You'd have to forgive Taylor Jensen for his belated response to our request for an interview. After a whirlwind series of events last week in Taiwan--which saw Jensen fall in the quarterfinals, only to have to battle for the title in a rare surf-off (the second such scenario in WSL history)--the newly crowned 2017 Men's Longboard World Champ recently returned to his home in Oceanside, where he battled jet-lag as his rambunctious four-year-old, Jagger, vied for his attention, all while the recent spat of California wildfires threatened to spoil whatever homecoming he had hoped to enjoy.
When he did get back to us, we were stoked to catch up with the soon-to-be 34-year old and pick his brain about the state of professional longboarding, the pitfalls of single-fin-centric thinking, his roller-coaster ride to a third World Title, and his plans for a title defense in 2018.
So this one came down to the wire–the 2nd surf off for a title in the history of the WSL. What was going through your head after your quarterfinal exit?
I read that too. I think the first one was Caio Ibelli and Garret Parkes for the World Junior Title. It definitely made for an exciting finish to a year and hopefully it’s good for longboarding as a whole. The odds of it happening in a WCT ten-stop tour scenario are super small, but when you're on a Longboard Tour that currently only consists of two events, the possibility becomes much more of a reality. Maybe that’s where the whole new WCT format is heading with the Indo finish. No early crowning, more drama, more excitement. It makes sense.
Losing out in the quarterfinals really sucked. In round four earlier that morning, I had a heat total of 18+ and was throwing away 9’s and 8’s, but a lot seemed to change in the next few hours. The wind came up and the swell just stopped. There was only one wave right at the start of that heat and then nothing else came through for the next 25 minutes. Phil [Rajman] adapted and started groveling on smaller waves to make scores. I stuck it out and waited for sets. Unfortunately, I got nothing and lost. That’s the nature of surf contests and an unpredictable ocean. You make decisions and sometimes they are not the right ones.
I honestly thought that was it. I knew in the back of my mind that there was still a slim chance [that I might get a shot at the title], but with all eight of the top surfers remaining in the event at that stage, it wasn’t likely. I was pretty bummed out. Then I was sitting in my car, pissed off and dealing with the loss when I watched the number 2,3, and 4 guys lose in the quarters, too. Suddenly it all seemed to shift back to my favor.
The waves in the final were super chunky, lots of texture. How did the conditions dictate your approach?
Honestly, I was just trying to find something that either didn’t close out or didn’t go fat. The conditions had really deteriorated by the time that surf-off started. Maybe one in 20 waves had a six or better in it. Everything else was junk. Of course with longboarding, noseriding is key, but I try and focus my surfing more on the overall flow and allowing the wave to dictate what needs to be done when and where. Forcing maneuvers in where they don’t belong or having some pre-planned approach to a wave can make for some pretty ugly surfing. I feel like all waves have a sort of rhythm to them and if you can flow to that rhythm then your surfing will look better and you'll be rewarded for it.
You said this world title was “the sweetest” of your now three titles. What made this one so special?
The first two were amazing in their own ways and maybe I shouldn’t have said this is the sweetest, because they are all pretty incredible moments for me. I think the five-year gap in between my previous titles and this one has a lot to do with this one feeling like I put a bit more into it. In the past two years, I’ve had a 2nd and a 3rd. I think I might have lost by .03 and .05 on the last waves of the heat in both of those events--heartbreaking losses that really got to me and took a toll on me. I was extremely frustrated and I let that frustration fuel the fire in the lead up to this event. So the sense of accomplishment and the release of all that buildup was pretty crazy. I set the goal of getting three titles in 2012 after I got my second. Five years of working toward that goal and finally accomplishing it is really rewarding.
Can you comment on the state of the WSL Longboard Tour?
This year we had two events. The past few years we’ve only had one event. When I started doing the Longboard Tour in 2001 there were five events. Obviously the global financial crisis was a major factor in the decline in the number of events--everyone around the world was hit hard, so it was only natural to see all of surfing feel the crunch. While the WCT has since rebounded with investors and the change over to the WSL from the ASP, longboarding hasn’t seen the rewards from that. Possibly because the WSL has been too busy getting the ‘CT going and possibly because they just don’t have anyone in the WSL team dedicated to looking after the longboard side of things like they should have.
