With very little fanfare and almost no media coverage, Grant Baker became the new Big Wave World Champion. Although there hasn’t been an official announcement yet from the Big Wave Word Tour, Baker’s third place finish at the Dive N’ Surf Oregon Pro this week, along with his two wins in Spain and at Mavericks, makes his ratings lead unassailable. We caught up with him to get his thoughts.
Where are you now and what does it feel like to be the Big Wave World Champion?
I got back to San Francisco, exhausted after a wild few days in Oregon and I’m crashed out in Ryan Seelbach’s basement. If it wasn’t for guys like him, Jim Booth, Reggie Barnes, and Rodney Kilbourne, who all let me stay with them while on the road in the U.S., I wouldn’t be here and I definitely wouldn’t be world champ. So right now I’m feeling very stoked on life and thankful for those amazing friends who made it possible.
Your performance this winter has been clinical, how much did your preparation in South Africa (and the fact that you enjoyed an epic winter down there) play in to your performance?
I’m very lucky to have the opportunity to surf big paddle-waves year round coming from South Africa and this definitely helps and gives me an advantage over the guys who only surf the Northern Hemisphere winter. We had an amazing season in Africa last winter and I’m pretty sure my time spent in waves over 12-foot in the last few years are higher then the next big-wave guy. 10,000 hours is what makes a champion and I try to spend as much time as possible in waves of consequence.
There's still one event to go (Todos) and there was some confusion about whether or not you had won the World Title, did you know the situation or were you relying on organizers? Give me a bit of backstory on that.
I wasn’t too worried about the title ramifications going into Oregon as I had done the hard work in Spain and Mavericks and all I wanted to do was make the Finals of the next event, which I managed to do. Looking at the points right now, even if Nic Lamb or Skinny (Ken Collins) was to win Todos and I missed the event I can’t be beaten so even though there hasn’t been an official announcement I do believe I’m the newest South African World Champion! And with Bianca doing so well on the ladies Tour and Jordy about to pounce on the men’s, I’m very happy with the state of surfing in our nation.
Considering the year you've had, losing your main sponsor, does this title feel like a justification of your ability or retribution in some weird way?
Not really, I don’t hold any grudges towards the company and I only feel bad that such a great brand as Billabong has gone the way of Gotcha, Instinct, and the rest. I had 20 amazing years with them but nothing lasts forever and I’m thankful to be involved with the new wave of brands that now seem to have what’s best for the surfers and sport in mind rather then these corporate monsters that came out of the new millennium. I hope that the regular surfer will see this as well and support the new garage companies.
Your winning the title aside, are you happy with the changes that have taken place this year?
It’s been great to be involved in the new era of professional surfing and even though the ASP only takes over next month you can see the differences already in the webcasts and prize purses, which was what the Tour needed. Gary Linden and his team have done an amazing job to get us to this point and I believe that their efforts combined with the ASP structure will take big-wave surfing to a whole new level this year.
What are your thoughts about there being no promotion by the ASP for the event and no announcement on their social media or website regarding the results or the win? The BWWT site still doesn't have an announcement either.
Well we are not officially with the ASP until the start of the new tour in April, so I guess that’s the reason we are not on the website and from the BWWT perspective the same guys who are doing the press releases and organizing the events are also working water safety and spending nine hours on a ski through the day. So it’s tough for them to be as efficient as possible.
Is there a chance that when the ASP Take over the Big Wave Tour will be a sideshow to the WCT, or worse, become the ASP's neglected step-child?
[Laughs] Or even worse, the red headed step-child? No not at all, we only officially join the ASP in April and only after they have done an event or two can we comment on what their level of commitment is to the big-wave guys. And if after the first year they haven’t lived up to their promises we can always move on and find someone else to run and promote the Big Wave Tour. After the success of Mavericks, we have many suitors and the ASP is going to have to step it up and come to the party if they want to keep us in the future.
What would you like to see change next year as we enter this new era of professional big-wave surfing?
I would like to see the sport grown organically and with careful consideration for what it is, an underground subculture of the bigger surfing picture, so that in a few years time the top 30 big-wave youngsters in the world will be able to live and travel off prize money and sponsorship. I want a kid from South Africa, South America, or some other third world country to be able to rise up from poverty by being a hard-charging surfer and using the art of big-wave surfing to achieve what he was destined to do.
Todos is next and Mavericks is going to be 20-foot with howling onshore winds, so I’m going to get out there and train for the event. Come and have a surf with me BT, 10,000 hours bru…[Laughs]
You’re on your own buddy.