For the third edition, we shifted focus to one of our most promising and exciting young talents from the North Shore of Oahu. When most of us were safety stancing through ankle high shorebreak, this kid was out charging proper Pipeline. Finn "Thunders" McGill has been apart of the Creatures team since his grom days and is now a member of our elite international team.
Down to earth, mellow and extremely well-rounded in the water, we caught up with Finn in between trips to see how his year is going, what surf movies amp him out and how winning the Pipe Invitational changed his life.
So how is everything – I heard you just did a trip to Mexico…can you tell us anything about it?
We ended up scoring super hard. Our guides were saying it was the best its been in ten years. It was perfect waves and not many people out. Surfing long right point breaks all day. Tacos every meal. It was pretty much like a dream.
Finn, on the hunt in Mexico
How about the wave set-ups in Mexico, pretty amazing huh?
Basically every wave there is a right point break. There’s a couple beach breaks but there still all rights -- we didn’t get to surf any of the beach breaks. The right point breaks we surfed are just really long, with barrels and giant turn sections.
Battle scars; Mexico aint all playful beachies and sand-bottom point breaks (Photo: @jimmicane)
So what are you up to now?
Cruising on the North Shore for about nine more days and then I head to Japan for a QS and then to the Ments after that for a surf trip.
After winning the Pipe Invitational a lot of eyes were drawn your way – what was it like to take out that contest and the weeks leading up to?
It was an unreal experience. It was crazy to even be invited to the trials. I ended up getting into the trials by doing really good at Sunset and in the WQS contest in our region. I got second in the trials, which was unbelievable. I was just super stoked to be in the main event – the waves were firing. Just to get a heat out at really good Pipe and Backdoor - I just wanted to get as many barrels as possible. Somehow I made a bunch of heats and in the final every wave just came to me. Every surfer has that one day where it all comes together and it felt like that out there. I was always in the spot and I was super confident and it ended up working out and I won it.
Style beyond his years, Finn in contest mode packing a backdoor tube (Photo: @gabrielcaswall)
And then having the nod for the Pipe Masters must have been surreal?
Honestly it was crazy just even being in the masters was unbelievable. I’ve been watching the masters ever since I was four years old going to the elementary school across the street – listening to the scores in class. Being able to be in a heat surfing against those guys was the craziest experience ever.
Did you have any expectations for yourself going into it?
I had zero expectations actually. My first heat was super gnarly with crazy guys that were underrated out there so I didn’t even expect to make my first heat. I just ended up getting really good waves.
Finn firing up for a heat at Pipe
So what was it like growing up on the North Shore?
We actually lived in Newport Beach/Costa Mesa till I was about two years old and then we moved over to the east side of Oahu. We lived there for three years and then I started getting really into surfing. My parents were driving me up to the North Shore a lot to surf so they just decided to move us up there and we’ve been up here since. I can’t thank them enough for that. Growing up here the experiences were unreal. People dream of surfing Pipe and I got to surf it everyday.
The North Shore is certainly not all big tubes, exhibit A - Finn's frontside air game
Who do you look up to in surfing?
When I was young I was obsessed with Andy Irons and Dusty Payne and I would always watch them. I actually found a pair of Andy Irons board shorts from a thrift store, but they were like five sizes too big for me but I wouldn’t take them off. They would hang down to my ankles so my parents rigged them up so I could wear them. They would still hang down to my ankles but I would wear those things surfing everyday it was super funny.
Any favorite surf movies to amp you up before a session?
I didn’t get super into surf movies until Trilogy came out. I actually watched that big premier live. I watched that for awhile and then when Modern Collective came out that was kind of my movie where I watched it before every surf session and all the comps.
Finn in his grom days
Do you remember your first Pipe session? Can you tell me a bit about it?
I actually remember my first session out at Pipe. I think I was four years old and it wasn’t proper Pipe – it was maybe chest high. I remember taking off on one right and going straight and saying “Oh I surfed Backdoor”. It was such a sick feeling to paddle out there. I went into kindergarten and told all my friends I surfed Pipeline and they were all tripping out haha.
As for proper Pipe, the first time might have been when I was eight or so. It was 4-6 foot and I was on the biggest board I had which was a 5’8”. I think at that time my short board was 4”10. I was sitting wide and just watching everyone. I remember my first real barrel, it was at the edge of Pipe. I pulled in and came out and claimed it super hard and just looking at my dad on the beach haha.
