INTERVIEW: Taj Burrow – WCT Superstar, New School Alumnus, Aerialist Supreme

Taj Burrow, seasoned Australian veteran of the WCT, came by the SURFERmag.com offices to discuss his latest surf film project “Fair Bits”. Burrow’s surfing has been described as electric. When answering questions however, he is more methodical and reserved than his act in the water might suggest. Nevertheless, I did my best to tap into the voltage of his brain for some insight into this years ‘CT and other intriguing tidbits. Read between the lines. — Scott Bass

SURFERMAG.COM: The first thing I wanted to talk about is the 'CT this year. It seems like there are some guys that are putting more emphasis on their aerial approach in their heats, and it's more than just freeform, like doing an air when the section presents itself to them. Do you think there are guys going, "I need to do a punt to win this heat?"

TAJ BURROW: Yeah, there's definitely more guys on Tour now that are really thinking about airs and know there are big scores available if you nail one, especially at the start of a wave. I think if the judges see you do an air early in the wave rather than at the end they're really going to reward you for it.

SURFERMAG.COM: That's interesting what you said about early on in the wave and that makes sense. I've watched some heats with some guys, particularly with Wardo, and it seems like when he paddles out, it's like it's in his strategy that he's gonna go out there and bust one. Is that something that you put into your strategy before a heat, Taj, or is it more like, "I'm just surfing and I do them every day and if the opportunity arises then I'm gonna do one."

TAJ BURROW: Normally my approach has been to nail two good waves and then start going for it, and if I have priority I'll wait for the best wave, like everyone does, and try to smash it and do everything I can to the beach. But if I have second priority and a smaller or medium wave comes through that the first priority doesn't take, that's the wave that I'm going for the air on to try to pump up the score with the second priority. But now I see so many guys nailing airs and getting rewarded big for it, it makes me want to go for it too. First turn, just punt one off straightaway and then finish the wave. They'll score that for sure. But yeah, Wardo has that approach, the just-go-for-it approach, and in that one event he got a 10 from doing an air and a couple of big turns, so yeah, why not? But we've been pretty stoked for waves so far, so I haven't really gotten a chance to go mad. Actually, there were guys doing airs at Phillip Island, so it's definitely in everyone's heads.

SURFERMAG.COM: Yeah, it seems like everyone has sort of got that attitude. We were just watching some video of Teahupoo before — what do you think about doing airs there at the end of rides? Like five years down the line, or ten years down the line? Or maybe at Pipe? Or Cloudbreak? Do you think that at the end of the ride someday an air will be the way to seal the deal?

TAJ BURROW: Nah, I don't think one bit. Chopes is pretty much impossible to do airs when it's proper Chopes 'cause there is nowhere to really land and nothing to really punt off of. I mean, you can do crazy ones off the back, but I don't think that place is really suitable for airs. I think Pipe is, though. Pipe is pretty good for punts on the end.

SURFERMAG.COM: Except the boards are so big.

TAJ BURROW: Yeah, you do have to ride a big board.

SURFERMAG.COM: The reason I even posed that question is, ten years ago we didn't think you guys would be busting airs in contests like you do now.

TAJ BURROW: Yeah, you're right, but at those places the emphasis is so much on the tube, I don't think they'll ever start looking at airs. But maybe they will, because if you do an air, they'll definitely reward it. But it's kind of tough. Maybe at Cloudbreak, but it's pretty shallow and pretty closed out and dumpy. And on the days they normally decide to run the event, it's usually pretty big and you're normally just squeaking out of the end of the barrels or just getting out the back. So there's not many places to do airs there, either, but if it's a bit smaller, for sure. Who knows? Everyone on Tour can pretty much do anything these days.

SURFERMAG.COM: What about when you're looking at your draw during a contest, who do you really hate to draw?

TAJ BURROW: I used to get rattled a bit when I would get the top seeds. You know, when I would get an Andy, or Parko, or Mick Fanning or something like that. But it's kind of better to just take them head-on. There's no reason to be scared, to be scared of each other. But yeah, it's better just to take those guys head-on, and once you beat them, it just makes your job easier. But I kind of freak too when I draw a lower seed, like a guy that might not be the best surfer but that is known for really doing stuff [all the way] to the beach and getting scored. That'll rattle me too, that makes me nervous for sure. Not mentioning any names, though [Laughs].

SURFERMAG.COM: Who do you think is the most underrated surfer on the 'CT this year?

TAJ BURROW: Well, I used to think it was Trent Munro, but not anymore [Laughs]. He's had a kick-ass start and I think it's well deserved. He's been amazing and has been one of my favorite guys to watch for years now, and he's always been underrated. But not anymore, he's killing it now. But yeah, it's kind of hard to say so far this year 'cause we've only had two shitty events, nothing with really good waves.

SURFERMAG.COM: Let's talk about the movie Fair Bits. Tell us a little about what the project is, and what your role in it is.

TAJ BURROW: Well my Dad pretty much films every session I've ever had at home — he loves filming — plus Rick Jakovich, he shoots 16mm film and he lives like five minutes from me, so we wanted to put something together. I wanted to do a project that was definitely something a little bit different, to try to make it stand out. So we did that and tried to incorporate a few trips into it to make something exciting to watch.

SURFERMAG.COM: How about the relationship with Brendan and Emmett Malloy?

