At a young age, Makua Rothman surfed with his father, who pushed Makua to surf waves much bigger than those his peers were surfing. Makua also attributes his surfing prowess in large waves to his size as a youth. Because he was slightly overweight growing up, Makua wasn’t as agile as some of his peers and catching smaller, less powerful waves was difficult for him. Bigger, more powerful waves better suited his surfing and Makua was quick to push the limits at a young age, surfing famous big-wave spots like Sunset Beach and Pipeline.
Makua also suffered from asthma as a child, a health issue potentially detrimental to someone who is surfing, a sport where breathing and holding one’s breath are fundamentally important. However, Makua thanks his father for always involving him in various sports such as soccer, baseball, football, and water polo because it seemed to help abate his difficulties with asthma. Being involved in different physical activities taught Makua how to relax when his breathing became arduous and his ability to relax his breathing in tense situations in the water is one of the qualities that has helped Makua in many life-threatening situations he has faced while surfing big waves.
In 1992, at just eight years old, Makua paddled out to surf at famous big-wave spot Waimea Bay during a ceremony held for deceased surfer Eddie Aikau. The heavy surf conditions pounded the young Makua, holding him under two, 12-foot set waves. Makua didn’t think he would survive when he suddenly popped up in a clearing of the turbulent white-water. It has been daunting experiences like this that have built Makua’s confidence to the high level it is at today when it comes to big-wave surfing.
Makua began surfing at the early age of two years old, but began tow-in surfing at the age of 13 when his dad and family friend Darrick Doerner first taught Makua. With Doerner, one of the pioneers of tow-in surfing, as his guide, Makua eventually learned the ropes and in 2002 won the Billabong XXL Big Wave Challenge Award in one of the most historic big-wave sessions in history. His fearless surfing of the 66 foot wave earned him $66,000, a thousand dollars for every foot. It was the largest wave in the world to be surfed that winter.
Makua attributes his love of surfing and the ocean to his father as well as several professional surfers he grew up around like Sunny Garcia, Myles Padaca, Johnny Boy Gomes, and Dane Kealoha. Makua also accredits his other abilities and his character to his role models because they taught him how to dive and hunt for food, they taught him about respect, about leadership, and about adhering to one’s own beliefs.