Originally published in Heavy Water Magazine
by Dusty Middleton
Oct. 27, 2004
The Pile is a solid ten feet and bowling. It’s late afternoon and there’s only a few people in the water. Kohl’s sitting just outside the boil, relaxed. The swells that pass by feather in the trades before unloading on the inside. The spray falling around us jingles in the silence.
Kohl looks over with a grin, with the crazy eyes of a man who loves heavy waves. “They’re talking to us,” he says, wiggling his fingers and cupping his ear. “What’s that? What are they saying?”
He laughs, eyes shimmering as the next set bulges outside. He spins around for the first one, dropping smoothly down the face. The barrel behind him could fit a semi-truck.
On the big days (whether it’s out at the Bay, 2nd Reef Pipe, or floating with a few friends on an outer reef) Kohl wants the waves that instill fear in the rest of us.
He has a simple passion for the ocean. It has nothing to do with the industry, contests, or money. It’s about watching the 8 p.m. buoy hit 20 feet 25 seconds, and feeling the excitement build. Hearing the ocean thunder, the set waves shaking the houses up in Pupukea. Climbing out of bed at 4:10 a.m. and pulling on heavy clothes. Loading up the ten footers and heading down the hill to the Bay. Getting to the beach well before first light.
“Those are like rituals nowadays,” says Kohl of predawn Waimea. “It seems like it’s a gathering of old friends. I wouldn’t miss it for the world… good times.” Kohl’s grateful for the time he’s spent surfing and learning Waimea with friends like Clark Abbey, Greg Quinn, and John Taba. And having been able to share outer reef sessions with friends like Chris Freed, Kirk Bierke, Mark Healey, and Dave Wassel, everyone pushing each other to reach new levels.
Kohl, now 27, grew up surfing the stormy reef passes of Kailua. The years spent motoring around in little boats searching for waves in wild seas set a foundation for a life of searching the world for perfection.
At eighteen he left Oahu to live on Rapa Nui for six months. He walked amongst the Mo’ai and rode a horse to go surfing. He continued on to Chile and fell in love with the land of cold left-hand points. In the years since, he has managed to take full advantage of winters on the North Shore and summers in foreign lands. Living in Tahiti and South America, surfing Indo, West Australia, mainland Mexico, and fishing across a huge swath of the South Pacific.
Traveling every summer to search out unknown waves is an impressive feat for a kid with no sponsors who has worked as a carpenter to survive. Earning a living and being able to afford the necessary equipment can be tricky, especially when time is needed to train.
Survival is an important goal for a man who has dealt with two-wave hold downs at 20 foot Waimea, swimming in from Himalayas, and lickings that would break the average surfer. Spearfishing and rigorous training are important parts of flat spells. Hunting mahi in blue water has similarities to hunting out the perfect bowl. “I’d like to get better,” says Kohl nodding towards a freediving video he’s been studying, “there’s just endless improvement in spearfishing, breath holding, all that stuff.”
On the outer reefs, in the midst of jet-ski/tow-in mania, Kohl and his peers hold an important place in the surfing world. Though most of the guys riding twenty foot days don’t get much attention from the media or money from the industry, their satisfaction is fulfilled from the ocean. “Who wouldn’t love to get paid to surf,” says Kohl shrugging, “but I think I’m doing all right.”
His younger brother Nick, who in the last few years has clocked just about as much time out on the big days, understands the level of surfing and the handful of guys paddling in when the North Shore hits 20 feet. “Everyone out there knows who he is and respects him for what he does,” says Nick. “And that’s being pretty crazy.”
Though basically unknown in the surf media, Kohl is definitely known out in the water. When he drops into a 12-foot bomb at Pipe the posse yells his name, cheering him into the beast. Randall Paulson, who gets some of the best waves and best coverage out at Pipe, sees Kohl as an inspiration.
“He deserves to be in the Pipe Masters and the Eddie Aikau,” says Randall. “Kohl pushes me to go bigger and deeper out at Pipe, and I love him for that. It makes me get the dream waves of my life.”