The Lowdown: He’s been called the “Tommy Lee of surfing,” an athlete that is “strangely magnetic.” But Flea, at 31, has become one of the area’s most recognized phenoms. Back in the ’90s, he was lured to Mavericks and his daredevil attitude garnered the attention of more than just locals. Eventually, the world would see another surfing boom, and, thankfully, Flea helped fuel it. He’s been in countless surf tournaments around the world and is sponsored by significant sport organizations. He’s bonded with Mavericks, and now, he gets his feet wet on the big screen in Step Into Liquid.
Q: How did it all come about that you were chosen to be in this doc?
A: I rode the big waves and after winning contests at mavericks … I aw Endless Summer one and two. And my agent was talking the guys making the film and said, It might happen, it might happen… and they were psyched about using us—The Mavericks guys… and it worked.
Q: You were in the Maui segment of the filming? How was that?
A: Cool. It was hanging out with Laird and all the Maui boys. The waves weren’t good as need we wanted. I wanted something like they get at Jaws, something junky, but we checked it out and we got to see where we needed to be.
Q: In the film, they feature those funky new foil boards …ever try it? What do you think about it?
A: I think it’s definitely futuristic. And it’s pretty hard to ride and challenging for those guys. It’s another little toy to use; to play around with on Maui. You don’t have to put on a wetsuit over there, so that’s nice. But those things are pretty cool and they travel long distance without stopping; you can even ride the bump of the wave— definitely futuristic. Weird. I would try it. But I am not looking to take on a foil board and get into it, especially here where the water is cold water and there are sharks and there’s me, just stuck out in sea.
Q: Tell me a bit about your evolution as a surfer?
A: I was surfing all day, everyday from when I was little kid—probably since eighth grade—and I started really getting into it by the time I was a freshman in high school. I was super psyched on it. We made the surf team at Santa Cruz High what is today—we started it. We never got big headed about surfing or anything like that … once you start wining contest and you are getting better, but surfing is weird—you get better and then you fall into a funk where you are not getting better at all and then, all of a sudden, it’s like you do get better. When I was in high school BILL LONG and Bodyglove and Hotline were some of my sponsors. I really didn’t know what I was doing. Afterward, I moved to Maui and figured out I couldn’t live there after a couple of months. I didn’t have a car, lost all my money and so I moved back here and moved back in with pops. Finally, a sponsor paid me $200 a month [to surf professionally] and back then it was cool. Rent was only $300, so I just had to come up with $100. And then the big wave thing started happening and then Steamer Lane got really popular and then the Mavericks thing [in the first 1999 competition] and we were out there all the time paddling, and things blew up after that.
Q: You’re now considered a surf icon. What’s that like?
A: It’s cool, you know what I mean … to inspire people and help them try harder to be big wave surfers for all the right reasons I like to help the kids and figure out what they are dong, especially around here. I like to help kids with what they are doing with their careers. But it does get tiring after all while—the whole traveling around in competitions thing—and when you do come back to Santa Cruz, it feels good to be at home and you feel it is you home and you can just go to The Lane and just surf and know it’s your spot and not worry about the locals, because you are a local.
Q: What do you love most about surfing?
A: Just the fact you can go out there and be by yourself and just surf and paddle around and not worry about anything. You put on the suit by yourself, you have your own board and can pretty much get away from everyday worries and then, you are out there … you are part of the food chain and it’s kind of cool, you know, to look at sea otters and birds—you are part of that and you can get eaten at any time by a shark.
Q: Do you think about that a lot—the shark thing?
A: I try not to think about it too much, but you do… everybody thinks about it sometimes. When you are in the channel; when you are trying to catch big waves and there is no seaweed … You have more of a chance of getting struck by lightening but when you are in the seaweed, you don’t have to worry about the sharks so much.
Q: What sort of things has surfing taught you about life?
A: Just that you can be what you want to be life. As a child, I was scared. I thought, ‘What am I going to do to make money to live in this world?’ I knew I had some type of talent … so, I guess it’s that you can do whatever you want in life—that’s what surfing taught me. You just stick to your goals—and do them!
Q: Who’s been you biggest inspiration?
A: It’s a toss up. You know, Vince Collier (SP?) had always been there for me. He helped me out a lot, bringing me out to Mavericks. I would not be where I am today without him.
Q: Who’s your biggest inspiration in the surf world?
A: Man … just like Anthony Ruffo and the guys I grew up watching. And Richard Schmidt, a big wave rider.
Q: Any new surfers on the horizon you’re noticing?
A: Here in Santa Cruz?
A: Man … I can’t just name one because there are so many —there’s a lot of young guys and there’s some really great talent out there.
Q: Women’s surfing is getting a lot of attention these days. What do think about that?
A: Definitely a lot of hype around it right now and it’s good. They’re getting paid more than they ever were and getting more sponsors.
Q: What’s Shawn’s biggest strength?
A: Barney can do these things out there and you’re looking at him, and it’s like what the hell was that?
Q: What’s the most interesting thing about Peter’s technique?
A: He’s just a big guy. And he can go for it, you know what I mean? He’s got limber knees and just goes after it.
Q: What have you learned, from these guys—and it doesn’t have to be about surfing.
A: Friendship, for sure… but that you can go out and do anything you want. I learned that with these guys.
Q: Your moniker—Flea? How did you get it?
A: I was super small. Man, I was 4-foor, 11-inches. I was that way all the way until 11th grade, and when I took on the big waves they always told me I looked like a flea out there.