Shortly after last month’s Rip Curl Pro Puerto Rico, we caught up with New Jersey surfer Rob Kelly. Due to his recent success in contests, including a semi-final result in Puerto Rico,Â Rob has been making a name for himself. We had the liberty of asking the 23-year-old Ocean City native about his time in PR, his career with Billabong, his website, FrothyLip, and how Jersey is doing after Sandy.
SURFBANG: Did you go into the Rip Curl Pro with any expectations of how well you wanted to do?
Rob Kelly: I always go into an event with the mindset of doing well but to be honest I surprised myself a little bit. When the heat draw came out a few weeks before the event I saw that guys like CJ Hobgood, Taylor Knox, Chris Ward, and Cory Lopez were entered. I was just stoked on the opportunity to surf with them. Had someone told me before the event that I would end up placing higher than those guys I would have had a hard time believing them.
You made it all the way to the semis even though the conditions at Jobos weren’t the best. What was your trick for finding ways to advance in your heats?
I’ve surfed Jobos a lot growing up and I was staying up the street this year. I got to surf there everyday for a two weeks leading up to the event. At a reef like Jobos the lineup basically stays the same so I was confident on where to sit and which waves to catch. On the bigger days I knew I just needed to stick to what I knew. Since the heats were 30 minutes I tried to pick off the best waves. Having surfed there so much I think I had an advantage knowing which was were good and I didn’t have to do as much trial and error during heats. Some guys had to strategy to stay busy and take off behind the rocks and hope for the best. I sat a little wider and picked off the few waves that broke further down the line. It ended up working for me until that last heat in the semis.
Your last three heats were stacked. How was it surfing against local favorites like Dylan Graves and Wesley Toth, and older pros like CJ Hobgood, Gabe Kling, and Ben Bourgeois?
Almost everyone of the 144 guys entered in the event surf well enough to win it. There is so much talent on the ASP tour right now and any surfer can throw an air or huge turn and knock you out in any heat. I try to go into an event thinking that every heat is a tough one and not worry about the names in the draw. Of course when guys like CJ Hobgood and Benny B are in there you cant help but be a little bit intimidated but even with those guys I just tried to tune them out and stick to my game plan. It sounds clique, but when the conditions were the way they were the last two days of the event, you really are competing against yourself.
What went wrong in the semis?
Through out the entire event, I tried to sit a little wider than most of the other guys. Most competitors were sitting on the rock hassling each other for the infamous Jobos wedge. I knew I would probably have a hard time getting waves off the locals or tour veterans so I sat wide and basically by myself. In every other heat before the semi enough waves swung wide and I was able to get the scores I needed. Even some rare lefts popped up where I was sitting when I need scores. As the final day went on there were less and less wide waves coming in. Before the semi I thought about sitting on the rock but then decided to stick to what had been working. Unfortunately, there were only a few opportunities for scores where I was sitting and the ones I got I either fell or bogged. Looking back I should have changed my plan when I noticed that the lineup was shifting. That’s something I’ll remember and take with me going into the next event.
Do you plan on getting fully involved in the QS or was the Rip Curl Pro just an excuse to get down to PR?
I did a few events last year but didn’t have any good results. In order to compete in events, you need to have points but in order to have points, you need to compete in events. So its kind of a catch 22. The only way to break that is to get a wildcard from your sponsors or start in the early rounds of a 4 or 5 star and make it to the later rounds. This event is what I needed to secure a solid amount of points that will build my seed and allow me to compete in more events. I will do a few more contests this year to try and get a few more points but next season when the points from this event factor into my seed and world ranking, I plan on getting way more involved.
Outside of the contest, how was your stay in Puerto Rico? Got any good stories from the trip?
I love Puerto Rico. I go there every winter around that time. Its such a quick and easy trip and your almost guaranteed to do a lot of surfing. This year was no different. There was swell almost every day and we surfed and filmed a lot.
We saw your video showing the intense flooding from Hurricane Sandy in Ocean City. How’s it been in Jersey since then? Whatâ€™s being rebuilt?
Its getting better but things are far from normal. Ocean City got dealt a better hand compared to the places in North Jersey. There are still people waiting for insurance money to fix up there houses but for the most part all the businesses are back up and running and people are back in their homes. I was up in the Lavalette area last week and it still looks like it did when the hurricane hit in October. My heart defiantly goes out to the people up there. Its unfair to say that Ocean City got lucky, because there are some people here negatively effected, but in the grand scheme of things we definitely did.
What’s your favorite thing about New Jersey?
My favorite thing about New Jersey as far as surfing goes is the waves. But its also my least favorite thing about New Jersey. When its good here its really good. I’ve surfed all over North America, Australia, Europe, South America, and Asia and I can honestly say some of the best waves I’ve surfed are those winter days at home when its just pumping offshore and barreling. Unfortunately those days only happen 2-3 times a year. New Jersey is an awesome place to live as a surfer as long as you have the ability to travel a lot.
Where do you see yourself in the next five years?
I took on a position as a regional marketing manager for Billabong. It allows me to have a free schedule to compete and travel but with a few extra responsibilities on the business end. I work with the sales team and marketing guys to help service our accounts as well as manage the north east surf team. Its been a great opportunity to learn the business side of surfing and I’ve been enjoying it. I want to continue to compete and travel but also want to learn more from my marketing position. If in 5 years I am still working in the surf industry, either as an athlete or in a full time position working for a brand, I will be happy.
How much traveling do you do in a year?
I try to travel as much as I can. If you want to compete at a pro level you have to be surfing everyday. In the winter time especially, you can can’t surf every day in NJ. When I see a long range forecast that doesn’t show much surf, I try to book a ticket somewhere for a few weeks that I know I can surf. Puerto Rico and California are where I usually go to but I this year I also spent a month in Europe.
If you had to pick one surfer on tour who has inspired you the most, who would you pick and why?
Kelly Slater has always been the surfer that inspired me the most on tour. As an athlete in general, actually. Its incredible to me how a person can stay so focused and motivated at one task for so long. I really hope he writes a book someday.
Can you tell us more about FrothyLip? Is it just a clothing company?
It actually started as a blog. [My brother] Chris is living in California and I’m doing my thing so between the two of us we’ve always had a decent amount of content whether it be photos or video. Frothylip.com is just a place that we can both post stuff from our trips in one place and people can see what we are doing. We’ve gotten a pretty solid following the past year or so and we’ve started to do a little branding and marketing.
Whatâ€™s your ultimate goal with FrothyLip?
Frothylip was just a no pressure project that we were doing for fun. Now that its grown quite a bit, people have approached us with different ideas and proposals and its been cool seeing what people think about it. There are some exciting things happening that I can’t really talk about just yet, but we are super stoked on.
The trailer for your upcoming movie was pretty rad. What can we expect from the finished product?
I’m working with a photographer/filmer Jay Rutowski here and my brother is working with another filmer Pat Westman in California. While he’s surfing in Mexico and California, I’m in Puerto Rico or somewhere and we are both getting clips. We thought it would be cool to save our best clips from the winter and make a short film to show in the summer. It’s just a little project that we are working on but I think its going to turn out pretty cool.
Are you filming in any other locations?
Chris has been chasing waves all over California and Mexico and I spent time in Portugal and Puerto Rico filming.