Born Makuakai Aaron Rothman, the 29 year-old North Shore Oahu-grown Hawaiian has been an icon in the islands since birth. Fathered by living legend Eddie Rothman, co-founder of “Da Hui” surf brand, Makua was always pushed to do things bigger and better, especially when it came to surfing. Makua began riding waves at the early age of two, but because he was physically a larger kid growing up, bigger and more powerful waves fell in his favor. The fearless youngster quickly became recognized in surf media for his mature determination in heavy barreling conditions and domination of Sunset, Pipeline and V-land.
Naturally transitioning to tow-in surfing, at age thirteen Makua began big wave training with family friend (accomplished big wave surfer and tow-in pioneer) Darrick Doerner. The training led the way to a Billabong XXL Big Wave Challenge Award in one of the grandest spectacles of big wave tow-in surfing history, taming a 66-foot wave worth $66,000 and enshrining Makua Rothman as a household name. It’s been a decade since that mammoth wave, but Makua’s hunger for a ride of that frightening sort has never ceased. But this time he’s entered into a different lineup altogether… the world of music.
Makua’s music interest started young, when as a kid he liked to sing. Chorus class with Mrs. Shumway at Sunset Beach Elementary was one of the first muses that guided him to fall in love with music. His grandmother, Angie Grace Costa was an entertainer at the old Kodak hula show, as well as a performer in the prestigious Merrie Monarch Hula festival. Angie is also the woman responsible for putting the ukulele in young Makua’s hands, teaching him his first songs like “Surf” and “Opihi Man.”
“Dad pushed me to play all the time,” remembers Makua. After surf sessions in town at Ala Moana Bowls, his father would take him to music practice, where Makua would play Hawaiian songs with Uncle Iz (Israel Kamakawiwaole). Another muse came from his relation to the distinguished Cha and Tihati Thompson of Tihati Productions, the family who helped pioneer hula dinner shows in Hawaii. But with surfing at his forefront, Makua’s talent for music wasn’t publicized until just a few years ago.
Although his music career just recently took off, Makua’s music has been swiftly picking up speed. The newly marketed EP album, released December 2012, was titled after the white cement road of Makua’s childhood, Makanale Road. This Sunset beach local uses his vocals and ukulele, accompanied by a talented band of young friends, to belt out songs blending pop reggae vibes with the good island feeling of Hawaiian music.
Away from his busy schedule of rock shows and surf comps, Makua was gracious enough to take some time out for Freesurf, updating us on his musical progression:
What kind of music did you listen to when you were young?
Kuau Crater Boys, Braddah Iz, Tupac, Al Green, The Animals, Johnny Cash, Elvis, Led Zeppelin. Pretty much anything my family and friends had. We never had radio on the North Shore.
What were some of the biggest shows that you’ve played at?
In Australia I played with Mickey Avalon. I toured with Goldfinger and been throughout the US doing 13+ shows with Donavon Frankenreiter. The biggest show I played was probably with Kelly Slater in Israel, there were thousands of people. All the shows were good fun.
What’s it feel like to play in front of a massive crowd?
It feels incredible! It’s a blessing to play music if it’s for 5 or 5,000. If it wasn’t for music this world would be f-ed.
How do you compare playing big shows to riding big waves?
Nothing compares to whipping it under a 50-footer at Jaws. It was more like when I won the World Cup, feeling the entire beach scream and cheer for me. It feels like that. It’s an incredible feeling to hear 3,000 plus people scream for you.
How would you describe your music?
Good fun music. Roots Rock Aloha.
Tell me about the “Andy Irons tribute song” and how you were compelled to sing this for the late surf legend?
Andy Irons was my hero… When Andy won, everyone won. I just wanted to sing for my fallen friend. I see him in my dreams sometimes… keeping tabs on me from time to time.
What are your future goals for your music?
Well, I got signed to a record deal with Mountain Apple Records. I’ll have a full-length album coming out along with a smallkine tour with Pepper around this September. The ultimate goal is to spread aloha around the earth. Let people know that aloha is for everybody. Touch everyone with a little bit of aloha when they listen to my music. I just love to jam and represent for Hawaii. I want to make people proud to be Hawaiian again. Represent for my people, my nation. Try my best. Take after all the great great Hawaiians that came before me. That’s all.
What else is on the horizon for Makua Rothman?
Life, just enjoying it. Surf when the waves are good, jam when they’re flat. Big wave tour coming up in 2014, I’m looking forward to that.
Sponsors: RVCA, Oakley, Monster, Da Hui, js Surfboards, House of Marley, Koolau Ukulele’s (Wahiawa)