Shane Dorian: the versatile and fearless Hawaiian surfer

August 12, 2022 | Surfing
Shane Dorian: probably the most successful big wave surfer of all time | Photo: Dorian Archive

Shane Dorian is one of the best surfers and paddle-in big wave riders of his generation. Here's how the Hawaiian-born athlete became an all-around waterman.

Patrick Shane Dorian was born in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii, on July 19, 1972.

He is the son of Patrick, a former Hollywood actor and stunt double for Elvis Presley, and Susan, a competitive bodybuilder.

The couple met when Susan moved from the Midwest to study at the University of Hawaii.

Shane's parents opened a restaurant on the beach called "Dorian's" when their older child was only three years old.

As a result, the ocean was his best company.

Dorian started riding waves on a boogie board at Banyans, Big Island, with future multiple-time bodyboarding and bodysurfing champion Mike Stewart.

When the young pre-schooler hit five, his father gifted him his first surfboard. Immediately after, the infant dropped the bodyboard and focused on his new stand-up wave-riding equipment.

In 1983, Shane won his first contest. He was 11.

In the two subsequent years, he was a finalist in the National Scholastic Surfing Association (NSSA) Championships in the menehune division.

One year later, in 1985, Dorian won the Hawaiian state titles.

As a teenager, he split his free time, surf training sessions, and school education between the North Shore of Oahu (winter season) and Hawaii's Big Island.

Shane first traveled abroad to England aged 12 for the World Amateur Championships, representing Hawaii.

Shane Dorian, 1993: posing for Taylor Steele on the day they met each other | Photo: Steele

The Momentum Generation Years

In 1987, the 15-year-old impressed judges, media, and spectators with a massive performance at the Gotcha Pro.

At the time, the Hawaiian made it through four rounds, beating some stars of the sport. He also met and became friends with influential surfers like Brock Little and Todd Chesser.

The encounter would lead to the informal creation of the so-called Momentum Generation, a group of new school wave riders who got together and pushed the boundaries of modern surfing.

The tight-knit tribe featured Kelly Slater, Shane Dorian, Rob Machado, Kalani Robb, Ross Williams, Benji Weatherley, Taylor Knox, Todd Chesser, Pat O'Connell, and Taylor Steele​.

"I came from a broken family, an alcoholic father, and many of us had that in common. So, we all had this weird f***ed up family in common," explained Shane Dorian.

"So we became sort of our own family on the road and all competing for a world title, going around the world, and staying together."

"We became best friends and ultra close. Then, when things got really serious with a surfing competition, and there was a lot on the line with sponsors and money and big brands coming in, s**t hit the fan, and we started like breaking up."

"It got too serious. It was almost like a band who just couldn't stand each other anymore; things got too radical, girls and money got in the way."

"I think it's part of our human DNA to be naturally competitive, especially men. I think we feel like we have something to prove."

"From the time I was maybe 16 or 17 until I was in my mid-20s, I was super competitive. I would visualize horrible things happening to my opponents while competing against them."

"And it's so crazy how that's 100 percent gone from my being now. I can't even imagine doing that. I'm the most relaxed, non-competitive person. I have no competitiveness left in my body."

"I remember surfing against Damian Hardman. He was a tactician and conservative surfer and seemed like a nerd to me."

"I mean, I was like a rock kid from Hawaii, and this guy was so presentable and professional, and I just resented it."

"I was in a heat with him, and he got priority. I just needed a tiny little score to win. He basically sat on me, kept me from getting a wave, and let the time run out."

"He got me. I basically cracked and started getting emotional, and he loved it."

"He came out later and told me, 'I love it that you're that passionate. I love that you got that psyched and that emotional where you just started trying to insult me.' He was like, 'my goal when I'm in heats with people is to get them to that point.'"

Momentum Generation: a group of 1990s pro surfers that included Kelly Slater, Shane Dorian, Rob Machado, Kalani Robb, Ross Williams, Benji Weatherley, Taylor Knox, Todd Chesser, Pat O'Connell, and Taylor Steele | Photo: HBO

Going Pro and Developing a Taste for Big Waves

At 17, Shane Dorian became a professional surfer.

In 1992, aged 20, Dorian joined Chesser and Little in the exploration of an outer reef on a sizeable swell day.

The paddle-out took 45 minutes, and when the crew reached their destination, they were greeted by 25-foot waves and thunderous cleanup sets.

After watching his friends riding a few big mountains of water, Shane found his wave, took off and went over the falls.

The wipeout resulted in the Hawaiian losing consciousness.

After regaining consciousness, he couldn't feel his legs and was foaming at the mouth. But the traumatic event was just one of his several near-death experiences.

In 1993, and after the passing of his father, Shane Dorian joined the elite of surfing and the ASP World Tour.

However, competitive shortboard surfing was never exactly his thing.

