2 March, 2016 2 March, 2016

Underground Charger – Ethan Koopmans

South Africa produces some incredible watermen, and here we introduce another, in this interview with underground big wave charger, SUP hellman and ocean lover, Ethan Koopmans from Melkbos. Dougal Patterson spoke to Ethan about his season in Maui, a few sessions at Jaws and a 50km SUP race across the Channel of Bones.

Navigating through the Peahi bowl, not a drop of water out of place.

Why are you on Maui?
I have been living on Maui for a couple months now, working for Naish and doing yard work or what ever to make some extra cash. I have been staying with the Meola’s (Matt Meola’s mom) and it has been amazing. The whole family has really taken me in and made me feel at home. I still can’t believe how lucky I am to be staying with this awesome family and being a part of everything that goes down. I currently do not have a ticket home yet [laughs]. My plan is to stay until next Winter and maybe head home for a couple weeks to see friends and family but will definitely head back to Maui because I love it here and it’s a great place to try make a name for yourself.

Who are you?
I live in Melkbosstrand, Cape Town. I am one of the top Stand Up Paddlers in South Africa and represented SA at the ISA SUP World Games in Nicaragua (2014) and Mexico (2015). I surf and kite surf for fun and normally go up to Elands and Lamberts Bay with family and friends to camp for a couple days looking for cold barrels and good laughs.

What role has James Taylor played in your life?
James Taylor is the man! He has played a huge role in my life and my brother’s (Bas) life because he introduced us to big wave surfing and the big wave crew in South Africa. I will never forget the day he told us, in the car on our way to the Hoek, that we could surf Dungeons if we train, take free diving courses and get a feel for the big boards. I Was so stoked when I heard he was coming over for his second winter season at Jaws. There were a couple swells before James and the SA crew got here which was nice because I had to figure out the whole set up on my own which made me feel like I wanted it, I have always wanted to surf big waves but now I REALLY want it and love it.

“It was easily the hardest race of my life, I worked so hard to get there, I had to finish no matter what happened.”

Talk about the Molokai.
The Molokai is a big downwind race across the Channel of Bones between Molokai and Oahu. It is a 32 mile (51.5 km) long race and you need to have a safety boat next to you at all times. It was my first time doing this race and I entered the Solo 14ft SUP class, which was the stock class. There were over 300 competitors from around the world racing that day and it was supposed to be windy, but the wind never came. Instead there was big swell which made the race really choppy and wobbly. Especially on a SUP. No wind meant that the race time would be longer than the usual +4 hr race and way hotter. I finished 3rd in my class with a time of 5 hours and 50 mins, it was easily the hardest race of my life, I worked so hard to get there and raise the money for the safety boat and everything that I had to finish no matter what happened. I have entered the race again for this year and will be working hard to get a better result.

Talk about Jaws.
Man! Peahi (Jaws) has been so good this year! Everyone is saying it has been the biggest and most consistent year for a long time. When I first surfed it on a good, crowded day, I freaked out. Didn’t know were to sit, was to scared to catch a wave because I didn’t want to drop in on Shane, Albee, Kai or anyone else for that matter. There were so many drones flying, boats and skis in the channel and all the people on the cliff, crazy! It’s way different to surfing Dungeons or Sunset in SA where there is normally one or two boats at the most, and a couple seals watching you from the safety of their island at Dungeons. But you get used to everything and everyone is generally very friendly. I normally paddle out early to try and get a couple waves before it gets crowded. I had one of the best sessions of my life out there in the early morning. It was the day of that really big swell where Aaron Gold got his wave. I paddled out early and surfed really glassy, good waves with just myself, Kai Lenny and two other guys out. Kai paddled for one and didn’t get it so he shouted me on it and it was the most buttery take off ever, with a big long wall and I just held my line in the pocket, pulled off into the channel with my whole body shaking with excitement, adrenaline and pure joy. I was so stoked about everything. Not just about making the wave but, about watching this wave on movies and stuff my whole life and actually being there and surfing it with all your heroes is just amazing. The wipeouts out there are so heavy and you have to deal with so many factors like the wind, the big barrel, either behind you or in front of you, the people etc. I’ve had pretty bad wipeouts but the one in my last session was by far the worst. It was the day the Eddie almost ran so I was amped because I knew a lot of the guys were going to be on Oahu for that. It wasn’t big, pretty windy in the morning with not a lot of people so i wanted a really good one. A bigger set of the morning came and I just put my head down and paddled really hard but had this feeling of doubt in my head, which I now realized was a really bad thing. Took off and realized I was really late and the wind just held me in the lip, I tried to pull out and ended up having that weightlessness feeling while falling with the lip and got destroyed. My board broke and I pulled my vest with no hesitation. Jetski picked me up and started laughing, obviously a very nervous laugh, but it was good. The inflation vests are so good to have. I think because if you snap your leash or burst an ear drum you have no sense of whats up or down so it will get you to the surface but, they are not bullet proof and sometimes don’t inflate so you definitely have to be ready for that. It was such a great experience surfing and hanging out on the cliff with all the SA boys. I hadn’t met Josh Redman before and only met Frank Solomon a couple times so was really cool to get to know them and surf with them.

“Watching this wave on movies and stuff my whole life and actually being there and surfing it with all your heroes is just amazing.” – Ethan

What’s your dream?
My dream is to travel, see the world, and do what I love, which is being in the ocean.

What’s your biggest fear?
Working inside all day in a little office not being able to surf or do anything But I’m not going to let that happen.

Who are your role models?
Shane Dorian, Greg Long and James Taylor.

What does the future of big waving surfing in SA look like?
I think the future is very bright for big wave surfing in South Africa but, big wave surfing in general is getting way bigger especially after this El Nino year and the Peahi challenge.

Would you like to compete in an event at Dungeons?
No, I still have a lot to learn and experience in big waves. Maybe later but, for now I just want to surf, take my time out there and get to know the wave better.

“My dream is to travel, see the world, and do what I love, which is being in the ocean.”

*Interview by Dougal Patterson

1 Comment

  1. Caitlin
    3 March, 2016 at 7:41 am · Reply

    legend 🙂 well done on reaching and sustaining your dream, inspirational….

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