Tell us about your background, Aritz:
I was born in Getaria, the next town to Zarautz. I lived there one year. After that we moved here to Zarautz, and I’ve grown up basically all my life here in Zarautz. The beach is really close and the Pukas contest was here for so many years, so the beach and surfing has always been the most important thing about this town to me, that’s why I started surfing.
If not surfing, what do people do in Zarautz?
It’s really a sporting place, we have a big sports centre and people are into cycling, climbing, football, handball, basketball, athletics.
What are your earliest surf memories?
I used to stand up on bodyboards, I started really early, maybe at three years old. My first waves on a surfboard were when I was seven, we had the choice to do surfing as a summer sport, so that’s how I got my first waves on a surfboard, right out here (points down the beach).
Why are so many of Spain’s top surfers from the Basque Country?
We always had generations of hot surfers to look up to, which is pretty important. Also bodyboarding is pretty big in Spain still, but not really so much here. And then once it all got started, we had guys like Ibon Amatriain and Eneko to look up to and they didn’t really have guys doing as well as those guys in Galicia, or wherever.
Is there a Basque surfing style?
I’m not sure if there is one yet, here or in Europe in general. You can see to an extent the Australian type of surfing, the Americans have their style, Brazilians too, but I don’t think we have that yet in Europe, we’re all still mixed, you can’t really pick a Basque style or French style whatever, it’s probably a few generations too early.
Who were your influences growing up?
Slater and Curren would be the main two, but then a bit of a mix really, I really liked Shane Powell, Kalani Robb, all different types of surfers. But yeah, the biggest one has always been Kelly.
Was there an event or a moment when you thought you could make it as a pro surfer?
Year by year we had goals for the end of year, and we kept hitting each one. So I knew I was getting my goals pretty consistently. So there wasn’t one day, it was more gradual a thing of working with my coach Aitor, and hitting our goals.
In Brazil you brought your Basque flag down to the beach on finals day and gave it to Eneko and Kepa. Did you just have a feeling it was going to be your day?
Day by day I was getting more confidence, beating good guys so I had this feeling growing that I could win. And you know when you get in the final you really don’t want to come second, it’s almost worse than losing earlier in a way, so, yeah, you’re just thinking about winning. I’ve been travelling with that flag for two years but it’s never made it out of the bag before. Last year in Scotland I took it to Brims on the finals day but it never came out (he made Semis) so no one knew about it. So anyway in Brazil I pulled it out of my pocket and they were like, ‘No way, you brought that!’ and I was like, ‘Yeah, just in case… come on.’
How well known are the top surfers in Spain. Are the top Spanish/Basque guys in the mainstream media too?
Surfing has been getting a lot more mainstream coverage last year and this year, it’s grown a lot. Before we never really had covers on the newspapers, like the national Basque papers, they were only ever for politics or football. And now for example when I won in Brazil, or when Asier got that big one at Playa Gris, the stories were front page on the national papers. I guess we’ve had a lot of crazy huge days here this winter grabbing headlines, plus Real (Sociedad) and Athletic (Bilbao) are doing really badly in La Liga, so they want other stuff. It’s not like in Australia where the top surfers are household names or anything, but definitely the image is growing.
Who are the good young guys coming up?
Mario Azurza, Marcos Sansegundo, Igor Muniain are the stand outs, all coming up from Zarautz. Before there’d be guys from Bilbao area too, but now it seems everything is coming from this town. The girls too, they’re starting at age 6, and by 10 or 11 you can see they’re getting really good. If they keep progressing like that they’ll be really good.
Why is that?
It used to be all over the Basque Country, but now this town is the strongest for sure in all of Spain’s north coast. I guess it goes back a way to the Pukas contest in the 80’s, the Pukas family, all the heritage, but really just look at the town and the way it is geographically, it’s just so easy to go surfing here, so many surf schools, a big beach with a lot of peaks, really easy for a group of friends to go surf, compete from a young age and just get good that way.
Describe your relationship with Mundaka
For me it’s my favourite wave, the best wave on the planet. It’s a special relationship. When I’m travelling and I hear that it’s been good or it’s going to be good, that’s the thing that hurts me the most (laughs). I really wanna be there because that’s the spot where I’ve had my best surfing moments.
Coming from the same town and being the same age as Hodei, you guys must have pushed each other to get better?
We’ve always had a friendly rivalry. We’re friends but when we go surf of course if I see him do something good I want to do it better, and him the same.
What about your image? How would you describe your image?
I guess I’m known as a Basque guy, I don’t know. For example yesterday I got a call from Peyo (Lizarazu) at Quiksilver and he’s like, ‘You’re gonna have your own boardshorts coming out, I’m not sure how they’ll do in Spain, but I know they’re gonna sell in the Basque Country…’ So I don’t know if they plan to put to the flag on them or what, but I guess that would be my image, or what I’m known for, more of a national thing than a personal image.
