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Monday, November 19, 2012
Updated: December 5, 12:50 AM ET
Interview: Kamalei Alexander

By Jake Howard

For as good as surfer as he is and the pedigree he carries Kamalei Alexander doesn't get the credit or spotlight he's due. But he knows more than anybody, nothing comes easy. Given the hand life dealt him, he's never been one to shy away from challenge or adversity. He grew up on Kauai. His dad wasn't around much. His mother tragically lost her life in a flash flood in 1993 when he was just 13. Younger brother to Kala Alexander, Kamalei came of age with the likes of Andy and Bruce Irons, Danny Fuller, Reef McIntosh, Dustin Barca and other notables. They were merciless on each other both in and out of the water.

By the turn of the century the Wolf Pak, as they would come to be known, took the Pipeline by storm. Andy would be the best surfer in the world three times over. They were feared, respected, and credited with restoring order to an out-of-control Banzai lineup. On a recent trip to Tahiti, one of Alexander's favorite places in the Pacific, ESPN Surfing sat down with him to reflect and reminisce on the way things were, and maybe where they're going. A couple of weeks ago his sponsor, Burton-owned Analog, announced they were cutting their surf program, which left the father of a baby girl out of a job. He'll manage, but he did have this to say about it all:

Growing up on Kauai, what was it like?
Well, I like to think I'm a nice person, but at the same time I can be kind of grumpy, kind of a prick -- but I know it, you know. I think that's a big hurdle in people's lives, identifying who we really are. It hardens a person growing up under such critical circumstances. Your peers -- Andy, Bruce, Reef, whoever -- see you get the best wave of your life but it's so competitive you never get a compliment. The last thing you get is a compliment. They'll barely even look at your wave. So between that and the name calling and intense pressure growing up to not crack, it wasn't easy. You didn't have to grow up and be something, you just couldn't crack under the pressure of your peers. It's like I was telling my friend today, you know that saying, "You can't bullsh-t a bullsh-tter"? Well, everyone on Kauai's a pretty good bullsh-tter. It's funny, you can see people coming from a mile away and you can tell right away whether they're real or fake. I'm not a psychic or anything, but I can definitely tell a bullsh-tter a mile away, and I think it's the same for everybody on Kauai. Every island has their little differences, but Kauai, with the waves there are and the talent there is, we're monsters in some way, shape or form. Some of these guys are monsters in the water, it's a no-holds barred attitude.

You don't see photos coming out of Kauai like you do Maui or obviously Oahu, what's your attitude on that?
You know what, it's such a big bunch of BS. Not in the sense of the Titus Kinimaka era and how he kept it quiet, but this day and age, it's 2012, it's no secret and there's a million people that live there. Majority of the people that want to change it aren't from there. It's just the same as everywhere, same in Tahiti. The grumpiest guys are the people that moved here. Whatever. I don't want to start naming people. But you know, there have been photos run of Kauai as long as people have been surfing there, and of course I can see people protecting it, but who doesn't want to go there? I can't blame people for wanting to come, it's paradise. Of course you're going to want to protect your land and your waves and stuff, but there's no reason we shouldn't be able to make a living off of the place. Times have changed. I've had photos of me run from Kauai and I know a lot of other people that have too. I mean, Laird [Hamilton] lives there, and he's such a drama case. I don't want to get into it really. We had an argument awhile ago. I guess I just feel that he's not setting the best example that he could be, being a leader of the pack. The whole Kauai photo thing is a weird one. We all have a price, I guess, and I don't differ. We have to put food on the table somehow.

Lets talk a little about the group of guys that came over from Kauai, came to Oahu and asserted their control on the Pipe lineup. Take me back to the start of the Wolf Pak.
Chava [Greenlee], Braden [Dias], Andy and Bruce [Irons], Reef [McIntosh], Roy [Powers], Dustin [Barca], Danny [Fuller]. I'd say the whole start of this whole Wolf Pak trip was a couple things. First, a group of us moved over to Oahu from Kauai. But it wasn't just people from Kauai, you didn't have to be from Kauai to be in the Wolf Pak. It was people from all the islands standing up for each other. The North Shore is Hawaii, and we're Hawaiians, you know. I don't want to say we have rights or anything like that because my wife will get mad at me, but still ... there was such chaos in the lineup at Pipe. Dane [Kealoha] and Johnny Boy [Gomes] and Marvin Foster, they'd all kind of gone on to different things and the hierarchy in the lineup was gone. So it was just kind of a resurgence of a hierarchy, regaining control of the lineup. Other than that, the Wolf Pak just kind of became something the media latched onto. Andy was winning titles. My brother tried to make a brand out of it. It did alright, but not good enough. Now he works for a cystic fibrosis charity and genetics lab. He's stoked doing that and helping kids now. It keeps him busy. It's good to keep him busy.

