The workout, diet and fitness secrets of Billy Kemper

December 3, 2021 | Surfing
Blly Kemper: a Big Wave Tour champion | Photo: Mosqueira/WSL

Billy Kemper is one of the most talented and accomplished big wave surfers of his generation.

The Hawaiian athlete has put himself to the test in the heaviest waters, won world titles and multiple Jaws/Peahi tournaments.

At 31, he's at the top of his game, ready to push himself into increasingly extreme challenges at death-defying surf breaks.

But how does Kemper manage to balance a high-performance sports career with his responsibilities as a father and husband?

What type of training and diet does a big wave surfing champion embrace to stay physically and mentally healthy?

Billy Kemper: waxing up his board for a Pipeline surf contest | Photo: Red Bull

Being born and raised in Hawaii, surfing's just part of life. But how did you get into big wave surfing in the first place? When did you decide this is what you wanted to do for a living?

Growing up in Hawaii, this is the birthplace of surfing.

The history of surfing that I can remember as a kid was always big heavy waves. It wasn't small waves, and it wasn't Huntington Hop - it was Hawaiian power.

That is what I was brought up in, and I just feel comfortable in the oceans of Hawaii and heavy waves.

I never knew I was going to be a professional big wave surfer.

Still, growing up on Maui and having Jaws as my backyard, I was lucky enough to have a brother who was at the top of amateur surfing and a mom who pushed me into the ocean.

And that being said, when the waves were really big, they would take me to the cliff at Jaws, and we would watch the pioneers of big wave surfing out at Peahi - Laird Hamilton, Darrick Doerner, Dave Kalama, Pete Cabrinha, Buzzy Kerbox, etc.

For me, they were gladiators. They were my Superman, my Batman, my Spiderman.

I didn't have those stuffed animals, and I wasn't going to a Dodgers game with a mitt, trying to catch a fly ball.

I was going to watch Laird Hamilton surf Jaws, and that's what I wanted to do.

My parents would shake their heads every time I told them I wanted to do it one day. Fast forward ten years, I was out there at 14, 15 years old.

I didn't really know much about big wave surfing, but I was learning on the fly, and that's kind of how it all started.

Billy Kemper: the Hawaiian big wave surfer won several events at Jaws | Photo: Solano/WSL

With big wave surfing being so dangerous, so physically demanding, what do you need to do to prepare every time you get in the water? Whether it's going to competition mode or just going out to play and have fun with kids in the water, how does your mind separate going into the water to surf that big wave versus just going to hang out a bit? What do you do - mentally and physically prepared wise - for those two and 100 feet?

I'm very passionate about surfing.

I take my craft very seriously, and it's not in a bad way. I'm not trying to intimidate people.

I'm not being aggressive; it's just that I'm obsessed with what I do.

And there's not a different mindset from the waves.

I just went and surfed at Rocky Point that was head-high to a little overhead from going out to Jaws where it's four-to-six-story buildings, top to bottom, and your life is on the line.

My life's always on the line when I enter the ocean.

It's Mother Nature, and that being said, you can never predict what's going to happen in the water. You kind of go with the flow.

I've done a lot of hard work on land, which has given me confidence - mentally, physically, and spiritually - and those are little things that I take with me when I'm in heavy situations, or I take a bad fall, or a 60-foot wave is coming at me.

Those are the things that I remember and the things that I use as tools to motivate me and to push me.

Billy Kemper: he suffered a serious injury surfing Morocco | Photo: Frapwelll/WSL

How did your mindset evolve before and after that unfortunate injury in Morocco? Tell us what your rehab involved after the injury, a bit of that story, and your recovery process?

It put my life against the wall, and I don't think I had ever been in that situation.

But growing up, I had a lot of my closed ones that were taken from me, and when I was put in the situation, it just gave me a lot of hope and a lot of understanding that what my mom went through, what my brother had gone through, it gave me the motivation to fight through anything.

And I'm just here to make my family proud and to continue the legacy that my mom opened.

And that's just making her proud by doing what I love to do, and if you don't love it, don't do it.

There are so many opportunities, so much in one day to train, to practice, and I will take every second and every opportunity I can.

Because I know at the end of the day, I'm so far ahead of the guys who don't do it that if I continue to do that, there's no time for them to catch up.

