His name translates to “father of the sea,” and he says growing up on Oahu’s famed North Shore was like “winning the lottery.” But the 34-year-old professional surfer had a difficult childhood. “My dad was in jail, and my mom was around but not really there,” he says. For years, he lived in a tent on the beach. “I had nowhere else to go besides into the ocean. It washed all the sad stuff away.”
Though he doesn’t remember it, Rothman first rode a surfboard at age 2 and entered his first contest at 4. As a kid, he was teased about his weight and for having a larger frame. “Everyone surfed the little waves well and I didn’t,” he says. “But nobody surfed the big waves, and I thought, Maybe I can do that better than them.”
In 2002, an 18-year-old Rothman secured a wild-card spot for a competition held at Maui’s mammoth surf break, Pe‘ahi, also known as Jaws. He surprised everyone by surfing the tallest wave recorded anywhere that year and won the World Surf League’s Billabong XXL Big Wave Award. “I was the boy who rode the 66-foot wave,” he says. “That’s what put me on the map.”
Rothman joined the WSL’s Big Wave Tour and, in 2014, became tour champion. He’s racked up more wins since and estimates he’s surfed eight-story waves in unrecorded free surf. Even with all he has accomplished professionally, one of his most meaningful achievements was being named an “Ambassador of Aloha” by the Honolulu City Council.
“I love being able to share this wonderful place that I come from,” he says. “Aloha, to me, means many things. Aloha is a greeting and a farewell, and can also mean ‘I love you.’ It’s an all-around perfect word.”
Words carry special meaning for Rothman as he grows his career as a singer-songwriter. “[My grandmother] was a musician at the Kodak Hula Show and my grandpa played at all of the bars, so it’s in my blood,” he says.
His aptly titled first album, “Sound Wave,” dropped in 2013. “I figured I’d put my music out there, and hopefully it travels around the world and everybody gets to hear it.”
Rothman recently finished a USO tour, visiting troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, and he hopes to release his second album later this summer. Make no mistake, though: Rothman hasn’t retired from surfing. He still dreams of winning.
“The Pipeline Masters would be a good win, but we’ll see if the ocean allows that.”