Words by Yentl Touboul | Photography by Claire Murphy, Wade Carroll & Daniel Goldin
This interview was originally published in Volume X, January 2022.
Coming from the French Caribbean, I’d been familiar with the name Rolando Montes for a few years.
But the truth is, apart from the fact I knew he was from Puerto Rico and riding for Quiksilver, I didn’t know much about the man.
When we went to the Mediterranean with Eithan Osborne last year, he told us we seriously had to watch out for him. So that’s just what we did. Soon enough, Rolstie’s name started popping up in all the good places. Think Dane Reynolds’ Chapter 11, the odd, suspect appearance on the Octopus Instagram, next to Mikey Wright and Kael Walsh on a never-ending Euro chase… Within a year, it seemed as though the world has finally caught up with how good he is. I was still convinced we’d seen only a glimpse of what the man could really do.
Fast forward to November 2021: winter started showing the tip of its frosty nose, and was accompanied by a never-ending high period blop. The fabled south west of France turned into one big closeout, from Biarritz to Lacanau. Knowing Rolstie was in town, I got myself digitally acquainted with him and within mere hours of my mentioning the possibility of a road trop South with Erwin Bliss and Issam Auptel, he had already pushed his flight back and started packing his bags.
What followed was your usual road trip vibes…Airbnb check-ins, fuel calculations, that constant smell of stinking wetsuits, and knowing our destination: dust. A shitload of dust. Add to this a frightening border crossing, a drone attack and two all-time days somewhere in southern Portugal, and you have the recipe for one of the most classic trips I’ve been on in years. One of those non-stop missions that feel like one long day. Coming out the other side disheveled but under the firm assurance you’ve made new friends, and for my part, a new name to add to Yent’s favourite surfer list.
Anyways, it’s now a few weeks down the line. Rolo has made it back to Puerto Rico, and with hail violently crashing against my window, I decided to check on our Island Boi to see how he was getting on, but also dig deeper into his story, influences and other things…
Tell us about growing up in Puerto Rico. How did you get into surfing in the first place?
My dad’s always been sort of a waterman. He’s been surfing and kitesurfing ever since he was really young. He got me into surfing when I was about five: we went to Hawaii on a family trip and that’s actually when I took my first lesson—I was hooked right away and kept on surfing when I got back to Puerto Rico. I was living in the countryside so it was bit harder to get to the beach, but then I moved to the city when I was 12 and lived within walking distance from the beach, so I could get surfing more easily, even if the waves were pretty shit. I was often doing weekend trips to the west side, toward Isabella. At the time I was going to college and hated it, and I remember that these escapes to the west side were like my version of going to Disneyland.
Eventually, about four or five years ago, my parents bought this little piece of land up on the hill here, like five minutes from the beach. They built this house and we ended up moving here. Once I moved here, I decided to take a course to become an airplane mechanic. The plan was to go to school for eight months and then graduate and have a job at the airport on the west side. So I was like, « If I can do that I can just surf every day. » I did that for about a year and then realised I hated it…although thankfully I kept surfing full time, and that’s when the Quiksilver rep here in Puerto Rico hit me up and asked me if I wanted to ride for them.
I was still a minor at the time, but it enabled me to go to Hawaii, stay at the Quik house…etc. So I quit my job and went straight to Hawaii. When I got back, I told my parents I wanted to try and travel the next few years, try to like squeeze in any opportunities I could get, and luckily they were super supportive. They saw that it went pretty well in Hawaii for me and they were like « Fuck Yeah, do it! » So I’ve been doing that for five years now and Quik has been supporting me a bit more every year…so yeah, I haven’t quite gotten back to work yet haha.
I assume that’s when you started going to the US more?
Exactly. During that first year in Hawaii, I met Eithan and Micky and we just clicked and became best friends right away. Then I started going to Ventura and staying at their house. These trips definitely helped my career a lot because that’s when I got to meet everyone at Channel Island and the Quiksilver office. I made a lot of friends and it definitely influenced in my career and has helped me a lot.
It feels like you, Micky and Eithan have a pretty special dynamic. How is it to have such close friends that are chasing the same thing?
Eithan and Micky are a bit younger than me. I think Eithan is 21 and Mickey might be a little older than him, but it feels like we’re all like 14, honestly. Those guys are freaking legends. Eithan is a freak at surfing and just a freak all around, actually. Mickey is as well, but he’s a bit more low-key. They have a really funny dynamic between them. They’re always fighting but at the same time they’re like, best friends. Both of them have been like brothers to me, and we’ve spent a lot of time at each other houses these past few years. I often go to California to spend time with them and film stuff over there, and the other way around—they also come to stay at mine in Puerto Rico.
What’s a usual day like for you when you’re in Puerto Rico?
Well, if there’s waves, I usually surf all day. Lately I’ve been just doing some housework, mowing the lawn and just taking care of the house here. Just making everything look nice again. I’ve been shaping a lot lately too, which I’m pretty psyched on.
How did you get into shaping?