And I'm really healthy and happy. I'm in a great place with my family and with my career right now. I'm not worried about anyone but myself.

And that's kind of been the mentality, and it's been that way throughout the injury, throughout the road to recovery.

I had great support, an unbelievable team of people around me, and that's what it takes. It takes a family.

Surfing is a selfish sport - it's just me in the water.

But it isn't just me, you know I got my mom, my brother, on both sides of me.

I've got my four kids and my wife every time I stand up, every time I enter the ocean, so there's a lot more to it than just me, and that's kind of what pushes me every day.

Every morning, I wake up early. Every night, I go to bed early. It's for the reasons of making my family proud.

Billy Kemper: a busy man with a wife and four kids | Photo: Ladd/WSL

What's some of the training you're doing right now if you can give away any of your secrets?

I've been surfing a lot. I take my physical training very seriously - in the pool, in the ocean, and in my gym.

I have a great team of people who are pushing me, whether they're sparring partners or they're my coaches, and I feel great.

This morning, I did a HighX workout that was programmed by Gabby Reese, Laird Hamilton's wife.

My wife teaches it, and it's high-intensity circuit training - basically 35 minutes of non-stop action.

And I feel great. I got out of that and went straight down into a surf, and the body's right, the mind's right, and it's time to enjoy.

You talk about the mind being right. So what's the mental preparation going into these big tournaments and big waves?

It's terrifying for me.

The mental preparation is that none of these guys, not one of these competitors, has four kids and a wife, and that's what's hard.

That's what I'm challenged with every day, and when I get to surfing, that's the easy part; that's where I get to celebrate.

The last year and a half have been a crazy climb for me, and I believe I'm still climbing. I haven't reached the top of even coming out of this injury.

I feel better than I did before I got injured, but I still believe there's more progression, there's more opportunity for me to become better, and that's the way I look at it every day.

Every day I wake up, I believe I can take a step forward from yesterday, and no matter how far back you take me, I will continue to come forward, and that's where the mental side of things really kicks in.

Understanding I got kids to feed.

Some of these guys are going out there trying to get points and trying to qualify. For me, it's "I got kids, I got a wife to feed, and I also got to make them happy and proud."

I believe that them seeing me on a podium and also them just seeing me happy it's not all about being on a podium or getting wins.

If I'm happy and I feel successful with my performance, that's what matters.

And lately, I've been feeling really good about the way the body has been for farming in and out of the water, and that just creates confidence that I'm already winning.

There's no losing; there's just learning and winning.

Billy Kemper: eating healthy is key to high-performance surfing | Photo: Mosqueira/WSL

What's a couple of the favorite meals of yours. How do you prep all that together? Let's talk about your eating routine a little bit.

Right now, it is the busiest time of the year for me.

Working with a company like Fresh N' Lean creates a lot of opportunities for me to eat healthy, very fast, on the go, in and out of the house.

My life is a tornado with four kids, three different schools, different types of pickups, and two-to-three training sessions a day.

Recently, I've been really into a lot of snacks because sometimes I don't have time to heat food.

The other morning, me and my son Lion shared a chia seed coconut banana pudding.

And that's great for me coming in and out of the water with surfing.

It's not too heavy, really light, and filled with great fats and carbs, which create tremendous energy.

It keeps your body from fatiguing, and those are the things that I'm dissecting right now - what are the good fats and the good carbs.

Because that's the kind of stuff that will prevent my body from fatiguing and burning muscle, depending on where I'm at in the day.

I love all the fish, I love the salmon, and I love sweet potatoes.

It's just good to know that you can snack and treat on things that are actually filled with good nutrition.

I'm eating almond butter, coconut, and dark chocolate - things that are great for your body. Obviously, you can't eat ten of them a day, but one or two of them does the trick.

Billy Kemper: sharing the stoke with one of his four sons | Photo: Frapwell/WSL

Is there a typical day in life you can give us just a snapshot of?

For me, a busy day would be waking up at 5 am, cooking breakfast for the kids, making a big cup of coffee, and basically getting the kids ready to get on the bus to go to school - that's three of the four kids.

