Baywatch and Beyond

David Chokachi, whose acting career began on "Baywatch" in the '90s, today splits his time between his Hollywood home and Malibu beach house. We visit him twice and join him for an intimate beach day with his daughter at his favorite surf spot.
Words & Images: Ger Ger

"Today I feel physically, mentally, and spiritually stronger than I have in my entire life. I feel like it took me almost 50 years to feel whole. To feel really good and clear about who I am as a human being; as a father, as a husband, as a son, and as a brother. It seems it took all those years of experience to end up where I am now. I am at peace."

Born in Plymouth, Massachusetts, Chokachi is best known for his roles in the TV series "Witchblade", "Baywatch", and "Beyond The Break". His acting career began in 1995 as the character Cody Madison on "Baywatch" — one of the most successful TV syndicates of all time watched by over 1 billion viewers across 142 countries. In 1997 Chokachi was named one of the "50 Most Beautiful People in the World" by People magazine. Today he is married to Susan Chokachi, President and CEO of Gucci America, and is enjoying life with their 7-year old daughter Brit.

"I went to Bates College, a liberal arts school in Maine, played football and lacrosse. In 1989, I did a program called Semester at Sea. Picture a cruise ship that had been converted into a mobile classroom for 500 students and teachers. We went around the world that way from the Bahamas to Spain, from Yugoslavia to Russia, up to Odessa and we took a plane to Moscow. The boat when through the Suez Canal and we got off and went to the pyramids.

We climbed the pyramids in the middle of the night which is so illegal but... [laughing] you bribe the guy with Playboys and booze and they’re like 'Yeah, here you go.' So we climbed. It was trippy."

"Then we crossed the Indian Ocean, went to Malaysia, Singapore, Taiwan, China, and Japan. When I got home I was like, I can't go and do a regular nine to five job. I was scared. It did open my eyes to the world.

I ended up working for a congressman in Washington D.C. for six months and I applied to the F.B.I. and as a field agent to the C.I.A. For the C.I.A., I took all those tests in Boston and all of a sudden I received a letter saying, 'We would like to fly you to Washington D.C. to do some intensive interviews'. I stayed in a hotel and they were like, 'Do not talk to anybody. When we pick you up and you get on the bus in the morning don't talk to any of the other candidates.' I get on this shuttle with 10 other guys. Nobody looks at each other. Then I did two days of interviewing and at the end they asked straight up, 'If you were working with a person in a country and you had to make a decision either to save that person and his family and get them out, or to take what you got and burn the guy, what would you do?' It was like a Cold War scenario. I kind of hesitated, 'I would help the guy and take them out' and they were like 'Okay. [laughing] We don't think you are ready to make the decisions that need to be made.'"

"I could have been on a totally different tangent in my life but I think my travel experience and the C.I.A. showed me that I wanted to do something bigger. I had a burning desire to do more in this world.

As kids we used to make movies, would do these 'Miami Vice' things with our recorders. [laughing] We would have flowers as the cocaine, do fake drug deals, take one of the cars, and burn rubber. We would say 'Lights off!' then start the recording and somebody would hit play on the music player since we didn't know how to edit music. Then we'd shoot this little action scene. I had the desire to do that but I never knew how. Where I was from, there was no one in the business that I could reach out to.

My dad, he was a surgeon,was very much like, 'Use your education. Acting is not going to work out for you.' So I applied to graduate school. I was really interested in the environment and I was thinking of going into environmental law. I started studying at night while working in construction during the day and then going to Cambridge taking classes. I also started modeling in Boston and really quickly ended up getting booked for more and more commercials. I was fascinated with the Los Angeles lifestyle and Southern California beaches and finally convinced my parents of my idea to pursue it. I drove out here by myself. It took four days and I spent one day at a friend's place."

"After a 50-hour drive I arrived in Los Angeles on a Saturday in 1994. The big Northridge earthquake hit Los Angeles the following night. It was like, 'Welcome to fucking L.A. Boom!' I had myself set up. I had a commercial agency. I had a modeling agency. I found an acting teacher before I got here. But the earthquake stopped everybody in their tracks.

