215: Cliff Kapono/Brother Cliff
The average professional surf, skate or snow career tends to follow a pretty set path. Five-to-ten years at the top, usually from the mid-teens to late-twenties, before time, injuries, and the shifting vagaries of the industry draw things to a close, and the rider heads off back into obscurity.
Any pro hoping for a career longer than this simple arc better find another string to their bow quickly, ideally something marketable alongside the actual board-riding ability, which kicks in as their actual ‘riding’ career draws to a close.
Then there’s Cliff Kapono. Somebody who has done things the opposite way round and, as a result, has surely carved out one of the most unique careers in surfing.
As Cliff explains, he realised at young age that talent wouldn’t be enough – especially when your peers are surfers like Clay Marzo. Instead, he focussed on science as much as surfing, using academia and his intellectual smarts as a way of surfing more.
Today, this unlikely route has propelled Cliff to the top of the surf industry – supremely respected as a surfer by his peers, while also having an increasingly important voice on some of the topics that also impact wider surfing and surf culture, such as climate change and colonialism.
Perhaps it’s because Cliff’s route to the top has been so unusual that he has such a reflective and insightful take on surfing, the surf industry, and the way we as surfers interact with our environment and the history that has impacted us in countless ways, whether we realise it or not.
I’ve wanted to chat to Cliff for a while, and this conversation didn’t disappoint. Hope you enjoy it.
Listen to the episode here: