Grant Baker (ZAF) has a pretty unusual life. In addition to becoming the 2013/2014 Big Wave Tour (BWT) Champion, "Twiggy," as he's commonly called, was nominated for overall performance at the Big Wave Awards twice (and won in 2014) for charging beasts of waves around the world with ferocity. His submissions to the Awards are a testament to his big wave globetrotting, video submissions shot at spots from Pico Alto, Peru, to Waimea Bay and Jaws, Hawaii. And somehow he still finds time not only to compete in all of the BWT events, but to shine: In 2013, he won back-to-back BWT contests and in 2009, he won Chile's Quiksilver Ceremonial.
Oh, and he also has a life outside of surfing. In April, Baker married his longtime girlfriend, model Kate Lovemore. A month later, he and a business partner opened The Village Idiot, a neighborhood bar in bustling Cape Town. In July, he made time to attend this year's Championship Tour (CT) event at Jeffreys Bay, in nearby Durban. In his "free time"? Baker takes surf trips up the South African coast in search of hidden treasures. And yet, he's ready at a moment's notice to pack up everything and fly out to a BWT event when the call is made.
Before the Northern Hemisphere half of the BWT season kicks off, he chatted about juggling a jam-packed set of priorities, turning a season around, and his idea of a legacy.
Paula Lehman: You finished in last place at the last Big Wave Tour event in 2014, the Punta Galea Challenge, and then made the Final at the first event this season, the Quiksilver Ceremonial. What would be your advice be surfers on the CT who are trying to turn around their season?
Grant Baker: For me personally, it's a little bit different than what these guys go through on the CT. We only have seven contests and it takes a day to run one, so I really look forward to those days. First because we get to surf one of the best days of the year at each place with only six guys in the water, which is a real treat these days.
Secondly, the rest of the year we get to freesurf. I spend most of my year freesurfing with maybe one or two other people in the water, at new waves that we try to find and whatnot. It feels good to go and get amongst it and have that competitive side as well. For guys like Kelly (Slater) (USA) and them that are having a rough start, I don't think Kelly needs advice, he just needs to find that zone again. I think for him it really has been about finding the right waves. He's like me, he just wants to compete in the good waves. Once the waves get good he's almost impossible to stop.
PL: How do you manage your life so that as soon as a call is made, you can drop everything and go to an event?
GB: If there was one complaint about my lifestyle, that would be it. It's really helped me keep fit and focused over the years because technically I really can never take a break. A swell could come on to the charts and in five-to-three days of that you have to jump on a plane and be at the location so there is no, "I'll be ready in the future." You have to be prepared every single day. There's positives and negatives to that obviously, negatives as in it's hard to commit to things like weddings and birthday parties or anything like that. On the other side, it's a healthy lifestyle so I can't complain.
Technically I can never take a break.
PL: What does that training look like when you're home?
GB: My training regime is basically the same on the road and at home. I join a yoga studio wherever I am and try to surf as much as possible, seeing as the best training for surfing is surfing. I do some crossover stuff as well, like swimming to help with breath-hold and confidence. It's pretty much the same everywhere.
PL: Do you surf the waves at places like Jeffreys Bay and other smaller waves?
GB: I surf every day. When I'm at home I have my car with all my boards, which is about 15 at the moment. Single-fins, twins and whatnot, all on the roof. I have all the boards that I love to ride and that helps me stay focused. Nowadays I'm not chasing every swell like I used to. It's a little too expensive and time-consuming. But that helps me pick the swells I really want to go to and center trips around finding new big waves in Africa and beyond.
PL: Are you finding anything?
GB: We have had a bit of a slow start to the season, but there are so many out there. Big wave-wise we've had amazing small waves with 10-foot barrels, just nothing really too big as of yet. It's been a bit of a bummer because I have about three or four new waves up my sleeve. Two are on the west coast (of Africa) and there's another on the east coast and they're all holding a lot of new potential.
PL: You're expecting your first child soon. Does the prospect of becoming a father have any impact on your mindset about surfing huge waves?
GB: Becoming a father feels like it's going to have a big impact on my future in big waves. I'm in two minds as the birth draws nearer but leaning more towards having one last big season this winter and then hanging up my boots next year. I'm going to let this season dictate what my future is but to compete at the highest level you need to be 100 percent committed and I'm not sure if I will be able to do that from next year.
PL: So how do you see your legacy?
GB: It's been tough for guys like me over the past few years. I worked from the age of 18 to 32 and I built up a financial base that allowed me to turn in to a professional surfer for the last 10 years. But for somebody who is young and starting it is impossible. It's my generation right now, the Greg Long's and Mark Healey's, that are really working on creating more paths for the BWT competitions so that every kid can ride out, like me when I was 32, and win a contest and it won't cost them money to continue. Hopefully we can put that in place before our term's up and the next generation can remember me in that and continue it.