Photos: Alex Laurel
You had an unusually early start in the sport, didn’t you?
I started actually surfing, as in paddling into waves and standing up, doing it all for myself, at four. My brother Joss already surfed, my dad and my granddad all surfed. Dad’s dad was actually the first person to surf the left pointbreak near me and a few other reefbreaks around the area. But at two my dad used to take me out on his shoulders and catch waves and I used to hold on to a leash thing. And then before I was even walking, he was pushing me into waves already standing up and I’d be cruising along them. That was at Widemouth Bay in Bude.
Can you describe the Bude scene?
It’s a small town. The surf scene back then was really cool, everyone had vans and would hang out the whole summer. Dad would go down in the morning, drop me off at the beach when I was like five and I’d hang out all day. One of the guys always down there is actually now my brother-in-law, Ratty, and dad would go, ‘Look after him, would you lads?’ and drop me off. So from five onwards I was getting in the surf all the time, I was really keen. Dad got me a little Shaun Tomson fish and I’d be in the sea all day, every day.
And you started doing contests pretty early too?
When I was seven I did my first contest, Surf To Save in Polzeath which I was lucky enough to win. From then on I started to go in the sea all winter. I got pretty good by the British standard really quickly, just because I’d started so young and because I had my brother Joss who was doing really well in the Junior contests. And then Dad took us out to Indo for a two month surf trip when I was nine.
And your dad Pete, was always your coach?
Dad used to do loads of videoing with us, all the time. He’d video the entire trip out in Indo or wherever we were. Afterwards we’d watch it and he’d never say ‘Oh yeah that’s amazing,’ so I used to wonder, ‘Why can’t he say something was really good for once?’ You know, when I was fully stoked on a wave or a move. But now I see how you need to be kept hungry, and chasing it, so it was the best thing to do. We watched loads of footage of ourselves. After one winter Indo trip I came back and did really well in the contests at home. I was like 12, and I won the Pro Junior in Newquay. I was stoked to beat my brother, Stokesy… I think there were a few good European surfers in it, too. So I had a bit of a name for myself when I was pretty young, I won the English and the British, in all the age groups.
How old where you when you first thought ‘I’m going to make a career out of of this’?
When I got to the point where I knew I was gonna make a living, do it as a career, was when I was 13. Back then I was already making sure with sponsorships that I had enough of a deal to allow me to get away all the time, out of Britain. Through school I’d surf everyday after school but dad used to take me away a lot to Indo or Sri Lanka or somewhere just so I’d get out and about, into quality waves and seeing really good surfers, not just staying at home trying to get to the top.
How hard is it coming from England compared to other places for an aspiring pro surfer?
Coming from England, it’s pretty hard to become a professional surfer, because the waves are shit and it’s freezing cold – even in the summer, you’re still wearing a 3/2, it’s not like you’re surfing in boardshorts. If you live in Oz, you don’t even have to be that keen just to go in the sea, even if you’re not that good. You just take your t-shirt off and put suncream on. I mean the shit I used to put up with, you’d come back literally freezing your nuts off, put your hand under the shower and have fat girls’ hands, pins and needles, all that. But I was just like, ‘I wanna be a pro surfer, I wanna be a pro surfer. Keep watching dvd’s…’ There’d be no **** on the beach, just me and Joss trying to get half a foot mush in the middle of winter (cracks up). Mate, it was pretty minging really. But dad took me away a lot so I was getting a little bit of what other people were getting, so I was really lucky.
Do you actually like England?
Not really. It’s cold, windy, raining and the surf’s shit. Seriously. I mean I like it coz it’s home and all my friends and family are there, but other than that, I’m not really that patriotic or anything.
What local/British surfers did you look up to?
I started surfing the left pointbreak near me when I was 9ish, but before then I used to watch a surfer from back then called Mike Raven, and also a guy called Johnny Rad (John Morgan). Those two, around the Bude area anyway seemed to be pushing the boundaries, and gave me inspiration. I used to watch Mike’s style out there and really wanted to be a pro myself.
How do you see the level of British surfing now compared to some other Euro nations?
The standard is pretty low, really. Not through lack of effort though, there are plenty of kids putting in the time and effort. But just look at all the French kids, who’re doing really well right now; they’ve got proper coaches that know exactly what they’re talking about, about technique and so on. They’re way, way ahead of us.
And what about the national coaching in Britain?
The trouble is a lot of people are stuck in their ways. They need to get a coach to come in, someone who was a top surfer themselves to come who instantly has the credibility to be able to coach upcoming kids, who can say you’re doing this wrong or that wrong, and you’ll listen because they’ve been at the top, they know what they’re talking about. Someone that before heats, instead of shouting at you and shit actually gives you a strategy that might help you win.
Has that happened to you, people shouting at you before a heat?
Not so much me, but I’ve seen it happen to plenty of others on the team. Your mental side is 99% of it, no matter how good you are you have to have your head right. Sometimes the coaches we have won’t inspire you at all to surf well, it’s more like, ‘The team needs points, we’re not doing well – don’t lose!’ And it just builds up pressure, the last thing you want to do before a heat. You should be going out there with minimum pressure, just trying to enjoy yourself, especially as a junior surfer. That’s how you’ll end up surfing your best.
What happened in Brazil at the ISA World Juniors last year?
In Brazil I really lost faith in it all. Someone was telling me how to correct my bottom turn, and this person isn’t a particularly accomplished surfer… at all, and I was like, ‘You’re having a laugh, aren’t you?’ I think they need to spend some money and get some proper people, not just a bunch of people that want to volunteer for a free trip away. No disrespect at all to those people, coz they’re doing their best, but someone needs to take it seriously. You just can’t have a coach that doesn’t have proper credibility trying to coach junior pro surfers, it doesn’t work at all.
