In continuing to highlight the colorful surfers of this island, Maui Time’s Dave Sweedler recently spent some time with one of Maui’s brightest stars, Eric Totah.
Dave Sweedler: Where are you from and how long have you lived on Maui?
Eric Totah: I’m originally from Santa Cruz, I lived there until I was 11 and then I moved to Maui.
Sweedler: How old are you?
Totah: Twenty nine and pushin’ 30 fast.
Sweedler: Who are the people you surfed with when you first moved here?
Totah: Justin Roberson, Matt Kinoshita and Mike Crowe.
Sweedler: Who did you look up to at that age?
Totah: Guys that were years older than us that ripped, we all wanted to surf like them. Guys like Brad Lewis, Lloyd Ishimine and Mark Anderson.
Sweedler: Where do you mostly surf on Maui and where is your favorite spot?
Totah: I work and live up country, so I usually surf Ho`okipa; Middles and the point are fun when it’s glassy. I like to surf into the wind, it’s good for busting airs. But my favorite break is Honolua Bay.
Sweedler: Have you tried tow-in surfing before?
Totah: I went one time, I’m not really into it. It’s kind of those guys’ world, you have to be a full-on waterman to take those kind of risks. I know what it’s like to get cleaned up by a fifteen footer, and almost drown. I have a lot of respect for the guys doing tow-ins, but I feel that I have too much to live for to take those kind of chances.
Sweedler: Tell me what it’s like to deal with a 15-foot wave.
Totah: I got cleaned up by a 15 to 20-foot wave at Pier One. I looked up and the wave was spitting and dredging. I dipped under two waves, then bailed my board and got blasted. I almost blacked out underwater; when I came up I was hyperventilating and could hardly breathe. I turned around and came in with a whole new respect for the power of the ocean.
Sweedler: What is going through your mind when you’re riding a perfect wave?
Totah: When I‘m standing inside an eight foot wave that I think is going to close out and somehow manage to blast out of the tube, I feel like I’ve just experienced what heaven must be like.
Sweedler: What’s going through your head when you’re launching an air?
Totah: Usually you don’t have much time to think of anything except staying over your board and doing the maneuver. But sometimes when I’m really high in the air, I get the sensation that I’m falling out of the sky. It all just happens so fast.
Sweedler: What was the best day of your life?
Totah: When my high school sweetheart Kristen moved out here, I was so happy. The best day would have to be our wedding day, it’s made my life complete.
Sweedler: Any kids in your future?
Totah: Definitely. It’s going to happen soon, but not until we’re completely ready.
Sweedler: What do you get from surfing, and what do you feel you give back?
Totah: Any surfer at heart knows the feeling you get from experiencing the ocean and all the fun of being able to relax in such a perfect environment. I hope I give the younger surfers a positive image for them to look up to as they get older. As a professional athlete, thirty is considered old, but I feel that if you keep a positive mind you can charge your whole life, and surf as hard as you possibly can.
Sweedler: What is the spiritual side of surfing to you?
Totah: Nothing makes me feel as good about myself, gives me the want to live, and be a complete person like surfing does. It makes me want to live like everyday could be my last.
Sweedler: What is the business side of surfing?
Totah: There’s people who surf contests, and those that have an image who only shoot videos and photos. I like contests, but I’d rather get exposure from my sponsors through free surfing.
Sweedler: Who are your sponsors?
Sweedler: What do you do to stay in shape?
Totah: Longboard, paddling and swimming.
Sweedler: What do you do when you’re not surfing?
Totah: I used to skateboard a lot, but now I mostly work glassing boards.
Sweedler: Is that your profession?
Totah: Yes, I have my own business: E.T.’s Glassing, it works out good because I can schedule work around the waves.
Sweedler: Any favorites surf trip experience?
Totah: I’d have to say Kirra or Rincon. I’ve scored those places perfect. Australia was great and I’d like to return there someday.
Sweedler: Who would you take on your perfect surf trip?
Totah: My brother Mike, Tai and Felix Van Dyke and Epes. I’d also like to have Tom Curren by for a few surf lessons.
Sweedler: What are your views on localism?
Totah: Since I’ve lived on Maui, the whole surf scene has completely exploded. You can’t even find a place to surf alone anymore. On other islands like Kauai, a haole can’t just move there and expect to get waves, you have to pay your dues. There has to be a pecking order in the line-up, as much as it sucks, it’s the way it is in surfing today. When I travel, I know I’m going to get the leftovers. If people just show respect to the locals, they can get waves.
Sweedler: Any advice you would like to share with kids about making a living from surfing?
Totah: Nowadays, kids need to realize how lucky they are to have structure in their surfing. They have to be able to take sponsorship seriously. There are so many kids charging and doing well in contests; they have the whole road totally paved for them, and then totally blow it by not being responsible. I’ve seen too many friends with so much potential to be great surfers and have everything given to them, just to throw it all away from making bad decisions in life.
Sweedler: What is Maui Time?
Totah: Living up country, easy going life, being able to enjoy uncrowded days surfing with friends.
Sweedler: Seeing the a sample the of Freaks on Corn video, I was impressed by the amount of quality footage of you.
Totah: Yeah, I worked with Chris Tronolone for five or six years to get all those shots. He’s an excellent videographer to work with. The video was shot completely on Maui and it shows what is happening on the island.
Sweedler: Well, thanks for your time Eric, any last words?
Totah: Thanks for the interview, Maui Time goes off!
This story originally ran in MauiTime’s August 19, 1997 issue.
Photos: Erik Aeder Photography