I went to California with my dad about six years ago, and we took some shaping lessons because I was intrigued by it. I wanted to learn, because I didn’t know anything about surfboards, and I thought the best way to do it was by understanding how to shape one. And then a few years went by and when COVID hit in 2020, I built a shaping bay with my dad in my backyard. We wanted to make it kind of proper and it took us like a month or two to build. Since then I’ve just been trying to shape every time I get the chance. I’m just in there either shaping boards or glassing/sanding them, and it’s just pretty entertaining when there’s nothing else to do.
What have you shaped so far?
Mostly shortboards, because I feel like that’s what I’m always riding and that’s what I want to learn about. It’s like a big mystery for me to know how they work. I would say it’s a little less stressful to make a little groveler that you’re gonna surf two foot waves with. It doesn’t really matter if it works that well or not. But if you’re trying to make a proper shortboard that works, it’s pretty fucking hard. I’ve shaped a couple that felt alright but I wouldn’t say they were blades haha! Anyways, it’s always fun and rewarding to ride something that you’ve made from scratch.
You’ve been playing music a lot as well…
I’ve played guitar since I was a little kid—not that I’m good or anything, but it’s always fun to do. Then about a year ago, one of my friends gifted me a drum set, so I’ve been messing with that since then, and recently I got a new one. Whenever I have friends over we’ll just have a crazy jam session, but when I’m alone, it’s more convenient to play guitar than just banging on the drums and making loud noises.
Favourite band of all time?
It’d have to be Pixies…just Frank Black in general. I also listen to a lot of punk, I love Bad Brains and Minor Threat.
Back to surfing. Who, and what films, have been your main inspiration over the years?
Dane (Reynolds) inspired me my whole life. He’s pretty much why I got into surfing to be honest. Once Marine Layer started, that’s when I actually really got into surfing. Before that I just kind of surfed for fun like with with my friends—which I still do—but like, once Marine Layer came about, I was like « Fuck, I want to become a pro surfer ». I also used to watch The Bruce movie a lot when I was younger. Bruce still is one of my top favourites. Chris Ward also inspired me a lot. I wanted to wear super long trunks and be just be like him. I also still go back to old Andy parts and try to study his surfing. Then Modern Collective and Dear Suburbia came and that was super inspiring too, although that was a little later on.
What about the new generation? Who’s inspiring you these days?
Noa (Deane) is a big inspiration for sure. He’s so different from everyone else and the shit he’s doing is crazy. Eithan is really inspiring as well, especially after seeing him surf last winter in Puerto Rico…watching him shape his own board and just do that mental air—that one in Snapt 4—on the shittiest board ever was mind blowing. I still get a lot of inspiration from Hector (Santamaria) and Mauro (Diaz) every time I’m at home. I feel like the funnest stuff is just Chapter 11 right now. What was really epic in Marine Layer, and still is in Chapter 11, is to see Dane and everyone else shred fun waves; that feels so relatable. Don’t get me wrong, I still love watching videos of people scoring pumping waves, but it feels less relatable when I’m trying to psych up to surf 4ft mush at home.
The Caribbean is quite far from everything surf industry-wise. Did you feel like it’s hard for someone coming up from there to get noticed?
I definitely feel lucky to be from Puerto Rico. Some of my favourite waves in the world are here, and you can surf everyday during winter. It’s pretty hard to get noticed though, unless you have someone filming you all the time, but that’s kinda almost impossible to do as not a lot of people have cameras. You kinda have to get out of here if you want to build a pro-surfing career.
Despite it being isolated, Puerto Rico is probably the place in the Caribbean where most international surfers go to visit. Do you think that had an influence when you were growing up?
The WCT in 2010 was a huge influence, for sure. That was the first time I saw actual international pros here. Just seeing everybody shred the spots I surfed all the time was incredible. I remember watching Dane and Jordy just rip the shit out of Middles and I was like, « Holy fuck, that’s like, actual surfing ».
Is that when the connection with Dane first happened?
Not really. After the comp, Dane kept coming to Puerto Rico as he was hanging with Dylan Graves a lot at the time. I met him briefly through Dylan here in Puerto Rico, but it’s really when I started going to Ventura to stay with Eithan (Osborne) and Micky (Clarke) that I became friends with Dane and got to know him better. He’s definitely helped me a lot in my career, whether it’s putting me in the Chapter 11 clips or linking me with Channel Islands…so yeah, I’m super grateful.
I know you’ve also spent a lot of time with Mikey Wright and Kael Walsh of late. Can you tell us about how you first met them?
I had never done a trip with Mikey before. He came to Puerto Rico and stayed with me in February, although he got hurt on pretty much the first day of the trip. So yeah, I didn’t really get to spend that much time with him then. Later that year, we went to Mexico together and I got to know him better. As for Kael, I met him on my first trip to Hawaii and we’ve been like chatting ever since. Although, fuck, he hadn’t left West Oz in about one thousand years so I hadn’t seen him in so long! But yeah, we’ve always stayed in touch and we’re all pretty tight now after spending the past few months together in Europe.
Speaking about that Euro trip—it seems like you’ve been everywhere. Can you tell us the specifics?
