MAGICSEAWEED welcomes our first guest editor, Grant ‘Twiggy’ Baker, a man who’s made peace with innumerable bombs and metaphorical mountains on his way to becoming one of South Africa’s leading big wave surfers, placing him in the privileged position of being able to chase swells for a living.
Twig is capable of wielding the odd thought, detailing his travels from the arid corners of Namibia to unexplored points of Madagascar, and will be bringing Africa Week to MSW. This, the world’s poorest inhabited continent straddles the dichotomy of containing more than one billion people and 2,000+ languages in more 50 countries whilst remaining somewhat a hidden continent of surf potential alongside being one of the most well-known and progressive surf outposts. It’s big old place. This week Twig aims to explore some of the past, show you a few hidden gems and have a think about what the future holds for African surfing. He’ll also be dealing with whatever the swell Gods throw at him over the coming week.
How do you feel to be the first guest editor of MSW? And how does it compare to meeting Kate Lovemore?
Haha, interesting first question Ed…I am obviously stoked to be the first guest editor for MSW and I’m very grateful for the opportunity to do something cool and different and I hope everyone enjoys the week ahead. But compared to meeting the love of my life and my best friend and partner for the past 10 years it does’t really compare, plus she’s a playmate and films most of my surf sessions so I would defiantly give her the nod on this one.
I feel that Africa is the last frontier for wave exploration and true adventure style travel. There is so much coastline to still be explored and so many new waves of all different varieties been found.
What would you like to see more of on the surfing web?
I think content of a deeper nature would appeal to me more, surfing is a selfish endeavor but if you can combine it with something more like environmental or social comment and action it becomes fulfilling in different ways. I’ve been lucky enough to be a sponsored surfer for the past four years but this is coming to an end with Billabong and I parting ways after 20 years with the company and the work I have done in Africa with regards to the orphanage in Durban, water problems in Madagascar and mining issues on the West coast is what I look back on with the most appreciation.
Do you think that surfers and the ‘industry’ only pay lip-service to the environment?
I would say that most people in the world only pay lip service to the environment. I honestly feel that the problem is now just too great and that the only thing that can save the world at this stage is a massive reduction in the world’s population caused by some kind of natural disaster or plague. Mother Nature must be getting tired of our bullshit and planning something major to get rid of us pretty soon.
You’ve decided to do an Africa Week. Apart from this being what you know, why is it important?
I feel that Africa is the last frontier for wave exploration and true adventure style travel. There is so much coastline to still be explored and so many new waves of all different varieties been found yearly that we are sitting on the tip-of-the-iceberg down here. That and the fact that I’m fiercely patriotic to my country South Africa and the continent as a whole makes it an obvious choice.
Will there be anything from North Africa in there? (I know that there isn’t) Why not?
I have never travelled to North Africa, it’s more difficult for us to get visas for up there, and it seems to be more crowded and accessible then the deep south. The furthest north I have been is Ghana and I’ve seen some crazy potential up there for our own version of Mexico, but the coast between Angola and Kenya and of course Madagascar has kept me way too busy it is for the past 20 years.
Which are the waves you been involved in finding/pioneering in Africa which you are most proud of?
I would have to say some waves we have found in Madagascar and on the West Coast of South Africa and Namibia in the past 5 years have ranked very highly. But for me, the search is eternal, and I don’t think I will ever be completely satisfied until I find a wave that starts like Mavericks with the Jaws bowl and then runs down a point like J-Bay .... ha ha.
Are there any waves in the world your are desperate to surf but haven’t had the chance.
How reliant are you upon forecasting to chase big waves?
We are totally reliant on forecasting and wouldn’t be able to be at the major swells each year without the latest technology. I come from the old school of forecasting, where, back-in-the-day we would have to rely on poor quality synoptic charts in the newspaper and on the TV to chase waves to J-Bay and Cape Town. I have been lucky to experience the improvements first-hand and adapt my travels accordingly.
However in this day and age of almost perfect forecasting it’s still got a lot to do with gut feeing and personal interpretation, for as many good calls you make there will be the odd bad one, and that’s what keeps surfing so interesting… you never know unless you go!
Have you any experience with forecasting hurricanes since we are in that season?
We get cyclones in East Africa every summer and they are much harder to predict then the low pressures coming out of the Roaring 40s in winter. I’ve been chasing cyclones to Mozambique and Madagascar for a number of years but still feel like I have a much to learn about where to be, and more importantly, where not to be.
If you could describe the state of big wave surfing in South Africa in a single sentence, what would it be?
It’s a hard core and thankless pursuit, in some of the most foreboding and dangerous seas on the planet, which I believe makes it one of the purest forms of the sport. If you don’t love it and do it for the right reasons, you will loose interest pretty quickly.