TAJ BURROW: That was the other thing. We had all this footage and a few good ideas and we wanted someone to put it together, and we had a few people bouncing back and forth for the job, and then we came across Brendan and Emmett, and we had a good connection when we met. They seemed really solid and had some amazing ideas. Plus, they came with good connections for pulling a lot of things together, so it just went from there. We sat down and threw a bunch of wild ideas around and then just picked the best of the bunch and went with it. Yeah, we did all kinds of crazy things, like going to Malaysia and towing in at this wave pool. That was one thing. Yeah, I had some of the best days of my life making this movie.

SURFERMAG.COM: Tell me a little more about that, about towing in at the wave pool. Was it just a crackup, or what?

TAJ BURROW: Well, I had never been in a wave pool, had never even seen one, and I was excited to just go over and play in one. I didn't know what we were in for, really, none of us did, so we went there and we got to look at the pool when it was flat and we were just looking at it, going, "Ah shit, where would you take off, and where does the wave come from?" and this and that, we were so excited. And it kind of goes from being narrow on one end to being really wide at the other. Then they started cranking the machine up and they said we could surf in it, and they told us they were going to pump one through just to show us what it was like. We were really excited at that point, like a pack of little girls; we just couldn't wait to see one. But when they cranked it up, it was this old banger of a machine and it started smoking and overheating and stuff [Laughing]. And these little bubbles started coming up where the wave pops out of the wall, and then eventually we heard this huge "boom," like a massive toilet flush, I guess, and this thing pops out of the wall and I had never seen anything like it. I started freaking out. It was like the craziest thing I had ever seen.

SURFERMAG.COM: What was the wave like?

TAJ BURROW: The very first one kind of just dribbled through, but then they cranked out a few more and let us jump in to mess around. We were all screaming and paddling for the first one, but it just fizzled out and we were like, "Aw, what's going on?" But the next one that popped out was a proper wave, it stood up and wedged on both sides. We were all kicking and splashing and trying to get on the sweet spot of it, and turning to try and hit each other, but it was actually pretty good. It's got a left and a right and you can probably get like three turns in, and they can change the level of the water to give it different tides to change the way it breaks.

SURFERMAG.COM: And you towed into this?

TAJ BURROW: Well we paddled into a couple and we were all screaming and having fun, getting some turns in and getting a few shots. There are crazy angles that you can get there 'cause there is a foot-bridge over the top, so you can cover 360 degrees, so that was cool for shooting, but we started thinking, "Imagine getting a Jet Ski in here so we can whip into a few of these things, it would be a dream." And we mentioned it to them and they were like, "Um, I'm sure it could be done, but it needs to be all biodegradable fuels and oils and stuff." But we were like, "Yeah, sure, we can take care of that, no worries," so they basically agreed to it, but they didn't know how we were going to get it in there or anything. So Sam MacIntosh, who pretty much organized everything, went and rented the ski, and the guy brought it over on a little four-wheel motorbike and reversed it into this little gap and we got it straight into the pool. And yeah, so where the wave pops out of the wall the pool is pretty narrow and then it widens out into the shallows, and at first we were trying to tow in conventionally, trying to buzz onto the back of it as it popped out of the wall, but that just didn't work. There wasn't enough room to get going and it was an old banger of a Jet Ski, so it wouldn't get up enough speed to tow in conventionally, so what we ended up doing was we decided to start from the shallows where it was way wider, and tow directly at the wave. Just before the guy would get into the wave, the ski would do a big whip back towards the beach, back towards the fake beach, and the guy would just get straight onto the wave and do a big hack and then punt off the end section in exactly the same place every time. We did that all day long for two days, and it was pretty much as good as it gets. But it was pretty funny 'cause you're standing there in the shallow end with one foot on the ground and one foot on your board and the rope in your hand, and the rope is tense, and the guy on the ski is all lined up and ready to go, and you're just staring at the wall, going, "It's coming, it's coming," getting so excited. But the wave only comes out every three minutes or so, so it's a bit of a wait.

SURFERMAG.COM: So how do you know when the wave is coming out?

TAJ BURROW: You don't, it just makes a little bit of a sound and then goes "boom" out of the wall, and as soon as it goes "boom" you have to be like, "GO! GO!" And then you're straight into it to smash it.

SURFERMAG.COM: That sounds fun.

TAJ BURROW: Yeah, it was one of the best trips that we did.

SURFERMAG.COM: What about Ben Stiller? I know he was involved with the film. What was it like working with him, and what was that all about?

TAJ BURROW: Yeah, the Malloys wrote up a little script for a funny guy, and some names were getting tossed around and I heard the names Will Ferrell and Ben Stiller, and I was like, "Yeah, that would be unreal, those are my two favorite guys, that would be a freaking dream." So they were like, "We did the Jack Johnson thing with Ben, so he might be interested." And sure enough, they got him for like half a day to come down and mess around with us to shoot this skit. Andy flew out for it, and I was there, as well as Donavon Frankenreiter, and Chris and Dan Malloy, and we just nailed it. Ben turned up and was just real mellow and quiet, just a real nice dude, but as soon as he threw his outfit on and got into character, he was going off. He pulled out so many crazy things, you didn't even have to write a script for him. He's so good. I think I was the loudest one on the set 'cause I was just cracking up at everything he said. They had to tell me to shut up 'cause I was just stinking it up for him. But yeah, he was amazing, pulling out all sorts of wild calls, and once it was edited together it was unreal.