Editor’s Note: “One Last Drop” follows native Hawaiian surfer Randall Paulson’s return from a string of career-threatening injuries to compete for a coveted spot in his local Pipe Masters before he reaches the end of his professional line. This first installment touches on loving the infamous break, dealing with limits, learning respect, and (accidentally) paddling past Gerry Lopez.
I just got back onto the scene in 2013 Pipeline-wise because I’ve been injured off and on for four years due to Pipeline injures — both of my knees. I finally took nine months off in 2012 and healed it. This year was my second back surfing Pipeline. I’m pretty stoked, but competition now, it’s all about this points system; we [Hawaiians] can’t even get into our own events if we’re not on the circuit enough. Me being injured for four years, well, they forgot about me, and I didn’t have the points to get in. So this summer I’m going to go do a couple events in hopes of having the points for this winter. It’s really so that I can surf Pipeline. I’m just glad that I can get barreled again. And having the event at my home is a bonus. I had to watch the last couple years. It hasn’t been real 12-to-15 foot yet — it’s so hard to nail in competition — but if it happens next year I’m going to get my chance to get in.
I’m always getting injured — one wipeout out there and you’re either going to die or get super injured. I want to create a couple more ever-lasting memories, though, before I totally give it up. I’ll always love Pipeline, but to be honest, in four or five years I’m going to have to try something else. I’m not going to quit surfing, but I’m going to tone down surfing that spot. The waves that I want out there, if I don’t make the drop… but it comes with the territory: making it and having a dream wave is worth all of it, for sure.
I started surfing Pipeline in 7th or 8th grade. Actually, I wouldn’t call it “surfing” — I’d paddle out on my shortboard and sit in the lineup. I grew up with bodyboarders. The lineup in general was mostly bodyboarders; I was one of the only surfers in my group. They charged and lived for Pipeline more than I did. And back then we didn’t have internet. You’d get the call from certain people if Pipeline was going off. I was younger, but I wanted to go so bad that the juniors and seniors would stuff me in their truck and sneak me off campus. And then there I was in the lineup.
When I lived with Braden Dias on the North Shore for the first time, Mike Latronic (who I was staying with) came home and told me that it was going off. “Let’s go. You’re going to get your shot.” I was no longer going to only sit in the lineup, I was getting my shot to finally surf it. I paddled out and Gerry Lopez was sitting out there with a couple of heavies. I didn’t know any better at the time and was so hungry to get out there with Mike telling me to go. I paddled past everyone, not knowing about the rules. A big 10 foot wave came in — it was the first wave of that size that I had seen — and I was excited and was going no matter what, not knowing I had already disrespected everyone by paddling past them. I took off on this wave and I was thinking “oh my god, I’m going to get so barreled.” Then Shawn Briley bumped me and I ended up going straight and getting pounded, lip to the head. When I came up, Shawn paddled up to me and he was like, “sorry man…” And I was like, “fuck…” He went on, “You know why I did that, right? You paddled past Gerry Lopez. You paddled past all of us. It doesn’t work that way out here.” I was so clueless. I had no etiquette. I just loved surfing so much. I just wanted it. I wanted it. Anyway, I learned respect from that day on.
I rode for Blue Hawaii for probably the next eight years. Me and Braden would live out there with Mike during the winter season. Every time it was good, we would go. But back then all the heavies were out. And we were little twigs. So, again, I wouldn’t call it “surfing” Pipeline — more paying our dues. When they weren’t going for a wave, we’d turn around last second and whip it, usually going over the falls. If we were lucky, we’d make the drop. But as people got older, and stopped doing it or slowing down, we got our chance. Then it happened. It felt like it was meant to be. For some years, the waves were coming and I couldn’t do wrong. Me and Braden were moving up into their spots. (Well, not really, ’cause if any of the older guys did come out, it was still their wave.) But now people were yelling my name for waves. I felt at one with Pipeline. We drank a lot of alcohol, but I didn’t need any drugs. I lived off the adrenaline.
And I watched styles of others surfing Pipeline. I realized that it helped if you shaped your body into the shape of the wave, blended into the ocean. Then I started watching videos, and following certain clips I would change my arms, my back, etc. It all of a sudden became really important to me that I looked good doing it. I wanted to be the best I could be for Pipeline — ’cause I love her. I want to give her everything she’s given me. Basically I morphed my own style into the wave .
Surfing big waves in general… as soon as you get one, you don’t think it can get any better. But you keep going bigger, better, and deeper. We’re always pushing ourselves for a gnarlier one that the last. It’s a death wish. That’s why in five years I’m going to slow down. Pushing the limits to do something you love is worth it, but there is a limit. The current’s already moving faster than you, but your hucking yourself over the ledge cause you know there’s a 50-50 chance you’ll get the barrel of your life. It’s been an addiction. But now I can’t even name which injury happened first. I’ve been out for weeks at a time, months. And as soon as you get injured, the waves go off. So many generations, we’re out there as a family. Whenever anyone is injured, you can see the hurt.
At my age, I know what to do. I’m going to give myself the next two years to get into Pipe Masters, have fun and see what happens. If I don’t get in this year or next year, I’m going to stop competing. I’m going to create more memories in my head or on pictures or video so when I get older (and hopefully can walk still) I’ll be able to scroll through this memories and say I went as hard as I could. I just don’t want to be like these older guys who say they wish they went harder. I’m going to go hard, and have as much fun as I can, until I can’t breathe anymore.