About a decade ago, a 19-year-old with a blonde Mohawk flew into LAX from his hometown, Santa Cruz, and hopped on a bus to his apartment in West Hollywood, where he had been living with his brother for two months.
He accidentally got on the wrong bus and ended up in South Central. His skateboard in hand, he figured he could skate his way home. Underestimating the distance home and realizing he forgot his apartment keys in Santa Cruz, he was discouraged.
“F… it, I hate LA,” Max Hodges, current TMZ reporter and television star, said to himself back then.
So, he jumped on a bus and headed back to the airport. Luckily, he had one check in his wallet, which he used to buy an over-the-counter flight back to his hometown.
In retrospect, Los Angeles didn’t meet Hodges’ expectations back then. “I still thought it was the 1980s on the Sunset strip, I thought Motley Crue and Guns N’ Roses and awesomeness was going to be everywhere,” he said.
After attending Cabrillo Community College in Santa Cruz, Hodges opted to travel the world instead of continuing school. He backpacked throughout Europe, surfed in Tahiti, Costa Rica and throughout Central America. “That’s the best education you can get,” he recalls his dad telling him. His favorite spot was Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica, where he said he could “dance all night in reggae bars and surf all day in Caribbean water.”
It took about three years for Hodges to return to Southern California, finding a home in Manhattan Beach and working for TMZ, a celebrity news site. He now starts his day when his alarm rings at 4:45 a.m., arrives at work in Hollywood at 5:30 a.m., and is out of the office by 2:30 p.m.
Hodges moved back to Los Angeles in 2003 – he actually almost fled to Panama, but decided against it – because his brother, Beau Hodges, needed him. Beau had just found out he was going to have a baby.
“I was freaking out, I didn’t think I was ready to have a kid,” Beau said. “He was just kind of there, around for me.” He thought Hodges was ready to leave Santa Cruz at the time anyway.
“I came to stoke him out,” Hodges said. They now live eight blocks from each other in El Porto, Manhattan Beach.
It took two accidents soon after he arrived for Hodges to realize that he needed a full-time job, Beau said. Hodges was rear-ended one day while driving his old Pontiac LeMans with the license plate, “I’M RAD.” (He now has “I’m rad” tattooed on the top of his foot.) Another day while surfing, the tip of his surfboard broke and pierced his eye socket.
Around the same time, Harvey Levin founded and was hiring for TMZ.com, where Hodges landed a full-time gig. He now does clips clearance for TMZ, sifting through and negotiating prices for videos for the website. He stars on TMZ’s television show and sometimes chirps in on TMZ Live, a live-chat streamed on TMZ.com.
“Today, we were talking about Casey Anthony, hot or not?” Hodges said.
“Yeah, she’s pretty hot,” his friend replied.
“I said not hot,” Hodges said. “I thought she just looked trashy.”
Southern California has grown on him, mostly because of the South Bay. “It’s the raddest place ever,” he said, munching on chips and salsa and sipping on his Coors Light at Watermans by the Hermosa Beach pier with his roommate, Brian Friedrich. Hodges’ sun-streaked blonde hair was pulled back in a shaggy bun under his Watermans trucker hat – he sat there barefoot, cooling off after a cruise down The Strand on his bike.
His work schedule leaves little time for surfing, he said, especially since he gets off in the afternoons when it’s blown out. “Afternoons are the worst possible time to surf in the South Bay,” he said.
Not that he’ll necessarily surf in the mornings, even if he has time. “My body doesn’t work before 10 a.m.,” he said. “Except for sex. I can have sex before 10 a.m.” he says, continuing, “Actually that’s a great time to have sex, but anytime’s a great time to have sex, I suppose.”