"He's just the eternal grommet," said Mick Fanning of Taj Burrow. "With Taj, he's always non-stop having fun."
This, by the way, is the entire surf world's sentiments of the longtime Championship Tour (CT) veteran, Taj Burrow, exactly.
Indeed, the announcement came in April at the Drug Aware Margaret River Pro, but the reality hit in Tavarua at the Fiji Pro: Taj was done after this last event. The Yallingup, Western Australia born and bred perma-grom was finally retiring after an illustrious 18 years on the Championship Tour.
Now a father, Taj wanted to spend more time with his daughter, and frankly, after nearly two decades competing and chasing an elusive world title, the man was ready to turn a new page in his life.
Thus, with a virtual changing of the guard in the midst (Taj, himself a part of a change when he qualified at just 17 years old) Burrow didn't go out in Fiji quietly. Not even close. In a fantastic battle with John John Florence in Round Three that would be called the "Heat of the Year" (up until then) the two surfers traded 9.4's and 9.3's in mind-numbingly perfect Cloudbreak barrels.
While Florence barely edged past Burrow to advance, Taj proved that even 18 years later, he could square up with the CT's top talent in the world's best surf.
"That was one of the best heats of my life," Burrow said. "I could not have picked a better way to finish my last event ever. The waves were exactly how I'd want them and John John is exactly who I'd want to surf against in those types of waves; someone who will push me to be my best."
Off-tour, but surely not the last we'll see of the man, Burrow's peers had much to say of their comrade after his final heat.
"He's still a grom," said Sebastian Zietz after the heat. "Taj froths out in any kind of conditions…It's gonna be a bummer to lose him. He's had an amazing career, that's for sure."
"He's been a huge inspiration for me, ever since I was a grom," continued 3X world champ Mick Fanning. "He got on tour so early, it gave all us young guys some hope, you know?"
Surely, let's hope Taj gets bored in retirement and comes back for more. I mean, c'mon, the guy's not even 38 years old yet!