The Bare NecessitiesLife in Maui with Matt Meola

In the span of two months in early 2016, Albee Layer paddled into the biggest tube in Jaws history and also completed the first backside 540 in surfing, which would go on to win both the Best Barrel and the Best Maneuver at the Surfer Awards last December, the first time the same surfer has ever taken home both honors. And it’s not like it was a fluke year. He’s also been nominated in the Ride of the Year and Best Performance categories at the WSL XXL awards for similar Jaws rides, and was the first person to land the frontside alley-oop 540 a few years back. So much for being a “big wave guy” or “aerialist.” From packing massive Jaws tubes to landing never-before-completed rotations (twice!), Albee is proving you can be both.

And he’s been doing both for awhile.

Albee stormed the scene when he won the Innersection video contest in 2012. Unfortunately, that was also the year pro surfing's focus began to shift away from freesurfing. Bad timing for Albee? Maybe. Since 2012, we’ve seen brands put their emphasis more on performance in competition, and move away from the once-popular video/photo freesurfer, and the big contracts like the one given to Dane Reynolds in the late 2000s, making it much more difficult for surfers like Albee to maintain a career. So, does he ever consider conforming to competition? “To me, the root of surfing is not competition. And there’s only a few groups of us around the world still focusing on freesurfing. I want to make sure the best maneuvers and the best surfing is being done outside of competition. That’s my goal.”

And that's the Layer Way.

[Intro by Zander Morton / Above Photo by Dayanidhi Das]

Take Shelter Productions is about making edits how we want. Dan [Norkunas] and I want to control everything, because we’re really passionate about what we’re making, so having creative control is the most important thing to us, which is why we created Take Shelter together. We want to make all kinds of films in the long run. We just finished a documentary, and it was the most work I’ve ever seen our little group take on. I’m not sure I’d want to do it again [Laughs]. But I definitely want to do another action film. More than anything, I want to keep making videos as long as I can surf and make a living doing it, and then, when my surf career is over, I want to make videos about the next generation of kids coming up. There are so many good, young kids on Maui right now. [Above Photo: Norkunas]

I spend six months here on Maui and the other six months in California, or traveling. I pretty much wait around for a Jaws swell when I’m home. That’s my main focus. That’s my favorite surfing in the world. But in the meantime, I’m always looking for good windows to surf and then trying to gather as much footage as possible. We don’t have a ton of windows of firing surf here, so it’s more about putting in the time every single day to get one or two good clips. That’s the way we go at it. The waves we surf aren’t perfect. Even when it’s a good wind, you might only get a few sections every day. A common misconception about Maui is we go out and nail all these clips. But there are times where it feels like all we’re doing is sucking for weeks at a time. But when you lay out all the footage from the end of the year, it ends up being enough. But we definitely put in a lot of time. And there is definitely a lot of down time. [Above Photos: (1) Dooma Photos; (2) Chachi]

When the waves are bad, I really enjoy mountain biking. I’ve been doing it for a few years now. I always used to watch mountain biking videos, and I started to fall in love with it before I even started doing it. We have a few trails here that are pretty good, and as soon as I started doing it, I was just like, ‘Oh my god, this is my thing.’ It’s so different from surfing. I usually go by myself. I park my car and go up into the forest and I don’t see another person for hours. It’s super fun to go out and just get lost up there — there’s no cell service — and then you get the full adrenaline of going downhill fast, which is the most addicting part. It’s meditative in a way, but it also scares me, a lot [Laughs]. It gets my adrenaline pumping as much as a small day at Jaws. [Above Photo: Norkunas]

I’ve always been one of those against-the-grain people. Always swimming upstream, or whatever you want to call it [Laughs]. With surfing right now, there’s so much focus on competition. The WSL. World titles. That’s where 90% of the money is, and that motivates me to push my freesurfing as much as I can. Because it sucks right now. All my friends are losing their sponsors. And that motivates all of of us to push our surfing as hard as possible. Because if we keep making these new moves, it’s gonna be impossible to ignore this side of surfing. [Above Photos: (1) Norkunas; (2) Heff]

When you think of surfing at its roots, it’s an art form. An expression. At least that’s what it means to me. The root of surfing is not competition. And there’s only a few groups of us around the world still focusing on freesurfing. I want to make sure the best maneuvers and the best surfing is being done outside of competition. That’s my goal. I want to keep progressing surfing, and I think that’s hard to do in competition. And even if there’s barely any money in it right now, freesurfing will never go away, and my friends and I will do everything we can to make sure it stays as cool as possible [Laughs], so that the next generation isn’t forced into the competitive box. [Above Photos: (1) Norkunas; (2) Dayanidhi Das; Below: Dayanidhi Das]

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