Oahu is the center of the surfing universe, and most pros stop through the island at some point in their careers (if not every season). But for every visiting professional surfer there is an Oahu local who shines just as bright—whether you are talking about longboarding, barrel riding, high-performance surfing, or big wave charging.
Trevor Carlson is part of that last category—a world-class big wave expert who holds it down for Hawaii season after season. Because he doesn’t have any major sponsors, Trevor isn’t as well known as some of the other local big wave guys—but that’s also part of what makes him unique. You see, some people have the road to success paved for them, while others have to cut their own path.
Trevor moved over from California when he was 18, chasing a new life and the tropical surfing dream. He became a lifeguard for the city and county, and quickly proved himself an adept waterman, eventually guarding some of the most notorious beaches on the island. At the same time, he was actively pursuing his new passion: big wave surfing. Trevor started at Sunset and Waimea Bay, the graduated to the North Shore’s outer reefs, and eventually Jaws. Although he was relatively unknown, he quickly became a standout anytime the waves hit the XL+ range.
Five years ago, the World Surf League announced that it would be awarding a wild card spot on the Big Wave Tour based on a video contest. Anyone could enter, and the videos would include their best five rides of the year, from at least three different big wave spots. Trevor saw this as an opportunity to prove himself on a global stage, and went on a tear, chasing swells all over the world and accumulating clips. At the end of the year, he had one of the most compelling five-wave edits the big wave world had seen, and ended up earning his way on tour.
The next year was a tough one competitively, and Trevor ended up failing to requalify for the Big Wave Tour based on his end-of-year ranking. But the World Surf League also granted wild cards based on the Best Performer category at the Big Wave Awards, and Trevor ended earning his way back on tour after yet another whirlwind year in which he chased every purple blog that popped up on the charts, and made sure to charge as hard as anyone wherever he showed up. He had now qualified for the tour twice without any support from a major sponsor—a respectable achievement, and one that he hoped to build on with his performances on tour.
Unfortunately, after surfing the first event of the year at Jaws, Trevor had a brutal sky diving accident. He lost wind just before landing at the airfield in Pupukea, and free fell from 50 feet. While he managed to land on his feet, he ended up suffering a couple of compressed vertebrae and a complicated ankle fracture. His big wave season was ended shortly after it had begun, and with it his hopes of requalifying for the Big Wave Tour. Unlike the normal world tour, there are no guaranteed injury wild card spots allocated—and there were a couple of other injured competitors who also ended up falling off of tour. Trevor got passed over for a full-time wild card spot, and started the 2018/19 season back at square one.
Determined to make a strong comeback, Trevor threw himself into rehabilitation and training. When the winter season started, he was healthy and ready to charge—and went straight to Nazare, big wave surfing’s newest proving ground. Trevor was there for the early season run of swell back in November, and ended up towing and paddling some of the biggest waves of the year. He then came straight back to Hawaii for the first solid north swell of the year, which ended up greenlighting the Jaws contest. Trevor was given a wild card into the event, and while he didn’t end up making the finals, he did take one of the heaviest wipeouts of his life—one that will likely see him earn a Big Wave Awards nomination next month.
Since he didn’t have a guaranteed spot in the other two events (at Nazare and Maverick’s), Trevor decided to make sure that he was on the spot for every major big wave session that happened this winter. He was at Maverick’s for the crazy run of huge swells in December, then back in Hawaii for the epic January we scored here. February was slow for big wave surfing, and especially for Hawaii, as the wind clocked north for most of the month, but Trevor stayed busy foiling and training. And when last week’s XXL north swell popped up on the charts, he went into full froth mode. After scoring the day of the year at Makaha on the windy first day of the swell, he went out and dominated Waimea Bay on Monday, snagging half a dozen gems from amongst the maxed-out crowd, including one behemoth that was probably the biggest wave paddled at Waimea all winter.
With the season nearing its end, Trevor isn’t about to slow down. He has his longboard and his foil board for flat days, his guns primed for any late-season north swells, a rigorous routine of yoga and Cross-Fit for down-day training, and a newfound love for rock climbing. Meanwhile, as soon as the south hemisphere starts producing XXL swells, he’s ready to chase down to Mexico and South America, representing his adopted home of Hawaii with his own brand of big wave bravado.
Next time you are in the water at Sunset or Waimea, keep an eye out for Trevor’s distinctive black-and-white-striped boards with their unique step-deck shape. Keep an eye on where he sits and the waves he paddles for, and you just might find yourself learn something from one of the best in the business.