Carving your own path in surfing is difficult.
For competitive surfers, the path on the World Surf League Qualifying Series (QS) and Championship Tour (CT) is clear-cut. For freesurfers, there are success stories, but the road to making (and keeping) surfing as your day job is murky.
But carving your own path isn't impossible — and, according to Hunter Jones, the hustle and grind it requires is worth it.
The South Bay native felt that dopamine-fueled surfing addiction from a young age, and since then, has become a freesurfer with a wicked aerial attack, a filmmaker with a keen eye for detail, and a role model in his local community.
After Hunter Jones returned from a week-long stint on Oahu's North Shore, where he landed impressive rotations, found deep barrels, and produced spray-infused turns, we gave him call to catch up on his latest exploits.
We asked him about his oxygen deprivation workouts with Laird Hamilton, his thoughts on working with Laird Apparel, and his advice for carving your own path in surfing. Here's a hint: it starts with believing in yourself. — Cash Lambert
Photo by Blake Vigil
ASM: We've noticed that you've been working out with Laird Hamilton. Are the workouts as gnarly as you’d expect?
Hunter Jones: I went to his house in Malibu, and he has this crazy pool setup, it has to be half of an Olympic size pool. Laird ran us through different types of training based on oxygen deprivation, putting your body and mind in uncomfortable scenarios and trying to control your mind in those scenarios.
We had these massive water buckets, and we had to walk around the pool with two of them — one on each side — and hold our breath around the pool. I would get halfway, take a breath and watch Laird still holding his breath, making it seem like it was no big deal.
We also took a 25-pound weight, strapped it to our chest, and went to the deep end of the pool and sank. Then, we’d jump off the bottom and stroke our way to the surface and take a breath ... we'd do this 10 times. As you're doing it, you’re supposed to exhale all your oxygen underwater, so when you come up, gravity is pulling you down so hard that you can only get one breath. The exercise was about controlling your mind. In the water, you can experience a wipeout, get smacked in the barrel, and take a ton of water on the head ... this was good training that prepared me for uncomfortable situations in the ocean.
We also did ice baths. Ice baths have helped me in surfing not just on the healing side, but also on the mental side where you put yourself in an uncomfortable situation. In an ice bath, your body is screaming at you to get out, but you know it’s going to be over soon — it’s just feelings of cold, you know. I took some wipeouts this winter, and had the same train of thought: I’m just underwater. I’m going to come up. Everything is going to be fine.
Photo by Blake Vigil
Laird is someone who can be doing anything with his time, and it's cool to hear that he's using it to help train you and to further help the next generation push the limits.
It’s really humbling to have been trained by him! He’s such an icon and he’s so good at what he does. He’s prepared for some of the gnarliest situations in the ocean, so it’s really cool that he’s so willing to share information. He’s an open book. You watch videos of him online, and he’s the same in person. He’s super outgoing, he wants to teach you, he’s super welcoming. He has such a wealth of knowledge.
"It’s really cool to be aligned with Laird, and for him to take me in and share everything he knows."
You’re now a team rider with Laird Apparel — talk to us about how it has been working with them.
Everyone who is a part of the Laird team all has a very similar vibe — they’re super welcoming, and feel like they are family. Everyone is willing to share knowledge. The first moment I met Laird, he wanted to bring me in and share as much as he could. I try to do that too. In my life, the most fulfilled I’ve felt is when I’m able to give to others and help their trajectory, whether that's through simple advice or helping someone with an edit, anything like that. I’ve felt that from Laird and the Laird Apparel team.
I started surfing when I was 10 years old, and my family wanted to give me as much as they could to support me. One way they did that was through surf movies.
"One of the first surf movies I saw was Step Into Liquid, and I clearly remember watching Laird charge Teahupo'o, that iconic wave he caught, his backhand dragging. That was cemented in my brain. Now it’s so humbling that I’m signed to his brand and I get to train with him."
Laird Apparel’s mission is to “inspire us to take risks, push boundaries and make movement an integral part of every day”. How do you believe you embody this mission?
Everything Laird Apparel embodies really resonates with me. All those points speak to the person I am in that I’ve never taken the traditional route. Even from the beginning, I was homeschooled, I was a surfer, I was making movies as a kid, I was always outdoors ... That’s where I felt like I thrived.
I never wanted to be normal. I always had these high expectations of myself and this vision I could make my dreams a reality. I wasn’t satisfied with the bare minimum. Still to this day, I don’t know how to be satisfied with myself.
With that, it entails taking risks as a human, in your sport and in life. Within those risks, you’re pushing boundaries and trying to become the best version of yourself. That’s something that can evolve throughout your whole life. That's the thing I'm addicted to — and that's the thing surfing has provided me.
Q. What do you like about Laird Apparel's clothing line?
When I saw the Laird Apparel product for the first time, I liked the colors — it’s all Earth tones. The product itself is top-notch. I’m someone who lives in tees, soft shorts, and soft pants. That’s exactly what they have.
