by Cash Lambert
“It’s not as crazy as it used to be,” says Dave Riddle, holding binoculars in front of his eyes. We’re perched on the second floor balcony of the Volcom house, seated in chairs and watching the first day of action at the 2016 Volcom Pipe Pro.
The conditions! In front of us is nothing short of idyllic Pipeline: solid 8-10 foot, WNW surf. After Dave noted that things have calmed down at the Volcom house, I decided to not press for more information because the coach’s focus was on his guys, the swell and a folded up heat sheet clenched in his hands. Throughout the day, he made notes as Hawai’i’s Koa Smith rattled off back to back nines, Bruce Irons advanced from his round 1 seed, and two wildcards – Gavin Beschen and Balaram Stack – earned berths into the later rounds.
Allowing such wildcards in on the action is part of what makes the annual Volcom Pipe Pro unique. Because of its QS 3000 rating, hellman are handed an entrance ticket into a proving grounds arena with fat prize purses up for grabs, totaling $100,000.
Ground zero for the athletes during the 3-day contest are the Volcom houses, and both of which have haunting reputations and storied legacies. The one story house on the west side of the beach path reminisces on fond memories from the days of Pipemaster Finals with Andy Irons victorious and being chaired up the beach and straight to the house, where the party awaited its eternal King. The three deck house on the east side of the corresponding path speaks to the new and continuing the Volcom way.
I wanted to experience the entirety of the Volcom Pipe Pro at these houses, in order to put the Volcom reputation to the test. The narrative of the epic raging parties, the beatings…were they all true? Or embellished tales? And was this way of life – if true – still intact today?
Conducting such a case study could, inadvertently, land me a beating, per the reputation. Like, if I opened the wrong door to wake a snoozing Tai Vandyke, a notorious power surfing extraordinaire who runs the 3-story house and would certainly wake and hand me a black eye. Or, if I accidently left a speck of sand on my foot and had the unfortunate luck of walking past Kaimana Henry, the leader of the one story house and a fellow power surfer, a beatdown would inevitably ensue. I might even incur a slapping if someone inside the house simply thought I needed one.
So I dressed in all black to fit in, slipped behind the big men wearing XXL shirts that read “Volcom Security” patrolling outside the Volcom house, left my slippers on the porch, frantically rubbed any hint of sand off my feet, walked through a thick crowd surrounding the living room plasma TV, barreled up the wooden and creaky stairs, through someone’s room and onto the second story balcony where Dave Riddle, the man who has been Volcom’s storied and decorated surf coach for decades, sat with Imaikalani DeVault, both mesmerized by the action.
Before making my presence known to the two, I silently wondered if I would incur any wrath by interjecting during the precious coach/athlete time…if Dave would call up Tai or Kai or another Volcom-clad man to handle my frame. Suddenly Dave turned around and looked behind me.
My figure instantly became rigid like the casket I would soon occupy. Tai’s enormous, 6+ foot figure came into view, and what followed was an antithesis to my expectations and an antithesis to the reputation.
Tai smiled my direction and offered a gentle handshake. Dave followed suit, and the conversation with Dave took two courses: how the coach’s morning has been (“I got up at 5 am, was
here at 6”) and on the late Andy Irons (“Andy was all about the community. He made it about everyone. It wasn’t like he had won 3 World Titles..it felt like Hawai’i had won them”).
Then, the conversation morphed into what I came for: the juicy Volcom myth. “It’s not as crazy as it used to be,” Dave said, and as he continued following the action, the noise below on the first floor seemed to be on an elevator and only going up. I gazed down and the entire scene below resembled a family reunion: people pouring into the yard freely, Tai fiddling with the grill, Jason Shibata, another Volcom coach, shaking nearly every hand inside the yard, and the boys with the “Volcom Security” shirts on joining in on the fellowship.
“It depends on how you act yourself, says Tai Vandyke. “If you come here still in with a chip on your shoulder, you’re gonna get hell for it. But…everyone’s welcome.”
It’s the start of the second day of competition at the Pipe Pro, and we’re standing in one of the 2nd floor rooms with our eyes peering outside towards the contest arena. Tai was kind enough to offer another handshake and was willing to visit the topic of the Volcom mystique.
