Watching a big wave contest, whether you're there on the beach or looking at a screen, is an experience unlike any other. It's not like your average World Tour contest, where guys are paddling into challenging, yet pristine, waves. To a non-adrenaline-junkie, watching a guy throw himself over a heaving ledge into a 30 foot drop is utter insanity.
Last week former Big Wave World Tour champion, Grant "Twiggy" Baker proved yet again that he's talented (and ballsy) enough to overcome that insanity. He won the opening event of the BWWT season, the Puerto Escondido Challenge.
We caught up with Twig to talk about the event and the current state of the BWWT, a circuit that's often not given the credit, publicity, and sponsorship dollars it deserves.
VICE SPORTS: Twig, how big was it out at Puerto last week?
Grant "Twiggy" Baker: It was 12-15 foot, which means 25-30 foot faces. It was the perfect size—where it's big enough to be exciting, but not too big that you can't perform. Once it gets any bigger it becomes more a game of luck than skill.
And can you tell us a bit about your relationship with Puerto? What it means to you? You've had some insane rides, but also a few pretty hectic ones…
I've been coming to Puerto for 20 years and have had some amazing waves here, but for every good wave out at Puerto you are going to pay with a few beatings. That's just a part of what makes it so challenging, and appealing, at the same time. During the event, you can push yourself a little harder as the jetskis make it easier to get back out and try again, whereas during a free-surf you need to be much more selective.
In the semis you had to get a pretty significant score with only five minutes remaining. Do you think of yourself as a smart competitor? What goes through your head when you're in that situation?
I have my moments of clarity during competition and also times of panic, but I think I'm mostly a smart competitor. Sometimes you can will for things to happen to you, and it felt that way during this event.
What does it feel like to drop in on/ride massive waves?
The beauty of big wave surfing is that everyone can experience it and that it's all relative to your personal level. The feeling of excitement that I get from riding a 50-foot wave is exactly the same as what a beginner gets on a five-foot wave. As you get better at the sport and start to push yourself further, that feeling doesn't change.
What's a time when you were truly scared?
There have been a few times when I've been totally overwhelmed by a surf session—the one when Greg Long drowned at Cortez Bank (he survived, thankfully), the day last year when Puerto went 30-foot, and my first attempt at Jaws, where I thought to myself all day long that one mistake would mean the end of my life, and that scared me. Mostly though, when I'm in the moment, the fear seems to drain away – it's more leading up to the day, and afterwards when I watch the footage, that I get nervous.
Does it take the thrill out of regular surfing?
Not at all. I had a surf yesterday at my local spot just north of Durban, and it was four-foot with some perfect little barrels. Three of my good friends were in the water and it was great—it was one of the best surfs I've had in a long time.
You're a previous Big Wave World Champ, and the current rankings leader. Does that add to the pressure to do well?
I'm not the current Champ—Greg Long won last year and Makua Rothman the year before—so there's no pressure in terms of backing it up. But yeah, I am leading at the moment, and I'm sure the pressure will build if I stay in this position until the later stages of the season.
Overall, do you think it was a successful event for the start of the BWWT season?
There's a lot of working parts to pulling off an event like this, and I'm sure having the roads blocked by striking teachers and one hell of a thunderstorm, the night before the event, couldn't have helped. I'm amazed at how the WSL gets a great live broadcast out of some of these venues on 72-hour notice. Just pulling off an event like this is an exceptional job and takes a lot of work from many people. So yes, great event and big congrats to the whole WSL team.
There's a bit of controversy around the BWWT—how it's run, how it's publicised, how it's entries work—do you think that anything needs to change?
My take is that no system or organisation could ever be perfect, and that the WSL—along with the surfers—have looked at all the possible scenarios (most importantly the selection of surfers for each event) and come up with the best possible criteria… as of right now. That's not to say that things can't be liquid and adapt as time goes on and the sport changes.
And lastly, where are you most excited to surf this year, and why?
I just surfed it. Mexico is my second favourite country on earth after South Africa (which is where I'm from) and the event was everything I imagined… big, challenging barrels and only six guys in the water.