Kalani Robb on life as an extra in a world of stereotypes. And why he quit so soon!
It’s ten years now since this very handsome professional surfer split the tour in a huff. (“Those judges! Goddamn ’em all to hell!“) He wanted to join the circus of Hollywood.
Oh but if life was that simple! Kalani was once one of the highest-paid surfers in the world but now lives in southern California, duking it out at casting calls with some success (cameos in Forgetting Sarah Marshall and Blue Crush), surfing Lowers instead of Teahupoo and Fiji, and learning all about the American legal system as fights to get his wealth back from the parents he’d employed to caretake his money while he surfed.
BEACHGRIT: You were contemptuous of the tour and you left well before your time after Marcelo Nunes beat you in Japan in 2005, at least according to the esteemed judging panel. It was so premature. But we miss!
KALANI: Yeah, I was bitter. Pissed off. Like anyone else would be on tour that gets a bum call. But, it’s how it goes. For me, I had earned my stripes as far as my reputation. There wasn’t much more to do. I’m not, like, stupid. Kelly is the best guy in the world. Everybody knows that. Even if I was to win a world title, like everybody had touted me, that guy is still the best guy in the world… I wanted to shake up surfing, to expand all of our world into TV and the movies. I wanted to be the soldier. Surfing’s big but Hollywood’s… huge.
BEACHGRIT: In hindsight, do you wish you’d hung out a little longer, picking up y’one mill or so a year? Taj is still top five, still succeeding and still ogling and fiddling…
KALANI: I love Taj. I live vicariously through Taj, secretly. He’s my boy. We grew up together. Half the finals I made growing up, we traded off firsts and seconds. I think that if I had that support that he did, maybe it would’ve been different. I went kinda rogue. I went for… Fox. That was the craziest thing right there. I wanted to prove to myself that I could literally ride for a company that’s dirt-biking and make it a surfing industry thing. And look at where Fox is today. I’ve singlehandedly brought them to where they are. For eight years I was their sole rider. Maybe it wasn’t the smartest thing to do.
BEACHGRIT: How well do you think you moved from the tour to real life?
KALANI: I will completely admit I didn’t transition over as soon as I should of. I did a lot of stupid moves. I work on emotion a lot of the time. It made it a ballsy move but I wanted to make that move when I was young so if I fuck up, at least I’ll be able to pull off what I want to pull off. I always want to be in surfing. Let’s be reasonable. The best asset I have is to show my surfing and surf the best I can and have someone that can market that. That’s what I’ve been born and bred to do. I’ve been born and bred to be a surfer. I grew up on the North Shore, I grew up around the best guys in the world, I was groomed by the best guys in the world, I became one of the best guys in the world. I was one of the most invested-in surfers in the world with all these big companies that spent millions of dollars on me. I’m kinda like a product of surfing.
BEACHGRIT: When Bobby Martinez blew up, were you shrieking into the television, “Noooo! It ain’t easy this life after pro surfing!”
KALANI: Bobby’s way was a little bit more gangsta. But his message was still the same: he’s not down with the politics. He said it how it was. I was fucking cringing when I heard him say it, but the truth of the matter is, a lot of people agree.
BEACHGRIT: The thing about guys like Bobby, who wear their hearts so brilliantly on their sleeve, is the reality of making a stand. A month later no-one cares about the point you so gallantly, so vociferously made… And pro surfing is the easiest way in the world to make six figures…
KALANI: Very, very good. Absolutely. Absolutely. Let’s be real, that’s the nature of the beast. But as the surf industry says, there’s a younger kid that’s 15 years old that will surf twice as long as you, go bust his ass for less than you to prove himself, that’s for absolute sure. But Bobby, he was rare. He was a diamond in the rough. He’s a rare, rare breed. If he wanted to stick with it, I tell you what, man, living here in California, and seeing the Hispanic neighbourhoods, he’d be the biggest thing…ever. He had the potential to be the…biggest… surfer…ever.
BEACHGRIT: How do you see the sponsor money breakdown at the moment? It ain’t what it used to be. Just ’cause your pretty good doesn’t warrant a salary anymore…
KALANI: They took the lower-class out, the middle-class is gone and now it’s just the upper-class making the millions. When I made my money it was more like hundreds of thousands, close to millions, but when you got close to millions, you’re like, whoa, they’re the gnarly guys. We used to always talk about millions and millions and millions and millions and it’s good to finally see it. I’m really proud of how far surfing’s gone.
BEACHGRIT: Y’don’t ever lament being born 10 years too soon?
KALANI: I have nothing to complain about! If I complain I’d be the biggest shithead ever! I had it good. If anything, I’m shocked I was making high six figures. That’s what I was used to my whole life. I was making top dollar back then. Fuck, I’m glad I didn’t grow up in the seventies.
BEACHGRIT: Are you surprised by the brevity of fame
KALANI: I don’t give a fuck about any of that fame or nothing… I wasn’t caught in that scene or ever thought of it… As a matter of fact, if fame is the word, I think that I have more fame or more popularity now than in my entire life. I crossed into being on television shows, being in movies, commercials. To tell you the truth, I literally would be more famous than ever. That’s what’s a little baffling to me.
BEACHGRIT: Were you smart with your money in that golden period?
KALANI: Ohhhhhhh! You would not believe the shit and drama over here in America. I mean, I’m not Sunny (Garcia), not paying taxes and going to jail, but I had some weird trips. I’ll put it to you like this. I entrusted everything from my money to my houses my whole thing to my parents. Every son believes their mother and father has their best interests at hand. And to make a long story short, they didn’t have my best interests at hand. And in the last couple of years I got married and when I told ’em, hey guys, I got married, I’ve moved on with my life, than you very much for handling my taxes, handling my real estate and taking care of my money. I actually had to pay my mom a salary for it. And I said, I want to get everything together, I want to handle my shit, and it was like, “No, it’s my shit now. It’s not yours.”
KALANI: …yeah, and I was like, okay, fuck…long story short, my parents are living in my house and I live my life and I have to deal with a lot of attorneys and shit like that. It’s the lamest family position you could possibly be in, having a brand new marriage, having a brand new baby. It was a bummer and embarrassing. But, if anything, it’s a good warning to kids. Young kids have to be really careful.
BEACHGRIT: How does it affect the relationship, this estrangement from your very parents?
KALANI: Oh, dude, it’s like a bad movie. It’s like you’re watching a bad movie and you want to change the channel because it fucking sucks and you can’t and you gotta sit there and watch the whole movie unfold, and be part of it. It doesn’t seem real. But, since it happened other famous athletes have said, hey dude, this has happened to a lot of people. It’s sooo…common. Some parents get caught up in the kid’s lifestyle and they think that it’s their lifestyle and it’s their life and their money, especially when you go, hey, can you control this for me? And let’s be reasonable, when you’re sitting in a house rent free, a very…nice house… rent free, and you have a bank account that’s just blowing up and you’re sitting there and it’s not yours but you can use any money you want because it’s my son’s, you become accustomed to that feeling. And you don’t wanna give that up. This is mine now. You’re my son, you don’t know shit. It’s bizarre.
BEACHGRIT: What did it teach you?
KALANI: That in life, y’gotta pay attention.