Big Wave Tour hopeful Mikey O’Shaughnessy says he doesn’t make it back home to the Big Island much since moving to Oahu as a teenager. He’d come to the North Shore to surf Pipe and focus on his surfing career when he was 16, but lately, the 25-year-old has been giving a lot of his heart and attention to the people he grew up with and his old life in Kalapana.
When O’Shaughnessy lost two hometown friends earlier this year, he was hit with the reality of an epidemic in Hawaii. Both friends had hung themselves, and not fully understanding why he started researching what’s been a long-known problem on the islands. “It bummed me out a bunch because I felt like they had a lot going on and a lot to live for,” he says. “but I guess deep down inside they were hurting more than I knew.”
Every year, around 180 people in Hawaii take their own lives. According to a 2013 report that studied 20 years of suicide statistics in the state, men outnumber women by a rate of 3-to-1 with 49% of victims dying by suffocation or hanging. And while motives are rarely 100% clear in suicides, the report pointed out that the most common negative life event leading up to those deaths were often related to intimate relationship problems. All these facts were on point with the exact kind of heartbreak O’Shaughnessy’s seen recently. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 350 million people worldwide suffer from depression. But in his home state, Mieky points out that asking for and receiving professional help in moments of depression isn’t a habit that’s ingrained in the culture. “They were calling out for help but didn’t know how to ask for it,” he says. “We’re all human, we all go through good times and bad, and who’s to say they don’t have the right to do that? It’s a whole new area that I’m still learning about and so I thought this would be a good way to inspire people through surfing, my lifestyle, and my choices.”
So that’s just what he’s been doing in the wake of losing his old friends. While tackling depression and suicide is daunting, O’Shaughnessy’s spreading a message that life is worth living even if it’s through finding joy in something as simple as surfing. When he speaks about his lifestyle and choices, he knows much of his outlook is shaped by being lucky enough to pursue his own dreams and what made that possible. “I wasn’t the best surfer when I was a kid,” he says. “There were a lot of people that were a lot better than me. But I also had a roof over my head and a good family that I came from. They fed me every day and gave me opportunities.” And today he pays that forward as much as possible. He goes back home every now and again to support local contests and sponsors, getting boards for the local kids, and he’s currently thinking of ways to start fundraising for causes like his Something Better campaign in the wake of losing his friends. Meanwhile, on the North Shore, he has an open door policy for young surfers coming up with the same dreams he started with. “A lot of kids come up to the North Shore and maybe don’t have a place to stay, so I kinda take them in. My house is like a home base for them and I introduce them to all the locals in the lineups, introduce them to the waves, and give them the opportunities that others didn’t have.”
All the positivity and helping hands extended are a piece of that same idea that surfing can be a means to something better. For him, it fuels his ambitions professionally, but it gives all of us a community to be a part of and people to lean on in times of need. “I just try to inspire people,” he says. “Because even though I hurt sometimes I don’t want it to get the best of me. At times we don’t really notice what’s going on because we’re preoccupied with our own life. And so I just wanted to spread the word and inspire people to reach out to their loved ones. Just be a little more involved in their lives, even if it just means making a phone call.”
Editor’s Note: This INSPIRED feature was done with the help of our good friends at Cobian and of course, the very awesome and very inspiring Mikey O’Shaughnessy. This series looks at compelling moments, people, and places that inspire athletes to do what they do, that in turn inspire us.
And If you are experiencing depression yourself or are looking to help a loved one who may be, you can turn to the following resources: