Reigning ONE Lightweight Submission Grappling World Champion Kade Ruotolo has spent practically the same amount of time in his life riding the biggest waves he can find as he has perfecting his unparalleled submission skills.
On June 9, in the co-main event of ONE Fight Night 11: Eersel vs. Menshikov on Prime Video, the Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu prodigy will defend his gold against Norwegian standout Tommy Langaker in what looks to be his stiffest test to date.
When he walks to the ring that night at Lumpinee Boxing Stadium in Bangkok, Thailand, Ruotolo will bring with him a lifetime of elite grappling experience, as well as the strength and mental fortitude gained from years of surfing the California and Costa Rica coasts.
Inspired by his father, the 20-year-old and his twin brother Tye – who is also a ONE submission grappling superstar – have been surfing, skateboarding, and training BJJ since they were toddlers.
The lightweight submission grappling king told ONEFC.com:
“Surfing, jiu-jitsu, skateboarding, it was before we can remember, like 3 years old. It all spirals down from our dad. Our dad, his three main things in life are jiu-jistu, surfing, and skateboarding. We’re pretty much mirror images of him, clones of him. That’s just what we find the most pleasure in doing.”
The twin prodigies hit the waves almost every day, finding time for their favorite activity in between intense training sessions at Atos Jiu-Jitsu in San Diego.
But rather than a distraction from training, Ruotolo says surfing has helped him develop key physical skills that translate directly into submission grappling.
“The main thing is it requires balance, which obviously you need in jiu-jitsu. Strength, you need to be strong. If you’re weak surfing, then you’re not going to get very far, especially when the waves are coming.”
But beyond the physical benefits of riding the waves, surfing in deep waters has taught the California native the mental resilience he’s leaned on throughout his grappling career.
That mental resilience helped him to become the inaugural ONE Lightweight Submission Grappling World Champion and the youngest-ever ADCC World Champion in history while he was still a teenager.
“You might take a bomb on the head, and then all of a sudden you swim three, four strokes to the surface, and then you got four more [waves] coming. That’s all mental. You start thinking, ‘Am I even going to make it under these four?’ So, there’s so much mental strength and physical strength involved in surfing, so it definitely translates to jiu-jitsu.”
Kade Ruotolo Details Near-Death Surfing Episode
Kade Ruotolo has shared the mats with the most dangerous submission artists on the planet, but no human can compare to the terrifying power of mother nature.
“The water is a crazy place. The closest I’ve ever been to dying is out there.”
Ruotolo can easily remember the scariest moment of his life.
Surfing with his father off the coast of Costa Rica, the future ONE Lightweight Submission Grappling World Champion was hit by a massive, overhead wave that disconnected him from his board.
“When waves are that big, they’re so powerful – especially the wave I was surfing. It’s a beach break, so it just sucks up off the beach and there’s thousands and thousands of gallons of water just moving. You can’t really control it. When you get smashed, you get smashed.
“I pulled into this big barrel. I got smoked, I got smashed, I got picked up, boom, slammed to the bottom. My leash broke off my board, so I lost my flotation.”
Ruotolo did everything in his power to reach the surface and gasp for air, but when he finally made it there, he realized several more humongous waves were coming next.
The phenom tried to swim to shore, but the ocean only pulled him deeper.
“I just start swimming as hard as I can, thinking I would get [back to the beach] in time. But by the time I looked up, I almost went backward. I didn’t make any ground toward the beach because the water is pulling the wave away from the beach.”
With his life quite literally at stake, an exhausted Ruotolo used all of his strength to fight to the surface, shouting for anyone to save him from the dire situation.
The American was using up every last bit of his energy and becoming more fatigued by the second. He desperately needed a lifeline.
“I remember getting under the first two [waves] and just being out of breath and so tired. I was looking for anyone. I see my dad, and I’m yelling, ‘Help!’ Finally, I get over to his board and spend five minutes just catching my breath.”
With that near-death experience behind him, the ONE Lightweight Submission Grappling World Champion says jiu-jitsu, even against his coach and BJJ icon Andre Galvao, feels like a walk in the park by comparison.
“When Galvao is smashing, if I’m in a position where I’m pinned, I can just tap. Underwater, there’s no tapping.”