Tom Butler, Tiger on the Loose

Interview by Luke Hart

Tom Butler got a mental wave at Mully recently, ridden perfectly with not an inch of water out of place. What does that feel like? I can only begin to imagine. Sitting down to talk to Tom it's hard to think of what to ask, I start thinking about how long I have known him and how you get across such a personality via the answering of systematic questions, and to be honest I don't think you can, he is a guy that until you meet him there is no explanation.

For the purpose of this interview and catch-up I will however try. Tom is is overly energetic, has the enthusiasm of a puppy with a new squeak toy and the focus and determination of a Shaolin monk. Larger than life is an understatement for this kid, dance floors, boxing ring, cliff tops, yoga matt, the ocean, wherever he finds himself you can guarantee he is doing it big, throwing it all in and always with a big smile.

Afternoon Buttsy, how's it going?

Yep all good, just making a protein shake and I'll sit down [laughs] ready to answer your questions bro.

Let's talk about the wave you just had at Mully..... how was it? looked like a monster!

It was a very good shaped wave and the biggest of the season so far. I was lucky to be in the right place at the right time. I'm very thankful to Dylan Stott and Kurt Rist for the tow on their ski. Dylan was very patient and waited out a few sets before, then we spotted that one 500 meters out. I knew it was a fairly big one but didn't feel the exact size as I was riding it as it was the first wave of my day. Looking back at the footage, if I could turn back time, I would have drawn a slightly different line and tried turning more aggressively mid-face to lose some speed and drop deeper. That said, I know how tech the tube is here and how many boils and ledges are hidden just behind that curtain, so maybe I wouldn't have made it. Who knows.

Do you think it's important to make a wave when towing in? What are your views on the technicalities involved with riding out a huge wave?

It's important to make a wave if you tow or paddle if it's a two footer or a 20 footer. The feeling of satisfaction should come when you ride out of a moment of madness. In any sport.

It's important to make a wave if you tow or paddle if it's a two footer or a 20 footer. The feeling of satisfaction should come when you ride out of a moment of madness. In any sport. The feeling of falling could be described as a soccer player stepping up to a penalty, then hitting the corner frame of the goal. So close to a moment of glory but the ball didn't go in. My views on the tech side of riding out huge waves? You give yourself the best chance if you are prepared: so boards, fitness, strength, doing your homework and watching many waves at the spots you want to surf.

So if you won an XXL for an incomplete ride would it sit right in your mind? You were prepped, had the right equipment, got yourself in the spot for the biggest wave, but you just couldn't ride it to the end, does it matter?

Yes it would matter to me personally, does an Olympian get his gold medal in running if he trips before the line? A big part of big wave surfing is the guts it takes to do it and the preparation required, physically and mentally, the wave is almost the last part of the jigsaw really, rather than the be all and end all of the journey. Any big wave surfer isn't doing it to be judged on if waves are made or not, it's a personal journey. But for me, I want to ride out of everything! [laughter]

So your focus for riding big waves is to ride them as critically as possible and make them (sounds obvious?)

A lot of the time, even if you pick the right wave and you ride the correct board and position yourself well, you will still fall. Of course, we are playing on a moving surface and when it's bigger everything is moving a lot faster with bigger volumes of water moving, so it is hard to keep solid on your feet. I think it's good to fall, you are pushing it over the line if you are falling, or you are learning about technique and correct body positioning and how to improve on future waves.

Tom pre Ireland  about to slip under a Nazare lip.

Tom pre Ireland about to slip under a Nazare lip.

© 2017 - Luis

And how do you feel about towing in general? Is it your main focus?

Some waves run off that fast at a certain size they need to be towed, or there is no way you can safely physically sit there and keep positioned to paddle yourself in. This said I'm all for letting waves go by untowed at spots and giving paddling into them the best shot. After doing both and really trying to push my personal levels paddling you do only really feel like you are growing and testing yourself when you sit on the ledge and wait out for the sets. It's so hard to hold the position when you see a 20-30ft set coming and you are in the spot. I personally still really have to talk to myself and make sure I don't start making strokes further out: "Come on Tommy wait for it wait for it, nooo why are you scratching for the horizon with a tear in your eye!" The worst is when you know you're getting cleaned up and a ski is close but has another rider on the sled or rope so he doesn't have the time, or the room, to swing in and get you. You are so close yet so far away from being saved. That happened at Mully on the day I caught a big one. I pretty much squealed at Dylan to grab me on the way out, but of course he was racing out to catch the set. While I was scratching for the channel.