“Everybody gets one chance,” says Dave Wassel, who was sitting in the room. “It takes a whole lifetime to earn respect. It takes 5 seconds to lose it, plain and simple.”
“And you know, this is what they’re here for,” Tai says, pointing out the balcony and towards Pipeline. “By the way, it’s straight up 10 feet right now. And getting bigger.”
Moments later, the two disperse and I spot Dave Riddle, yet again perched on the second floor balcony, and decide to approach, posing the same question regarding the Volcom party days in hopes that he’ll take the bait that I couldn’t reel in the day before.
“The big continuous party is over,” Dave says. “It’s not like it was back in the day, it was just a party and surfing was there for the taking. Now surfing is so serious. It’s a party on occasion, that’s the best way to put it.”
“So the Volcom reputation…”
“We weren’t known for the beatings,” Dave continues. “We were more known for the party. Here, I’ll break it all the way down. We’re lovers. Not fighters.”
“When did things slow down?”
“After we got this house things tapered off. Look at the top 44 back in the day, it was one huge travel party with real talented guys who could go out and party the night before and get up and perform. Now everyone’s on their best behavior. Not to say there’s no party, but it’s after the event. The whole training, sobriety thing has benefited the sport. Older guys are saying ‘if I’m going to hang on to this’ and they have, Kelly, Mick, Joel, Taj…those guys aren’t really old comparatively speaking but they have 10,15 years on these kids. Look at them now, they are ripping themselves into top shape.”
The conversation gives way to the action in front, and the
day will see a host of Hawai’i’s best lay claim to some of the preeminent waves all winter. John John Florence will go on to post the highest heat total of the day, Ezekiel Lau will clock a perfect 10 in a cavern of a barrel, and Bruce Irons will jump from 3rd place to 1st with only 40 seconds left on the clock to advance into the next round.
“They’ve always been so cool to me,” says Imai DeVault during the final day of competition at the Volcom Pipe Pro. We’re sitting on a plush couch in the Volcom house talking story on the two house leaders: Tai Vandyke and Kaimana Henry, as well as the often discussed topic of respect with the 19-year-old, who became a Volcom-sponsored rider around the age of 7.
“So you’ve grown up here at the Volcom house, what do you think it’s taught you?”
“Probably just discipline. Back home my parents make me clean dishes, wash clothes and here I’m on my own and have to do my own stuff, but yeah just self discipline more than anything else.”
“Not many can say they’ve been so close with Tai and Kai…”
“Being close with them is an advantage,” Imai continues, “because they’re two guys who are really respected on the North Shore. People are intimidated and scared of them and it’s comforting to be on their side. They look really scary, but they’re really nice and cool.”
Taking in the room after Imai leaves to watch the heats firsthand, I notice a pile of oversized checks laying on perfectly made bed. Much would happen in between our discourse and the awards ceremony, where these checks would be given out to the top 4 all vying for bragging rights and a plump cash prize.
A second swell would fill in later in the afternoon, thickening the Pipeline lips as the waves mutated into monstrous green, avalanching mountains. As the final began in some of the best conditions the contest has historically seen, the Volcom house looked standing room only. The crowd shrieked as Kelly Slater pulled into deep pit after deep pit, quickly comboing the field. Makai McNamara, Jamie O’Brien and Bruce fought back with barrels of their own, but in the end no one threatened Kelly’s lead.
Post the awards ceremony, where Kelly, Jamie, Makai and Bruce respectively received their 1st-4th prize checks, the four competitors migrated with the crowd back up to the 3-story Volcom house, where the party had already began. Bruce arrived in the yard and showered off, still sporting his lei, as the music began pumping.
“The biggest meaning… was me making a final again and making a roll,” Bruce says, his eyes bright and magnificent and warrior-like, still dripping while unfastening a black knee brace. “This board…yeah it has my brother’s design on it. My brothers always with me, so I always got his mojo. This board is a tribute to him.”
I lean forward to help drown out the noise, increasing by the minute.
“They’re a big part of my growth,” Bruce continues after I asked for his thoughts on the golden days with his time spent with Volcom boys as a Volcom boy. “We’re brothers and we still are. Those days… are long gone but they were fun.”
“Do you miss that heyday, that time?” I yell over the now deafening roar of the party.
Bruce smiles and shrugs his shoulders. “The heyday misses me.”