By Cash Lambert
Moments after Kelly Slater had won the 2016 WSL Billabong Pro Tahiti over John John Florence in August, Kelly was smiling and roped with a victor’s splendor: a lei and crown. After the 11-time World Champion posed for the cameras, he sat down inside one of the many boats with Kaipo Guerrero, who was broadcasting for the WSL webcast.
It’s easy to imagine what was running through Kaipo’s mind. From the channel at Teahupoo, he had a front row seat to one of the best heats of the year that included two icons of the sport, with lush mountains in the background and crystal clear water underneath him beckoning.
The moment looked incredible. Stunning. And overwhelming for anyone, really. But not for Kaipo. He pulled out Kelly’s winning words in interview form, as if they were two friends talking story over beers.
This moment, along with Kaipo’s career as a whole, is an example of the grand collision that occurs when preparation meets opportunity. So what prepared Kaipo to be able to talk in such relaxed fashion during a moment that dripped with saltwater and adrenaline?
“The Uncles at the beach,” he said. “When I was growing up in Waikiki, everyone could talk story. All the Beach Boys naturally talked story, they were naturally entertainers. As a kid, whether you know you’re learning it or not, you learn by being around them, learning how to tell stories and how to entertain.”
A few weeks after the 2016 Billabong Pro Tahiti, Kaipo admitted that he was still having withdrawals from the blues, hues and sights and sounds from Teahupoo.
“I’d float out on a boat for 8-10 hours in the channel, then catch a ski in to the broadcast house, work, then hop back on a ski and head back out to float in the channel,” he said. “It was special because I grew up on boats. Kelly [Slater] would hang out on our boat, it was a little flotilla. It was a dream.”
Spend any time with Kaipo, and the Town native – who serves as the Territory Manager for both Rip Curl and FCS, along with broadcasting for the WSL – pulls you into conversation like a rip current. This, combined with his warmth, charisma, unique insight and ability to relate makes him a favorite webcaster among not just the Hawaii community, but the collective surf community as well.
“I was psyched to hang out and work in Tahiti and you know…Kelly, Tom Curren and John John Florence, they have this wave god thing where they can summon waves,” he continued. “It’s a spiritual thing or connection with ocean. Others probably have it but those 3 stand out. Literally, epic waves turn the corner and come to them.”
If being a wave god is indeed a gift bestowed to these three, Kaipo’s gift is certainly his outgoing personality. “Uncles would always be making jokes and connecting with people from all around the world,” he said, again alluding to his early years. “It became comfortable for me to transition into announcing, and now transition into broadcasting because of those times growing up with the Beach Boys, because of that old local talk story style. That’s getting to be a lost art today. We have social media, and that’s still communication, but its not sit down under a tree and talk story, you know?”
Talking story on the beach under trees is exactly where Kaipo’s surfing life began. He spent his days in Waikiki with his grandfather and father. “It was natural to get into canoe paddling,” he said. “That led to surfing. Guys I called Uncles – like Rabbit Kekai – were legends and as I kid, I had no idea.”
Gleaning insight from the Beach Boys wasn’t the only benefit Kaipo received as a young adult growing up entrenched in the surf community. Matt Warshaw’s Encyclopedia of Surfing ranked the top celebrity romances within the sport, and Kaipo made number 2 on the list.
Who was his “celebrity romance”? Madonna.
“I’m stoked I made the list, even number 2!” he said after hearing that it was ranked above other “romances” like Kelly Slater and Pam Anderson and Laird Hamilton and Gabby Reece.
Warshaw writes that after Kaipo was asked to serve as local boy talent in a photoshoot, “a few weeks later, Kaipo Guerrero, easily the best-looking high school senior in all of Honolulu, got the post-shoot call up and flew out for the Japan leg of Madonna’s world tour.”
“She was super powerful, so driven, and so smart,” said Kaipo.
Other benefits weigh more heavily and more important in his mind though – those that came later in life. Like his Territory Manager position, starting a family, and then, in 2008 came an opportunity at the Xcel Pro in Sunset Beach.
“The founder of Xcel asked how I felt about being on the microphone, and I said yes I can do it. He gave me chance. The next winter, Randy Rarick called me and asked if I would announce at the Triple Crown, that’s when I was blown away. It’s so incredible to think back, and this year marks my 7th or 8th Triple Crown.”
During the Triple Crown, Kaipo makes a significant effort to bring back his roots, to keep those talk stories under the tree relevant.
“I try to inject a couple of Hawaiian words while broadcasting, and I think it’s respectful, it’s educational,” he said. “My view of the Hawaiian language, we only came through the Renaissance in 70s so I think it’s important to bring it back, even if it’s not full sentences, just to learn words and use those words in everyday conversation. If you don’t use it, you lose it. It’s easy to add in pau, pono or aloha into your vocabulary.”
After several successful runs during the Triple Crown, the WSL took notice and, according to Kaipo, “asked out of the blue.” The job has not only given him a plane ticket to WSL Tour stops in Brazil, Huntington Beach and Tahiti; Kaipo also sees the behind the scenes actions that viewers can’t.
Like the fact that “when competitors lose, fans ask them to take selfies with them, and often the fans don’t know if they won or lost the heat. The competitors are incredible, they put that smile on and keep it together.”
There’s fruitful friendships and inspiring moments, too: “Mick Fanning is a friend, and I trip out on that factor,” Kaipo said. “Guys like Mick and Kelly, they’re gentlemen and they live their life cool, they aren’t arrogant and give back to communities. They’re so inspiring.”
What’s the difference between Xcel Pro Kaipo, green to the intricacies of broadcasting and announcing and today’s Kaipo, cool, calm and collected in front of the WSL cameras?
“I’ve now learned how to be better paced with information I’m giving,” he said. “I’m better at communicating insight and I’ve grown in that way, just getting the point across at a pace and inflection people are receptive to.”
And what advice does he have for those wanting to be holding the microphone?
“First do your homework, know things about the athletes in the competitions. That way you have that base and that talking point with them,” he said. “When you’re well prepared, you’ll be less nervous. Always remember as an announcer, as reporter it’s not about you. It’s about the athlete. Sometimes you may want to give personal reference, but it’s not about you, you want to focus on what the athlete is trying to communicate. And get to know people as human beings, not just professional athletes. Everyone has a human factor, and you can learn more fascinating stories about how people got to where they’re at.”