Many feel the island of Maui has some of the most talented, yet overlooked surfers in the world and Steve Cooney is one of them. At 23 years old, he is fortunate enough to have spent his entire life here; surfing the best waves and appreciating the gifts of nature.
Steve learned how to surf at Lahaina harbor and Honolua Bay, yet doesn’t believe he began pushing himself until he started surfing at Ho`okipa. “When I was 10 Jim Kohler used to take me surfing all over the place, so I had the opportunity to sample the different waves of the island,” he says.
This exposure prepared and taught him to adapt to the constantly changing conditions and hierarchy in the lineup. “I learned respect when I was a grom,” he says. “If you were out of line in the water, you’d get slapped.” Respect is something he feels kids need to pay more attention to. “It doesn’t matter how much talent you have, if you want to surf the best waves, you have to earn it,” he says.
When Steve was young, contests on Maui were a rare thing. He found the drive to constantly push himself through surfing with guys like Totah, Kinoshita, Anderson, Jenks and King. “I used to really watch all the older guys who were ripping and it made me want to improve,” he says.
He pauses, looks down, and reflects on his primary inspiration. “Justin Roberson was the person who really inspired me, I could see the good person he was,” he says. “He had a lot of love for his friends and I really admired that in him. It was a really tough time for everyone after he died, but through his death it brought a lot of people closer.”
He speaks of his friends as one would talk about family. “There is a brotherhood with all the guys I surf with, we’re always having a good time,” he says. “Tai, Kaleo, Sai and Jamine are the guys I usually surf with.” When asked to describe the maneuvers he most likes to observe, he replies seriously, “I like to see a lot of water moving, power snaps, deep barrels and of course aerials.” Steve sees the wave as a canvas and every surfer a painter with their own original style and expression. One of his favorite surfers to watch is Alika Moepono: “I like his style and powerful surfing.”
When Surfing magazine’s Airshow came to Ho`okipa, Steve was definitely a local favorite. The $1,000 prize brought the best aerialists from the other islands and California. Steve launched his way to the finals, and narrowly missed victory by one place.“Christian Fletcher won, and I was really happy with second place,” he says. “Even though I didn’t win the money, I received a full page spread in Surfing magazine.”
If you have ever get the opportunity to watch Steve surf, it will make you wonder why he isn’t on the world tour. He has the talent and ability to be a contender, yet like many local surfers from Maui, he hasn’t yet received the recognition to attract the sponsorship it takes to travel to contests.
He spends a good part of every winter on the north shore of Oahu. He surfs some of the contests in the HPAC series, and at one point was rated 40th in a field of 400 surfers throughout the islands. “I know that if I could just get to the contests I would do well,” he says. “Someday I would like to surf the entire US pro tour, to proudly represent Maui.”
Steve isn’t too concerned with what lies ahead in his surfing career, he’s happy with what he’s doing on a day to day basis. He’s saving money from his job at Mama’s Fish House, planning on a Tahiti or Bali adventure towards the end of summer. Surfing every day as much as possible and letting the good times roll, Steve Cooney is stoked on the Maui life he’s living.
This story originally ran in MauiTime’s April 28, 1998 issue. Steve Cooney died in 2004.
Photos: Rick Leeks