Despite his all-around technical skills and prowess, the Hawaiian did not fit in the heat establishment and seemed to shine only in his free surfing sessions.

So, although he won the 1999 Rip Curl Pro and the 2000 Billabong Pro Mundaka, the best season result Dorian could lock in was a fourth-place finish in the 2000 Championship Tour (CT) rankings.

Big wave surfing was increasingly becoming his secret passion and addiction.

In 2001, the Hawaiian regular-footer finished runner-up in the prestigious Quiksilver in Memory of Eddie Aikau.

By this time, he had also co-starred in the movie "In God's Hands," following in his father's Hollywood footsteps and gaining public recognition.

Teahupoo: Shane Dorian riding the blue cavern at Teahupoo in 2005 | Photo: Wilson/WSL

The Extreme Exit Strategy

Three years later, Dorian announced his retirement from the CT, but not from professional wave riding - the best was yet to come.

"He admitted that competition was a chore and that he lacked a killer instinct against opponents," notes Matt Warshaw, author of "The Encyclopedia of Surfing."

"By that time, Dorian was thought of by many as the sport's finest all-arounder. He was a leading new school aerialist in the early 1990s, a fearless and agile tube rider, and an eager protege of big-wave charger Brock Little."

"He was one of the few surfers of his generation not to pattern his style after three-time world champion Tom Curren, developing instead his own curious-but-pleasing form, marked by a raised chin, down-turned wrists and hands, and splayed fingers."

In the 2000s, Shane shifted from tow-in to paddle-in surfing, a move that would make him one of the most respected surfers in heavy waters.

Jaws/Peahi had become one of his favorite playgrounds and also the source and inspiration for the multiple XXL awards he collected over two decades.

Between 2005 and 2000, Shane Dorian won several Tube of the Year, Paddle of the Year, Ride of the Year, and Overall Performance awards.

At Mavericks, he led the way and proved how far a surfer could push the limits of extreme riding.

The two-wave hold-down and near-drowning experience Dorian had at the Northern California surf break also inspired him to develop the Billabong V1, an inflatable wetsuit that would revolutionize safety in big wave surfing.

"I was at the end of a 15-foot leash to my surfboard and underwater for a minute and eight seconds."

"If you don't know the science behind holding your breath for a long time under pressure with a high heart rate, then you just go into these wipeouts like, 'I hope I survive. I need to hold my breath.'"

"And when you have that type of mindset, then your heart rate goes higher, and you start burning more oxygen."

Shane Dorian's personal static breath-holding record is five minutes and 34 seconds.

In 2012, Dorian was named Waterman of the Year by the Surf Industry Manufacturers' Association (SIMA).

Shane Dorian: free-falling into the abyss at Jaws/Peahi | Photo: WSL

A Big Wave Authority

By the mid-2010s, the Hawaiian was arguably one of the most decorated big wave riders in the sport's history.

In 2013, Shane Dorian was inducted into the Surfers' Hall of Fame.

The big wave surfer is married to his longtime best friend, Lisa. He lives with his wife in Holualoa, on the island of Hawaii.

The couple has two children, Jackson and Charlie, who both surf. Jackson Dorian is Kelly Slater's godson.

Shane's favorite waves are Pipeline, Jaws, and Cloudbreak.

Dorian became an avid bow hunter after having problems with wild pigs in his new mountain house.

His favorite animal to bow-hunt is deer. And he always eats what he kills.

He is also the co-founder of Revelshine, an organic and sustainable wine brand. "I still get uncomfortable when people ask me what I do for a living," Dorian once revealed.

The Hawaiian runs the Shane Dorian Keiki Classic, an annual surf contest for Under-17 boys and girls started in 1995 that takes place in Hawaii.

In 2018, Dorian chatted for three hours with the controversial media star Joe Rogan in the famous commentator's podcast episode #1749.

By 2020, the Kailua-Kona-born daredevil had already challenged the world's most dangerous waves, including Nazaré and Teahupoo.

The versatile regular-footer is 5'8'' (1.73 meters) and weighs around 160 pounds (72 kilograms).

Shane Dorian is on Facebook, Instagram (@shanedorian), and Twitter (@ShaneDorian808).

Shane Dorian Filmography

Shane Dorian has been featured in several surf movies, including:

  • "Momentum" (1992);
  • "Focus" (1994);
  • "Psychedelic Desert Groove" (1997);
  • "In God's Hands" (1998);
  • "Nine Lives" (1999);
  • "Thicker Than Water" (2000);
  • "The September Sessions" (2000);
  • "Campaign" (2003);
  • "The Blueprint" (2005);
  • "Campaign 2" (2005);
  • "Solid: The Two Days That Teahupoo Blew Minds" (2005);
  • "A Fly in the Champagne" (2009);
  • "Momentum Generation" (2018);
  • "Distance Between Dreams" (2021);
  • "Ground Swell: Epic Stories of Monster Waves" (2021)

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