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Interview: Mark Angulo

Jan 28, 2008

Author: John Carter

The Rebirth of Style: Mark Angulo
Wave 360s, goiters and contorted tweaked aerials - Mark Angulo's innovation and natural ability lead to the creation of modern wave sailing and many of his moves are still the inspiration and aspiration for our sport's top athletes today. While his contorted style drew him event wins and worldwide accolades in the golden days of the sport, his head and body were twisting him in other ways too. In a frank and powerful interview with John Carter, Angulo tells about conquering his demons and finding his way back to the water, where already he's inventing new moves and being recognised as 'the one' to watch at Ho'okipa.

John Carter: What was it like growing up in a "surfing" family?
Mark Angulo: My dad wanted to shape boards so we moved over from California. We were a surf family; my mom would take us down to the beach to play in the shore break when we were young while my dad was shaping boards. The family moved over to Maui in 1986 just as I was graduating from high school. So pretty much my whole school life was on Oahu. As we were growing up we were just surfing everyday. We were raised in a surfing environment. My dad shaped for all the big companies over in Oahu. Lightning Bolt, Town and Country, and Local Motion. My best friends were all great surfers. One of them was Ricky Irons who is the cousin of Andy and Bruce Irons. I hung out with Mark Thomas, who runs Rip Curl, and Jack Johnson, the singer. We grew up amongst a lot of surfers and talented people. We were just a bunch of kids hanging out at the beach. Every year we would watch the pros roll into town, like Tom Curren, Martin Potter, Shaun Thomson, and all those guys.

JC: How did you get your start competing in windsurfing?
MA: I'd finished up high school and I had just started touring. We had already been coming over to Maui for windsurfing a bunch. I had already been competing for a while and I was sailing pretty well. We would normally come over for the contests in March/April and October/November. I was making money. At that time not through sponsors but mostly through winning contests. I was just a grommet but I was placing up in the top five of the big Maui wave contests. Back then you could get four or five grand for third or fourth so I was doing pretty well. My dad's business was also thriving and he was making a name for himself as one of the leading sailboard shapers.

    I remember going to the Gorge in 1986. I was riding for North I believe at the time. Over there I met Barry Spanier and Jeff Bourne from Neil Pryde and they wanted me to ride for them and offered me some money. I was like "Wow! That's great for sure!" By the time I got back home I had a whole new quiver of Neil Pryde sails. Right around that time I really started to do well. I started winning contests and then I started traveling around. From '86 to '89-90 there was a lot of stuff happening. There was a lot of good stuff and also a lot of bad. It was a real flurry. I was making a lot of money. My friends were back home waiting tables and smoking pot and back then for my age I was pulling in $70,000-$100,000 a year. That was good money. Maybe today it is not so great but right now I would still be happy with that (Laughs).

JC: How did you invent moves like the goiter and wave 360?
MA: A bunch of moves I created and became know for were kind of accidents. For one I was a great wave sailor. Growing up on Oahu and having the surfing background really made me an exceptional sailor. When I came to Maui and met all the windsurfers, a lot of them surfed but they were not great surfers. I am not trying to brag on myself but definitely I immediately rose to the top in the wave sailing scene because I had been exposed to unbelievably good surf all through my life. A bit like Robby Naish. My windsurfing was a natural progression. As I got better things like the 360 happened. That move started as an accident. I remember on a windy day I kind of blew out of a wave and spun around and almost landed. Then I kind of figured out that the move was possible. Craig Jester and all those guys from backyards used to call me 'Baby Gu' so I ended up naming the 360 the Gu Screw. My dad didn't like the word 'screw' so he changed it to aerial 360! I really liked to try and learn a lot of knew moves. People would laugh at me while I was trying but then I would make a new move. That would be it...the other guys would have to learn the new moves too. At the time one of my goals was to always stay one step ahead. I may not have seen it at the time but I was actually a pretty competitive person. At the contests I might have seemed all laid back but I was determined to do as well as possible in the big Maui events.

    A couple of things happened with me and they still do actually. I would actually dream stuff. I would be asleep at night and dream about new moves. I would wake up remember it and then go and try it. Sometimes it would work out. The Goiter was like that. I dreamt that, man! (Laughs) I remember waking up going "Wow that was a weird dream." On the other hand a lot of my moves would happen from falling. I could be in the air and out of control and something would happen and you would flip with the wind and land a different way. Then you figure you could do that move. The whole back loop thing I used to do with the arched back and twisting my head, I don’t know where that comes from. When I used to surf on Oahu they used to call me 'Noodle Boy' because I used to get into some contorted positions. I don't know why. I am not that limber or anything really I am kind of tight. Something just happens to me in the water. I've got a big swings around a lot... (Laughs).

