Never give up. It’s the words inked on the inside of Keanu Asing’s right arm. It’s become more than a mantra for the Pro Surfer from Ewa Beach, Oahu – it’s now, more than ever like a way of life for the diminutive Hawaiian.
His dream of being Word Championship Tour qualification ended abruptly in 2016, when even after winning his maiden WCT event in France, Keanu dropped off the elite tour for the 2017 season. It had taken everything he had to get there in the first place, but like a cruel game of snakes and ladders, he slid back down to the start and had to mount a comeback via the World Qualifying Series.
Fast forward 12 months and Keanu has just re-qualified for the 2018 World Championship Tour. Granted it was not in the way he would have liked it to happen after bagging a 49th place in both the last two qualifying events of the year (The Hawaiian Pro, Haleiwa and the Vans World Cup, Sunset Beach), but the other results went his way and via his #9 year end ranking, his re-qualification seemed to bring a sense of redemption to the air.
Heart over height.
The self-confessed underdog has long been a proponent of the ‘heart of height principle’ – it’s a principle suggesting the amount of heart, passion and effort you put in can overcome any adversity or short-coming you may have.
“Obviously I’m a small person, but I feel a real passion for what I do and I care a lot.
I wear my heart on my sleeve – it’s not about where you are on the outside but what your fire is on the inside.
“You cant really teach hard work, you cant really teach effort, but when you put it in… My dad always instilled into me; it’s always about effort – I don’t care how bad you do, he used to say. ‘I don’t care if you go to class and get D’s, but if you tried your hardest and you completed all your work – that’s effort’. ‘You tried, but I wont accept not trying’ he’d used to say. And that’s something I’ve brought into my life from my Dad”.
“Be real passionate about what you do, and work hard. That’s where my family comes from you know. I didn’t have a sponsor that paid for all my stuff. My mum and dad would work all week for me and my sister to go swimming and volleyball, and for me to go out and do my surf contests and pay for me to do my travel and stuff”.
“My parents weren’t rich you know, we’d get by and we had a lot of ups and downs growing up. We lost our house and stuff and part of that comes from my mom and dad paying for all my stuff – its hard to know that you know, because the stuff we were doing was expensive and I never had a sponsor until I was 14 or 15. So my parents worked hard all week so I could do what I did, and I see that and that’s what I’ve got to do too; is work hard and make sure I’m working hard for my family I’m starting”.
‘I feel like I’ve faced a lot of adversity throughout my career, there’s always been people that doubt me you know, but that’s for everyone really, but I feel like when people cheer for me I end up losing…[laughs] But I feel like there are more people that can relate to a struggle, or something that’s tough – and I feel like I’m always in a tough situation whether I’m high on the rankings, low on the rankings I always just seem to be in a tough situation.
“I just feel real blue collar working people can related to somebody like that and be more personable, have an understanding”.
I’m not the most talented surfer, but I make it work you know, if other guys can do it, I feel like I can do it too!
“I try not to give up or stop – I just try to keep it going, you never know”.
You cant always beat the guy on talent, but you can outsmart them. I just know that being a smaller surfer – the hill is taller when you’re smaller!
On whether he feels like he’s an underdog?
“Yeah I do. And I’m OK with that, I’m OK with being the underdog. I am, (an underdog) I truly am, and every time I make a heat on tour, its like ‘oh that’s a big upset’. Its like Pete (Mel) ‘it’s an upset!’ I’m like Pete; you say that every time I win a heat! It’s an upset that you feel like I’m not supposed to be making heats”!
“Somebody got to be the underdog and somebody got to be overlooked you know. That person is me, and that’s fine – I live it and I fill that role – people overlook me and then I just pull the rug from under their feet. It’s a win-win situation”.
Advice to other underdogs or those who have come from nothing but dream of achieving greatness?
“Just having faith! And knowing you’re in this situation for a reason – God has put you here for a reason. It’s not just by accident you got into this predicament.
So just having faith in what you do, because you know I’ve had times when I’ve just been over it – like I was in J-Bay and was thinking this pro surfing thing is not for me after 6 last place results. Maybe I should be surfing, maybe there’s something better for me to do.
“I just have faith in what I’m doing, knowing that I can do it. It sounds kinda corny, but its true – If you can figure out, Ok I’m here for a reason, I know what I need to take care of and you focus on what you’re doing and not what everyone else is doing, I feel like you’ll blow your mind more than you will blow anyone else’s mind”.
Even when the chips are down, there’s always something to look forward to – you can always come back.
“Sometimes when things get hard, it feels like it’s the end of the tunnel, but there’s always things to look forward to”.
What about for life and business?
“I feel like if you just focus on what you’re doing and not worry about what everyone else is doing, you can go a long way”.
Trust yourself. And you got to be ok with making a bad decision too.
“You live and die by the choices you make – if it’s a bad one, you got to die by the sword… [laughs] You just got to wear it. Pick it back up, lets go again”. [more laughs]
“When you’ve made a bad decision – even in a heat – you’ve just got to regroup and figure a way back. Especially when you’re an underdog, you feel like every decision is just a 50/50 chance”.
On feeling added pressure about performing for Hawaii…
“Yeah for sure its there. I grew up here and used to skip school to go watch the contests. Just growing up I’d seen guys like Kalani Robb, Sunny (Garcia), Andy (Irons) and that’s what I wanted to do. Everyone would cheer for them and it’s a big deal you know, because there are not many of us who travel and who are on the tour. And it’s the birthplace of surfing, so it means a lot to a lot of Hawaiians”.
“Its tough. You really want to do it for Hawaii, let alone do it for yourself. When you make it at an international level and come back home and the older guys are like – How you did? How you did? Oh, I lost. Aaaaaaaaaaaaaah – that’s all we get you know! Aaaaaah, how come you never win?! Those contests are so hard, you don’t understand, its tough”!
On lessons learnt for 2018…
“Just drawing on some of my success from last year and this year… obviously putting pressure on myself is not the way to go [laughs]! I feel like just enjoying what I do. A lot of my success came from good preparation at home, having a routine”.
“Everything I was doing this year worked for me to the point where I was more excited and hungry to surf than ever before. I’ve never been so excited to surf; it felt like the pressure was off. I got to do a bunch of events I never got to do before”.
When I was on tour, I put so much pressure on myself – I was like, I’m going to come out and I’m going to smoke these guys! Then I just got smoked you know!
“Obviously I wanted to be here again (on the WCT) but I wasn’t like – Yeah it’s going to happen, I’m going to make it happen. The whole year I was just like – if it happens it happens, I’m just really enjoying competing again”.
“I feel like I’ve learnt to just focus on what’s in front of me, if you think of the whole year its just exhausting. It’s like if Kailin (Keanu’s wife) goes into the ring, she’s not thinking about what’s going to happen in the 3rd round, she’s thinking about what’s right there – slipping this punch, or trying to place a kick there.”
“For me this year, I used a lot of that. Not that I didn’t care, but not make it so much of a big thing. Everyone was making such a big thing about it, the tour, qualifying, everything. And it is awesome, but not when you’re getting criticized on everything you do, every session. That’s tough”.
“It’s a cool way to earn a living and at the end of the day I got to feed my family too. I’m not going to lie down and let someone take what’s mine”.
Homepage feature image by WSL / John Ferguson