Foreword & questions by John Streit. Answers by Kenny Mills

Fish, fires and waves fear him. Family, friends and coworkers love him.

Getting to know Kenny Mills since he arrived at Surf & Adventure Co. earlier this year has been absolutely awesome! Kenny’s one of the most effortlessly funny guys you’ll ever meet, but it’s the kind of man that truly defines his character — a dedicated family man and public servant as a professional firefighter in the Norfolk Fire Department. Not to mention he’s a well-rounded waterman skilled in multiple wave riding forms and angling.

We recently caught up with Kenny for insight into a passionate life. (Scroll to the bottom of the Q&A for the photo gallery.)

S&A: Before we get into all of surfing and fishing, tell us about what drew you toward your career as a professional firefighter.

KM: I have always been a bit of a thrill seeker or adrenaline junky, and on top of that I love helping people. I knew a couple of people in the fire department during my senior year in high school, so I did a volunteer ride time one day to see what it was all about. It was very interesting and there was a lot more too it than just saving cats from trees and fighting fires. People call the fire department for almost every emergency out there from a fender bender to a full-blown house fire. Also, the Norfolk fire department trained to ride the ambulance to assist with all medical emergencies from a broken toe to a heart attack to severe trauma. After learning more about this, I realized it was a great way to help people and endure some exciting experiences along the way.

S&A: What are the top three heaviest situations you have been in while on duty?

KM: The very first time I watched somebody pass away while i was working on them — doing everything possible to give them a chance to live. I’ve been in the situation countless times in my 10 years with the fire department, but the first one stands out very clear. I won’t get into details, but it leaves you with a choice having seen that for the first time. Do I let it bring me down and find another career path, or do I learn to cope with these things for all the future times that I do save a life, or simply make someone’s day better.

One morning at the firehouse during our daily routine of working out and climbing the ariel ladder, we noticed one of the firefighters that normally sweeps the floor at the same time everyday was not around. Not thinking much of it, we decided to look for him just to see what he was up to. We couldn’t find him, so we called him on the loud speaker and still didn’t find him. We started looking hard and we found him on the floor next to his bunk. He was not breathing and had no pulse. We didn’t waste a second and went right to work with CPR and getting the medical supplies and drugs on board that were needed to give him his best shot. We worked on him for what seemed like forever when the neighboring fire station showed up and took over so we didn’t have to work on our fellow brother that we lived with. That moment we all stepped back and it became real that this was not just another patient. We lost our brother that day.

This one was a moment that felt like it was right out of the movies. I was inside a residential structure fire ,upstairs in the hallway, and things were going south. I could see the fire lapping out of each room and coming down the hallway over our heads. I was on the nozzle and we were hitting it and knocking it down but it was already in the walls and the attic. It was getting hotter and hotter by the second. I remember the room next to me was billowing out black smoke, and the officer behind my shoulder told me to open the water patter to a wide fog pattern and do not shut it off. He told me to get ready and do not shut it off for anything as we both got low and stayed behind the water. The room next to us had a flashover, causing fire to violently come out of the doorway. I watched it come right through the water and go around my mask for a split second. The windows broke out of the house and some firefighters were knocked to  the ground. Nobody was hurt, but we all knew it was close to being a lot worse. For a split second we debated on bailing out the window. After that, we were able to really hit the base of the fire and we knocked it down, opened up the walls and saved the house.

S&A: How does a firefighter’s schedule lend itself to chasing surf as well as fish?

KM: The fire department schedule averages to 10 days per month of 24-hour shifts. It’s like having a 56-hour work week. This gives you 20 days free in the month, which allows me  to follow the surf and also fish. One of the best things is you can surf or fish during week days, allowing you to be on the water without the crowds and rush of weekend warriors.

S&A: How long have you been surfing for and what got you stoked on it?

KM: I’ve been surfing for 25 years, since I was 6 years old. Technically, it’s been longer because I had been bodyboarding for as long as I can remember. I started standing up on my bodyboard when my mom would take me and my sister to the beach a few times a week. When I was 6, I asked for a surfboard for Christmas, and that was all she wrote. I was hooked. Eventually as I got older, I got into riding multiple things from bodyboards, shortboards, funboards, longboards all the way up to standup paddleboards. I rode a standup for the first time in 2000 back before it was trendy.

S&A: Same question, but fishing!

KM: I started fishing as earlier as I can remember, so I would say most of my life. Whether it was just catching sun fish in my Grandma’s lake or fishing off the pier. My Gramps let me use his little boat when I was about 14 and eventually gave it to me. Years later, I fished a lot with a firefighter buddy who taught me a lot about saltwater fishing. I got my own boat for the ocean and became a very avid fisherman, targeting many types of fish with my favorite being Cobia.

S&A: Describe how surfing and fishing compliment each other.

KM: Fishing and surfing are my things because I am drawn to the ocean. When I’m out there, it’s a connection I feel to nature and God. I like to consider it my Church. The is so much life out there, and the feeling of wave riding is like becoming part of the ocean. Salt air is like medicine.

S&A: How excited are you to pass your passions on to your kids?

KM: I have two boys: Maverick and Pierson. It’s the greatest thing in the world! I’m passing all of this over to them and I’m getting to start all over and see it through their eyes. It’s like starting again with twice the stoke!

S&A: How did you become a member of the S&A crew and what gets you stoked on the working here??

KM: I eventually took my free time from the fire department and started a business  — Saltwater 2 Fire — teaching people to surf and paddleboard. I ended up buying a house near Sandbridge and turns out it was Rob’s house! After he learned of my experience in the business, he asked me if I’d be interested in becoming part of the Surf & Adventure crew. I said yes, and I’m stoked to be part of this great shop and business. The future it holds is very bright. I love a job that lets me enjoy my passions while making money for my family at the same time.

Kenny is a smooth and powerful surfer with plenty of style. Photo: Thomas.
A big day slaying the Tautog in the Chesapeake Bay.
Kenny and his family: Erika, Maverick and Pierson. Photo: Trisha Sheehan.
Water Rescue Crew in Ocean View.
Kenny tucks in backside on a morning Sandbridge gem.
Hand-drag style in the barrel.
Cobia is Kenny's favorite gamefish and some of the best eatin' around.
Boat Vibes
A well-rounded waterman, Kenny stalls for some S.U.P. tube time.
Frontside trim at False Cape. Photo: Devine.
Pierson and Erika Mills.
Kenny is definitely instilling a love for the ocean and nature in his boys.
Backside rock floater with style.
Kenny in Costa Rica with the legend Robert August and S&A teammate Brian Stokes.
Stoked on this big boy Striper.

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