"Ask them to bring me something fat. And something fishy," says Xavier Rudd. The Aussie musician, who's famous for his live performances from the center of a setup bristling with everything from bongos, to a slide guitar, to an assortment of didgeridoos, isn't ordering lunch. Instead, he's focused on what he'll be riding later when he gets wet.
When Rudd's tour bus hissed to a stop in front of the House of Blues in San Diego minutes before, a mini armada of human support followed him down the steps. Roadies hustled gear. A tour manager directed him through the building with a cell phone strapped to her ear. Like most in Rudd's entourage, her mind was on the evening's show. "This looks like a good room," she said, commenting on the venue's main stage. But Rudd's thoughts seemed elsewhere, and after settling himself, legs folded, onto the carpet in a quiet corner of the building, he addressed what was on his mind. "Are there waves here today?" he asked, hopeful. He'd been on the road for weeks, promoting his new album White Moth, and it seemed the Bells Beach native was in need of a fix.
"Today's the one opportunity I'll have to surf for the next four months," he explained. And now, while patiently sitting through a series of interviews, his tour manager quietly chats on her cell to set up a session for him with a few acquaintances living nearby. The waves are miserable, but Rudd's clearly excited about getting in the water anyway, and recounts when, and how, his passion took hold.
"I reckon I was 5 or 6 when I started," he recalls. "My dad was a really good surfer, and by the time I was 10 he was dragging me out on some good days at Bells. I'd reckon they were solid, 6-foot days, and he'd tell me to wait on the shoulder. I'd see him coming through the barrel and he'd just scream at me to go. I'd drop in and he'd give me a hoot from behind—I've always loved it."
Growing up, Rudd spent much of his time in the water, but as he got older, he also began focusing on his budding interest in song. "I was fascinated by music," he says. "I taught myself to play different instruments and I'd write songs and melodies in my head."
Performing, however, was a deeply personal endeavor, and it wasn't until he met his wife Marcie—who encouraged him to take his talents public—that Rudd began to consider playing in front of a crowd. "She sort of pushed me to get it out there," he recalls. "So I started to, and when I did, people actually responded."
In the years that followed, Rudd built on that response, putting out multiple albums—one of which went platinum in Australia—and touring both at home and abroad. He also developed a wide fan following. "When people connect to my work," he says, "it makes me feel great. A lot of that stuff is really deep, and when I play something and people feel what I feel, and use it in important situations in their lives, like at weddings or funerals, that's so powerful. It means I can connect with them on an important level."
In addition to connecting him to his fans, Rudd's work has also tied him to some of the world's best surfers. Recently, he spent several days surfing with Taylor Knox after the World Tour stopped at Bells this spring. And during a show in Australia earlier in the year, none other than a guitar-strumming Kelly Slater joined him on stage. Apparently, Slater's musical affiliations extend beyond Pearl Jam. "He was a bit nervous," recalls Rudd. "He asked me what I wanted him to play and I was like, 'Dude, you're the eight-time world champion, you can play whatever you like.'"
But aside from occasionally surfing with his high-profile friends (during a break in his current tour, Rudd plans on meeting Knox for a few days in Barbados) these days, when Xavier's on the road, he says he doesn't get to spend nearly as much time in the water as he'd like. But then, he also says that his separation from surfing has only made his heart grow fonder. "I remember there'd be times I didn't surf that much when I was younger," he says. "Growing up, I took it for granted. But it's a sacred thing to me now because I only have a handful of opportunities. I have to make the most of them when I can."
And with that thought replanted in his mind, Rudd's back to inquiring about somehow scoring in San Diego, and asks his manager, again, about the dimensions of the fish she's tracking down to meet him.