JC: What was life like on tour?
MA: I did not do all of it but I did events in Europe, Japan and Australia. On port tack I was just worthless, still to this day I suck. For one, I am a regular foot surfer. I have spent so much time surfing that for me to sail port tack is like pulling teeth. I cannot for the life of me bottom turn. I still traveled the world and I was still able to do ok in the waves but at that time in my career Neil Pryde were happy for me to show up and sign autographs and do promotions. I was like the Neil Pryde show off kid. All the dealers wanted Mark Angulo at their contests and that is what I did.

JC: Why did you get kicked off the PBA tour?
MA: At that time I was starting to slip off the rails. I would turn up at events, drink and be a full trouble maker. It wasn’t all bad... I have a lot of good memories about those years too. As much as there was a lot of bad stuff, there was a lot of good stuff too. In the World Cup event in England I got in a fight with Terry Weiner the tour manager. I was kicked out of the PBA. He was the head guy and I punched him. Those were bad days. I did not know Neil Pryde that well but I remember being at ISPO in Germany and he took me aside. He did not tell me in such words that I was fired but he said that he could not handle my actions and behavior. When I got home the checks stopped flowing!

    I don’t know where I got my wild streak. We were raised pretty strictly. We were a Christian family and went to private school and then a public school. I was exposed to plenty of good stuff and plenty of bad on Oahu. I think what happened for me, people will dispute this but if I really look back at what was going on... I did not know how to deal with what was happening. I wasn't shy but I kind of just liked to do my thing. At that age without any preparation I was thrown into the limelight. I was put on a pedestal, center stage with plenty of money in my pocket; I had people asking for autographs and all kind of stuff happening. Part of me was really scared while the other side of me was thinking this is the greatest thing in the world. There was no balance; I did not have any checks or control on my behavior. I had my dad but he did not travel with me and he was not aware of half the stuff I was up to at home or away. The situation really lead to some out of control action. At first I think that alcohol was a really good way for me to be able to cope. I was totally out of control in all aspects. This was around the early nineties. I would drink and party like any normal person but then it really developed into something more of a daily affair. Alcohol became part of my life. I did not realize it. I was drinking every single day. Even my rowdy friends, would not always be drinking but I would just keep going. Then I realized... "You know what? I am the worst of all my friends." I kept thinking that I was hanging with some bad people but I ended up the baddest of them all. (Laughs) Even the bad guys didn't want to hang out with me! (Laughs).

JC: How did you recover?
MA: It was a place called 'My Brothers Keeper'. It was a Hawaiian family who came from Oahu. They developed a Christian based program. I lived with them for a year. That was the hardest year of my life. It was also hard because it was on Maui. I did not intend to stay for the whole year. I was thinking like thirty days and I would be out of there. I had to come to terms with the way I had lost everything I had. I wanted to show the people around me, and the community, that I was serious.

    We built a restaurant over in Kapalua. I did a lot of yard work and a lot of community service kind of work. There was no alcohol in the house. It was a safe and sober environment but you could leave the house anytime you wanted. Within the first week I was working at a restaurant actually building the bar. If I wanted to access alcohol I could have. About one hundred people came and left the house and I think I was the second one to graduate. I saw people come and go everyday but I just said nobody was going to stop me this time.

    I was shocked when I came back out from the rehab. We would get up at five AM every morning. By the time most people were crawling out of bed we would be cranking for two hours. I remember the first night I came home. Throughout this time my wife Eleanor started visiting me again. We kind of fixed our relationship. The 'real me' came back. Before I was just drinking vodka all day. I did not even drink beer by the end. I just drank vodka all day long. The 'real me' started to emerge again. The person she fell in love with back in 1988. So we decided to get re-married. I remember waking up the day I came out of the rehab and I did not know what to do with myself. In the rehab we spent most of the time in quietness, focusing on yourself. You had to think about why you had made the choices you had made. The fact was that I made those choices. I did it. Most people will tell you there are physiological and physical reasons why you become an alcoholic and of course there are. Maybe it's something in people's background that makes you slip of the rails but I did it. My friends did not do it to me. It wasn't the fact that I was windsurfing too young with too much money. I realized that I made those choices. I paid the price for my actions. Once I came to terms with that and then I realized I did not have to go back to alcohol. It made me at peace with myself. It is ok now. It is ok to have a good life. Not drink all day. Not self destruct. Not all resentful and angry and trying to blame everyone else.

