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In Conversation with Jake Kelley

Interviews, Originals July 12, 2021July 22nd, 2021

Interview by James Royce | Photography by Taylor Curran | Frames by Hunter Martinez & Andrew Schoener

Jake Kelley is someone you sure seem to see a lot of, but don’t quite hear a lot from.

And that’s quite a shame. Namely because he’s a regular feature in just about any part you watch that makes you go, “Oh, wow. Nice.” A real, “Certain actor’s name on the marquee promises an enjoyable viewing experience,” situation. 

Why are these types so rare these days? Well, listen, I have a quick theory: the core reason so many surfers have been in forgettable clips so consistently over the past few years isn’t because there are so many five-to-fifteen-minute digital offerings around and, therefore, market saturation, but rather because loads of surfers, well, surf within the constraints of being professional athletes who have to maintain a certain level of professionalism. They mainline Acai and only film the best swells at the best locations and remember to bring their resistance bands with them to the beach. Essentially treating themselves like racehorses confined to a stable. Health and fitness is all good, sure, but the best way to get the Best Surfing, the Surfing We Like To Watch, is to let surfers have a load of burritos and cigarettes while telling them to just head down to the locale because that’s, “Where I’ll be filming all day anyway.” And why? Because, honestly, I think that’ll cheer everyone up enough to drop a mind-bending section off only one-to-two weeks of footage no problem. Especially if we let them have a can of something cold in the car park after ever session.

But until I can present my findings to the ISA, IOC, and every Hurley Surf Club from Long Beach to Lacanau, we’ll just have to enjoy talking with the people who surf because they love it. And so in comes Jake Kelley. Losing a long time sponsor. Being a Chapter 11 fixture. Approaching each day with energy and a zest for life and surfing better than ever because of it. All that and more included below. With that:

Wasted Talent: You’re in Malibu! What on earth are you doing driving all around there?

Jake Kelley: Yeah, well, Newbury Park is where I normally live. I was working a job yesterday in LA and stayed down there when I was done and had to pick up some stuff from Malibu. And then had to hit the production office on the way home. 

Any waves?

Yeah, nah hahah. I haven’t surfed! I surfed like a few days back and it was kinda fun, but it’s been pretty shitty the past few days. Just so windy. Summer’s been fucking shitty. The last south swell was pretty fun up here. But nothing that crazy. I think the summer is going to be very crowded. Just feel like it’s going to be such a bad one with people, hah.

Well, yeah, everyone surfs now! 

Yeah, it’s the new found love of everyone’s life.

You’d think we’d be smart enough to work that sort of thing to our advantage. 

Yeah, yeah. I mean, it’s pretty fucking fun. 

So what do you have going on for work these days? 

Doing PA stuff pretty consistently. I work with one company and whenever they have jobs — they only do these weird high-fashion shoots which are actually pretty mellow — I’ll hop in there. It’s an interesting world, hah. 

Are your shoots mostly high-fashion?

Yeah, they’re mostly high-fashion. Random campaigns and cover shoots. The whole last Gucci campaign was us and that was hell. Fifteen days straight of sixteen hour days. And it’s just so gnarly because there’re so many attitudes and personalities on set. It’s so bad because everyone has a chip on their shoulder and everyone believes they’re there for some special reason and I mean most of them are, but, yeah. It can be refreshing though every once in a while. You’ll come across a photographer or someone working with a major campaign and they’re incredibly humble and nice.  

And that was what you picked up after O’Neill? 

Yeah, you know how it is: COVID hit. Then, like, O’Neill bailed or whatever and I started working on a couple production jobs with my friend that were more on the art department side. And I was just PA’ing with him. Then this company from Malibu got a hold of me and asked, “Hey! Want to work a job tomorrow?” And I said, “Sure!” Then it ended up being a campaign shoot and the pay was better and I just got locked in with them. Doing random shoots here and there. It’s kinda perfect because you can do whatever you want around it all most of the time. But then you have days where it’s, like, ah, I have fifteen days of work and I just need to get it over with.  

As a former PA, one, that sounds like it really worked out! And two, there’s definitely a feast or famine lifestyle to it all. But it always tends to be fun stuff. 

