"Winning a World Title can be a mind warp," said 2018 World Longboard Champion Steven Sawyer. "I was thinking about Andy Irons and how he said winning became an all-encompassing goal. Yet even when he won, the relief and the joy didn't last. Obviously I'm not comparing myself to Andy, but I figure there is winning the Title and there is what comes with it. I see it as a huge responsibility. More than that, it would be meaningless without that responsibility."
Sawyer won his Title at the 2018 Taiwan Open World Longboard Championships last December. It's a victory that clearly means a lot for one of the sport's more interesting characters.
He is a deep thinker with a cruisy vibe, a radical shortboarder who oozes style on a longboard. The 24-year-old mixes carefree vibes with real discipline. He's also a man with a plan ...
"I want to be a role model and I want to inspire surfers," said the South African. "Sure, the World Title is an opportunity to push my own selfish goals; to reach people with my music and become a better surfer. But there is a bigger picture which I'm still trying to get my head around."
Sawyer just finished playing a Jam Cruise, a live music gig that took him to Miami, Belize and Mexico and saw him and his band play for six nights. Sure, a cruise ship is the very definition of a captive audience, but Sawyer described the experience as the highlight of his musical career.
The singer-songwriter first played live when he was 17 and has been serious about music for the last five years. He has an LA-based agency backing him and a new four-track EP coming out soon.
"I see music and surfing complimenting each other perfectly," he said. "There's no love divided between the two, it's only multiplied. I would never choose between them. That would be like a parent choosing a favorite child."
With a World Title, live gigs and an album launch on the way, it seems that for right now, there is no need to choose. Sawyer has found a path where he follows his passions and simply picks the right equipment for the right situation. It has served him well growing up in Jeffreys Bay and there seems to be no need to change.
Sawyer's father Des moved to J-Bay in the early 1970s to surf the fabled points and shape surfboards. The Sawyer label is still going strong today and Stevie works alongside his dad in the factory. The two created the surfboards that he rode in Taiwan.
Growing up a talented shortboarder (he surfed as a Wildcard in the 2016 J-Bay Open), Sawyer didn't try longboarding till he was 13. At age 16 he entered the longboard division in the South African National Titles and duly won it. Then in 2015 he entered his first WSL event ... and came in last.
"It took me a while to get used to competition, to assess the level of surfing and work out what I needed to do," he said. "The biggest thing was going left. We don't go left much at J-Bay, so I spent 2016 working on my forehand and dedicated training for the World Titles held at a left point in China. I ended up getting second that year, so all the work paid off. It meant that the path I was on and the dream I had was sustainable. That was a big thing for me."
However, a ninth the following year slightly checked his progress and Sawyer decided to reset. "This year I went back to the mindset and template I had in 2016," he said. "Before the Worlds I went into full blown training mode; I did pilates, yoga, hired a personal trainer and hit the gym twice a week. It was my number one goal and I wanted it so bad and then I achieved it. It was a huge weight off my shoulders. I had made a plan on my own, made all the adjustments, followed it through and it worked out. I was so stoked."
Sawyer, the first South African to win a World Longboard Title, was greeted upon his return home as a national hero. On his arrival, the airport was packed with friends, family and well wishers, as well as the country's major TV networks. It was yet another reminder of the significance of being a World Champion.
"It's been a crazy journey. I had a plan to win a World Title and it didn't happen straight away and not exactly on my terms," he said. "But I wasn't ready in 2016 and I've grown up so much since then. There's no such thing as luck. I believe where opportunity meets preparation, that's where success happens. Now it's just about making it mean something."