All of a sudden nothing was happening in the entertainment world. Everybody was trying to rebuild the city. So I used my construction experience and got an inspection job and did that for four months until things got back on their feet in town. After that I continued studying and I moved into this apartment in Brentwood,this dump. I ended up working for another year for the guy who was renovating the place, until I got 'Baywatch.' After that it was just off to the races."

"One reason I got 'Baywatch' was because I worked hard. I grew up on the water and sailing and swimming in the ocean. When it came time, they had a swim test to see if you could hold your breath the length of a pool. I could do three lengths.

Cody Madison, the character I was auditioning for, was an Olympic hopeful. I was on a swim team back East, knew how to drive boats, and was already a certified scuba diver. They wanted me to do screen tests in front of 20 people. All the executives were there. [David] Hasselhoff was an executive so he was in the room and if he sees and opportunity to fuck with you a little bit, he is going to do it,just enough so you can't focus on your work. But they were like 'You are the guy we've been looking for three months.' It was on me not to screw it up.

When I got the role, the show was already a well-oiled machine and already a hit. I was guaranteed eight episodes with a potential to do more if they liked what I was doing. I ended up doing 18 out of 22 episodes that season and receiving a contract for five years which was way above what they had planned.

They gave me the option to choose who I want to be my love interest, Yasmine Bleeth or Pamela Anderson. I loved Yasmine, she is awesome and beautiful but I chose Pamela. We had a chemistry that was very organic and so they made our characters love interests for two years on the show. That really increased my popularity. She was incredibly famous at the time. People were obsessed with her and we were in all those tabloid magazines all over the world. The show was so popular at the time that police would use the yellow tape to make huge barriers and hundreds of people would stand there watching us film."

"Once I was on 'Baywatch,' the show was more famous around the world than it was here in the U.S. When we weren't filming, we had appearances in South America, South Africa and every single country in Europe. In the U.K., the show was off the charts and we were treated like The Beatles. We are in the Guinness Book of World Records because at the time it was the most watched show in the world."

"I grew up sailing, went to the Junior Olympics, and sailed from Massachusetts to Bermuda and back on a 90-foot sail board. The ocean was always my element. But I didn't get into surfing until I got on 'Baywatch.' The crew at lunchtime would be out on the beaches and would run and grab their boards. They were like, 'David you need to come.' Nowadays, surfing is literally my favorite thing.
The thing I love about surfing is when you are on the wave, you don't think about the past. You don't think about the future. You are only thinking about that moment. I started to take my seven-year-old daughter and she has totally gotten into it as well. She is the best thing that has ever happened to me."

"Hasselhoff and I became good friends and we traveled a bunch. After we finished shooting the special in Sydney, we took this two-week trip where we flew up the coast. He is an adrenaline junkie like I am and we both love to scare ourselves. We were trying to dive with sharks. We took a helicopter out to the furthest point on the barrier Great Barrier Reef. He got airsick and instead of diving with sharks we went on this barge that was covered in bird shit. We got on our gear and got in the water. It was completely murky. You couldn't even see your hand in front of your face.

After that David, his assistant, and I went up to Darwin, which is the furthest tip of Australia, and stayed in the outback for five days chasing wild pigs on ATVs covered in mud and eating ants.

Sets can be tense or there can be friction. David would be constantly trying to lighten the mood. He has so much charisma. David could command a room like nobody I have ever seen. He loved every minute of being on set, being an actor and being around all those people. You couldn't not like him. I respect the hell out of him. I love him to death.

After the show ended, many of us stayed in touch. David, Alexandra Paul, Jason Simmons, Jeremy Jackson..."

Aside from acting, writing, and family, activism became another important part of Chokachi's life. Among other things, he works with the Surfrider Foundation and Best Friends Animal Society.
"I wish that human begins cared for each other a little more and cared for themselves a little more and stopped the insane violence in the world, violence towards each other and towards the planet. We don't have to slaughter each other. We don't have to fight over religion. Human life is valuable and we get one shot on this planet to live. I wonder if things were ever taken away in some world crisis, would people still be able to survive today? People are on computers and iPads all day. Kids don't know how to go outside and play.

There is this desire [in people] to want things that mean absolutely nothing. If we had to go back to primal living, most people would be completely lost. They no longer know how to fish, hunt, build or even just change a tire. I want to be able to run into a burning house and save someone or my family. That's how I think of my training in my life." — David Chokachi