There are no easy heats on the Samsung Galaxy ASP World Championship Tour. This much is certain.
Adrian Buchan, now in his 9th year among the world's elite, knows this all too well. This time last year, Buchan was getting focused in Tahiti, ahead of his historic win over 11-time ASP World Champion Kelly Slater at the Billabong Pro Tahiti. To this day, Buchan is two-for-two in Finals against the greatest surfer of all time -- an impressive feat by any standard.
This year, Buchan is hovering at 24th on the current world rankings and has yet to make it past Round 3. The new father, however, is back in Tahiti and confident that if there's one event that could turn the tide, Teahupo'o is the spot for him. The ASP caught up with the Central Coast's finest to talk origins, family, the Hurley team, and life after surfing.
Your parents are originally from Africa, but emigrated to Australia after protesting apartheid at home. Your father went on to teach English literature at Barker College in a North Sydney suburb. How did their life experiences shape your childhood and upbringing? Did you -- or do you
-- feel strong ties to South Africa?
I feel a very strong bond to Africa. I wasn't born there but it's in my blood. It feels like home in a strange way. I could listen to my Dad all day telling stories of his childhood in Africa. He grew up in Zambia and was at boarding school in the Zimbabwean bush from a really young age.
Mum's hometown is a small farming town called Beaufort West in the Karoo about five hours from J-Bay. I've visited both these places and it's so far removed from what I know. I'm enthralled by that and the adventure of growing up there. Africa is such a powerful place. It's hard to describe but I feel it the moment I get off the plane. It's so alive with beauty but you can also feel the tension and that raw emotion of all the conflict.
I often wonder what my life would have been like if Mum and Dad hadn't moved. They decided that they so strongly disapproved of what was going on in South Africa under apartheid that they couldn't continue to live like that and didn't want to raise kids in that environment. In some senses it was an easy decision but I know it was heartbreaking for them to leave their friends and families behind in search of a better life. We don't have any other family in Australia so we are a pretty tight-knit family. It was cool to go back to South Africa with my Dad this year, just the two of us, and retrace some of his steps when he was my age.
Tell us about the Central Coast: Waves, community, access to sponsors and media, etc.
As far as surfing goes you really couldn't get a much better place to grow up. We have a huge variety of world-class waves and it's far enough away from Sydney and cut off by the Hawkesbury River that its not too crowded. Right when I was getting into surfing the Central Coast, and more specifically my home beach Avoca, it was arguably the center of surfing in Australia along with North Narrabeen. Bryce Ellis, Ross Clarke-Jones and Mark Sainsbury were all on tour and Shane Powell was right behind them.
Along with that we had Bill Cilia shaping Nirvana Surfboards and Geoff McCoy doing McCoy's. I was just this wide-eyed grom who was starstruck at all my heroes. Bill Cilia really took me under his wing at Nirvana and I had direct contact with all those idols of mine who were riding his boards. That environment was inspiring. I knew from a really young age exactly what I wanted to do and the Central Coast was the perfect training ground. We've got three men on the CT now with Wilko [Matt Wilkinson], Glenn Hall, and myself and to share the time on the road competing and traveling with those two guys is so much fun. We're like three brothers. I love those guys. The talent coming up at home is amazing right now. Guys like Caleb Tancred, Lennox Chell and Sandon Whittaker are blowing me away already and they're so young.
Media-wise, sure -- it's no Sydney or Gold Coast, but I've always had access to great photographers from my area, like Bosko and Tim Jones, and the quality of the waves meant we always got great images.
I remember watching Taj get a near-perfect score on the first wave and wanting to cry.
You were part of a pretty elite group of up-and-coming Australians on the Billabong program (Stepping Stones crew: Cansdell, Durbidge, Dorrington, Goodall, Towner, etc.). What was that like at the time? How did it groom your career? Thoughts on your colleagues from the film?
Billabong was an exceptional company to ride for back then. Everyone wanted to be on the Billabong team. My crew was Shaun Cansdell, Bede Durbidge and Glenn Hall. We were living our dream going on surf trips with Occy and Margo and Egan and then a few years above us we had Parko, Dean Morrison, and Rasta. It was a big team but there was just this real healthy rivalry and desire to improve and beat each other.
The Billabong Junior Series at the time was undoubtably the best Junior series in the world. Those events were so gnarly. I was a little grom looking up to guys like Trent Munro, Phil MacDonald, Nathan Hedge, Darren O'Rafferty, Mick Fanning and Lee Winkler. They were just ripping. When that series was strong every guy who won it went on to have a really good career.
