It’s not easy to grow up in the shadow of your father. There’s pressure to live up to expectations and, for some, living up to the family name can be more of a burden than a benefit.
Luckily for JoJo Roper, not only has he lived up to the family name, he’s taking it to a bigger stage than even his famous father could have imagined.
For decades, the name Joe Roper has been synonymous with tube riding at San Diego reef breaks and at the world-famous Pipeline on the North Shore of Oahu.
When Joe had a son, he taught him how to surf in the shadows of Crystal Pier in Pacific Beach and would often let JoJo paddle out by himself. We all thought Joe was crazy letting his kid get thrashed in the waves at such a young age, but that was the lesson he instilled in his son: It’s surfing; you’re on your own.
Today, JoJo Roper is 26 and working in the family surfboard repair business. The test of living up to the family name is over and he is now making his own path and building his own reputation as one of San Diego’s hardest charging surfers.
When JoJo is home, he can be found at his beloved La Jolla reef breaks getting the best waves on the best days. As it is with any profession, only experience and time can yield that type of result.
When the weather reports start showing massive storms that will send huge surf toward the West Coast, JoJo pays close attention. If it all lines up, he lets his dad know he’s going to miss a couple days of work to chase down waves at big wave spots across the Pacific. His dad remembers how it was when he was younger and understands the search.
I asked Joe if he ever worries for his son’s well-being. “Am I scared for him? Absolutely. What he’s doing now (in huge surf) is something I never did and it scares the hell out of me to watch him.”
Surfing big waves is a dangerous affair, and I asked JoJo about his worst wipeout ever. “I got steamrolled on a wave at the outer reefs in Hawaii. A wave caught me and I never penetrated. I just rolled in a 30-foot foam ball underwater for a hundred yards. It was brutal.”
Over the past month, Joe has watched his son chase monster El Niño swells to famed surf destinations like Maverick’s in Northern California, Todos Santos Island in Baja California, and most recently to Peahi (aka Jaws) on the island of Maui. These swells have seen some of the biggest waves ever surfed and Jo Jo has been right there to meet them.
Riding big waves can be a lonely prospect. I asked JoJo if it is ever hard to find friends to go surf with him when it gets big. “Yeah, it can be hard sometimes. If I can’t find someone to surf a place like Maverick’s, I’ll just drive up by myself and meet some friends up there. It’s not a big deal.”
Let me see. A solo eight-hour drive to surf shark-infested waters with 50-foot waves? Now you can see why there aren’t many people lining up to ride shotgun.
JoJo Roper is sponsored by Quicksilver, Rusty Surfboards, Dakine, William Painter sunglasses and Millennium Foam.
As a lifelong San Diegan, Ken Lewis has surfing and ocean life in his DNA. A 30-year surfer himself, Lewis has worked in the surf and skate industry for most of his career. Send him thoughts about the surfing and fitness worlds to email@example.com or follow him on Instagram @hanger18.