From there, I jump in my truck, drive down the road to my trainer Kahea Hart, to his house, to his gym, put in about an hour and a half of hard training, then come back up to my house, pick up my son Lion, and drop him off at preschool at 9 am.

Then, I would bring my boards in my truck with me, meet up with Kahea for some surf training and coaching, go run, whether it's three-to-four 30 minute heats, go over the strengths, and maybe dissect and dial in new equipment or boards.

So that can be a two-to-three-hour surf session in and out of the water, talking and going over things.

I come in, get some fuel up, get the kids in from school, get homework done, load them in the truck, load my boards, get the wife in, and head down to the beach with the whole family.

Depending on where we are, let them surf, and maybe, if it's too big for them, they'll be playing on the beach, and I'll be surfing.

Right now, the focus is on Haleiwa, which is great even when it's big.

It's great for the kids that they can play in the whitewash on the inside, which is what we've been doing - let them play.

I'll surf for two-to-three hours, come back, and finish up with usually a boxing class with Nito Boxing or Skylar Close, one of the people who've helped me.

For me, boxing is not for fighting - it's for endurance, it's for cardio training.

It helps me with my paddling, and it's also something that mentally gives you confidence, where you get a great workout.

And usually by that time we're looking at - 5-6 pm - from there we'll finish up. I'll make dinner for the family and get everyone fed.

I will check out and jump into three to four rounds of sauna and ice to recover my body, then I go and eat my dinner, and the lights go off.

So that's the main thing - just try to be our best and whether it's being a dad, being an athlete, or just being a good friend to the community and the people around me.

Billy Kemper: happiness is his only pursuit | Photo: Stratton/WSL

You mentioned you get to work with Laird. Did he get you into eating clean, or did you always, even as a young or with your family, have a passion for nutrition? Knowing your brother was a big surfer, was it something that you just knew instinctively, or did Laird or other people out there kind of guide you a bit in nutrition?

My mom always cooked amazingly. She was not only a mom to me, but a mom to the neighborhood and the community.

She was a staple to surfing, and she cooked amazing food.

Was it always healthy? No, but it tasted good, and that's all that matters at that point.

But to be completely honest, working with Kahea Hart, he really pushed health towards me - he really did.

Take away the beers, put some green kale, salad, and some grass-fed, free-range organic meats.

I have nothing against people who are vegan, plant-based, paleo, or keto - it doesn't matter. What makes you feel good is what's right for you.

And for me, I love meat, and I love fish.

I feel great on it, and I eat very clean fish and meat; most of it is locally caught - just clean food, clean eating.

Laird has opened up a lot - he is a dictionary of everything.

The good, the bad, the ugly, healthy, he's no one to hide behind anything, he's made the mistakes growing up, and he's learned.

And that's what's cool about him.

He actually preaches what he's practiced and done over the years - his training, nutrition, and everything he does.

That's what he does, and he definitely eats very clean.

And I learned a lot living with them throughout the last couple of summers, training, and eating with him.

And I'll tell you what - there's not a human on earth who I've seen consume the amount of food as he has.

He's very healthy and very clean, but man, can that guy eat.

Billy Kemper: big wave surfing requires a lot of mental and physical confidence and training | Photo: Moss/WSL

What would be one thing you would give to any young kid - boy or girl, at home right now - that wants to be the next Billy Kemper?

You don't want to be me; you want to be you. I thought I always wanted to be somebody until I found out who I am.

And you'll never know who you are until you're present.

And being present, you got to take off all the temporary bandages, everything that's synthetic, whether it's people, whether it's nutrition, whether it's alcohol - everything.

If you're comparing yourself to other people, you're in the wrong place, and that's what I got caught up doing as a teenager.

It took me a long time to find my career and my place in surfing.

I listen to my mom a lot, I look up to and listen to people like Laird who create their own path and do what they want to do, and that's where I'm at right now.

I'm happy, I'm healthy, and I'm doing exactly what Billy Kemper wants to do, and nobody can take that away from me.

I preach that to all the kids out there. Do what you want to do - don't listen to him or her.

It doesn't matter what color you are, how much you weigh, how skinny you are, how fit you are - anything's possible out there.

If you're passionate about it, you can be the best in the world.


Interview with Mike Martorano | Influencer & Partnership Manager, Fresh N' Lean

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