After successfully riding one of the biggest waves of the recent Hawaiian season at Outer Log Cabins on November 26, 2018, Eli Olson’s got himself some summer plans.
Last year Olson, who was born and raised at Waimea, dropped his first YouTube edit. He’s launching his own channel and hoping to release an edit every couple of weeks. After seeing what friends like Koa Rothman and Jamie O’Brien are doing on the platform, he’s got himself a filmer and is getting to work.
When not surfing, he trains religiously at Sunset Beach Jujitsu. Now he wants to share a little bit of that North Shore underground with the world. Stab caught up with him for a retelling of his epic ride and his plans for YouTube stardom:
Stab: What’s the plan with the YouTube series?
Eli Olson: I’m going to be putting out everyday stuff and show more than the average surf edit shows. I’d like to connect with people. From big-wave surfers, to small-wave surfers, to people that know absolutely nothing about the ocean, I want to give them a better feel for what we do. Of course, I’m going to have fun and show the fun stuff, but I also want to show the training shit, the process of picking up boards, all those things that haven’t been seen really. I feel YouTube is a great platform for this, and you can make some serious cash and build your value.
Yeah, social media following are factoring pretty heavily into contract negotiations and how pro surfers make a living. Growing that YouTube audience seems pretty important?
It gives surfers the ability to finally know what their real worth is. Look at Jamie O’Brien – he has a huge following and he’s making so much cash off of YouTube now that he’s got a lot of control in terms of how he can respond if a company reaches out to him. I feel like it’s a really cool time because the athletes finally have some power. It puts the power in their own hands.
The more views you get the more ads YouTube can run, so the goal is to build viewers and followers. But it’s kind of a double-edged sword, sometimes if you have too many ads people will get bummed and lose interest, or their attention will break and they won’t get through watching the whole thing. So you have to do it with some integrity and can’t pander just to sell ads.
After seeing Jamie and Koa and some others succeed, did that motivate you to start filming?
Not so long ago, I was giving those guys shit about how I’ll never do that. But then I sat back and thought about it, and figured I could make jokes all day, or I could work hard, try something new and see what happens. Maybe I’ll be able to make something out of it. I’ve got nothing to lose, really. If it does well, that’s insane and hopefully, I can stoke some groms out and feature them and shine some light on good people. But if it crashes and burns, I’ll be right back to where I am right now. Nothing to lose.
So, what’s the concept?
I don’t have a name for it at the moment. It’s just under “Eli Olson.” I was going to give it some time. I definitely want to make sure it’s right. We had a few names for the project that we were thinking of, but it felt a bit rushed and forced, so I figured since there was no specific date we needed it by we could be more natural. We’ve had a huge learning curve. We lost a card to our camera that had two weeks of footage on it, good stuff that I was really stoked on. But that’s all part of the process. We’re figuring things out and it’s getting easier. It’s exciting. We’re having a lot of fun, and I hope that shows.
And your Log Cabins wave, run us through it?
That swell was the biggest swell of the Hawaii season. I knew we were going to score huge waves on Oahu, so I had the mindset that I was going to try and find the biggest wave I could during the swell. I woke up super early and started checking all the spots. I’m born and raised at Waimea, so I get up and go take look. Right away I see this huge close-out set. I was thinking the Bay was going to be the spot but wanted to know what was going on at other spots. Waimea starts closing out at 20 to 25 feet, so I wanted to see what other options there were.
I drove down to Himalaya’s, which is a beautiful outer reef, and there were a few guys paddling out. I was on the phone with a ton of people trying to suss it out. Then I decided to go check Outer Log Cabin’s. The thing about Outer Logs is that there’s no max. I feel like it’s kind of like Jaws, no swell can be too big for it. It only starts breaking when it’s 20-foot Hawaiian, so 40-foot faces.
I went over to John John’s house, the sun was coming up. It was a beautiful morning with dead wind. As soon as I get there we see this giant wave barrel and spit. John’s knee was still freshly injured, so I asked him if he could run safety for me. It was pretty last-minute, and I was solo—usually, we’ll pitch in and hire the local lifeguards for water safety, but most of my crew was off doing other stuff—so I asked John. He was reluctant, he didn’t really want to sit in the sun all day, but he was cool and said yes.
So, we loaded up the ski and headed out. Kiron Jabour was with us as well. He was going to be out there with his dad so we wouldn’t be alone, but their ski broke down and our cell phones weren’t working, so we couldn’t get ahold of each other. So John and I were out there back waiting. Guys like Kohl Christensen and Kaiwa Berry were out, but they were saying the wind was picking up and were going to go to Himalaya’s. I thought it was just so beautiful that I’d stay out and just try.
By the time I got out there, everybody had left and I was completely solo in the middle of the ocean. It was terrifying. You know, misery loves company. When you’re caught inside it’s nice to have 10 of your friends there with you. But you get caught inside by yourself is really scary.
I started off the session by getting a 25-footer on the head. It shook the nerves a little bit and John picked me up on the ski. We figured out a new spot to sit, then another huge set came. I was just a little bit too far out. There are no real lineups. It’s just open ocean and they were the biggest waves I’ve ever seen in person.
Sure enough, another set came and I just remember death-gripping my rails. I kept thinking that if I let go of my rails I was going to start paddling out to sea and I knew I had to hold the line. It was going against every instinct I had.
I finally paddled over the first one and the second one was just this giant wall of water. I committed completely, put my head down and just started scratching. I knew that if I was going to make the wave I was going to have to commit 200-percent. I swear, time slowed down. I went from paddling as hard and as fast as I could, to feeling like I was stationary, to feeling like I was going backwards. I was on a 10’5” and I was getting sucked up the face.
Then my nose reached that point where it started pointing down and I felt like, okay, I’m actually on this thing. The wind got under my nose and I started to drift. I thought I was going to have another Wipeout of the Year entry and just tomahawk down the face.
As I was going I was looking down the line and thinking that there’s so much wall on this thing that I can’t even make it to the bottom because this thing’s just going to run on me and I’d get so mowed. As I’m halfway down I’m already putting it on rail and aiming for the channel just because it’s the only line I think I could have taken to make it. I really wanted to make the wave.
It was a ride that I’ll never forget and I’ll take it to the grave with me. At the end of the day, it was definitely a bummer I didn’t get nominated for it, but it’s out of my hands. Hating on people will do nothing. I have so much love for everyone that did get nominated. The surf community is so tight, and I’m such a supporter, I’ve got nothing but love for everyone. At the end of the day, we do this, we put our life on the line for the love. It is nice being rewarded or acknowledged, but that shouldn’t be the motivation. That’s something that all of this has taught me.