"The Ocean Doesn't See Color”: A Conversation with Pro Surfer Hunter Jones
Being a professional surfer or skateboarder of color delivers some novelty to the extreme sports world – and this is a perspective that free surf athlete/filmmaker Hunter Jones doesn’t take for granted. Encouraged by his parents to pursue any of his passions, Jones landed on making his hobby of surfing a career. Although he acknowledges he brings a uniqueness to the sport as one of a handful of pro surfers of color, Jones aspires to be influential to the next generation in breaking stereotypes and boundaries. He states, “The ocean doesn’t see race, color, gender, or anything like that. It accepts all of us. That's what I want to embody, and that's what I want. I want people to see me. I just want to be an inspiration.”
EDITION sat down with Jones during SXSW at the White Claw Surf House to discuss his entry into surfing, role models, and the perspective he brings to the surf space as an athlete of color.
So, Hunter, tell me how you got into the surfing world.
I grew up skateboarding. Skating was my first passion. I had a halfpipe in my backyard. I fell in love with action sports. I always loved the ocean. I was a water guy in the pool and the ocean – I loved it. I grew up doing junior lifeguards, and it wasn't until I was around ten years old, my best friend's father pushed me into my first wave. It's really funny and cool to think back to that moment and how it literally changed my life. I'm here now representing White Claw. If it weren't for him, I probably wouldn't be here today experiencing all the things that I have and all the things that surfing brought me. So, that was my first introduction to surfing. That moment changed my life forever. Since that day, I know I won't stop surfing, and it's pretty beautiful.
What do you love most about it?
Gosh, surfing is so dynamic. I think I love how it's really hard to get good at surfing—being that you're dealing with Mother Nature. It's an ever-changing, unpredictable, beautiful landscape. I feel like I'm a part-time weatherman. You look at the world differently when you're a surfer. I love that I’m viewing the winds. I'm watching what the trees are doing on my daily walks. I’m following the swell forecast. I love the community that surfing has built. It's very unique. Once you start surfing, you view the world a little differently. It's just such a challenge. It's you against yourself. It's an extremely selfish sport in that way. There's only room for one person on a wave at a time. Sometimes there's more, and that's okay. I love the challenge that it presents to you. I'm addicted to it.
Getting into that community aspect, one thing that I noticed when I was younger and even now as a skateboarder, there are not that many people of color in the sport. So, have you ever had to face any challenges in that way?
You know what? Sure, maybe. I know I bring uniqueness to the sport. For me, I want to view people as the ocean views me. The ocean doesn't see color, doesn't see race. It accepts all of us with open arms. It will humble you. It'll put you in your place, but you have to respect it. I want to embody that. Growing up, there weren't that many surfers of color in the water, and that's okay. I knew I was unique in that sense. For me, I've always just wanted to be the best version of myself and challenge myself in that way. It's cool to now be in a position where I’m a professional athlete. I just want to be a symbol of hope that you can make anything happen. I followed my dreams. I felt extremely accepted by the surfing community. I never felt different. I don't think that's the point. I just wanted to be the best that I could be, which helped get me to the level I'm at now, and I'm still not satisfied. I want to become better. That's the drive I think I'll go after for the rest of my life. I just want to be an example to the next generation and show them that they can do anything they put their mind to – if it's surfing, skating, art, whatever it might be. So, yeah, I want to be like the ocean.
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Nice. I love that analogy. That was perfect. It's so true. That’s an excellent mindset. Growing up, did you have some surfers or skateboarders that you admired?
Totally. Growing up, I was a huge fan of Kelly Slater. He’s still doing it today and just turned 50 and won a CT (Championship Tour) competition at Pipeline. He's pushing the limits. I looked up to him. I looked up to Tony Hawk on the skating side of things, of course. I always looked up to Mikey February. He's from South Africa. He's someone I saw myself in. He was a professional surfer, just a little bit older than me. It's cool because I grew up in the age of social media and YouTube. I watched a bunch of stuff online and was like, ‘I want to be like that,’ and I could do it. So, I never saw any boundaries. My father and mother always told me, “You can do anything you put your mind to.” And that’s what was instilled in me. They always supported me in anything I want to do, and I just happened to become a surfer. So, I had a lot of role models, but I just wanted to be like what I saw on TV and social media.
What do you have planned for the balance of the year?
I'm a Body Glove athlete and I have my own clothing collection coming out this summer. I got boardshorts. I got hats. I got tees and jackets. I got to design it. I actually had my best friend – whose father pushed me into my first wave – he's a graphic designer, and we got him on the project. We got to create this collection together. So, that's really special.
Does that drop in the summer in May?
In May. So, that's the Hunter Collection. Then, I will be creating a film of my own and titling it Thank You Surfing. It will come out at the end of the year; hopefully, fall. I'm a filmmaker too. On that side of things, I’m really excited to put this together for my past two years of traveling. What else do I have? Yes, some surf trips for sure now that the White Claw surf stuff is settling down. I'm going to do some travels. Nicaragua, probably. Hawaii.
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I love San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua! You should go. The waves there are amazing! Lastly, what's your life mantra?
I wrote down “Control the controllable” on something the other day. So, I'm going to go with that. You’re always thrown curveballs, but at the end of the day, you can only control what's in your view – what's happening to you. That's a huge superpower, in my opinion. You can make small decisions and do small things that will put you in a position the next day, next week, or the next year. It’s the long haul, and you got to believe in yourself before anyone else will believe in you. So, control what you can control and make stuff happen.