I personally still really have to talk to myself and make sure I don’t start making strokes further out: “Come on Tommy wait for it wait for it, nooo why are you scratching for the horizon with a tear in your eye!”

Can you focus on getting more in tune with paddling big waves if you still tow when its really big? The mind set must be crazy

If you have six hours in the water their is time to do it all! If spots work throughout the tide there will be better times to do both. It is really good to just psych yourself to paddle and not let the temptation of the rope come into your mind. It's like trying to diet and then your friend coming over and sitting next to you eating a doughnut. It's tough to block it out so don't even give yourself the chance. This said I think it really helps your number of waves ridden if you can have a ski getting you after each wave and wipeout. It only takes a few big waves on the head to really drain your energy, especially in the cold.

So this all being said, what are your aspirations for surfing the rest of the year?

I would like to paddle surf and make some big barrels at Mully before the winter is over. And hopefully paddle one or two other spots in Europe before winter is out. Then I have a few endurance challenges I would love to see through and try get myself to Chile and Fiji over the Northern Hemisphere summer. I also would like to get myself to one or two of the Big Wave World Tour events and get a few free surf's in with the boy's who are leading the sport. I'm hoping I can link some of these endurance challenges to raise funds for the charities I'm involved with, the Joe Way appeal and AH20.

So go and surf with the big boys then? Who, in your opinion, leads the way in big wave paddle surfing.? Who do you look up to?

I'm not singling anyone out, everyone has their day and all of those top eight guys who pop up on each swell are fairly evenly matched. It just comes down to being in the right place at the right time, and also being in a good head space when you're sat out there. I do love Mark Healy's personality and approach. I haven't met him, but love how he comes across on camera and that he does a bit of all sorts. Also big Shane D goes good. I think he's always in the top three performers on any big day. Twiggy's back to back wins were huge and his passionate celebrations in the channel must have got most people fired up. Then there are the younger guys who are killing it from Maui, like Albe layer, Billy kemper, DK Walsh etc.

OK, so to wrap this up I'm going to ask you a few quick fire questions and you have to answer with one sentence, OK?

Understood Sir.

What's the next big thing to happen in surfing?

Development of the Big Wave World Tour. I heard the Mavericks comp had highest recorded viewing out of any surf event!

Are all surfers hippies?

No, and anyone who is taking this sport professionally hates to think that the mainstream still perceives us like that. We are Athletes with a hippy gene!

Why do you get out of bed in the morning?

Living and moving fast is better than sleeping. We can sleep when we're dead.

why are you so tall?

Pass. Honestly don't know. The orphanage had some stretching racks!

What are we going see from Butters in the near future? One sentence, sir talk-a-lot.

Improvements across the board, and a new board bag of sticks to take back to Ireland, if we can wrap this up and let you get back to shaping! Seriously, I can't wait for this new quiver. I want to focus on going bigger in Ireland over this winter, then get out to Southern Hemisphere swells when they kick in this summer. Fiji and Chopes are definitely on my radar this year.

Yew, nice subtle plug there Buttsy. Cool well I will leave the page to you bro. Sign us off with shout outs and and and explanation of your new little edit.

Shout out to all my friends across the world and all my family. My sponsors for supporting me and giving me a chance to get out and do a bit. Osprey wetsuits, Urban Beach Clothing, Luke Hart @ Fourth surfboards. Scott Dickinson and Matt Way for support over the years. Massive shout to Shane "Mad Dog" McGrath and his wife, Dee, for helping me out and letting me live with them for this last stint in Ireland, and Shane's mum Tina for making real Irish dinners and keeping me fuelled on her prize winning garlic mash! This edit shows footage from five weeks in Ireland at the start of 2014. The onesie is in the video because I love onesies and don't think we should whinge about the cold too much. At the end of the day most pro surfers own at least two high tech warm wetsuits and we are choosing to surf these cold climes, so we've got to man up and get out there.