Hats off and hands up for the Twig. For the last almost 20 years, Durban’s Grant Baker has been flying the flag representing South Africa’s big wave pedigree on the world stage. His latest win at the Nazare Challenge in pumping 20 – 25 foot is another page in what is turning out to be a remarkable surfing history. We caught up with the 2 x world champ on the back of his win.
Zigzag: Your approach was very strategic (always has been. I remember you telling me you had a formula for contests) – first you showed up 6 weeks early to “dial in”. Secondly, you did just enough to get through heat 1 and your semi (were you trying to conserve your energy?). Then you went ham in the final. Was that all planned? Talk us through it.
Grant Twiggy Baker: I try to think through these events and plan as best I can to give myself the best possible chance to do well and surfing at the locations for extended periods is key to this. Saying that there is always the element of luck in surfing and especially in Big wave events. My first heat was slow and I felt out of rhythm but managed to do enough, my second heat was better and I started to feel the vibe and the final was a dream with every good wave coming straight to me. My formula is to make the finals and then push as hard as possible towards the last 20 minutes when everyone starts to get tired and have had enough of rolling the dice on 20ft waves, which is sometimes easier said than done.
At the end of your semi, you took a right, following Alex Botelho, towards the danger zone beneath the cliffs. How heavy was that rescue situation for you? A bad situation like that can pretty much end your event. What were you thinking? How important is energy conservation?
That was a mistake for sure, the wave looked like it might have a wall and barrel but it was a smaller insider and didn’t score very well and it left me in a bad place in the lineup. The rescue guys are so heavy coming in there and the way they protected us all day was immense.
You knifed a short but super intense left in the final and got a 6. You did the same on a right, even more, technical late drop at the apex of the wave just as the ski dropped you off from the left. You got a 5+. Did those scores surprise you?
Yes, to be honest I thought that right was the best wave of the day for me, the most critical and technical wave and I would have liked to have seen a higher score given. But when I heard the score I realized I needed to head outside and catch the lefts in the corner, so in a way it fired me up enough to force me to do what I needed to do.
Talk us through the big 8.67 what was it like getting in position and taking the drop on that thing?
That wave was a gift and it lined me up from thousands of km’s away like something out of a fantasy movie. When I first came over the top of the wave in front and saw it, I thought I was too far inside but then it backed off a little and gave me a chance to wait for it, swing at the last second, take three strokes and drive down the face. When I first stood up I thought I was too late and then my tail started to drift but luckily caught again a second later and my board just took off down the face, into the bottom turn and onto the shoulder.
After the big one, you still didn’t have it in the bag. How did you get in position for your final 7 that sealed the deal? How did that go down?
After that wave, I thought I had the heat under control and got the ski to drop me way out the back to regroup and gather my thoughts. What that did was put me in a good position to monitor the other surfers and get a read on the lineup and I quickly realized that everyone else had moved too far inside. So I slowly paddled deeper pretending I wasn’t very interested and waited for another wave which was the 7.07. After that, I used the same tactic again and the 7.70 came straight to me with 2 minutes to go and that was that.
Two more events at Jaws and Mavericks. What’s your approach for the rest of the tour.
The plan is to head over to California tomorrow and hopefully get a session or two at Mavericks before heading over to Hawaii and posting up until March. From there I will fly back and forth between the two for every sniff of a swell until the events run.
How are you feeling about a 3rd world title?
I’m not really thinking about that at all, I’m super focused on doing well at Mavericks as I haven’t had a chance to compete there since I won a few years ago and I feel like I have something to prove to myself out there. A third Mav’s title would be amazing and to tie Flea’s record, someone who is a hero of mine would be a crowning moment in my career. Jaws is a tough one, with the Hawaiians being so dominant but I’m going to try be a little more aggressive and assertive out there this year.
How did you celebrate the win?
My celebrations have toned down over the years but we had a few drinks and talked story over a pool table after the event. Good times!
What’s the world big wave world tour like these days, considering you’re almost twice as old as some of those new kids: Florence, Bierke, Chianca, Gonzalez, etc.
Haha, twice as old is heavy! I’m stoked to be here and competing with the next generation who are pushing me to try to become a better surfer every time I hit the water. I’m working hard to make sure my body is in the best shape possible and my mind feels as clear and purposeful as ever, so does my age really matter? This is the new world, girls are the new boys and age is of no relevance!
How do we get SA big wave surfing back on track? What needs to happen?
It’s pretty clear that we need an event in South Africa if you look at the tour its made up of guys from Hawaii, California, and Europe because that’s where the events are and if you get a wildcard and make the final of your event you have a good chance to get onto the tour. Otherwise, guys with the natural ability like Josh and Matt need to get onto a “WQS” type program for a year or two, hit every major swell around the world, catch the best waves on those days and qualify through the XXL Performance route. This, unfortunately, takes a great deal of time, money and commitment and means spending most of the year away from home and scrapping your way around. It’s a tough one because in the end there’s not much money to go around until you are on top, but fuck me if you won’t have an epic time trying to get there!
Lastly, you’ve been surfing big waves competitively since 1999, Red Bull BWA year one (I think). Today you have two world championships and lining up a third. You may very well be the most successful big wave surfer yet! Did you ever think about that? Am I wrong? You’ve won the Red Bull BWA, Chile, Mavericks x 2, Puerto Escondido, Nazare not to mention all the 2nds and 3rds. Am I missing something? Does that freak you out? Are we coming on too strong?!
Haha, that is a little strong but I just did a quick calculation and by my estimates, I’ve surfed in around 25 events in this time, won seven (you forgot Punta Galea), come second in three and third in three, which is a pretty good results percentage I think? I’m not totally sure what Greg Long’s results are but I would say we are pretty close and in my mind, he’s the best competitive big wave guy ever. But that’s competition and I could never start comparing myself to surfers like Dorian, Albie, and Lucas, those guys are on another level skill wise and far, far better surfers then I’ll ever be.
Bonus question: you started surfing big waves competitively in 1999, and you won your first event almost 9 years later at BWA. As you’re getting older, you’re winning more. How important is experience in big waves?
Experience is important and the best big wave guys are normally in their 30’s because of this. All I’ve done is try to work hard to keep my body in better shape then it was in my 30’s and keep my mind as hungry as possible to be able to keep up with the younger guys. It seems to be working and I’ll keep it going for as long as I can and see how far I can take it…