Interview by Matt Shaw
Since nabbing the top spot in the 2012 Hot 100 grom division at 14 years old, West Oz prodigy Jack Robinson has checked all the boxes one would expect a modern surf wunderkind to check – starring roles in mind-blowing edits, magazine spreads, WSL wildcard invites, and an exhaustive list of superlatives, including “the future face of surfing.” During that time, he’s also created a box or two of his own, standing tall at seemingly every conceivable big wave/slab on the planet.
In his first year (technically) of adulthood, the 18 year old showed he could handle the pressures of the big stage with standout performances in burly conditions at consecutive Pipe events (during which his composure and barrel-mastery amplified the comparisons to another great Pipe performer).
I caught up with Robinson during a short visit home to Western Australia and asked him about his World Tour aspirations, his search for crappy waves, and how he feels about being compared to a three-time world champ.
You had some big moments at Pipe this winter. What clicked for you there this year?
JR: It all happened pretty quickly as we got into the contest. It definitely felt like we kind of fast-tracked it because there are so many big left barrels here in Western Australia. It’s definitely not the same thing as Pipe. But I’d been surfing Teahupo’o, as well. I was definitely burning for it and just felt really comfortable out there.
Your composure in those heavy conditions, against some serious competition, impressed a lot of people. What helps you to relax and focus in those situations?
JR: Yeah, I don’t know. Every heat I was going against some really good guys: Mason Ho, Jamie O’Brien, everyone. I didn’t really think about it. They all just kept coming. The waves were really good, so it didn’t really matter.
And as you continue to surf well in those types of situations, the comparisons to Andy Irons keep coming up. What do you think about being compared to a three-time world champ?
JR: I definitely loved watching him surf. I loved his whole template, both his and Bruce’s. He was great in big waves, great style, great composure. I’d like to take a little bit from all those guys I’ve watched growing up. I had a good session out there this year with Bruce, actually. He’s got a good mindset, I think, especially in big surf. But I watched all those guys on videos when I was younger and, you know, would try to mold my surfing.
You’re 18 now. Are there any guys maybe just a little older than you who you look at and say, “I want to do things the way this person did it?”
JR: I think probably the way John John [Florence] did it is the way to do it. Just the way he came right into it and was successful right away—you know, so you’re not learning when you get [on Tour]. I mean, you’re always learning, but you have to have the whole package kind of all down pat. John John and Julian [Wilson], those guys were ready from the first day they got on Tour.
Who pushes you?
JR: I did a lot of freesurf trips this last year with Nathan Florence, Kiron Jabour, and Koa Rothman. It was a good crew. Mentally, it was good for me to see how those guys operate. Everyone would charge. We knew that any of us would go. That was the crew that kind of got me comfortable in heavy situations. Just watching them all go for it is really inspiring. They’re all really calm out there and they keep it simple. That’s the way to do it when you’re in those conditions.
With today’s guys like John John and Albee Layer, who are good in contests and small waves but also seem to live for sizable surf, do you think guys your age have to be good at everything in order to stand out?
JR: Oh yeah, definitely. You pretty much need to have the whole package now. It’s the whole kitchen sink nowadays. The big-wave scene is really cool. And I think now, to win a World Title, you need all the tools. And you’ve got to keep them all sharp.
What areas of your surfing are you trying to improve?
JR: I surfed a lot of small waves when I was younger. Then I got into big waves and just tried to get better at that for a while. But, again, you need to keep all your tools sharp. You can’t forget to put your time in on shitty waves.
So are you actively driving around looking for shitty waves?
JR: Yeah [laughs]. We’ve got some gutless waves now and again around here in Margaret River. But I think having the right boards is a big part of it, as well. It’s like a whole different sport when you have waves under 3 to 4 feet.
What’s your favorite wave to surf right now?
JR: If it’s a left-hand barrel, Teahupo’o and Pipeline and a couple of waves up on the northwest of our coast. I haven’t been to Fiji yet, so I want to get there this year. I like surfing rippable waves, though. Especially if you’ve got a big air section. That’s always fun.
What’s Jack Robinson gonna be doing at 28?
Oh man, I guess that’s ten years from now. I don’t know. On the World Tour, and making some good movie parts with all the best guys, as well. But I don’t know. We’ll see how it eventuates [laughs]. You’ll see.