I was supposed to stay at the Quik house in France for like a month or two. Eithan was meant to join me just to film and stuff, but he went on a trip to Puerto Rico just before that and broke his ankle. So yeah, I got to France and met with Mikey, Kael and Wade Carroll. Early on, Quiksilver organised this trip to Switzerland with their snowboarding team and I ended up being invited to that. We went snowboarding, we went to the wave pool…it was such a good time. Then we all went down to France after that. Mikey and the snowboard team got a house each in France, so we were just chasing waves around for about a week. Mikey, Wade, Kael and I decided to just stick in France to try and get some clips. So yeah, we booked for like another month, just chasing waves around Europe. We went to Ireland, then came back to France, then drove to Portugal to try to score some left ramps. Didn’t get much, and drove back to France for a few weeks. Then Kael, Mikey and Wade bailed, and that’s when you, Erwin (Bliss) and Issam (Auptel) hit me up to go to Portugal again. So I ended up extending my trip one more time…but it was worth it as we ended up getting super fun waves in the south.
What’s your best memory from the whole trip?
Ireland would have to be it, for sure. It was Mikey, Kael, Wade and Paul Daniel. We went down there for about five days. We had four days surfing this right which was super, super fun for airs, and the last day we surfed that crazy left slab. Kael had hurt himself the day before trying airs so he couldn’t surf, so I paddled out with Mikey and a few locals, and fuck…Mikey was just going absolutely nuts. I’d never seen anything like it. He got about ten waves that would have been the best waves of my life. Each and every one of them, just getting blown out of barrels…so yeah that was crazy. On top of that, Ireland was amazing on every level; the locals were super nice, which is mind-blowing because usually it’s not like that when you go on a surf trip where there’s good waves.
Seems like you’ve been stacking clips! Are you saving all of it for any project in particular?
I’m working on an Octopus part that’s supposed to come out sometime in January if everything goes according to plan. But yeah, I have stuff saved up from Ventura, and then I have stuff from this super long Indo I did this summer which I’m psyched on. And then I’m gonna try to get some some clips here in Puerto Rico before the deadline in January, so we can hopefully add them to the edit. But I’m pretty happy with what I have right now.
Can you tell us about how the Octopus connection happened for you?
It all came from Dylan (Graves). Around two years ago, he hit me up and he was like, « Would you be interested in riding for Octopus? » I was super hyped as I’ve always loved the brand, and the people that rode for the brand. I’m friends with most of the people on the team, so I was in straight away! Then a little later, Joe G hit me up and he was like, « Would you like to work on a little project? » I was super hyped.
Knowing Joe has done so many masterpieces throughout the years, did that add some pressure for you?
I definitely have put pressure on myself to get some good stuff because I’m like, « Fuck Joe is gonna be working on it…I better be good. » Sometimes I’d doubt myself like, « Fuck, man…am I even good enough for an Octopus part? » Some moments have been kind of stressful, for example, going to Mexico and not getting shit done, or bringing filmers over to Puerto Rico and not get anything. It’s always hard when these things happen. But in the end, everything started coming together in Indo, and Joe is the nicest dude ever. I sometimes speak to him on the phone and he’s always been super supportive. I try to remind myself that he believes in me, so I’ll just have to put everything into it.
Speaking of Dylan (Graves), how was it to see him coming from Puerto Rico and building an international career? Were there other Puerto Rican surfers that inspired you when you were growing up?
Yeah, definitely. I love Dylan. Just knowing that he made it that far just inspires me to give it my all. Hector Santamaria was also a huge inspiration. He used to be my favourite surfer when I was a little kid. He’s such a freak on a surfboard. He does the craziest airs, and I feel like he had a pretty rough upbringing as a kid and didn’t have a lot of resources unfortunately. But yeah, he was and still is a huge inspiration. Mauro (Diaz) as well, he’s been one of my best friends from a young age and is an amazing surfer. He’s got the best style.
Like Martinique and Guadeloupe are to France, Puerto Rico is part of the US, but it seems very different from the rest of America. Can you explain how it feels to come from Puerto Rico, and the identity you feel attached to?
I feel Puerto Rican more than anything. I definitely don’t feel like I’m part of the United States because everything is so different. Puerto Rican people are very different, the whole culture and way of living here is something else. It’s really not as American as America, if that makes sense. Not like, hot dogs and hamburgers and like, America. Fuck yeah! Haha. I fell like a lot of people don’t even know Spanish is the first language in Puerto.
What about Hawaii? It seems like you’ve been there a few times over the years. I feel like nobody really feels at home in Hawaii, but coming from an island like Puerto Rico, does it feel sort of familiar?
Hawaii looks a lot like home, but it definitely doesn’t make me feel like I’m at home when I’m there. Although I absolutely love it there, Hawaii is its own country, and I love the culture. Even if it gets crowded in winter, the waves there are just so good.
What are your plans for the coming months?
I spent like the past five months on the road, so my plan now is to stay at home for a little bit and hopefully get some clips to end that Octo part. Mikey and Wade are planning to come back here in the next couple of months, so I think I’m gonna post up here for a bit. I might go to Hawaii at some point, if there’s like a flat spell at home and if I’m going nuts here…I might just jump there for a week or two to try and get some waves.