You’re known as quite a clean-cut guy. Are you a goody-two shoes? Is there a dark side to Aritz? Ignacio from Pukas tells us you were ‘in the fiesta’ yesterday…
I don’t think so. I try to project a pretty clean image.I try to be cool, respectful. Sometimes my friends might say how come you’re always taking the piss out of us and then you’ve got this nice-guy image. I’m not trying to be squeaky clean, the most professional guy in the world or anything, but it’s like they’re paying me to surf, you know, so if they want me to do stuff, I’m gonna do it, no? If they tell me to do a contest but it’s nothing for me in terms of the QS, I’m still gonna go and do it because they pay me, that’s normal I think. Yeah, I party a bit but not every weekend, and I never drink during contest time.
You’re also known for being heavily into training. What exactly do you do?
When I’m here at home I’m training with my coach Aitor every day. After this interview I’m gonna work with him again today. Today is a holiday so the sports centre’s closed, so we’re going to do some walking in the mountains I think. Normally, I’ll do some bicycle work in the gym, skipping, a lot of skipping, sometimes more running, like before Hawaii I’ll do more running, stuff like that. Sit ups, push ups; at the start of the week I’ll do like twenty Monday, thirty Tuesday and so on. I do something like three hours of physical training every day, and then surfing too of course, around four hours per day.
What have you done differently this year to get such a strong start, and has winning Fernando changed your approach at all?
You learn more each year. I’ve been doing the same stuff really, but working harder on getting the right boards, training a lot. The mental thing is the most important, our goals that we have. If you win one, you know you can win another one. So it gives a lot of belief. But my goal was to qualify, it still is, but maybe I might be a bit closer but that’s a long way away still, so nothing’s really changed.
How much of winning an event is down to hard work, how much down to talent?
It really depends on the guy. Like Jeremy (Flores) and Jordy Smith can just show up and rip contests whatever, those kind of surfers have so much ability. For me, it’s more about hard work. I really like to see the guys like Greg Emslie and Travis Logie, they’re not the most gifted on tour but they work really hard, maybe harder than some of the top 5. I like to see them do well, when they beat guys like Kelly or Andy, whoever, I love to see that because they’ve really fought for it, and that inspires me. And then of course you’ve got guys like Fanning who is a massive natural talent, and works a lot too. For me, I’d say yeah, what success I’ve had or might get comes mostly from hard work though, rather than talent.
Who do you travel the QS with?
We’re a big group, but usually it’s the Acero brothers Eneko and Kepa, Tim Boal, Hodei and Gony.
How do you find the near-constant travel?
It’s OK you know, this year I’ve been to Florida, then Brazil for two contests, then Australia for five weeks, next week I’m in France, then Durban, Scotland, the Maldives, Durban again, California, then Japan, and after to Newquay and then all the European contests up until Ericeira in September, then it’s Canaries, Brazil again and then Hawaii.
Some surfers seem to underachieve in heats, would you agree you often surf better?
Definitely, contests help me to get my 100% surfing, I’m one of those guys who often surfs better in a heat than freesurfing. I really like to compete, have always been really competitive with everything I do, so I feel really comfortable, I don’t get nervous. I don’t have the problem like some guys have, like Jonathan (Gonzalez). I mean I was just with him in Australia for a month surfing with him, and everyone can see he’s just so good – such an incredible talent, and then you see him in the contest losing and you can’t understand why.
Who do you like to be with before heats?
You can tell on a trip if one guy is more positive than the others. I try to stay away from the negative people, if they’re near you it rubs off, badly. ‘Oh, it’s shitty again, shit waves, etc…’ I don’t like that at all. Stay upbeat. I mean, we’re all unbelievably lucky, getting paid to do this ‘job’, you know. You should feel privileged about that. If you show up and it’s small and you go ‘F-this, shitty waves again,’ all negative, well that’s not the way to think, or the way to win a contest. I really like Kepa, you know he’s always laughing, happy. Even when he loses maybe he’s bummed for a bit, but after an hour he’s back and everyone’s cracking up laughing again.
You’ve been with the same girl for a while now, is it difficult to be travelling all over the world to places like Brazil, Australia, Europe in summer or wherever, being a pro surfer, young, getting paid good money, I imagine there are a quite a lot of temptations, girls and party scenes, things like that?
Not really. When you travel you see so many beautiful chicks of course but even before I was with my girlfriend I was never really into one night stands. I don’t really know why (laughs), normally everybody else likes to, but me, I was never really into that at all. I’m really happy with her, we’ve been together for over four years now. You know, you see a lot of guys at the contests when a good looking chick walks past everyone’s checking her out, getting all sidetracked and stuff, but not me. I’m pretty focused. I’m just thinking about my heat, you know? (laughs) I’m single-minded.