A Man Named Twiggy

How South Africa's Grant "Twiggy" Baker became a Mavericks master

Grant Baker, making deadly look playful, as per usual. Photo: Gilley
Grant Baker, making deadly look playful, as per usual. Photo: Gilley

A few months ago, I read that Grant Baker, the big-wave rider from South Africa, lost his principal sponsor. This was disappointing for several reasons: First, it seemed that Baker had certainly lived up to his contractual obligations (risking death on a consistent basis, for example); and second, without the support of a main sponsor, it would be more difficult for Baker to chase the biggest swells around the globe, and we may see less of his signature bravado.

You’ve gotta admire any dude who is comfortable with a nickname like “Twiggy”, especially when he can put on a clinic at pumping Mavericks. And perhaps now, after winning the Mavericks Invitational for the second time, a new sponsor will come knocking. But my thinking is that Twiggy should’ve had a lifetime sponsorship in the wake of his first jarring win at Mavericks in 2006. To this day, I’m not sure people realize how ground-breaking that performance was, and I’d like to take this opportunity to point it out, claim it, and hail it.

As most people know, when Mavs is truly big and bowling, there’s a strong chance of nasty wipeouts. One of the main reasons for this is that the wave is so steep and concave at the apex of the peak that air-drops are unavoidable. If that wasn’t daunting enough, the wind blowing up the face makes the drop even more menacing. Usually this wind has an insidious habit of getting under boards and tweaking them sideways, bucking riders off before they even have a chance to stomp the drop. This is especially evident to me in the still sequences I’ve shot at Mavericks over the years. If you really study them, the drop—especially on offshore days at lower tide—seems like an insurmountable obstacle.

Insurmountable until Twiggy hit the Mavericks bowl, that is.

On the morning of the contest in 2006, from the press cattle-boat in the channel, I watched Twiggy cheat nature. Using a variety of tools and methods, he figured out how to take off super deep on the hugest sets and make the drop with panache. In order to do this, he used a slightly unusual board—one that was smaller and heavier than the standard Mavs elephant gun—a magical olive green 9’0”. Like a smaller board at big Teahupoo, this craft seemed to fit into the scooped apex of the peak better and the weight of it seemed to resist the side-tweaking effect of the up-the-face wind.

Twiggy also did it by borrowing a longboard technique from surfing’s past. On a couple of 20-footers, near the very center of giant, murderous peaks, Twiggy faded. He actually paddled toward the left as he went for the right. This helped to counteract the dubious wind, and ended up putting him in perfect alignment for the drop.

But really, when it comes down to it, Twiggy won the 2006 Mavericks contest with the use of an entirely different set of tools: a pair of giant brass balls.

So regardless of sponsorship, lets hope that when the next massive swell hits we can continue to watch Grant “Twiggy” Baker: the surfer with the nickname of a teenage girl and a penchant for outfoxing deadly waves.

Photo: Ellis
Grant “Twiggy” Baker and a brass trophy to match. Photo: Ellis