JC: How does it feel to hit the water again?
MA: I had some old equipment. I went sailing after about a week out of the rehab. I was just a kook. I remember getting beaten around. I remember getting one wave and just busting the biggest fattest goiter ever! I ate it in the pit! I just remember laughing. It came back to me that I just love windsurfing. I then started working at the shop for my dad. That started to become my new life. The shop and the beach. That is now my little loop. No deviations. No reason to go anywhere else. I just wake up early. Do my computer work. Go to the shop, take care of my responsibilities. Go to the beach. Go sailing or surfing. Before I had all these mental and emotional ties with windsurfing and the beach. The fact is that one day I woke up too and realized that it is my responsibility to be down the beach. I am one of the best windsurfers in the world. I love windsurfing and I gotta go windsurf. I don't complain anymore about the wind or the conditions.

    Of course we all like to think that we are good enough to get paid to windsurf but I don't think about it in those terms anymore. I think that because of who I am and what I am doing I am in a pretty good position. Now I am involved with the shaping, designing and the Angulo board line with my ability of what's going on the water. I think I would probably be the best deal that is going! But the fact is I am 38 years old. I had my day in the sun. The way I have things going I will have plenty more time in the water. I will get some magazine coverage and stuff like that but my main goal now is to be happy and live a good life. I would like to be a good inspiration and a good example for younger kids.

    There are a lot of young guys out there just in the same position I used to be. I can see some of them partying and getting bad. I would now like to set a good example.

    At the moment I don't even get free boards. I earn my boards. I got to pay for my boards. I make them at the Angulo custom factory so I get the best price possible. But I pay for everything. Nothing is free because it has got to come out of somebody's pocket. My dad ain't gonna pay for my boards anymore. Actually Robby Naish gives me sails, booms and masts. He and Michi Schweiger have really helped me out. Robby was really a good friend. He stepped up to the plate. I called him and said I needed some stuff. I went down there and they loaded up my truck with sails. That was really cool. Robby does not have to anything like that for nobody. I really appreciated that.

JC: What was it like to ride Jaws when it was first discovered?
MA: That whole time in our life was a really cool period. I was hanging with Laird Hamilton, Mike Waltze and Dave Kalama and Jaws was one of the places we were watching for years. Then one day Laird suggested we go out sailing there. It was windy so we went out. We all jumped off the rocks. It was scary. I was the first one off the rocks and I had to paddle my rig about 40 feet to get into the wind. You had to time it. There was a big shore break and a lot of rocks. It was real stupid actually. I made it out and all of a sudden a big set came and the other guys had to wait. I was out there on my own for about half an hour. I got like ten covers from that first session. Everyone else finally made it out. Oh my goodness that was a day to remember. It was scary. Kai got caught that day and broke all of his stuff and went on the rocks. After that we started taking our boats up there and then jet skis came around. They were pretty fun years. We sailed it plenty after that. The first time was the one! I have not been out there in a long time. I would love to sail it again. It's a great wave. With all the crowds out there now it's getting more dangerous. People have to drop deeper. I am not sure if I want to take a thirty foot wave on my head again. I did a couple of times and I am telling you it is not something you want to do often. Sooner or later somebody will drown.

JC: What are you working on now?
MA: I am feeling like I am just now getting to the point where I feel I can start pulling off some serious moves. I feel like my timing is good enough to launch and get forward projection, height and momentum all together. There is a lot of stuff to do. Without going into too much detail...really the next stuff is going into double rotations on the waves. There is a lot of inverted is really the sky is the limit. The problem for me is that I don't have a place to train a hundred waves a day with nobody in my way. If I had that you just can't imagine what you can do. It's hard to learn and do good stuff at Ho'okipa these days and that is one of the best places in the world to learn. A lot of times you will only get three of four set ups in a day. I get so excited when I get a good set up. Sometimes I just melt so I rarely put it all together to make it happen.

Words by John Carter 
Photos by Jono Knigh and John Carter 


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