Photo courtesy Laird Apparel
"Their apparel is equipment built for people on the move, people who are outdoors, and it's something that’s durable and reliable. It's incredible stuff."
Photo courtesy Laird Apparel
I was actually blown away when I tried it on for the first time. I would highly recommend it.
Photo courtesy Laird Apparel
Q. Run us through your quiver. What are you currently riding?
I've been riding twin fins and getting off my thruster. Matt Pagan is someone who's a close friend, and he’s been shaping alternative surfboards, more specifically, twin fins. The Pagan Modern Twin is the name of the model, and there are variations to it. Riding these twin fins has opened my eyes to all sides of my surfing. It's shown me the different lines you can draw on a wave.
Riding different equipment has helped my surfing all around. It really teaches you how to be patient on a wave, how to time things better, and it opens your eyes and mind to all these possibilities.
"It's important to get onto different equipment, because it translates to who you are as a surfer. Look at someone like Laird, he never rides the same board. He’s on everything that can be in the water."
It makes me think that I should, you know, get into foiling. I should be on a prone paddleboard. They all contribute to each other and make you a better athlete. It’s a really good excuse to get out when the waves are bad and try something you normally wouldn’t try. I’m enjoying that process right now.
Like you said before, improving your surfing is a never-ending process. Is there anything about your surfing that you've been fine-tuning lately?
"Surfing’s crazy — you’re trying to perfect something that you’ll never master. That’s my drive every day; I want to be the best I can be."
Specifically, I’m really working on timing and flow between maneuvers. A lot of that comes down to having mental clarity and patience. The training I’m doing with Laird and the ice baths go into that. Your mind can be racing ahead so fast especially when you're on a wave, and it's all about calming yourself down. You’re trying to dance with the wave and link your maneuvers in the perfect section. That’s something I’m really trying to focus on and make it look good.
I'm also trying to surf better waves, going places where these waves allow that kind of training. I'm trying to travel a lot this year and put myself in a position to improve.
I've been dialing in my equipment so I’m ready for all types of conditions, too.
It’s hard, but it’s so rewarding when you nail a wave. Every day in the water is different, so being prepared for everything is important too, and that’s what makes it fun. That’s why I'll be doing it for the rest of my life.
Photo by Blake Vigil
What about competition? Any thoughts on putting the jersey on in the future?
I’ve had that in the back of my head. I do Boardriders events for fun here locally in the South Bay to be a part of the community. I’ve had the thought in the back of my head ... should I do a few QS events and see how I do?
I didn’t come from a surfing background, where you need to compete and you're bred into this World Tour athlete … I just got into surfing because I loved it and became addicted to it. Competing was never a part of that, really. Now, I feel like I really honed in on my craft, though I still have more work to do.
"My end goal probably isn’t to be on the World Tour, but I would like to throw my name in the ring and do a couple QS events."
When surfing becomes monotonous, burnout happens. It sounds like you've found a way to keep the sport fun and exciting. How have you managed to do this?
Surfing and the ocean have provided me with so much joy. It's a daily challenge, a competition I get to have with myself. Anyone can do that for themselves too. No matter what your skill level is, you can set your own surfing goals, and that's something I do every time I surf. I always have something I'm working on, whether that’s catching a certain amount of waves, getting 3 turns on a left, something like that.
"I recommend having specific goals for yourself — you might not achieve them in that session, but it gives you something to look forward to outside of just the love and joy of riding waves."
I’m so blessed to be in the position I am in right now. As a kid, I wanted to create this life for myself. I didn’t go the traditional route — I worked full-time, then started my own freelance creative agency to help make surfing my career. I treasure this time in my life. I'm enjoying this moment, and doing everything I can to become a better surfer.
Photo by Blake Vigil
You’ve carved your own path as a professional surfer, which isn't easy to do. What advice do you have for others looking to do the same?
"I would tell anyone who’s trying to become a pro surfer or make surfing their career that no one’s going to believe in you if you don’t believe in yourself. You have to be your number 1 fan. Do everything to put yourself in a position to be the best version of yourself in and out of the water."
Another part of it is working within your local community. For me, being from the South Bay, I invest in relationships. I try and be a positive person on social media, too. You want to be a role model. I think we’re all put here on this Earth for a reason, and I want to leave my legacy and have a positive impact not just on surfing, but as a human too. Surfing is one of the ways I can make change in the world and connect with the most people.
By embodying that spirit, believing in yourself, and honing that craft, opportunities will come your way. But you have to prepare yourself for those opportunities a year, two years, three years down the road.
Last question for you: what's your favorite thing about surfing in the South Bay?
My favorite thing about surfing in the South Bay is our winter season. It’s slept on, I think. We get really cool sandbars that form up. If you know where to look, you can get some really fun waves.
"There are plenty of barrels to be had ... if you know where to look."
I grew up here, so I know so many people. Every time I paddle out, I see a friend and get to meet a new friend. It's a really cool feeling. The South Bay has molded me into the surfer I am.
To learn more about Laird Apparel's mission and clothing line, visit their website.