Now you're a new father, a young daughter, how's that changed your perspective on everything that came before?
Yeah, I have a baby girl, her name is Virginia. She's healthy and beautiful. She's only five months old, but seems so advanced. Obviously the first thing you want is for them to be healthy and happy, and it's just been amazing. At first I thought I really wanted a boy, but now I'm just so in love with my baby girl it's mind boggling. I haven't seen her for like 10 days now, it sucks. I don't think I ever want to be without her and my wife again. I love it.

She's named after your mother?
Yeah, Virginia, after my mom. I can't say I don't like shock value, but when I introduce her to people they're all expecting this Hawaiian name then I tell them it's Virginia and the look on their faces is funny. It's classic.

And your mother passed away when you were a kid?
My mom died in a flash flood in 1993. I was 13 years old. She was so nice. My dad was never there. I never blamed him for not being there, but he was never around and my mom trusted my little regiment that I had and she let me hitchhike around. I've come to the belief that everything happens for a reason. Things just are how they are, you know? I see a lot of people that seem like they're very stuck in something or somewhere, like they have blinders on. This is one of my good examples, the reason you stubbed your toe and stood on the side of the road cursing and crying could be the reason you didn't get hit by a bus, you know? A coconut could have fallen on you head if you'd taken another step. Life's so full of detail, but sometimes the easiest things are the hardest to see.

Full circle, where do you want your surfing to go from here? What are you after?
I was sponsored by Volcom, then Nathan Fletcher came to me with a chance to ride for Analog, which at the time was a good opportunity. It was the difference of being on a team with four riders as opposed to 400. Anyway, it came to a point where I wasn't working hard enough. And I think Nathan even came to me and said I needed to step it up. And ever since then I've really been trying to not take it for granted. Work hard, build strong relationships. After my daughter's birth I've just been trying to pick up the pace and make sure everything's good at home. I want to get paid to surf as long as I possibly can. I love it. It's given me everything. My family and friends, it gives me the best feeling in the world when I jump in the water. It's the fountain of youth. Getting in that water, man, a good cutback roundhouse barrel, get spit out of a good tube, you can't really put a price on that.

Parko once told me ever since he had kids he appreciates his surfing that much more because there's such a constraint on your time, do you feel like that?
For sure. Parko's had kids for quite some time. Hats off to the guy for doing so well. He has a big family. That's a big responsibility being who he is. He's always remained a really nice person. I'm sure he really want to win that title, but in everybody else's eyes he's pretty well off. He has like 18 cars, 25 pieces of property. But he wants that trophy, eh. But at the end of the day, back to the point, he's happiest with his family and his babies.

While we're name dropping, you mentioned Nate Fletcher. He's had a pretty big year. Are you guys tight?
Yeah, Nathan, jeez. For him to go out of his way and to see something in me, something that maybe nobody else did, to come at me with the Analog offer I feel like I'm forever indebted to him. The relationships that I've gained from him, and not to mention lessons I've learned. I've traveled with him, stayed on the North Shore with him, and he has a work ethic like no other. He might even excise now. I know he exercises those two shoulders his when he's paddling into everything in sight. I've learned a lot from Nathan in and out of the water. He's a surfer's surfer, you know. He just loves to surf big and small waves with this intensity.

And what about your equipment, you always seem to have an interesting board with you?
Yeah, I've been with Channel Islands for awhile now. They're amazing. It was a sponsor I didn't think I'd ever get. For that to come into place, Travis Lee, Blake and all those guys. Al Merrick, god bless his wisdom and everything he's brought to surfing. I try and help as much as I can, design, quality control, and all that. They have Kelly, Dane, and then there's little, old me. There's always a position or role to be played, and that's something I'm coming to grips with. You don't have to be the best. Sometimes just being able to accommodate people, make them feel at home, be friends first, that's important. I have the best scenario with Channel Islands, it's like family ... not to mention they make the best surfboards in the world.

What's the next act?
I'd like to try and get into webcasting. Not that it's an end-all, but it's nice to get out there and have people see your mug. I feel like the best webcasts are the ones where the commentators know a lot about surfing, experts, kind of like when you're watching golf. I've seen a lot, I think I could offer something. And coaching and helping the next generation. It's easy to think that doesn't have a big impact, but look no further than the work Pancho [Sullivan] and Braden [Dias] did with Carissa Moore. It makes a big difference, and I think I have something to share and give back to the kids coming up. We have to take care of our own, you know?