thought of what next, or curbed impulse. Which is what makes him one of the most exciting surfers currently displacing saltwater…in any ocean.
Of course he’s most himself when at home at Pipeline, steps from his porch, where he’s one of the few surfers that can match the break’s relentlessness with his own aggression, and where he’s brought a more progressive approach to the wave than almost anybody currently occupying the lineup. Need proof? Sit on the beach at Ehukai on a winter’s day and watch the 21-year-old O’Brien take off switch-stance, pull into the tube, sit down on his board, come out natural, do a big air, stick it and paddle back out. There is only audacity in this. And the same can be said of his surfing anywhere, as he brings more creativity to the water than any surfer his age, and more abandon than most in the world.
And this, of course, is how Jamie lives his life. He’s brash, opinionated and self-assure, which has brought him problems in the past, but is only a sign of the future. Because Jamie O’Brien will never pull back the reins. And this will always make him exciting. But what’s more intriguing than anything is to listen to Jamie O’Brien tell it in his own candid words. —Brad Melekian
SURFERMAG: Your new movie is called Freak Show, which is probably appropriate considering “Freak” is the word most used to describe you. There’s a scene in the movie , when you ride a finless board at Pipeline which sums up your talent and your creativity. Is creativity the most important part of your surfing?
JAMIE O’BRIEN: Yeah, I think so. People think of things but they never do them. When you’re a kid you have as much fun as you can all day, and you just decide to do things—you don’t think about them. I was looking under my porch one day and we found all these finless boards and we were like let’s go sandslide on the beach. And then next thing you know I was like, “I’m going to paddle this board out and try to catch one.” People on the beach were stoked to see that, and then a year later I pulled the board out again and cleaned it up, took it out and was doing turns and 360s and having fun. And then people seemed pretty interested. It’s cool, you watch movies and guys are doing all these things, riding rafts or single fins or seeing how many 360s they can do on one wave, all this creative stuff. So I’m just trying to do something new and creative that will make people excited.
SURFERMAG: How do you keep coming up with some of the stuff that you’re doing?
JAMIE O’BRIEN: You know what opened my eyes to that kind of deal? Kelly Slater Pro Surfer. In that game, they do all these crazy moves and I trip out on these things, so I go out with the mindset when I go surfing to try and do something crazy, like a crazy air, because it seems pretty legit, if you get the right sections. Now I’m trying to think like all the BMX guys, and that just makes me want to try harder and go bigger. When a section comes to me at Backdoor I’m just going to punt it, so this year I’m just going to put it on the line. I’ll probably get hurt, but it’s worth it (laughs).
SURFERMAG: What do you think the future holds in terms of more creative, progressive surfing?
JAMIE O’BRIEN: With actual moves, I don’t know, I’m just trying to keep up to date. I see all these guys doing all this crazy stuff— I just try to see what they’re doing, and they’re probably watching what I’m doing.
SURFERMAG: Who are some of the more creative guys that you’ve seen around?
JAMIE O’BRIEN: I don’t know, that’s kind of why I watch Dane Reynolds surf. I remember seeing do this one air where he switched stance in the middle of the move. Stuff that’s crazy like that really inspires me.
SURFERMAG: It’s impossible to tell your story without talking about Pipeline. Living there, you’ve seen a lot of the vibe surrounding Pipe through the years. Have you ever had any difficulty in terms of surfing there?
JAMIE O’BRIEN: Not really. I mean, when I started surfing Pipe, it was pretty much the end of the gnarly era at Pipe—there was still Dane Kealoha and Marvin Foster and a lot of the heavy guys out there. Things were changing and they knew that these little young guys were coming up, and I’d seen those guys around because my dad was a lifeguard and he’d always talk to them. They accepted me after a while, but there were times where the guys didn’t want me to get a good one because they knew I could make it if it came to me, and there were also times when they would yell “Go, go, go!”, and it was just a big closeout and I would get so pounded.
SURFERMAG: And yet you still seem to not be intimidated of getting pounded—switching stance in the barrel and doing silly things.
JAMIE O’BRIEN: Yeah, I actually don’t mind getting pounded. In fact, when I’m gone, I miss it. It’s kind of weird, because if you grow up at a place, especially like Pipeline—you know how many barrels you’re going to get. It’s kind of weird to say, but I get so many barrels that I get bored. I just want to keep trying new things and keep people interested. No one else is doing it—guys like Kelly and those guys are pretty good too, but they don’t go out there on a normal session and switch stance or anything.