Like Father, Like Son: An Interview With OK Ambassador Kevin Schulz and His Dad Karl

Like Father, Like Son: An Interview With OK Ambassador Kevin Schulz and His Dad Karl

Posted Jun 11, 2024

Born and raised in the surf hotbed of Southern California, it’s no surprise that surfing was a part of Kevin Schulz's life from an early age. Since he was ten, surfing has been a major part of his life— competing in Qualifying Series events and specialty events like Stab High, becoming sponsored, qualifying for the USA Surfing team, and traveling worldwide.  

However, surfing isn't the only love that Kevin’s inherited from his father. In addition to a professional surfing career, Kevin is also pursuing a career in the fire service, carrying on the legacy of his father, Karl Shulz, who worked 35 years with the LA County Fire Department, retiring as a Captain.  

Their shared passions for surfing and service to their community caught our attention. So, we found ourselves in San Clemente one gloomy Friday morning in May, hanging out with the Firewire/Slater Designs and Outerknown ambassador along with his father, Karl, and their family dog, Olive. 

Have you been in San Clemente your entire life? 
Kevin: Yeah, I have. This is the house I grew up in, and when my wife got married, we moved down to a little apartment by the pier—it's a great spot. We want to save some money to maybe buy a house here someday. We want to stay in San Clemente, we love it. 

Sweet. And is your wife from here as well? 
Kevin: Yes. Well, she was in Huntington, but that was when she was about seven and then moved on up here. Her dad worked with my dad as a firefighter! 

No way, small world. So it's really in the family! 
Kevin: I guess so. It's so funny. 

It sounds like you only had two options growing up: surfing or fire department. 
Kevin:  Yeah, haha. Those were the only two ways I was going to go. So, it's fun. I get to make a little bit of both. That's more recent, though. I got hired in 2022 up in LA County with the hand crew, which is like all brush fire stuff, and then I applied to municipal departments after that. 

Did you guys grow up surfing?  
Karl: So, the first time I took Kevin on a board, he was two years old, on my back, in Hawaii. And he just clung to my back, he knew no difference. As he was growing up, I was trying to get him out in the water, and he didn't want anything to do with the water at all. It wasn't until he was about ten that we signed him up for Junior Lifeguards, and he started taking to the water and surfing. That's when I got him his first little fish board. A lot of people have told me that his surfing style is because of that board, which sets him apart from other people. And then he took off and left me in the dust. 

How did you meet Kelly and get involved with Firewire/Slater Designs and Outerknown? 
Kevin: Just surfing at Lowers one day. It was so random. A friend from Canada had a Slater Designs board, and it was here at my parents’ house, so I took it out and tried it. While I was surfing, Kelly paddled out and saw me on it and asked me how I liked it and then, a week or so later, I got a call from Travis Lee, the team manager, and he let me know they were trying to get this team started up and that was it.  

Karl: When Kevin was about twelve, the same happened with Rusty. Rusty picked Kevin up when—I think he was the sales director at the time—they saw Kevin surf. He saw that this kid's got something special about this style. Then Kevin was with Rusty for a long time. 

And, from my understanding, you work closely with them to try out new board sand designs, including the S Boss that came out earlier this year. 
Kevin: That came about because Kelly had an S Boss sitting in his garage—I think he only rode it once—right when I first started riding for Firewire. They dropped some boards off with me to try, and I grabbed that board from him, loved it, and kept working with Dan Mann on the design. Three years later, it's finally a model. 

That's so sick. It must be rewarding to see that come to life. 
Kevin: Yeah, for sure. And Firewire has been so fitting because they were super supportive of me pursuing the fire department route and doing a little bit of surfing stuff on the side. 

And then, Karl, how long have you been in San Clemente?  
Karl: I grew up in the foothills of San Fernando Valley, somewhat close to Burbank. But, as soon as I was about 19, I moved out to Seal Beach. And I went from Seal Beach to Laguna Niguel. We got married in '92 and then moved to San Clemente in '94. So, we've been down here for 30 years. 

And you were also involved with the Fire Department, right? 
Karl: Yes, I got hired by the fire department in 1985. I was 20 years old. I was super young. 

Did you always want to do that?  
Karl: No, it just happened. I started going to college at Cal State Northridge, but I didn't know where I was going. I was taking General Eds, and I took a first aid class that I was kind of interested in, and then I became an EMT. A lot of people were trying to get on the fire department, and I just started taking that route and putting all my focus into that. I was able to refocus my studies and stuff as far as something I was interested in now. I was super lucky that I got hired as young as I did, and I was able to retire when I was 55. So, I retired four years ago but put in 35 years with LA County Fire starting at 20.  

Kevin: He got hired doing the same job that I did. It's called fire suppression aid. It's like a hotshot firefighter which is brush fires.  