How you do feel about the pro surfing scene in general?
I think the whole pro surf scene has a massive ego, way too many people that are just too cool for school, which basically is just a load of bollocks, isn’t it? If I go up and meet a pro, I mean I’m a pro myself but I’m not at a standard that a lot of guys are, so if I meet someone I wanna know stuff and I ask them a few questions, and a lot of them just haven’t got the time, which is pretty sad. I’d like to think if a grom came up to me when I’m a bit older I’d make sure I had time to tell them things or answer their questions. It’s really important to give a good vibe that you’re a decent bloke, not just that you sit there trying to be cool with your sunglasses on, taking the piss out of someone.
And your deal at the moment is to do contests?
At the moment I’m contracted to do the Euro Pro Juniors, and try and get on the QS. I’d rather be losing getting 4th but at least be learning the standard. So my plan is to get a seed going so I can do bigger the QS events next year, I need to try and get my mental side good. My lifetime ambition is to qualify for the WCT. That’s it.
It depends where I’ve been surfing. If I go and stay on a right, my backhand gets good, if I go to a left, my forehand. I like hitting it and trying to do technical turns, rather than pure aggression and power. I really like airs, trying to boost, that’s cool. And of course, getting barreled. I wanna try and get into bigger waves, big barrels.
I need to train harder. I did some coaching with Sasha Stocker this year in Oz. He said my backhand technique was good but on my forehand I need to tuck my knee in more so I can go more vertical, some of my turns are pushed too sideways rather than straight up and down. But in England, the waves don’t really allow to do a proper bottom turn. It’s more like a half one and then straight into the lip, and that really limits your surfing. As soon as you get into proper waves – I mean you can watch people who rip in England and see them in good waves and you’re like ‘Eh? What’s going on there?’ You have to have a good bottom turn, and in England you’re not really allowed to do one that often coz the waves are so fat. So that’s why it’s hard growing up as a surfer from there trying to get really good. You can get away with stuff, the wave is a lot slower so your speed gets all sluggish, and that’s not good.
How did you get on at the Billabong World Pro Juniors in Oz earlier this year?
F-off. (Laughs). I couldn’t even paddle mate, couldn’t see when the waves were coming. I had a total shocker. (Cracks up). That was well bad… that’s 100% melt down of mental things; I couldn’t even judge when to catch the wave. How bad’s that?
What about your equipment? You seem to ride a lot of other peoples’ boards.
If you’re not on the CT there’s no point in even bothering going to ask one of the top shapers coz you’ll just get some ghost shaped board, with no heart in it. Recently I’ve been just buying boards, getting hold of loads of Shaun Cansdell’s old boards, a few Al Merricks from Trent Munro, Maurice Cole’s from Trent too, trying to get the good equipment. Super light and something the shaper himself has put time in to shaping. Ideally I’d like to get my own shaper to do what the top guys get which is get a shaper and work on boards. Hopefully I’m gonna be getting boards from Boardculture, Matt Yerxa boards from Hawaii. Every board I get is so different at the moment, I need to get like twenty and pick the good ones, work on them from there and then really get my equipment fine-tuned. That’d be sweet.
Speaking of fine-tuning, you’re quite into your cars too?
Yeah, I’ve got a fully-restored series one Landy, and I just bought a VW T5 van currently with Ratty getting pimped out: slammed on 19’s, chromed up, all the interior kitted out, blacked out windows, spoiler – not a gay spoiler though, a little one, body-coloured bumpers, dashboard kit, sound system. It’s gonna be nice having a bit of power coz the Landy is great in the green lanes or on the beach, but to drive to Newquay takes about two hours instead of 45 minutes.
How’s your training regime?
Training? Er… (laughs) I just try and make sure I’m surfing. If I don’t I do a hundred press-ups and sit-ups. Coz if you don’t, and you don’t surf and have a few weekends out in England, your fitness can slip (laughs). But I just want to be in the water every day. If you’re doing something three days a week, yeah you’ll get good, but it’s not the same as going six hours every day. Back in England I’ll be in the water all day still, until I’m hungry and then get out. But in Indo, I’ll stay in until I’m so hungry that I can’t even paddle back in.
You signed for Billabong last year. What’s it like having a Team Manager like Sam Carrier?
It’s amazing having Sam as Team Manager. Can’t think of anyone better to work with. He charges, rips so hard. I can ask him questions and he knows the answers coz he’s been there. He knows exactly how to surf properly.
Are you like most 19-year-old Brit lads who go to the pub and clubs and stuff? What do you do socially?
When I was like 15 or 16 I used to like going to the pub and it all seemed real good then, but I live in a small town so, really, you go out once and then a few times and then it’s pretty much the same thing, same people every night. But now when I’m back home, I hang out a bit. Unless the surf’s good, if the surf’s good Saturday morning I’ll got to bed early Friday night, coz to me going out and all that doesn’t really bother me. I mean let’s face it mate – the only reason I go out is to try and pull birds, and I’m not really too bothered about that sometimes, neither (laughs).
On that note, are you suitably popular among the Bude womenfolk?
Well I think sometimes they can be high maintenance, and all I wanna do is surf, not go falling in love and doing stupid shit. Surfing is my number one goal and I don’t want to end up falling in love and spending time with her doing stuff I don’t really want to do but because I’m stuck in a little nutshell, of love, then I’m gonna be running around doing stupid shit instead of surfing. I haven’t even got enough time to organize myself at the moment, (laughs) so that’s out of the question.