Interview: Grant 'Twiggy' Baker Reclaims Big Wave World Title

Craig Jarvis

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Updated 118d ago

The South African big wave surfer reclaims his title as the Big Wave Tour World Champion, a title he last held in 2013/2014 season.

It has been a tumultuous season for the veteran big wave surfer, with the birth of his first child, a couple of big business ventures, a huge win in thundering Escondido tubes and a few very gnarly moments at the maiden Nazaré event. We caught up with him on the eve of the title handover.

One of those moments...

One of those moments...

© 2017 - WSL

Wow! Well done, champ! How does it feel?
It feels absolutely amazing, thanks Jarvi. The last month has been pretty stressful though, waiting to see if Todos will run and preparing myself mentally for a big showdown, and it’s great to be at the end and have that stress off my shoulders. I'm extremely stoked to take the title and have had the best year of my life in 2016 with little Billi being born and now this.

Well you deserve it china. What do you actually win as world champ, apart from the accolades and respect from surfers worldwide?
The money this year has been great and I'll take home around $135K from the three events and overall prize. It’s amazing how far the tour has come in such a short time and this will be the first year since I started surfing "professionally" that I'll actually make some money from my surfing. Who would have thought that someone would make close on R2mil in a year surfing big waves? The dream has finally become a reality!

That’s actually R1, 775,722. That’s going to buy you a few rounds of drinks back home. Call me. It has been a great season for the BWT, and obviously for you. Apart from winning Puerto, what do you rate as the highlight of your big wave events?
That Puerto event was something special, I've been waiting for a contest like that my entire life. The chance to show what we can do in perfect 15-18ft barrels was incredible and a career highlight for me. Competing at Jaws with only six guys in the water for that final was also very cool. The waves were pumping and the competition was fierce.

© 2017 - WSL / Heff

You’ve said that the previous event at Jaws wasn’t so much fun.
No it wasn’t. This year was better size for a paddle in event, the year before wasn't fun.

What was the worst? Was it those ski rides at Nazaré?
Yes, that was a crazy experience. I spent 25 minutes during my semi-final jumping 10ft white waters and I have no idea how I wasn't seriously injured during that time. There's no way I will do that again, it’s just too dangerous. I was lucky to come out with only a few bruised ribs and four weeks out of the water.

Obviously as a world champion you cannot consider retiring. You’re obviously going to give it another massive push this year?
Yes, I'm heading home next week to start training flat out for the new season. Physically I'm in the best shape I have been in years and mentally I feel confident after a great year, so for sure I'm coming out guns blazing for a third title.

This season's Pe'ahi Challenge consisting of slightly less carnage than the year before.

This season's Pe'ahi Challenge consisting of slightly less carnage than the year before.

© 2017 - WSL / Heff

South Africa has a world champ on the Big Wave Tour, and a runner up to the world title in Jordy Smith on the Championship Tour. Saffas have got some game? Why do you reckon?
We are doing well but don't get confused by comparing the WCT to the BWT. What Jordy has achieved in his career is incredible and far exceeds anything I could ever achieve. It's like comparing Formula One with Rally Car, everyone knows who Lewis Hamilton is but not so much Sébastien Ogier [laughs].
Mavericks will be an amazing addition to the tour next year.
We know that you’re as proud as anyone of South Africa and represent the country whenever you get the chance. What do you think is the real route to becoming a successful pro surfer, of any genre if you’re from a smaller surf zone without huge sponsors? Go and live in Cali, or the Gold Coast?
Not at all, just take a page out of the Brazilian handbook and go for it. They are poorer than us, they have worse waves, and yet they still make it happen at every level. It all comes back to what you are willing to sacrifice to get what you want. Our guys have all the talent in the world and it won't be long before we have a couple of surfers on the WCT and BWT again.

There have been a few situations in surfing of late that have been a bit clouded - the Mavericks cancellation for one.  What does Twig do to stay positive, stay away from negativity, and muster your strength for winning?
Yes, the whole Titans of Mavericks thing was a shocker for our sport but we live and learn and now know whom we can trust and move forward with. The WSL has lived up to their promises and have pushed our sport forward exponentially since taking over, and Mavericks will be an amazing addition to the tour next year.

Twig was banned from the Titans event so should the WSL pick up the event for next season, we'd love to see him back in the singlet at Half Moon Bay.

Right.
Positivity comes from inside and also having a strong support system and I feel content with who I am and Kate and Billi give me all the love and support I need to be ready mentally when the green light is called.

Self-belief is a powerful winning characteristic. Self-belief and luck helps a lot on the BWT where picking up two bombs in a heat is so open to randomness.
It’s definitely a luck game but in the end you can also help influence your own luck. Familiarity with each wave is key, along with practising constantly in bigger waves. Experience can't be understated and if I look at everyone and try to pick the perfect big wave surfer I would say it’s a 50-year-old mind in a 30-year-old body.
There are a few locals in Cape Town who are equally as important and are totally against any form of competition at their waves, and we need to respect their opinions.
You have been setting up yourself nicely for business later in life. Three pubs/clubs open. You must be stoked with all that?
Yes, Ace's and the Village Idiot have been good to me financially and I can't thank my partner Reg enough for taking me along for an amazing ride. The new venues SurfaRosa, Harrington's and District have just opened and we are hoping that they perform equally well.

I was at the opening. Suffice to say it was crazy. Jordy and Reg were ruling. Talking about back home, it would be good to get Dungeons back on the tour now, even as a BWT WQS event.
It would be great if I could compete as a World Champ at home in South Africa but in the end I'm just one person and there are a few locals in Cape Town who are equally as important and are totally against any form of competition at their waves, and we need to respect their opinions. If we can find a middle ground and try to include as many people as possible and can show that it’s a good idea for Cape Town as a city, South Africa as a country and surfing in general, then I would love to see an event at Dungeons that can be used as a stepping stone for the next generation to have the opportunity to do what I'm doing.

Twig finding a shoulder among the mayhem that was the Nazare Challenge.

Twig finding a shoulder among the mayhem that was the Nazare Challenge.

© 2017 - WSL

It’s still very hard for your average surfer to understand that Nazaré is a paddle wave. Is big Nazaré the end of the road for paddle-in size limits?
Nazaré as a wave is amazing and in the 15-20ft size range, is a true phenomenon and one of the most challenging waves on the planet to try and surf and I'm looking forward to the challenge of learning the wave. Over 20ft it's strictly a tow wave and will continue to win the awards and records for years to come.

At a time that the world laments Google Earth and the shrinking global village, Fanning goes and finds something crazy. Do you reckon there’s another big wave spot or two out there to be discovered? Maybe up your fave west coast? What are you holding?
For sure there are many big waves still to be discovered and for me big wave surfing is about going out, finding a wave, paddling out, surfing it safely and making it back to the beach under your own steam. I've got a few waves up my sleeve that I enjoy doing this type of surfing at and keeping it low key and my future is looking promising for peaceful, uncrowded waves around Africa for many years to come.