Karl: Yup, and you fly by helicopter to fight fires. It's the hardest work ever, but it's an experience. It's probably the hardest I've ever worked in my life, but it's some of the greatest memories ever to share. Then, I got picked up by LA County.  

What was your reaction to Kevin telling you that he wanted to pursue a career in the fire department? 
Karl: We were, of course, so stoked for him. I never pushed Kevin to be a firefighter, but I always said I'd support it 100% if he wanted that. So, when he told us, I was relieved because I wanted it to be his decision. And, of course, we're nervous because shit happens. But I know he can do the job well. So, I was super happy for him. You want your kids and your family to be successful, and I know if he gets on the job, he's going be set for life. He's going to have a good job, good benefits, retirement, etc. And I want him to be happy and successful. So, when he said that, I couldn't have been happier for him.

Kevin, what is it like for you to be able to carry on your dad's legacy? 

It was a hard transition originally, just starting from the ground up, and it takes a lot of time to get into it, but growing up around my dad and seeing how much fun he had with it was an inspiration for me. I got to grow up doing so many fun things with my dad. So, seeing how rewarding his career was made me want to pursue the profession as well.

Kevin: I also wanted to be able to provide the same life for my family that my folks were able to provide for me. The fire service is a great way to do that and also be a part of your community. It's been really fun. So, I feel like I got to experience what my dad did in his twenties. And now, I'm in my twenties and doing the same thing. Following in his footsteps has been pretty rad. 

Are there any parallels for you between surfing and firefighting? 
Kevin: It's definitely different than surfing. There's still a lot of parallels in the same aspect. The complexity of it and the challenges. The team stuff, too. Surfing is an individualistic sport, but you're always around a crew of people when doing it. There's etiquette with surfing where you have your Kelly Slaters and the top dogs, and you would never step on their toes. And you have to work your way up in the lineup.

I grew up competing, and that's a high-pressure environment where you're expected to perform, and that's the same thing with the fire service. You kind of have to be able to perform under pressure. 

How has being with the fire department informed how you operate in life? 

Karl: I think I was already that type of personality. That type-A personality. Where you want certain things a particular way and organized. So, the fire service served me well cause I was that way. Kevin is more relaxed, whereas his wife is more like I am. But I think he's becoming that way because of that and his new profession. He's having to be more set in his ways, especially when it comes to the fire service. Every morning, you're doing a particular routine, and you're checking out all your safety equipment. 
I think it will be really good for Kevin because he was always an easy, laid-back kid, which was awesome. He was so easy; he made us question why we didn't have more kids. And then we had Kirra, our daughter, and she was the complete opposite. So, I think the fire service is going to serve you really well and just the way you do things. You need to be kind of paramilitary because your and others' lives depend on it.

What else do you guys enjoy doing?   
Karl: We have a place in Lake Havasu, Arizona. Whenever we get the chance, we go out there—winter, summer—summer gets to be like 110 degrees, wintertime is off-roading and having a good time. That's our getaway. We golf a lot together. But I just got to get with Kevin and surf more often.

At Outerknown, we're always encouraging folks to get offline, embrace adventure, and find their Outerknown aka what drives your passion. What is your Outerknown? 
Kevin: I would say that my Outerknown is getting outside and experiencing what nature has to offer. Whether that be surfing, hiking or just spending time with family outside. I love working with the team at Slater Designs on new surfboards and testing them as well. I feel like any activity that gets me outside and moving is my Outerknown!

Any Outerknown pieces you love to wear or hold near and dear? 
Kevin: I have a few pieces that go with me everywhere. The first is the OK hooded puffer jacket. It is so warm and blocks any wind, great for riding the bikes on cold, windy days and is ultra comfy! The second is the new utility pant. I feel like they can be styled with almost anything, and the comfort level is at an all-time high. I can wear them casually or out to a more formal event. Lastly, I would have to say the Big Heavy Tee. I am a sucker for long-sleeve tees, and the weight of these shirts is great. They are simple and, again, able to be worn in any setting. The recycled materials that OK uses also give me peace of mind that I am wearing sustainable materials that are sourced in an organic way!  

Any advice you’d like to share? Perhaps, for young individuals who want to become surfers or firefighters or maybe just for life in general? 
Kevin: The piece of advice that I would like to share to the younger generation is to always pursue your passions, and set goals and pay that same mindset forward to others. Work hard to make your dreams a reality.

I've had a lot of individuals go out of their way to help me in my pursuit of my own goals, and I think that doing the same for others goes a long way. We all have the ability to help one another in some way shape or form! 

Follow Firewire/Slater Designs & Outerknown Ambassador Kevin Shultz as he continues to Find his Outerknown on land and sea!  
Instagram: @kevin_schulz  

Posted Jun 11, 2024