'Conan' star Momoa talks UFC, surfing, rugby

Fri, Aug 19
10:18
AM ET

Jason Momoa is a physical specimen -- 6-5, 225 pounds -- and is currently starring as Conan the Barbarian in the reboot of the movie, which opened Friday.

But the same guy who just played invincible warlord Khal Drogo in HBO's "Game of Thrones" says he'd be no match for the UFC.

"Oh, no. Those guys, they're amazing," he said, saying he'd just recently attended his first UFC bout. "I act it. I'm not really tough. I'm definitely not to that level at all. "It was the [expletive] coolest thing I've ever seen."

The rugged Momoa might not be acting at all, though, if it wasn't for his love of the outdoors.

He was born in Hawaii, but moved with his mother to Norwalk, Iowa, where he grew up. A self-professed "outcast," he was more into skateboarding than he was wrestling or football. But his love of soccer (he said he was a sweeper) earned him a scholarship offer to Fort Lewis College in Durango, Colo. After considering the opportunity, he realized he might not be able to commit to the school.

"I knew i was going to climb [mountains] and [expletive] off and snowboard in Colorado," Momoa said. "I turned it down because I wanted to go climb."

He fell for Colorado, though, and took a job waiting tables in Fort Collins, where he did exactly what he said he would do. "I was a snowboard bum and a climbing bum." That all changed when he saw the surf movie "In God's Hands" about big-wave, tow-in surfers. "I saw that," he said, "And I was like, 'I'm outta here.'"

Momoa's great uncle, Buffalo Keaulana, is one of surfing's living legends. His uncle, Brian Keaulana, worked on the movie, and Momoa decided it was time to head back to Hawaii and get back to surfing. He worked at the family surf shop, and started surfing 18-20 foot waves with his family.

"Dropping in on that, you have to know what you're doing," he said. "I'd never done that. Your legs are just shaking, it's just so much adrenaline."

It was in Hawaii, where he landed his first acting role, on "Baywatch Hawaii."

Momoa is still passionate about sports. He's been ice climbing in Canada, Tibet, Japan, China, Italy and France. He lived in Australia for several years, and became an ardent fan of New Zealand's rugby team, the All Blacks, even going to a match in Ireland last year to watch the Irish play them.

And now Mamoa, who was a huge fan of the original Robert E. Howard "Conan" stories, is starring as one of his favorite characters, because he wasn't sure he was disciplined enough to play college soccer.