Yeah, I love it honestly. I mean, it just kinda popped up out of nowhere for the most part. I didn’t know what I was going to do when O’Neill parted ways. I kinda felt it was coming at some point, though. Just because we were growing pretty far apart from what I wanted to do and what they wanted to do. I was asking, “Hmm… I wonder what I’m going to have to start taking up?” Most of my friends work in that world though so it made sense that it ended up that way. 

Well, enough work talk. We all work here, hah. What else you been doing aside from zipping around Southern California and telling models to get to stand on a piece of tape on the floor?

Pretty much just surfing with everyone around home! My friend Taylor Curren just healed up his ankle so we’ve been filming a bunch and trying to plan out a couple trips here and there. I think we’re going to try to do a Haydenshapes trip pretty soon. Hopefully, fingers crossed, to Chile. And, yeah, other than planning out things and just skating a bunch. So honestly… not much! Just the same old soup. 

Well, everything’s been closed forever but now it’s reopening so getting back in our normal pace has been a bit chaotic it seems.

Yeah, it’s crazy. Everyone’s been going out so much because we can finally do it again. It’s actually pretty hilarious, I feel like every day someone’s trying to do something. We have this big group message with all of our friends and every day I swear someone is asking, “Where we grabbing a drink tonight?” It doesn’t matter if it’s a Monday or the weekend it’s all the same. 

It’s the early pandemic mindset of being locked in and not really knowing what day it is because it doesn’t really matter mixed with a whole, “Let’s just go out tonight since we finally can now and tomorrow we’ll just hope for the best,” approach to things. 

Exactly! 

Any traveling around the past year or were you hunkered down at home? 

Yeah, I went up to San Francisco a couple times but, yeah, this is the most I’ve been home in I don’t even know how many years. I did New York for one of those hurricane swells in September. It was pretty sick! Crowded as shit, though. So crowded, like, I thought I was going to get COVID in the water, hah. A lot of people flew out for it however so it was nice to see people again at that point in the pandemic. Then of course I ended up staying in the city for a few days, too. New York’s always worth it for a surf trip. When it’s good the waves are so good. 

Was that spur of the moment or more of an organised affair? 

That was just spur of the moment. My friend Noah Schweizer said, “Hey, there’s a fun swell in New York.” Then I confirmed with Balaram and Pat Schmidt and they agreed it should be pretty good and I should just come and try it out. I hadn’t traveled in so long too I figured, yeah, I might as well.

Any plans to go anywhere in world now that we sort of, kind of, maybe can?

I’m just waiting for something to pop up honestly. I’m so ready to get out of here now. Especially after all these production jobs and whatnot I’m just like get me the hell out of here! And COVID’s finally, well, done? Well, things are lightening up. And it’s hard being a goofy foot during the summer because you don’t want to go to any of those right point in Mexico, hahah. 

Being a goofy foot in Southern and Central California is a bit of a cursed existence too! 

Hah, yeah. Thankfully we have a few waves around here that we can manage and it feels nice to be a goofy foot on at least. 

If you had some American Airlines blank check situation where you could fly out next week anywhere and shrug off work no problem and, not to mention, you’re not detained and quarantined at the gate upon landing, where are you headed? 

Australia. I’d love to tour the South Coast. There are so many sick slabs and nobody around. Really, after being stuck in California and how crowded it is I would probably go wherever I can get away from people now, hah. Or Chile, honestly. That’s my dream trip right there. I talked to Nate Tyler and he said that’s the trip to do if you’re doing trips now. Like, if you’re going to go on a real trip you do that. So basically all I have to do is figure out where the sandbars will be good, hah.

You’ve been productive at home home though! How’s it been working with Dane and getting your own Chapter 11 part?  

It’s been so fun to finally have something around home that everybody is super into. Doing all the same stuff, we all surf together all the time anyway, but it’s been rad to be a part of it. And Eithan and Mickey, I grew up with them, and they’re a bit younger than me, but we’ve been friends forever so it’s been so fun. I don’t even know how it all came about, but Hunter Martinez started working for them and I used to film with Hunter a lot and I’ve known him forever and he moved up to Ventura and that was just another connection to making it all happen. Then the winter was pretty fucking insane. The waves were so good every single day so we were surfing together every day and having beers together at the end of the day and it just came about pretty naturally. And that clip came together naturally too because Hunter was already editing something he wanted to do himself and Dane approached him and said, “Hey man, if you guys want to do this, let’s just make this a real episode and something that looks nice on Chapter 11.” 

