Interview by Shawn Magee
When Puerto Escondido gets big, waves act like giant Krakens emerging from the deep, wanting to squash everything in their paths. At 15 to 20 feet, they have little regard for the surfers buzzing around their faces, and are capable of breaking boards and bodies in equal measure.
This past week, two medium-sized long period swells coming in from the southwest pushed through the deep water canyon that gives Zicatela beach its power, creating quadruple-overheard bombs that exploded onto the fickle southern half of the beach called Far Bar for two days straight. The carnage was incredible. The waves were the clear winners in the event, but Grant "Twiggy" Baker took the beatings in stride, and nabbed an incredible 10-point tube ride to clinch the $25,000 prize. I sat down with an excited and exhausted Twiggy just after his win yesterday.
You were pretty on fire for the final. What was your mindset going into it?
I've been surfing Puerto for 20 years and most of the time I like to surf that bank [the Far Bar] because it can get pretty crowded in the lineup. I try to be first out in the morning and get a few waves at the main peak until the local guys get out there and then I'll move down and surf Far Bar. So that heat happened at the perfect time for me, 'cause just before the onshores start coming up, I'm generally at that bar. It all kind of fell into place for me.
So, you felt good about the swell direction being a bit more West.
Yeah, I felt comfortable and knew where the waves were coming. I definitely had a bit of an advantage; I think I was slightly more familiar than the other guys.
The top big wave surfers all seem to have one wave that they have particularly dialed. Shane Dorian at Jaws, you at Mavericks, Greg Long at Puerto. I know you've been surfing with Greg for a long time, did his approach to surfing this wave have any affect on your own?
No. We surf pretty different out here. Greg waits a long time for the biggest and best waves, where I like to be busy and move with the rips, catch double-ups and get barreled. I mean, he's obviously been the best guy out here beside the locals for many years, but we surf pretty differently.
It seems like if you wanted a score on these waves you had to pull in and take a beating, whereas in other big-wave events there's a channel, and at least a chance that you're not going to take a wave on the head.
Yeah, at Puerto Escondido, if you want to get the wave and the barrel that you're looking for, you've got to pay at least ten times before that. But you learn how to fall, like skateboarding or any other sport. You learn how to wipe out in the barrel, when to jump off, and when to hold on, and that's all part of surfing out here and enjoying the waves.
So do you have any wipeout tips for surfers out there?
Well, I like to go off the front and over the nose, so I'm far forward already. Once you know you can't make the barrel, just get as far away from your board as possible and use as long a leash as possible.
Overall, how do you think Puerto stacks up as a big-wave event?
Well, Puerto's just a tube ride. That's pretty much all you want to do out here. There are guys who've been coming here for many years, guys like Rusty Long, who've dedicated their lives to getting barreled here, and it's for a good reason. It's just the best beach break in the world.
People out here seem to love you. Can you talk about the local folks and your reception here?
Puerto Escondido is one of the best surf towns in the world if you like to get barreled. The food is great and the people are amazing. I've always been warmly welcomed here. You know, you obviously have to tread lightly. You can't go out there and be an ass in the water.
Is the vibe here heavier than other places where you surf?
It's got a heavy vibe, but if you behave yourself, you'll be fine. I like that about Puerto. There's a level of respect here and a hierarchy amongst the locals and if you can respect that you'll have a good time. Some of the best tube riders in the world come out of this place. Oscar [Moncada] and Coco [Nogales] are just amazing surfers.
How do you feel about the tour in general? Ten years ago, you couldn’t be doing what you’re doing today, but now this is a career.
I'm a big supporter of the Big Wave World Tour. There are a lot of naysayers out there, but it's new and we're learning as we're going, and, like you say, it's giving people a career in surfing and there's not a lot of careers where you're getting paid to surf. What's not to support?
I know a lot of people who don't even surf or follow pro events at all who tune into a big-wave event. How do you see this thing growing?
I can see the average guy watching and enjoying it, because it's much simpler to understand. You just go on the biggest wave and you get a score. So, I'm sure it's going to grow and I hope this contest helps it grow.
You've got a 5-month-old daughter at home. What are you going to say to her when she wants to follow you out into serious waves?
No. We're gonna be hitting the point breaks in Mozambique. Nice, gentle, right-hand point breaks on longboards, that's gonna be our game.