INTERVIEW by JAY ADAMS
PHOTO by TOM SERVAIS
INTRO by STEVE OLSON
Here’s the deal, Two full on chargers… Getting together to talk… When one goes, would the other? That’s easy. Yes … Both can do what they want… Talent is abundant… This was before the departure of one. Missing him as always… Hoping the other is doing what he does… CHARGING … I’m positive the other is too, without a doubt… – INTRO BY OLSON
JAY: Okay, Nathan. I just wanted to ask you a little bit about your life and history with surfing and skateboarding. Give me a history about yourself, and a little about your family. You come from a gnarly surfing family. It’s like surfing royalty, if you think about it. I don’t know if a lot of people realize how far it goes back, so run it down for me. Give me a little history about yourself.
NATHAN: I come from San Juan Capistrano. That’s where my house is. I stay on the North Shore for most of the winter and I’m just delighted to be a surfer.
JAY: How far does surfing go back in your family? Who was the first surfer in your family?
NATHAN: It was my grandfather, and his brother Flippy. They both surfed.
JAY: What’s your grandpa’s name?
NATHAN: Walter Hoffman.
JAY: Flippy and Walter were burly California guys, and we’re talking wooden boards back then. What year were they doing all that?
NATHAN: I guess my grandpa was one of the first white haole guys from Cali to come to Hawaii and that was in ‘48. He had a Beach Boys certificate from ‘52 or something like that.
JAY: Where were they in California? Were they just the typical Windandsea crew or were they from San Clemente area?
NATHAN: They were from L.A., Malibu.
JAY: So they used to Surf Palos Verdes and all that.
NATHAN: Palos Verdes, Malibu, San Onofre.
JAY: With surfing back then, they traveled up and down the coast of California because it was such a small group of guys, and they all knew each other. So who are your grandfather’s children?
NATHAN: My grandpa, Walter, had Tony, Joyce, Robin and my mom, Dibi. There are three girls and a boy.
JAY: This is on your mom’s side, the Hoffmans?
JAY: Then you have your dad, Herbie, on the Fletcher side. What about his parents? Were they involved in surfing?
NATHAN: My grandpa, John Fletcher, is a trucker and salmon fisherman.
JAY: So your surfing comes from your mom’s side, more or less.
NATHAN: Yeah. My mom met my dad at Makaha at the beach, when they were like 14 or 15. The reason my mom met my dad was because she was at a surf contest with her sister, Joyce.
JAY: Joyce Hoffman was a World Champion woman surfer back in the day. I remember my dad, Kent, used to tell me how she was so good because she surfed like a guy. That was a great compliment for a woman back then, because no girl surfed better than a lot of guys for a long time.
NATHAN: She was the first Women’s World Champion in ‘65, ‘66 and ‘67, and she won the Makaha in ‘64 and ‘66.
JAY: Who else was a surfer on your mom’s side?
NATHAN: That would be Marty. He’s my cousin.
JAY: For those of you who don’t know, Marty Hoffman is another legendary California guy. He surfs big waves, and has been coming to Hawaii forever. He’s a really good surfer, too. Wait. Let’s hear about the Hoffman Fabric Company. Didn’t they sell to most of the surf companies out here?
NATHAN: Yeah. It was established in 1932 by my great grandpa and it’s still out there right now. Flippy and Walter took it over and they were people who supplied the fabric for the surf industry and all sorts of industries.
JAY: Okay, so your dad is Herbie Fletcher, who did Astrodeck. That’s one of the things he’s more known for. He did all the Wave Warriors movies and Astrodeck. Let’s hear about your dad. When did he come to Hawaii?
NATHAN: It was ‘66 maybe. I don’t know the exact history, but I know he surfed here pretty early, like ‘65 or ‘66. He was really good. He was just the gnarliest guy ever.
JAY: Yeah. Most people know about Herbie Fletcher. He was one of the first guys we ever saw tow a guy into a wave on a jet ski, besides being a great surfer. How about your mom? Did she surf too?
NATHAN: No, not really. She raised children and stood by my dad and battled it out.
JAY: You and Christian are third generation surfers of your family, right?
JAY: Christian is how much older than you?
NATHAN: He’s four and a half years older than me. Christian was born October ‘70.
JAY: So you’ve been surfing probably since before you could remember. How old were you when you first got a surfboard?
NATHAN: I was probably five or six.
JAY: Can you remember it?