Yeah it seems like you have something great going on up there. Something unique. In a way its almost shifted California’s surf lens off Orange County or LA or wherever and really focused it on Ventura. 

Yeah! And everyone is so tight knit that any given day and it can be as shitty as it gets and someone will be drinking a beer in the parking lot and being a friend. We’re just a crew that all hangs out together and has fun and goes surf and finishes it off talking shit in the parking lot. 

Any formal plans here in the future or are you taking things as they come?

I’m sure Dane has some more plans. I feel like I’ve heard of something in the works but I’m not really completely sure. I think it’s just like whatever comes about. Especially with how the waves are here it’s pretty hard to film in the summer. But I think there’s some clips laying around and there might be something coming. 

Yeah Ventura summers are tricky in the wave division. Do you find yourself hitting the road up north or down south to find something rideable? 

More south primarily. County Line a lot in the summer for sure. Everyone thinks it’s the shittiest wave in the world but I love it. 

That’s such a fun wave! Funny, I had an old coworker from Australia who had moved to the US and constantly complained about how bad the surf was, and it’s not like everyone warned him about that, but he swore County Line was the worst wave he’s ever come across. His loss, hah.

That’s how everyone is! I always say it’s not a great wave but it’s fun as shit and you always know what you’re going to get. It’s a bunch of beginners so you just catch whatever you want. Summertime if I’m bored and I’m by myself, I’m probably going to go surf County. 

And I love [REDACTED] that’s just to the [REDACTED] of it too. That’s a crazy fun wave. And usually has like no one on it. 

Yeah [REDACTED] is super fun! I have a few friends who have base passes too so I can go out around there a lot.

What’s been getting you psyched recently? Psyched to get you out in the water, psyched to get you outside, psyched to just get you out of bed?

Honestly…? From working those random jobs and whatnot recently surfing has been getting me so psyched. Anytime I have free time and there’s a little wave, I’m so psyched just to go surfing. And if not that then skateboarding. I don’t even know how to really explain it, but you take a step back from all that and you go, “Holy shit, surfing is just so fun.” And then working on other little projects, as well, too. I do my own bit of photography. I’ve always shot photos of my own and I like shooting around, again, that County Line and Neptune’s Net area because I know all the homeless people around there really well because I used to get dropped off there as a kid, so I’ve known them since I was like ten years old. But it’s all the same ones that are still there. 

So if you’re not surfing or skating or working you’re taking photos. I’d certainly say you’re keeping yourself busy. 

Yeah and my dad and I are also building a tiny house right now! So that takes up a bit of time as well. 

Is there anyone out there, surfing or otherwise, who you maybe not necessarily look up to but you think is emanating your perception of an ideal life? Basically someone you look at and you go, “Huh, they seem to be doing things right.” 

Nate Tyler. I think what he does is so rad. To be able to have a really successful career while also being so talented in something else and having another passion to work on when things slow down? I think that’s the perfect scenario. Something everyone should try to strive for. Find something that keeps you going even when you start to slow down in other spots. And he has a killer life! He always seems pretty happy. Shit, anyone who seems happy as they get older and isn’t bitter is great. You see so many people who are bitter about things, even if they’ve had an amazing time in their younger life. They get bitter as they get older and things start to change. Anything to keep you away from that. 

What is the greatest luxury then? Is it something material that you own or a place of existence? 

The greatest luxury? Being happy. If I’m talking material things maybe some land with a cool house that you can ride dirt bikes and just get away from everything and everybody. That’d be pretty ideal if it was materialistic. If not then just something that gets you going and keeps you waking up in the morning. 

Piece of land is always lush. It’s not like God or whoever is taking any more of it! Too bad that’s basically a bit of unobtanium here In California. Mexico maybe. That’s affordable, hah. 

Hey, I mean there could be something around here out there! Never know.

That market crash is just around the corner! Or at least that’s what they keep telling me. 

Let the bubble pop! Then I just need to make enough money to get in on the crash, hah. 

Switching tone here: what do you think is the most deplorable, bad trait in people? In the water or otherwise that you come across. 

