Unless you live under a rock, by now you've probably caught wind of all the buzz surrounding young South Carolina ripper Cam Richards. Literally everyone is talking about him. Even Kelly Slater, Dane Reynolds, Joel Parkinson, and celebrities like Jamie Foxx and Jaden Smith. But it all started with a simple online contest: the Hurley Pro video trials. After accepting about 100 submissions from America's best surfers, Hurley pitted the top 16 contenders against each other last week in man-on-man virtual heats where the video clips did the talking and fans did the judging. The surfer with the most votes at the end of the day won the heat and advanced to the next round. Not only did 17-year-old Cam Richards get chosen for this contest, but with solid clips and a huge hometown backing rallied to his cause, he made it all the way to the semifinals, where he narrowly (yes, narrowly) lost to eventual winner Dane Reynolds. It was a week filled with excitement, drama, worry, and, ultimately, accomplishment. No one understands the complicated mix of emotions associated with this sort of popularity contest like Jamie Tworkowski, founder of nonprofit To Write Love On Her Arms, who has entered and won contests like the MTV Woodie Awards and the American Giving Awards in order to help his organization reach people around the world. So, when Jamie said he wanted to chat with Cam to find out where his mind was at after all the craziness that went down, we couldn't pass up the opportunity to listen in on the conversation. Here's what Cam had to say...
Jamie Tworkowski: In the last few days, a lot of people have asked the question “Who the heck is Cam Richards?” How would you answer that?
Cam Richards: I’m a 17-year-old kid that is from Garden City Beach, SC, and I have an amazing family. My dad is awesome, my mom is awesome, and my brother [Cole] is pretty much how I got to where I am right now. If it wasn’t for him, I wouldn’t be anywhere. And I’m just a kid that’s worked his way up through the amateur career. I won a national title. I’m trying to make it, and it’s a tough time. I’m still one of those kids that’s trying to make it in the surf world.
JT: So are you splitting your time between South Carolina and California?
CR: Not really. I’ve been staying out here [California] for about a year now. And I only went home for a weekend once. I’m out here by myself. My dad and my brother are back home. I’m going to go home next week and hang out before ECSC. I’m glad to go home for a little bit to hang out with all my friends and catch up with everyone. I’m excited about that.
JT: Do you think being away from home has made you really appreciate it?
CR: Oh, no doubt in my mind. I went home not too long ago for the weekend – I got invited to a golf tournament — and just being home, it brings back all those good memories. And then, when I’m in California, living out here, you always get to surf. Of course, I’m always homesick, and I wish all my friends would be here. When they do come out here, it’s awesome. It’s super fun.
JT: I suppose the next obvious question is, where did all those votes come from?
CR: [Laughs]. The state of South Carolina. I talked to the people at Hurley and they said there were so many votes from Myrtle Beach. I did not have a lot to do with all the votes. I kind of stayed out of a lot of it, but my town and my friends and family and a lot of other people wanted me to win. A lot of people went out of their way to get people to vote for me, which was really special to me. I never knew I had that much support. People can say I tried to get all these votes — of course I posted a few things— but the famous people who voted for me were all just friends of friends of friends, just the good ol’ boy system.
JT: Have you heard some crazy stories?
CR: I’ve got a lot of different stories. I’ve seen all the comments. “How much did they have to pay Jamie Foxx?” [laughs]. Of course, I’m going to have to deal with all the haters, but that kind of makes it more fun. It shows me that people actually care. I probably get more out of it than people telling me all the nice stuff. It gets you more fired up to prove them wrong.
JT: Obviously, everyone is talking about your matchup against Dane. But you had to get past Aaron Cormican and Albee Layer, both great surfers. Did you believe you could win from the beginning, or did it surprise you?
CR: When I saw the whole lineup, I was psyched. I thought it was going to be fun. I wasn’t going to start anything or say anything, but I wanted to win. When I beat Aaron, it was pretty close. I know he wasn’t too psyched about the whole thing, but everyone has their opinion, and if that’s his opinion, then so be it. I can’t do anything about it. I’ve always respected Aaron Cormican and always thought he was a great surfer. He didn’t think the same of me, and I totally understand that. No hard feelings. With Albee, I was really nervous. He’s one of the gnarliest Internet surfers ever. His webisodes are nuts. He landed the first 720 ever. Honestly, I believe the East Coast had an advantage because of the time difference. By the time Albee woke up, I was already 500 votes ahead, and maybe he kind of threw in the towel. And then even to put up a fight against Dane was absolutely mind-blowing. We all know that Dane is the better surfer. A lot of people would like to see Dane, but then again, a lot of people would like to see me. People want to see people accomplish their goals and follow their dreams. I was just trying to make my one of my dreams come true.
JT: How did the Jamie Foxx and Jaden Smith support come about?
CR: I have a friend named Alex Midler from Malibu. He skateboards professionally and he hangs out with Jaden Smith, and I guess he called him and asked him to do it. Alex has like 50,000 followers and helped me a lot and even got some other skaters to give me a shout-out. The Jamie Foxx thing had a lot to do with South Carolina. My brother knew a girl that knew him. When I saw that — somebody texted me about it and I didn’t even know what they were talking about — it just blew my mind that people went so far out of their way just to try to make one of my dreams come true, which meant so much to me. It changed my life. Regardless of if I won or not, it still changed my life, that’s for sure.
JT: Bring us through your day when you were up against Dane.