NATHAN: I remember the board, but I was definitely on a boogie board in shorebreak first.
JAY: Let’s hear about that first board. What was it?
NATHAN: It was a Stewart with a full piece of Astrodeck, tip to tail.
JAY: They had Astrodeck 40 years ago?
NATHAN: Yeah. It’s been going for 40 years now. Astrodeck started in ‘75, the year I was born. By the time I was five or six, it was starting to grow. When I was ten, my dad would go and put the Astrodeck on guys’ boards and get laughed at pretty much by everybody, although there were firm believers from the beginning. A lot of people didn’t think that anything could be better.
JAY: They had that spray-on slip check stuff, but it gave you a rash on your knees really bad. Astrodeck has the best traction and every surfer in the world knows about it now. Probably about 90 percent of all surfers use your father’s traction. Astrodeck was the first company to make it.
NATHAN: Yeah. My dad was just into the sport and the kids, and the evolution of the sport and trying to be a part of it. That’s his whole life. He loves it.
JAY: Do you trip out sometimes about how you were just born into this killer surfing family? Do you ever think about that?
NATHAN: I think about it and I can’t believe it. It’s unbelievable. I don’t think life is anything unless you make it, but I know it’s going to be an option to make it incredible. Look. I’m sitting here talking to you. It’s great.
JAY: Christian Fletcher is your older brother, and Christian was actually a real popular surfer when you were a little kid. What was that like? Were you thinking, “Man, I want to be better than Christian”? Did you want to be a pro surfer?
NATHAN: That’s what I wanted to do, but then at like 15 or 16, I kind of got over it. Everything just kind of drove me to not want to surf because of the pressure, so I applied myself to different things and didn’t surf for five years. When I came back to surfing, it was just out of fate. I’ve only done it since that time because of loving it and because it’s the best thing in the world. I love being able to be a part of surfing. You almost have to have somebody show you the way to be able to get your full potential out of it. If you don’t have parents to show you the way and you don’t really have any experience at it for yourself, you can’t know your potential. To be able to have that and take advantage of it and use it, has been something that’s been incredible.
JAY: It’s definitely something that you’re really blessed and honored to have. Not a lot of people have that, but you did. That’s only to your advantage. Actually, it might have haunted you a little because it must have been a lot of pressure to come up behind your brother in his footsteps. People were expecting things out of you that you didn’t really care to do.
NATHAN: They had a preconceived idea, which comes with being a human. I have those myself in certain situations. There were expectations of me to be a certain way, but that’s the only pressure that I really felt. It kind of sucked, but it also felt good, to tell the truth. That’s just the way it is. Because of that, I didn’t want to be a surfer pro traveling around the world on the contest circuit. All in all, it was the same shit. Then it was much more mentally stimulating to do something else like skateboarding or snowboarding or motocross. I wanted to do anything other than surfing, which was the only thing that I knew. It was like I was a beginner again and had to learn from scratch, and nobody cared who I was.
JAY: I know you’re one of the innovator guys in the crossover sports like motocross, skateboarding, surfing and snowboarding. Were you ever afraid to not be good at something, like you might be embarrassed and kook it at snowboarding.
NATHAN: Well, I wasn’t afraid of being embarrassed, but it humbles you and teaches you that the person who is maybe not the best is having the most fun. Just learning how to do something is almost more fun because you don’t have any expectations of yourself. To be able to go out and have that much fun is like learning to surf in the beginning. Once you have pressure on yourself and you have expectations of what you should do or what other people are doing, it becomes kind of monotonous. Doing something different is so great and new. It’s a new experience and all new people. So all those things that I’ve done have been almost by accident, just wanting to have that rush that surfing gives you. I would do it and want to be good and try it and do it long enough to where I’d gotten to be experienced at it. It’s not that I was at a great level, but maybe it was a comfort level where I felt that I could skateboard or snowboard or ride a motorcycle. At this moment, I wouldn’t be able to do half of what I did at the time when I was not as well practiced. If I went skating for two years everyday and never surfed, that’s how it was. Now I’m back to where it’s just fun. It hasn’t been like something where I want to be the world champ. I’m just stoked to know or see or be a part of all of it. All of that stuff is incredible. It’s good to see Slater and Bruce or whoever growing up and striving their whole lives to get to a certain level, but I can step away for five years and come back. I can be stoked for them and not in a competitive way. I’m happy for everybody and happy to be a part of it. It’s cool because it makes you be in a more neutral state.