The video side of things meant I got to do some amazing trips and got exposed to different waves. I was great friends with Bali Strickland at the time and he produced a whole series of films for Billabong; "Evolv," "Framelines," "The Free Way," and "Stepping Stones" were all his. Bali is a really talented cinematographer and it was great working with him. I've got really fond memories of those days.
Talk us through your pathway from the Juniors to the Qualifying Series (QS) to the World Championship Tour (WCT):
As a grom I just had this insatiable appetite for competition and winning. That's where I developed a real love for competing. Our family used to travel to Bali every year for our winter school holidays and that's where the World Grommet Titles were at the time so that became my first real goal: To be a World Grommet Champion.
I remember being on the ferry to Palm Beach with my Dad after I had made it through to the Worlds and my Dad saying "not many kids have the chance to be World Grommet champ, but you do." He was never one of those pushy parents, he's a man of few words but he always knew when to say the right thing to motivate me. Beating Parko in Bali for the u/16 World Title was when I really discovered I could do it and rise to the occasion against the older guys. The next year I finished third and a young kid called Raoni Monteiro from Brazil won. He was surfing so maturely for his age at the time and that was really motivating to see these young hungry Brazilians.
The Billabong Junior Series was obviously a huge stepping stone, as was the Hot Buttered/Ocean and Earth Pro Junior at Narrabeen. That event was huge. It drew all the best guys from around the world. Kelly and Shane, the Irons brothers, Wardo, Bobby, and all the top Aussies. It was a dream to finally win that in 2001 and that year was my first on the QS. I may have qualified if not for 9/11 but I wasn't ready. My body went through some growing and I had some bad back problems that really tested my patience but it gave me some perspective and made me realize I had to make the most of every opportunity because it could be my last.
Injuries have always been there to keep me in check and really challenge that belief and hunger but I know I wouldn't be where I am without them. Missing my first six months as a rookie on tour was just heartbreaking. I'd worked so hard to get there and having to watch all my peers surf these perfect waves without me was so hard. I missed Mexico that year. It still hurts. I remember logging on and watching Taj get a near-perfect score on the first wave of the day and just slamming my computer down and wanting to cry. All those things made me stronger though.
Your specific approach: How would you describe it? Strengths? Weaknesses? Has your surfing evolved since qualifying for the WCT? Do all surfers evolve their surfing or do some stagnate once they qualify?
I always admired Taylor Knox as a kid. His power and ability to hold his rail at speed and then transition seamlessly to me is at the heart of good surfing. So I like to try and surf at speed with power and flow. I've always tried to be well-rounded because I knew I'd have to compete in everything and that's really helped me. I've had results and feel dangerous in all conditions as long as I make the right decisions.
My backhand has always been a strength but my two event wins have come on lefts. I'm not as strong in the air as I'd like to be but I love the feeling of doing airs and John John, Julian and Filipe are so inspiring to watch. The great thing about the tour is that it lends itself to so many different genres of surfing. I think to stay on tour for a period of time you have to improve and evolve. I often look at footage of even just two years ago and know that I've made huge improvements in certain areas. The surfing on tour is just of such a high standard that it's kind of like survival of the fittest.
Riding for JS for the past 10 years has been a huge positive influence on my surfing, too. His boards have definitely allowed me to evolve as a surfer. The quality of his boards and the consistency has allowed me to just focus on my surfing. He supplies me with incredible boards tailored to every location and stocks me up over the off-season with different models to keep things fresh. There's nothing like getting a new batch of Traktors. That smell of fresh fiberglass and resin never gets old!
Even if I had lost, they would have been highlights to surf Finals against Kelly.
Kelly Slater: Two Finals and two wins (France '08 and Tahiti '13). You may be the only person on the planet to be undefeated against Kelly in Finals in the history of the sport. How does that feel? How have you managed?
It feels great. That's what it's all about! In both those Finals I've been able to find another gear and rise to the occasion. Even if I had lost they would have been highlights for me to surf Finals against Kelly. France because his Title was on the line and Teahupo'o because of the respect that wave has from everyone on tour and the fans.
But I can honestly say that none of those thoughts were in my mind at the time. I've never felt more balanced and in the zone than when I paddled out for those two Finals. They were dreams I had visualized since I was a young kid and I knew I was ready for them. Being in that space as an athlete is a rare thing and that's what I want to feel more of.
You're now part of a really robust Hurley team that grew significantly in December 2012 when Nike folded their surf program into the one at Hurley. What was it like learning that your team would be joined by Julian, Nat, Michel, Alejo, Filipe (and later John John)? How has it been since? Where do you see yourself fitting in on the team?
It's actually nice to have that company of a big team and have the support on the road from all the team guys like Brandon Guilmette and Mitch Ross and Philipe Malvaux.