It’s a hard core and thankless pursuit, in some of the most foreboding and dangerous seas on the planet, which I believe makes it one of the purest forms of the sport.
Thoughts at the present moment turn to Nelson Mandela and reflections on post-apartheid South Africa. Are there many non-white big wave surfers in South Africa?
Our thoughts and prayers are with Madiba right now who in my opinion is the greatest statesman of all time. Why can’t there be more people like him in power rather then these dishonest tyrants we see in the world at the moment?
For me colour is not the issue in South Africa, it’s in the past and should never be brought up as a reason why we don’t see many surfers of colour in South Africa. The problem for me is economics and the worldwide issue of economic apartheid that exists in every society today. I’m fourth generation African and even though I have white skin, I’m as African as anyone else.
Until the ‘haves’ are wiling to give up a large portion of their wealth to the ‘have-nots’ then any kind of pursuit that costs money like surfing will never be open to these disadvantaged people and I welcome a new world order based on social responsibility and the limitation of wealth, greed and power. The change is coming and things can only get better.
Am I right in saying you see the future of big wave surfing being young kids on little boards pushing the performance level? Where do you see the progression coming from? Maui, the North Shore, California, South America? South Africa?
The younger surfers are always the future and I am seeing a big movement from all over the world in this regard. My advice to them is to take your time and build up to it, rather then trying to do it all at once, or in one season. Enjoy the experience of slowly testing your limits and pushing your boundaries and getting to know the ocean in all its moods. There’s a reason the best surfers in the world right now are in the 40s?
Where do you see the progression coming from?
I see the progression coming from the existing spots around the world, where young guys can be mentored in their back gardens where they are comfortable and can grow into big wave surfers over time. It’s harder for a young guy to come up without the guidance and help of an established surfer and I defiantly see them coming out of Mavericks, Hawaii and Cape Town.
Equipment-wise I’ve been trying to push my surfing that way over the past few years, especially when it comes to shorter and more manoeuvrable surfboards in big waves, which has brought me to creating a website offering boards that I have worked on with some of the best Big Wave shapers on the planet. In even better news these shapes are available to the broader public…
twigsurfboards.com check it out!
So what is a Twig board? And, in layman’s terms, how can you step down in size yet still retain the necessary elements for big wave surfing?”
A “TWIG Model” is a board that I’ve been working on which works when the waves are firing. I have my specs on computer and constantly work on them, tweaking them. At the moment I feel that I have some of the best boards out there under my feet from a 6 to 11ft.
I then share these specs with various shapers around the world like Jeff Bushman in Hawaii, Wayne Webster in Australia and Spider Murphy in South Africa and together we come up with boards for each specific zone.
And where does paddle surfing stop?
I think most of the guys who were out at Cortez on the XXL swell this past winter saw our limits. A couple of waves were surfed at the 60ft mark and I guess that’s now considered too big to survive - if you fall. I saw fear in the eyes of guys I would never have guessed could show fear, and that in turn scared me. When Greg drowned (I doesn’t use that tense lightly), who is always the most prepared amongst us, that reality really hit home. For me, 60ft faces is where paddle surfing stops!
How do you view your role in Big Wave surfing? And where do you want to go?
I see my role as a mentor to the young surfers coming up and a guardian of the sport with regards to getting money and sponsorship in. Hopefully the next generation won’t have to struggle like we have to make ends meet. I feel that some like Shane Dorian, Greg Long and Mark Healy are just as marketable and important to the sport of surfing as Kelly Slater, Joel Parkinson and Jordy Smith and should be treated as such.
The recent amalgamation of the BWWT and the ASP has generally been regarded in a positive light. Are you happy about this step?
I feel is a great step forward and support it completely, it’s now a proper platform to showcase our sport and to build a foundation for the future. If all the events can be run as professionally as the Eddie or WCT events and made available to the general public to watch it will mean a big leap forward for our sport.
And finally, what would you like people to take away from your week in the editor’s chair?
I would like then to enjoy the content and give me honest feedback on what works and what doesn’t, and then do something to help Africa by way of donations to organisations like LIV-village.com, or even by coming here on their next surf trip and helping the economies of the poorest and most neglected people on earth.
I’ll give everyone that comes a wave…. promise.
Guillermo Cobo flying high at home in the Canaries
Photo Gallery of the goods on offer in southern Sumatra over the weekend
A chance to get your artwork imprinted on a custom Fourth at Surf Bettys festival in Newquay
A teaser for Matt Lackey's new bodyboard project, showcasing some of the best heavy waves the world has on offer