INTERVIEW: Jon Gubbins Is (Probably) The Most Barrelled Man Alive

Jason Lock

by on

Updated 76d ago

When it comes to getting barrelled, you'll be hard pressed to find anyone that outplays Jon Gubbins for time under the hood. In the past few months, Mr Gubbins has front stacked his entire year's worth of trips, scoring epic conditions in Indo, Africa, back to Indo and Teahupoo's in there at some point as well; that's how good some of the finest locales on the planet have been.

Jon was tucking into some prime Teahupoo beef, before switching out Tahiti for Kandui, then hopped a flight to Skele Bay and then Desert Point after the buoys blipped to life. In fact, Jon's been at every major swell event in recent memory and has no plans to miss out on any barrel-laden, heavy hitting session that crops up.

Want to know when the swell is going to hit? Check our global swell chart here.

From Skele Bay to Indo, Jon sure is on it.

You see, each year, Jon has a world-wide tick-list of where he wants to visit and spends the next 12 months working diligently through it, until all spots are struck through. All made easier when the swell turns up for each of those spots in just two months. “I have to be a forecast guy,” he tells MSW, when I ask about the nuance of making a call. “Things are made easier with the forecasts from MSW Pro, being able to see 16-days in advance is crucial. Watching the charts everyday, period is, for sure, something I take as a key indicator.”

Jon set up camp in Skele Bay for about three weeks where he ended up only surfing three times, including when a stack of the world's best showed up and Koa Smith probably surfed the longest barrel in history. Jon, too, got more than his pound of flesh – and if you think Namibia is an easy ride, you're going to need to banish that line of thinking. It is one of the most technical and tricky waves to get right – and that's before you even stick the drop.

Over the past few days, we've been catching up with the Peruvian barrel aficionado, while his feet are on ground, rather than 35,000 above.

This is the swell signature that rifled into Namibia, a few days before that session on August 13 2019. You can keep up to date with the Namibia forecast, HERE.

This is the swell signature that rifled into Namibia, a few days before that session on August 13 2019. You can keep up to date with the Namibia forecast, HERE.

Tell us a bit about your travels recently; you flew from Tahiti to Kandui to Namibia back to Indo, to score Desert Point and then on to Peru, chasing those numbers when the buoys blip up. Sounds like an incredible experience, talk us through it.
Yeah, I travelled for a big swell in Teahupoo and got a couple of good ones. It was almost too big to paddle, it was kind of windy and gnarly, not many guys out and I got towed by Enrique Arituru on one of the bigger ones of the day.

Stoked that the locals boys, solid chargers, were nice to me. Tika, Mateia Hiquily, Matahi, Huaprod... It was only that day, then it got stormy and unsurfable for a week. I got a call from Kandui Resort to come stay with them in time for a good swell that was coming.

I knew we were close to the Namibia season, so I booked my ticket to Indo and hopefully go to Africa from there. Surfed Kandui good on an afternoon. It was kind of low tide and gnarly west, not that perfect but just with Justis and a couple of guys out. So it was pretty epic. Which, in my opinion had a better direction to wrap into the bay cleaner and the period was higher which helps, banks always get better on the second swell too

Then I got a plane to Africa right away. Tickets were $1k from Indo both ways, super good price. I got to that massive swell in Namibia. Stayed in the house of my good friend and drone magician Bernt Burns and hung with the local boys. Then stayed there with him for three weeks more because I saw the chance to get another swell. Which, in my opinion had a better direction to wrap into the bay cleaner and the period was higher which helps, banks always get better on the second swell too. It was not as big as the first one but it was pretty epic. When the swell finished I went back to Indo to get my flight  to Peru. Had a few days in the meantime and travelled to Desert Point to get the same swell, I guess.

Namibia and Desert point was crowded. But at the Skeleton, it's not much of a factor because of how long and difficult the wave is to surf.

How often do you get a chance to chase global back-to-back sessions like that?
Not many. I do travel to all those spots every year for a good swell but this time everything was non-stop. Which in a way was better because money, work-wise... it was more efficient, cheaper and helped get me in a better rhythm. Instead of going home, I did almost my year in two months [laughs].

To hit all those spots, you must be a forecast guy, are you checking the charts daily? Looking at maps and tools to get you to the right place at (most importantly) the right time?
Yeah [laughs]. I have to be a forecast guy. I've had it all, good and bad calls but lately I've been lucky. Things are made easier with the forecasts from MSW Pro, being able to see 16-days in advance is crucial. Watching the charts everyday, period is, for sure, something I take as key.

Tell us a bit about what went down; Tahiti, Peru, Kandui, Namibia, Deserts – how big was it? Any stand out moments?
Man, I think the last two months I've seen more time in the air than in land or water. I had pretty much eight days of surf in two months, pretty good days, but the rest was travelling and planning the right calls, having different equipment, logistics from flight connections, where to stay, who could shoot me... I do travel to all those spots every year for a good swell but this time everything was non-stop

But it is so rewarding, especially the friendships you make on the way and spending all that solo time but focusing on the waves, the job, it was great, not easy but rewarding at the end.  Leaving the family is always hard, I have two small kids and I missed them a lot.

Neatly tucked into Kandui.

Neatly tucked into Kandui.

© 2019 - Justis St John/Kandui Resort.

How do you pack for a life on the road, or in the air? That quiver needs to be diverse...
Quiver wise, I've been working with Rusty and Tokoro. Polys, all thrusters, from 5'7” to 5'10”,  around the 24,25 litre range. Double concave, low rocker, round pins, super thin rails and meat in the middle. Some area on the nose so I can stand pretty far up, easy glassing, I like a bit of weight. Boards that are especially made for barrels, not for turns at all. Stoked with the results.

Which, out of all  those places, is the hardest to surf? We always hear about people turning up to Namibia and not realising it is one of the trickiest waves on the planet.
Namibia is by far the most difficult and technical barrel I've ever surfed. It is heavy, not by the size, but the volume and speed the waves carry.

The wave sucks so fast below sea level, the current makes it so hard to be in the right position and if you make the drop, then you have to generate speed but at the same time play with a barrel that sucks so much that your nose can dive while riding the wave. Add to that, it is super cold and you have to be ready to walk at least 10kms in a session and, well, you get the picture.

But at the same time I think all those things make it my favourite wave. It is so hard to do good in there that when you got your rhythm, it definitely means that you are doing something well and there is no wave comparable. Teahupoo is amazing but short, Namibia is kilometres of below sea-level barrels.

The nuance of waves! Finally, what is next for Jon Gubbins?
Spend as much time in Africa, Skele Bay and find some new waves. Australia is also on the map and hopefully at the end of the year, we get some good swells in north Peru!

Manhandling his way through Chopes.

Manhandling his way through Chopes.

© 2019 - Russell Ord