CR: I woke up and I was 100 votes ahead, and I was like, “Whoa, that’s weird.” I go down to Lowers, and right before I paddle out, I’m 150 votes ahead and I’m thinking, “This is kinda crazy.” I go out surfing, and it was like, “I can’t do this. I can’t sit out here.” I would catch a wave and check my phone after every wave. Then Jaden gave me that shout-out, and I went up 200. And then, when I was leaving Lowers, Dane caught up to me, and that’s when my emotions went down. I was bummed. Later on in the day, we were going back and forth, back and forth. And then around 5 o’clock, I took a 200-vote lead, and I was so psyched, thinking, “Man, I wish this day would just end.” Then I was at my girlfriend’s house, and we were just sitting there watching my phone. We saw the Jamie Foxx tweet, and we were freaking out about that. And then, at night, a lot of the East Coast fell asleep, and Dane took the lead. I wasn’t bummed. I was still so psyched. The day was an emotional coaster. It was a day to remember, that’s for sure.
JT: I saw that you talked to Kelly at Lowers a few days ago. What did he have to say?
CR: It’s funny because, in one of his comments on Instagram, he said he wanted to see me go right. So, yesterday, I see him catch a wave, and I see this little right come in as he’s paddling back out. I did two turns and a backside air, basically right in front of him. My friend Sam said that Kelly looked back and hooted at me. Then Kelly went in. I had never really met him, so I caught a wave in. I walked up and said, “I want to properly introduce myself, not through social media. I want to apologize for the hate you ended up getting yesterday. And I want to say thank you, too, for some of your support.” He laughed and said, “Don’t apologize. I think I can handle 15-year-old girls with their claws out.” He was nice. I went back out surfing, and knowing that he was on the beach watching, I felt like I was surfing even better than I have before. It’s cool now, because the next time I see Kelly Slater, he’s going to know my name and who I am.
JT: So that’s probably another dream come true?
CR: Exactly. That’s been my dream since I was a little kid, to be able to sit there and talk to Kelly Slater, not just as a fan, but as a person. And the fact that Dane Reynolds even knows my name is amazing.
JT: And Dane said you’re a good surfer, just from the four waves he saw, right?
CR: Yeah, and that made my life. That was awesome. Him saying that made all of this worth it, no matter what. Having the two best surfers in the world say that I surf good is the biggest confidence booster you could ever get.
JT: Last night, you tweeted “Retweet if you think South Carolina changed the sport of surfing on July 31” Talk to me about that.
CR: I haven’t been able to sleep the last three nights. I just lay in my bed thinking. That’s what was on my mind. I don’t know if “change” is the right word, but I definitely think that we — the East Coast and South Carolina — put surfing on a bigger worldwide map. And I wanted to see what other people thought. Right now, it has about 40 retweets, so it’s pretty cool to see that a lot of people do agree.
JT: I took some heat for being an East Coaster but voting for Dane. What’s your take on that? Do people get carried away with “East Coast loyalty?”
CR: I think there’s two parts to it. Yes, there’s East Coast loyalty, but then again, I think a lot of it is that people wanted to see a 17-year-old kid’s dream come true. The East Coast / west coast thing didn’t start until Slater posted “vote for Dane.” People got pissed off thinking Slater would want to make an East Coast kid’s dream come true. He is known for giving back. He was a kid too, with the same exact dream that I have, and I’m sure people helped him out. I don’t believe it was strictly an East Coast / west coast thing. There were people on the west coast voting for me, and there were people on the East Coast voting for Dane. I think mostly it was the debate of either a) let’s make a 17-year-old kid’s dream come true, or b) let’s see Dane Reynolds surf in a World Tour event.
JT: You’ve won titles and had a lot of success at the amateur level. But is it safe to say that this is the biggest moment of your career?
CR: I definitely feel that way. I didn’t win anything, but still. When I moved out here, I wanted people to see me. I didn’t want to be known as the East Coast kid who did the East Coast amateur contests and then would be done. I want to go on trips with big names. And I felt like the only way to do it was to move out here. I think this put me on the map — the worldwide map, not just the East Coast map.
JT: What has Billabong told you? I’m guessing they’re pretty happy right now.
CR: They’re absolutely thrilled. They love what happened. They had a blast with it. We’re going down to Lowers to film a webisode. I think it’s going to be called #whoiscamrichards [laughs]. Billabong is so psyched right now. I’m just glad to be part of an amazing family. If it wasn’t for Billabong, I couldn’t do what I do. They’ve helped me throughout my entire life.
JT: Last question. What’s next for Cam Richards?
CR: I want to come out with a good edit and put it out everywhere. I want to show everyone else that I can surf — I can go backside, I can go frontside, I can do rail turns. I’m going to try to keep putting myself on the map. And I’m going to balance that with doing contests, too. In between contests, I’ll be filming. I’ll be doing trips. When it comes contest time, I’m going to do the best I can. Hopefully, all these people who say, “He won’t qualify,” I hope to prove them wrong in the next couple years and be on the World Tour. And hopefully Kelly is still on there. It would be fun. It would be a good time, that’s for sure.
JT: Well you made a believer out of me. I’ll be rooting for you, and I know a lot of people are. I’m pumped for you. It’s such a good story, and I appreciate your time. Anything else you want to say?
CR: I want to say thank you to everyone on the East Coast. This was a team thing. I don’t think I did this. I think we did this.