Safe to say Finn has become a Pipeline fixture since his first few sessions
Any other favorite waves around town?
I would say my favorite wave to surf if its on is Rockpiles. Big outside Rockpiles is such a different wave. It feels like your almost snowboarding it has the biggest cleanest face and you can just lay into the biggest turns. Not many people actually even look at it because it looks a lot harder and gnarlier than it is. If not Rockpiles then Haleiwa for sure.
The North Shore gets hectic in the winter months – what does it take to stand out amongst the crowd?
I think it’s just 100% full commitment. You need to charge on big waves and obviously respect all the local guys. Doing good in competitions helps also since everyone see’s it.
Finn's versatility is something that sets him apart, from Pipe caverns to above the lip antics, he has it covered
What does a typical day on the North Shore look like for you?
I usually wake up and try to get out of bed early. I’m not a good morning person though. I’ll check Pipe on Surfline and then call up a few friends and see if they’ve checked it. If it looks good I will usually head down to the Billabong house and check it from there since you can see it well from the house. I’ll get ready, go surf and then kinda just sit there all day and keep an eye on it, try to get little session in between the crowds. You can get little 30-45 minute windows of 15 guys out instead of 50.
Who’s in your local crew and who do you surf most with when at home?
During the winter a lot of people travel here of course from other islands but the kids that grew up here on the North Shore that I surf and hang out with are Barron Mimiya, Makana Pang and Wyatt Mchale. We’re all kinda at the same level out there so we push each other. We all surf together and we’re friends. It’s pretty cool to see everyone pushing it and getting good waves. We feed off each other.
Best place to eat after a session?
I usually go to Banzai Bowls – I love a fruit acai bowl. Or if I want something more I will go to Pupukea Grill and they have amazing poke. It’s a good place to sit down and relax after a session or if the wind got on it.
Get barreled at Pipe for a few hours and then come into one of these, sounds about right
How would you describe your surfing?
I try not to be super copycat, I don’t want to have the same exact style as someone. So I try and mix it up, put some skating influences into it and just be original.
Outside of sponsors, competition wins and competing, what does surfing give to you?
I just feel weird if I don’t do it. Every time I take off on a wave I lose all the worries I have on land. It’s more of an art form to me where you can do whatever you want on a wave. I hate rules so surfing is a way to do something different.
No rules out in the briny deep - Finn throwing caution to the wind
Your biggest achievement in surfing so far…
Either the Pipe Invitation or winning the World Juniors. When I won the World Juniors it was a bit unexpected. I made it there the night before the contest and getting there was a bit of chaos. Everyone thinks of me just as a bigger wave surfer so nobody was expecting me to win that contest so having everyone surprised was sick.
Finn, moments after winning the world juniors
What is good surfing in your eyes?
I love the old school approach to surfing – big rail carves and power surfing. Watching guys like Joel Parkinson and Connor Coffin lay down carves is just the sickest. I’d rather lay into a giant carve then do a giant air.
What contests do you have your eyes on this year?
So after that Ments trip I have about two weeks off and then I go to South Africa for the prime in Ballito. And then basically straight into the US Open after that. A bit of QS grind and then some time to relax and maybe film or another trip.
The QS is a long grind with all types of waves - any favorite locations on the tour?
I would definitely say the whole Hawaii leg. These waves are just so good so to have them on the QS is amazing. Most of the World Qualifying Series is sand bottom beach breaks so to have Sunset and Haleiwa is great – the wave is more predictable and powerful. It shows who can manage powerful waves.
Finn, as comfortable as it gets on the North Shore
What are some of your goals for surfing this year?
I really want to get top 50 in the qualifying series and make a few heats in the triple crown at home and that is kinda it. Nothing too big this year. I still have one more year in world juniors so hopefully I do good there. I just want to do good on the QS and set myself up so when it comes time that I am ready to qualify I am really ready and well seeded.
What is surfing going to look like in 10 years?
I definitely think surfing is going to go through a big change. The wave pool comp was just on CBS sports which is incredible. I think more money is going to come along with it also which will push the surfers to experiment more. I do think there will be one thing that is going to change surfing; I don’t know what it will be but some kind of breakthrough. Skating and snowboarding went through it so surfing is bound for it.
Finn pushing surfing to new heights, one backside launch at a time
The sky is the limit for this young north shore man-child, so keep your eyes peeled for him. Follow along as he charges Pipe and does the hard yards on the QS tour @finnmcgill