For a long time I was Hurley's only guy on tour and I was stoked to fly that flag and give the brand its first World Tour wins. Obviously now the brand is a lot bigger and the team has evolved but I can honestly say that to me, Hurley has really stayed true to their roots. Riding for Hurley is great fun. Bob [Hurley] has been the key to that. He's such a humble, generous guy but he wants to challenge the status quo and that's kept it fun for him. If it's not fun why do it, right? Bob's still a really stoked grom at the heart of it. He still goes on surf trips and shapes and surrounds himself with people who have a real vitality and I love that. At the end of the day I'm riding for Hurley which is Bob's family's name and that's a big honor.
A lot of people questioned my decision to leave Billabong when I qualified for the tour but I just had a gut feeling that Hurley was on the brink doing something special. And when Pat and Bob approached me it felt right and I followed my gut. I've been at Hurley nearly a decade now and can't imagine riding for anyone else.
I know I bring a different skill set to the younger guys who are purely focused on competing, like I was at that stage of my career, and I like the distraction of having something going on away from surfing heats to keep me fresh. Being more involved with the brand, developing the key product pieces like the Phantom Shorts, and more recently the wetsuits, over the years has been fun. H20 has also been a big part of that the last year. Trying to give back a little to the places that have given me so much.
Fatherhood: You recently became a new father to beautiful baby girl. Is she motivation? Has it been somewhat distracting?
Ruby came nearly two months early and all of a sudden Beck and I were parents. I lost at Bells and got a phone call a few hours later that Beck was going into labor. I made it to the hospital two hours before she was born. It all happened so quickly. Watching her in NICU that first week hooked up to all these machines was the hardest week of my life but I would do it all again just to see her smile.
But as the weeks went by she got stronger and the doctors were amazing. It was hard leaving her in hospital and trying to go away and compete those first few months of her life. The girls are a huge inspiration to me and now that she is doing really well Im starting to use that as a motivation. I want to show her the world and the life I am so lucky to live.
Life after competitive surfing: Any plans? It seems the pundits consistently assume that you'll be successful at whatever you do. This isn't a foregone conclusion, though. Your thoughts?
Haha. Yeah it's nice to read things like that. But I think that just because I finished school and am well-read people put a tag on me to become this or that, but I'm not finished with competing yet. I've still got a lot of drive and hunger to do some great surfing.
I've definitely always tried to keep my mind active. I enjoy writing and I'd like to maybe get into public speaking in a motivational sense, or working with other top [athletes]. I'm a sports junkie. Premier League football, Rugby Union, cricket, golf, tennis -- I watch them all. I've done some work with Fuel and Fox Sports more recently when I was injured and that was fun too. As surfing grows there will be more room for that punditry and analysis.
I also have a few charities like Hurley H20 and the Reach Out Foundation that are close to my heart so I'd like to continue raising awareness on those issues too.
I'd like to travel a little more. Maybe living abroad somewhere in Europe for a period. Food. I love good food. I've always fantasized about opening a little tapas bar. As long as I'm doing something I'm passionate about, I will enjoy it.
There are five events left. Is there something left in the basement for Adrian Buchan? Are we going to see a late-season push? How do you feel about your chances at Teahupo'o, Trestles, France, Portugal, and Pipe?
Absolutely, that's the goal. I feel really good. I'm living in the now and not getting caught up in what could or might happen. Now is all that's guaranteed so you have to make the most of it. I've learnt that this year with the birth of my little girl.
I'm going to go into each event prepared with a clear head, ready to do some great surfing. I've never gotten too worried about points and ratings and playing that game. It's a waste of energy. I know if I prepare well and keep doing the little things right the results will come. Out of the locations coming up I've won two, had third or better at all the others barring Trestles and Portugal, where I've had fifths. So I've got no doubts, it's just about keeping it simple and having that belief and executing.
I've always had good starts to the year so this year has been a new challenge and I'm trying to embrace that. Coming off surgery right before Snapper was always going to be tricky and when Ruby was in hospital I could never really get myself into that mindframe I needed to get in. But I feel like things are balancing themselves out again now. Ruby is getting stronger everyday and I've got a lot more confidence in my foot than I had earlier in the year. I guess later in your career it really tests your resolve and your hunger and commitment. When you have a tough run you can use your emotions positively or negatively. I'm using it as motivation and as a new challenge. Competing is what I love to do.
Watch Buchan take on compatriots Joel Parkinson and Nathan Hedge in Round 1 of the Billabong Pro Tahiti; the event will stream live daily on this site starting Friday, August 15 local time.
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