JAY: Your surfing definitely has been progressing. You’ve stepped it up to another level with your big wave riding. What do you focus on now in surfing? Do you want to ride the biggest waves you can? What do you get the most enjoyment out of?
NATHAN: Well, the most enjoyment would probably be good surf, like double overhead to head high. I like closed out beach break, light onshore. I definitely like to surf Pipeline when it’s not life threatening, so then you’re not making every decision.
JAY: Are you still trying new moves and new airs?
NATHAN: Definitely. They have all those big air contests, so I go for that. If they’ve got a big wave event, like the XXL, I look at it like, if I surf a lot of little waves and then go for the good air shot, I can make a bunch of money for an air on video. I don’t know. I might concentrate more on the XXL thing and not on the big air.
JAY: Would you rather win $50,000 for the gnarliest air on a video or $50,000 for the biggest wave ever ridden? If you had your choice of the two, what would you rather have as an accomplishment?
NATHAN: Well, as an accomplishment, I’d have to say that none of those things even matter. It’s all bullshit anyways. It’s all just goals to get you to be somewhere. Otherwise, you don’t have a reason to even get off the couch. I think I’d rather win the biggest wave because right now it’s so gnarly, and it’s probably going to get gnarlier. With the big air, you’re battling against a bunch of kids, so it’s a choice between competing against kids or men.
JAY: What’s it like surfing a big wave at Mavericks? Do you get butterflies in the boat looking at it? Are you scared?
NATHAN: I’m shaking in my boots on the airplane.
JAY: The whole trip is a big butterfly trip, like when you fly to Tahiti?
NATHAN: Yeah. I get anxiety, but also it’s insane. It’s like euphoria. It’s everything.
JAY: Which wave do you look forward to riding the most? Would it be Teahupoo, a big day at Mavericks or Mexico and your secret oasis? What are you thinking about when you’re on the plane to Teahupoo?
NATHAN: I’m thinking, “Holy shit.” You just know it’s going to be big.
JAY: Describe what you might be thinking when you ride in Tahiti and you see guys like Laird and Garrett there.
NATHAN: Those guys are getting ridiculous waves.
JAY: What’s it like letting go of the rope on one of those big waves at Teahupoo?
NATHAN: When you kick out, I swear it would heal cancer. Every cell in your body is electrified at that moment. It’s like one of the best feelings I’ve had. You know it can all go so bad, so quick.
JAY: What was the worst beating you ever took? What was the worst wipeout and where was it, besides breaking your leg?
NATHAN: It was probably in Tahiti at Teahupoo. I was underwater a long time and the right section of the wave was coming up before I could get to the whitewater. I was just stuck in the toilet bowl. Timing becomes so crucial.
JAY: A lot of people see Tahiti and see that water shot from a camera, and it looks easy, but you don’t really see how powerful of a wave it is.
NATHAN: Yeah. When you’re looking at the wave, it looks so perfect, but when you’re in the barrel, it looks like a cartoon.
JAY: When you think about the gnarliest waves you’ve ever ridden, would you say it would be Teahupoo or Mavericks? I know it’s a totally different wave.
NATHAN: Mavericks is incredible surfing.
JAY: Would you say Teahupoo is a Ferrari and Mavericks is a mack truck, or what?
NATHAN: [Laughs] I’d say Mavericks is the pinnacle in one totally big nice barrel. There are other waves where you can ride it and surf it and it’s more for a tow situation. For paddle in surfing, Mavericks is ideal.
JAY: Do you prefer paddling in or towing in?
NATHAN: For me, I prefer to paddle in. That’s just because of the gratification or self-satisfaction you get when you sit there and wait and turn around and catch it and then you get your board down and you can ride it down one line.
JAY: It takes a lot of more skill to paddle in rather than towing in on a rope.
NATHAN: It’s not even skill. It’s just two different sports. When it gets too big, you can’t paddle out. That’s where the tow in sport really sells. That’s the level you can take that sport and that’s the level it should be used at. Sometimes you want to tow in. I just prefer to paddle in. If the wave will let you in, it’s pretty much as big as you want to surf, and then you can paddle into it. It depends on your equipment and wind and all of that.
JAY: What’s your most memorable barrel ride ever?
