Eli Hanneman | Surfing’s Next Big Thing

There’s no point in beating around the bush: Maui-bred Eli Hanneman might just be the best 14-year-old surfer on the planet. He’s a steely-eyed kid, whippet quick and technically adept. And fearless, too, based on the footage from his new edit shot over the past year in places like Tahiti and Maui’s North Shore.

The young buck from Lahaina has his own signature move — the fs alley-oop — and his own signature paint job, which is a uniquely identifiable airbrush on all his boards. He’s got big believers too, with Hurley, Red Bull and Matt “Mayhem” Biolos all backing him up, but he hasn’t let it get to his head.

“My long-term goal is to be a pro surfer, for sure,” he said, “but I don’t want to get ahead of myself and focus on winning a World Title because if you try to set your goals too high, and just overlook everything going on now, then everything can pass you up and you don’t even realize it.” Those are some prescient thoughts from a kid still mired in the pubescent purgatory that is middle school.

Besides being a freesurf wizard, he’s got competitive chops to boot, recently placing 3rd at the QS 1,000 Hello Pacitan Pro in Java two weeks ago, as well as taking 2nd place at the 2017 Pipe Junior Pro in March, where he beat Hawaiian Junior heavyweights Finn McGill and Cody Young in the Final.

Maui’s blessed with myriad waves, from Honolua to Pe’ahi, Windmills to Ho’okipa, and heaps of others that will remain nameless. The Valley Isle is a treasure trove of coves and cracks, reefs and points, home to the world’s fastest wave (Ma’alaea) and perhaps the world’s best big wave (Jaws). All of which adds up to plenty of opportunity for a young surfer to feast on a lunch-style wave platter and build a solid repertoire. A wave-rich environment also creates an abundance of talent, and Maui’s become a hot zone for world-class surfers.

The cast of characters is long and deep: Kai Lenny, Ian Walsh, Billy Kemper, Paige Alms, Clay Marzo, Albee Layer, Matt Meola, Dusty Payne, Kekoa Bacalso, Kaimana Henry and on and on. The Maui roll call is so long it’s not a matter of who to include, but rather who to leave off. Well, now you can add Eli Hanneman to that scroll. And to be added to that list at such a young age speaks to his reputation and his potential. In the end he’s still just a bright, teenager dropping banger video parts and posting silly Instagrams, traveling and surfing, soaking it all up along the way. – WSL