There have been some changes discussed and thrown around (going single-fin, exclusively, for example). What would the three-time champ like to see change?
I feel like the talk of going strictly single-fin was just talk. Someone jumped the gun and put it out there. From a business standpoint, that would be a silly move. Longboarding is already seen as a niche in the market so why would you go and cut your market audience in half by only appealing to a smaller percentage. That doesn’t make any sense. It’s also ridiculous to try and tell someone what they can or can’t ride. Think about that for a second. You have someone out there saying, "now you can only ride one type of board with one fin setup." That’s such a close-minded approach to surfing and goes against the "ride everything" or "ride the right board for the right conditions" mentality that I believe in. It's detrimental to evolution and creativity. Imagine if the WSL came along and told the WCT surfers you now can only ride six-foot thrusters in every location. It’s absurd.
Right now there’s a generation of longboard kids out there for who bought into the whole single-fin only mentality and they never learned how to turn a board. I feel for them because it’s not their fault, they just listened to one piece of the much bigger story. Look at what’s starting to happen in the traditional single-fin events. How do they separate the surfing from a judge’s perspective when everyone can hang ten forever? It comes down to who does better turns. CJ Nelson won the Mexi Logfest and the DuctTape in Sayulita this year because he turns better than anyone else on a log. It’s a testament to the fact that he’s grown up riding everything imaginable so he knows how to set a rail and draw a turn. Now guys are putting hard edges on their logs, making them super refined and using lightweight carbon and epoxy construction. It’s almost a re-re-evolution. It seems like it will just repeat the past until we end up back where we were in the late '90s and early 2000’s when guys were riding high-performance single-fins like what Colin Mcphillips won his first World Title on. Then the natural evolution is to add some side fins so you can turn on a sharper angle in a tighter radius.
There has to be room for multiple approaches on a longboard, right?
Look, I’m a huge fan of the traditional side of longboarding. I ride a log all the time when the conditions are right for one and I love watching guys like Burch, CJ, Quintal, and Tyler surf their logs. That’s all about style, finesse, positioning and trim. But those guys are an exception because they are extremely well-rounded surfers on all crafts. You can’t compare or put that in the same pot as modern longboarding. They both deserve their own platform. That’s how we came up with the format for the Surf Relik Invitational we hosted at Malibu in early October. The group at Untitled arts in Malibu sat down with CJ and me to create a new platform for longboarding, one where traditional and modern were separate and equal--no discrimination, no divide, no bullshit, just good surfing. Each had their own large prize purse and each had their own judges and own criteria. It gave everyone a chance to sit back and have some respect and admiration for what each other was doing. Regardless of how you want to ride a wave, you can appreciate the difficulty and skill it takes to excel at any approach. To me, that’s the best way to present longboarding to the broader market.
You’ve got a little one at home. You’re nearly 34. What are your plans for a title defense in 2018 and beyond?
Yep, I’m a father to my beautiful 4-year old Jagger with my wife Nava. I’ll be 34 in March. You know it’s funny, if you would have asked me before this event, I wasn’t sure what was next. But right now I’m feeling hungrier than ever to keep improving. I don’t think it matters where you are at in your surfing; there is always room for some improvement. Ultimately that’s probably why we are all hooked on it for life. There’s no end to the progress. There’s no graduation ceremony or titles. You simply keep improving and learning something every time you enter the water. I want to get back into a jersey and get back into contest mode already. Maybe I just needed this win to get over the frustration of coming close so many times and just missing out, but I’m psyching on going for another title. Four would be insane and at 34 I have years left ahead of me to try and accomplish that. I think Bonga [Perkins] won his 2nd World Title at close to 40. Longboarding is not “extreme” like shortboarding so the longevity of ones career is a lot longer if they take care of themselves and continue to try and improve and stay relevant. I’m also excited to continue working with Untitled Arts and the people behind “Surf Relik” to create more events like the one in Malibu. I feel like we are paving a path and creating a platform for the future generations of longboard surfers to have more opportunities at making a career out of such a beautiful lifestyle.
[Mantle image: WSL/Bennett]