Jamie O'Brien: the Pipeline Master who just wants to have fun

July 24, 2020 | Surfing
Jamie O'Brien: a barrel-riding master, movie producer, prankster, and all-around waterman | Photo: Red Bull

Every sport has its own rebels. Jamie O'Brien is surfing's party animal - a man who truly believes it's all about having fun.

We've seen him doing things that the ordinary people would never even dare to think of doing.

Jamie O'Brien is one of those surfers who are able to pull into seemingly impossible tubes and come shooting out victoriously.

The only difference is that he's doing it on a finless surfboard or on an inflatable couch.

In "The Encyclopedia of Surfing," Matt Warshaw calls him an "acrobatic, no-brakes pro surfer." And we can't agree more.

James Duncan O'Brien was born on June 9, 1983, in Kahuku, Hawaii. He was raised in the heart of the North Shore of Oahu and grew up in a beachfront house at Banzai Pipeline.

O'Brien started surfing at the age of three with the help of his Australian lifeguard father, Frank O'Brien, and big wave surfer Darrick Doerner.

Frank was always pushing his son to the surf and had the dream of watching him win a world title.

So, at a very young age, O'Brien was already competing in longboarding, bodyboarding, shortboard, and even kneeboarding events.

Later in life, Jamie's father also became his manager when he turned pro and began building a career as a freesurfer.

Jamie O'Brien: winner of the 2004 Rip Curl Pro Pipeline Masters | Photo: Red Bull

Competition Vs. Freesurfing

At the age of 16, the blond-haired teenager was already an accomplished Pipe specialist making waves in surf media and attracting sponsors.

In 1995 and 1996, Jamie O'Brien finished runner-up in the menehune division of the United States Surfing Championships (USSC).

In 2000, the young Hawaiian finished third in the ASP World Junior Championships.

O'Brien seemed ready to beat the world's best at an elite level, but in the following years, it was clear that he would not fit in the professional competitive circus.

"The feeling of winning is pretty priceless. Competing was fun for a while, but that's all I did for 12 years, and at some point, it just wasn't fun anymore," O'Brien once told.

At the ultimate surfing wave, O'Brien was taking off later and deeper than everybody else. Pipeline was his playground; barrels were his meals.

"I get so many barrels at Pipe that I get bored," Jamie joked.

But the wild factor took its toll.

Aged 15, the North Shore surf star broke his right leg at Backdoor left; two years later, he broke his left leg at Pipeline, proving that no one is invincible at the mother of all waves.

In 2003, the regular footer, who quite often switches stance, defeated an in-form Bruce Irons to claim the Hansen's Energy Pro, at his home break.

In 2004, O'Brien defeated Sunny Garcia, Kalani Robb, and Bruce Irons to win the prestigious Rip Curl Pro Pipeline Masters.

Jamie O'Brien: a prolific tube rider enjoying air time in Indonesia | Photo: Red Bull

One year later, the talented young gun lost his interest in competition and decided to focus on freesurfing.

He was tired of rules. Jamie loved the freedom to surf when and where he wanted while documenting everything he did on video.

However, occasionally, he would compete in random ASP-sanctioned events.

In 2010, when his "Who Is JOB" movie came out, he was fined for burning ASP's rulebook.

"It was just a harmless stunt to show what I think of surfing's governing body, but I guess they got offended, and I upset a few people," he said at the time.

Surfing's most popular modern insurgent continued to break the surfer-as-a-role-model establishment with an innovative and sometimes controversial project.

In 2011, he partnered with Red Bull to deliver an online version of "Who Is JOB," an extremely successful vlog series that lasted nine seasons.

"Who Is JOB is my attempt to talk directly through my art and video. It's taken me three years to create an hour without filters. When it's done, please watch. Then hate. Or love. Or ignore. Or whatever," said O'Brien at the time.

The YouTube series featured O'Brien and his friends, as they embarked on a crazy surfing journey across the world, risking their lives and performing dangerous and hilarious stunts in and out of the water.

Jamie O'Brien: life is all about having fun | Photo: Red Bull

Fired Up at Teahupoo

In 2015, Jamie O'Brien did the unimaginable.

The idea of surfing on fire began in 2014 when the Hawaiian asked his fans for ideas of what he should do next.

Suddenly, someone challenged him to light himself on fire, and the whole picture caught the Hawaiian's attention.

So, with the help of Hollywood stunt coordinator, Riley Harper, he spent 12 months performing fire safety tests in California and Hawaii to assess the feasibility of the idea.

The goal was to get barreled at Teahupoo and shoot out of the tube while set on fire.

The team tested various combinations of fire protective layers and even had a custom wetsuit built for the stunt.

When the perfect swell conditions aligned, Jamie and a crew of 25 water and fire safety professionals, photographers, and production crew arrived at the scene of the crime.

After a few tests and failed attempts, O'Brien got the shots and footage he needed of himself exiting a Teahupoo barrel with flames undulating on his back.

Jamie O'Brien: barreled and fired up at Tahiti's Teahupoo | Photo: Red Bull

Surfer, Vlogger and Influencer

Around 2018, Jamie O'Brien debuted his own YouTube channel and started his own label, Stay Psyched.

His weekly videos became a global hit, but it's easy to understand why.

Party waves on giant surfboards, board transfers at Pipeline, night surfing sessions, soft top board acts, kayak tube riding, shore break wipeouts, surfing sewer drains, shore break mayhem, SUPsquatching, couch surfing (literally) attempts, surfing on ladders, barrels at Pipe with finless boards, and surfing in Speedos are only a few examples on the long list of insane things O'Brien likes to do for a living.

Jamie was also responsible for introducing his sidekick - Poopies - to the world. Poopies would also become a famous and quite popular character on the social network planet.

Having fun doing unthinkable things seems to be the winning formula for JOB. And that's as valid as winning world titles.

With his own brand and a huge legion of followers, fans, and admirers, Jamie O'Brien is one of the most entertaining personalities in the action sports world.

The Kahuku-born is also a surfboard collector.

One of his favorite items is a gun which his idol, Tom Curren, rode on the famous Rip Curl The Search mission to Bawa.

O'Brien's favorite shaper is Wade Tokoro.

Jamie O'Brien: womper skiing in Waimea River, Hawaii | Photo: Red Bull

But the 2004 Pipeline Master also enjoys traveling to world-class skiing spots to practice snowboarding, one of his favorite non-surfing hobbies.

The Hawaiian has a series of signature surfboards, sunglasses, skateboards, and wetsuits with several sponsors and brands.

Tina Cohen - Jamie O'Brien's girlfriend - is a passionate surfer, and fitness and health influencer.

Interestingly, and despite being a barrel-riding specialist, he is not a fan of ultra-specific surf training programs.

"I've done a lot of breath training, but I don't honestly think it helps. I don't care what people say, but you just got to learn to relax," he sais in 2019.

Jamie O'Brien is also one of the few surfers who have tried bodyboarding at a competitive level.

He was invited for several times at bodyboard events held at Pipeline, and always showed respect for bodyboarders and their sport.

The North Shore surfer's skills and stunts can be seen in the movies "Freak Show, "This Way Up," "The Electric Mayhem," "Green," and "Freak Side" and "Who is JOB."

JOB is on Instagram(@whoisjob), Facebook (@thejamieoshow), Twitter (@whoisjob) and YouTube (@JamieOBrienJOB).

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