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BOARDRIDER OF THE MONTH: John Holeman
Interview by Alex Joy
I remember watching John Holeman surf back in the late ’80s early ’90s and thinking to myself, “Unreal.”
He was making moves that seemed impossible into reality. Truly an innovator of technical surfing, there is no doubt that John was surfing on another level.
John was born in Washington, D.C. and moved to Florida in 1967. At the age of five, he followed his brother and sister to the beach, and surfing just came naturally. In 1984, John started his professional surfing career. He’ll tell you that being a pro back then was not the same as it is today; it was tough and didn’t offer much money at all. But his love of the sport kept John going.
In the early 2000s, John hit a wall. He needed a heart transplant; a major blow, to say the least. In 2003, he got through the surgery with the help of family and friends. Not to be kept down, John got right back on the horse and started Professional Surfing Instruction. If he wasn’t able to surf, he would help others to surf better. Working with up and coming pro- ams and established pros, he put everything into being a coach. This was something new to the east coast, a surfing coach.
It’s been seven years, and lots of hurdles have been in John’s way. However, he stays positive about life and does what he can to help out in the world of surfing, whether by judging contests or giving helpful advice to any surfer. It’s been over 20 years since I first watched John surf, and I still say “Unreal” when I see him out there. It’s not just because he’s still ripping like a frothing grom; with all the things this man has been through, John Holeman is a true motivator.
What was your first board?
A styrofoam belly board — the kind you could buy at Eckerd’s. First real board? A Baine 5-foot twin fin.
What boards are you riding now?
I’ve been riding epoxies now since the late ’80s… They’re stronger and lighter. Been riding twin fins for most of my surfing life. I never got used to or liked tri fins or four fins.
As a surf instructor, what do you think it takes to be a top competitor?
Hard work. Weekly training with professional trainers and coaches — a totally foreign concept to the east coast surfer and parent.
What do you see in surfing’s future?
Financially? Bankrupt. The world won’t accept it as a real sport and it will probably get neglected by big sponsors to carry it in a tough economy.
What do you think could help the local surfing economy?
If it were accepted as a real sport, then it would get multi-billion dollar backing like basketball or baseball.
Who are some of your favorite surfers?
First and foremost Kelly Slater, for combining performance tricks and power surfing and transforming surfing into what it is today. And also any surfer who doesn’t hassle me for a wave or sit right next to me when I’m out free-surfing alone.
Where’s your secret spot? (We promise not to tell.)
It changes with the sand bars.
If you could surf with anyone, dead or alive, who would it be?
My brother. He passed away when I was 16.
What is your fondest surfing memory?
When world-class surfers were coming up to me in the early ’80s and telling me that they’d never seen an air 360 before and that they thought it was impressive. There are at least five or more of them.
If you were stuck on an island and could only have three things with you, what would they be? (And yes, there are perfect waves on this island.)
A Bible, my family, and an endless supply of my heart meds.
If you were a superhero, what special powers would you have?
I’d be Superman. He has a mishmash of powers.
What’s been the biggest motivation for you in life?
When you wake up in the morning, what’s the first thing you do?
These days, I start by getting out of bed and listening to the noises my body makes.
What type of music gets you amped to go surfing?
Music doesn’t amp me anymore to surf. I’m just amped to surf when I get there.
If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
I wish I had my health back.
Words of wisdom?
Live every day as if were your last. Make your life count for something.
Time for shoutouts…
To anyone and everyone who ever touched my life and helped me get where I am today. Thank you!