NATHAN: Pipeline. It was Pipeline and Teahupoo. Pipeline is the one that changed my life, so I’ll never forget that. I think I would have to say it was Pipeline, because I made the board that I rode that day. I had the whole gratification of walking up the beach after catching the wave of my life at Pipeline on a board that I made. That was a milestone for me.
JAY: You had a couple pictures in the magazines and you were really charging. Is that when your life changed again? All of a sudden, your popularity was on the rise again. You know what I’m talking about, right?
NATHAN: Yeah. Before that, I would just skate and surf, and then I ended up surfing all day. When I went to that contest in Tahiti, I had never surfed a pro contest and I didn’t have sponsors. I actually got to Europe when I got invited. That was my first pro contest and I told myself in the second round of the main event, that if I didn’t make it, then I’d go home and try to make it up with my wife.
JAY: Oh, wow.
NATHAN: My boss said that if I went to Tahiti, then I couldn’t work for him anymore and that’s how I had provided for my wife and I, but I went to Tahiti, and made it to the second round of the main event. In the second round of the main event, I got these two waves. After the second wave, when I kicked out, my whole life changed. I had to go out and do my thing.
JAY: All of a sudden, you got sponsored surfing again, right? All of these doors opened up.
NATHAN: Yeah, because nobody had ever seen Teahupoo get big like that during a contest. So I didn’t really have to go through all these situations to become a pro. I got into that contest, and that wave got so exposed and it turned into such a big deal because it was the first time people saw Teahupoo that big in a contest, and the whole surf industry was right there on the channel. Waves were coming up and it was getting big. The situation just turned out that nobody even wanted a wave. They were all on small boards, so it worked out great, but the next day was just retarded.
JAY: The next day was the tow day.
NATHAN: It was so gnarly. The waves were so big that no one had ever seen them like that. It was just ridiculous. I just paddled in and caught the ride-able ones.
JAY: What about Mavericks? You were the only paddle in guy left.
NATHAN: Yeah. It’s what I was able to do. There are a lot of dudes with the capabilities to be able to do it. Some people might think that it has its place and time, but now everybody’s starting to see the same picture I think.
JAY: Most of the big wave guys can paddle in?
NATHAN: Yeah, I mean they should be able to, definitely.
JAY: When you go to Maverick’s, who do you pull up in the car with?
NATHAN: It would probably be Pete Mel. Pete has definitely helped me out. Pete is the man. He’s the man as far as being a dad, a surf commentator and surfboard designer. I really look up to Pete. He’s shaped a bunch of boards. He’s second generation. His dad had the first surf shop in Santa Cruz. I surf with all of those Santa Cruz guys like Flea.
JAY: I know you’ve been riding four fins for a while now. Who has been making your boards?
NATHAN: Stretch has been making my boards.
JAY: You make your own boards now too.
NATHAN: Yeah, I’ve been making boards for a couple years now.
JAY: They’re looking really good. You’re just being modest I think. So you think the quad is the way to go?
NATHAN: That’s what I ride at the moment.
JAY: Did you surf it at Mavericks in the tidal wave?
NATHAN: Yes. It was incredible. It’s a trip.
JAY: What brought you into the four-fin deal?
NATHAN: Well, they turn. Cole made me a twin fin, and I liked it, but I couldn’t turn on it, so I had him make me a four-fin board. I had a board like it when I was really young. I just never really thought about it since then, so we tried it. He made me boards for a while, and then Stretch and I took that idea and powered it out and we have what it is today. It has different stringers and fin placement. It’s corrugated, so it makes it stronger. I ride epoxy boards, so it’s as light as possible and that’s important. It’s really light and it’s got as much pop as you can get.
JAY: I know a lot of guys that only surf when it’s good out. You’re not one of those guys. You love surfing when no one is out, and it’s cloudy and ugly. You go out and get waves all the time. The other guys can’t even paddle out unless it’s perfect. A lot of kids are getting caught up in that, but I think guys have to get over it. What do you think?
NATHAN: I think they better get over it. I don’t really understand it, but I love the kids. They keep you on your toes. I like watching the new guys. The thing with surfing is that you should get out there all the time.
JAY: What are your plans for the future?
NATHAN: I know I’m going to go surfing, and I know I’m going to travel, but that’s all I know for sure.
JAY: Are you as stoked as you were when you were a little kid first coming to Hawaii?
NATHAN: I’m actually more stoked now. Now I know what I have to do, and I feel really alive.
JAY: Thank you, Nathan.
NATHAN: Thank you, Jay.