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Wavescape - Surfing in South Africa
Grant Baker Nazare-620-th

Mon, 6 March 2017

In the wake of his world title, Grant Twiggy Baker speaks his mind about resolving the paradox of big wave surfing, dangerous waves, and what the future holds. He chatted to Jason Janks.

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WALL TO WALL: Twiggy just makes it over another nasty Nazare nutcracker. Photo WSL

Bit of a flat way to win a world title Twig? How does it feel compared to being spat out of a 10 point barrel and then chaired up a crowded beach of Puerto, or scratching for your life over some heaving 40 footers at Nazare last year?

Yes, thats Big Wave Surfing for you, we are at the mercy of nature and you really can’t script anything. Those last 2 months waiting for Todos to run was taxing emotionally for me but right now I’m just stoked to have crossed the finish line whatever way it happened.

It has truly been a monumental year for the Big Wave Tour. Have we reached the limit yet?

There’s no limit to what can be achieved in big waves and for our generation to think that we have reached the end is short sighted. There will always be younger, fitter, stronger and crazier surfers then ourselves - ready to take on whatever nature throws at them. Plus all the big waves still to be discovered and surfed will open up more opportunities to push the sport forward.

What is the driving force behind the trend for events to be held in bigger, more dangerous conditions?

That's the nature of what we do, if we not going bigger then the sport is stagnating and no one wants to see that. I’m happy to go bigger as long as safety standards are upheld.

Do you think the WSL is under pressure to push this envelope? If so by whom? The surfers, the audience, the sponsors?

Definitely, and all of the above. The WSL is there to entertain and give the public what they want to see, the surfers are more prepared every year and the sponsors are looking for return on their spend so its all about team work and making sure we have a product that is going to keep the public interested.

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DANGEROUS DANCE: Twiggy wipes out at Nazare. Conditions were scary. Photo WSL

Do you think we might be going too far? It seemed at times last year you guys were in very compromising situations in terms of safety.

I feel that Nazare was a step too far because it was the first event out there, and we were not as prepared as we should have been - both from a surfers and organisational perspective. As with learning any new big wave, you need to put in time, take it slow and work up to being able to perform and we didn’t do this at Nazare. Next year will be different and we will all be more prepared.

Big wave surfing is seen as one of the last true forms of soul surfing. How do you feel about the commercial expansion of the sport?

The beauty with big wave surfing is that you can choose to be the surfer that you desire. You can be the contest guy, in it for the fame and fortune, surfing all the big name locations like Jaws, Mavericks and Dungeons or you can be the soul surfer, traveling to new unsurfed locations and taking on big waves alone with your thoughts. Its an individual journey and neither direction is wrong or right, just different.

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PRAIA DE NORT BRU: You know conditions were tough if Twiggy took strain. Photo WSL

What is the future of big wave surfing in South Africa? Do you think Cape Town locals will be more receptive to an event here, or have we been written off by the WSL?

It would be great if I could compete as a World Champ at home in South Africa, but in the end I'm just one person and there are locals in Cape Town who are equally as important and who are against any form of competition at their waves and we need to respect their opinions. If we can find a middle ground and try to include as many people as possible, can show that its a good idea for Cape Town as a city, South Africa as a country and surfing in general (and everyone can agree), then I would love to see an event at Dungeons that can be used as a stepping stone for the next generation to do what I'm doing.

Does the newly launched BWT Qualifying Series resolve the issues around locals and wildcards getting into events?

I’m not 100% convinced that a Qualifying Series is what we need at this stage as its been difficult for us to run the main events never mind another full series on the few swells we get each year. For me video qualifying is the way. A surfer goes out, catches five bombs around the world in a year and gets onto the tour. This seems to be a more effective and fair system for me. It gives everyone a chance around the world and especially us in South Africa with our abundance of big waves.

Do you think there should be more Women’s events on the schedule?

Yes but at different locations to the men at this stage. I feel places like Waimea, Todos and Sunset would be better locations for the woman to show their skills then Jaws, Mavericks and Dungeons for example. I have no doubt that they will build up to eventually be able to compete in the same heats as men, but at this point in time I think its unreasonable and dangerous to expect them to match the men on the same days.


PUMPED UP: Twiggy claims it in Mexico after winning the Puerto leg of the BWT. Photo WSL

What does big wave surfing need to do to secure a good future?

The tour is in a great place at the moment. I believe the best, most prepared and committed surfers are getting a chance to show their skills and the new crop of surfers like Lukas Chumbo and Francisco Porcella have burst onto the scene this year and will take the sport forward in leaps and bounds and the waves on tour have been of a high standard the past few years.

I would like to see a few more events added like Dungeons, Mavericks and Fiji and a judging shift towards rewarding performance over size will help but overall I think the WSL has done a fantastic job since taking over.

In the end we need to be realistic in what we are doing and Big Wave Surfing is a fringe offshoot of a fringe sport and the room for growth in sponsorship and events is small. We are doing well but can’t get confused comparing Surfing to Rugby or even the WCT to the BWT.

What Jordy has achieved in his career is incredible and far exceeds anything I could ever achieve. Its like comparing Formula One with Rally Car, everyone knows who Lewis Hamilton is but not so much Sebastien Ogier and I wouldn’t want it any other way! (laughs).


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