Greed. I think greed is the worst trait in anybody. And we see it so much in this day and age. Greed and a lack of empathy. It just seems like, especially in the last few years it’s become really bad, nobody cares about anything else anybody has been through. It’s just all about me, me, me. Nobody takes a step back to look at the bigger picture. I think we’ve seen that quite a bit in the last four years, and especially in the last year. That’s the most deplorable trait, greed. And lack of empathy. Just seeing it… that really gets me going. You can see it in every step of life too. From a fifty year old dude yelling at a kid who’s just trying to learn how to surf and accidentally cuts him off to a homeless person on the street who’s getting looked down on from someone with a giant house in Venice. You see it in every step of life right now. 

It certainly puts things in perspective. And now we pivot back to surfing: who’s someone that you watch from a straight surfing perspective right now and makes you go, “Wow, well, that’s how you do it.” 

Honestly? It’s going to sound cliche because they’re all in the crew that we hang out with but I love watching Micky Clarke surf. I think he surfs so well and is doing it right. And then obviously Dane. All the dudes up here who you run into just rip. From your regular day-to-day guy who has a regular job and you’d never expect and, yeah, from everybody in this zone to my friends. Surfing with my friends, that’s always the funnest and those are always the people who get me the most fired up and make me want to bounce things off of and just get psyched to surf with. 

So what’s the close-your-eyes-and-meditate-on-this ideal surfing day? 

Well, we had a pretty sick one this last winter. It was offshore from morning to dark and it was pretty much as good as it gets for the entire day. And I also had my friend Noah Schweizer in town from Florida and Curren was home and a bunch of random people were up and around. We all surfed this beach that was a huge beach break that’s just miles and miles of beach but we were all in the same zone. But, yeah, it was basically as good as it gets and we all drank beers in the parking lot afterward and it was pretty much the perfect day.

I feel like I maybe didn’t experience this but for sure saw that day in your Chapter 11 clip, no?

Yeah, the whole last bit was that day. I mean all the tubes and stuff in that clip were filmed in a two-week span. Just a crazy run of swell in the winter. 

Seemed like you were hopping around different boards during that time then judging from the clip. But you were really dialed in despite all that. Feet didn’t have any problems making and keeping contact with wax or anything!

I mean, I definitely have enough boards to jump around from Hayden, hah. But I just love the feeling of trying out different boards and riding them on waves that they’re, I guess, maybe not supposed to be ridden on? It’s pretty obvious that the Hypo works in bigger waves and that sort of stuff. But I love riding shorter boards when it’s tubing. There’s something super fun to me about the challenge of it. You have to put in a little more work but it feels a lot cooler when you’re on the wave. I just try to change it up all the time. If you have the opportunity to, you know, why not?

So what are you grabbing then if you haven’t checked the surf, have no ideas what conditions might be, but you just need to get out there and go straight from the door to the beach? 

Yeah, probably the Hypto. But then lately I’ve been trying to ride these somewhat step-up Haydens that are made into a 5’10”. They’re basically a 90s style shortboard and they’re so fun. I’ve basically been addicted to riding that just because it feels so much more different compared to the small wave boards. It’s just a completely different feel and it’s nice to switch it up from the 6’2” I normally get on over the winter. Thinner, smaller, more rocker. A full Timmy Curren-era surfboard. 

What’s your most overused manoeuvre then you’d say?

Probably straight airs? I love the feeling of straight airs and I get way too fired up after trying them on way too many sections. Maybe just throw in a layback every once in awhile. If there’s a section I’m doing a straight air. 

What do you think is the most overrated part of surfing? 

Vlogs. Vlogs are pretty overrated. Actually, honestly? I don’t know. Everyone has their own thing that they like to do. I mean I’ve still never been to a wave pool and until I go to one I’ll say wave pools are pretty overrated. But I’m sure I wouldn’t be saying that if I’ve been to one, hah. I don’t think they’re overrated but they do piss me off because I’ve never been to one. I mean I don’t even know how many people have come up to me and are like, “you haven’t been to Waco yet? You’ve got to go!” 

And what’s on the docket for the weekend? 

Surfing. Maybe going out after surfing. We wrapped a job yesterday and then had a big night after so, yeah. Go home. Take a shower. Go surfing. 

It really doesn’t get much better than that, though, no? 

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