Interview: Albee Layer

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Maui's Albee Layer has an inherent knack for finding himself in the right place at exactly the right time. Last winter in one week's time, on the place of Maui, he stuck surfing's first double alley-oop and backed it up by driving through one of the biggest barrels on a momentous paddle day at Jaws. Talk about being well rounded — what other surfer in the world is capable of such a feat?

We're going to go ahead and say that Albee is the best big wave surfer in the world under 25. And though his air game is a dizzy product of freakish talent, make no mistake: big waves are where Albee thrives. So it should come as no surprise that 48-hours ago he once again found himself perfectly positioned for the wave of the day on a rising swell at Dungeons in South Africa. In fact, we should learn to expect it. —Zander Morton

SURFING MAGAZINE: What were you doing over in South Africa?
ALBEE LAYER:I don't know. [Laughs] John [Florence] invited me to do a trip there. He's working on something. A project of some sort. I'm not supposed to say anything.

How long were you over there?
I spent three and half weeks there. It was fun. The first week we kind of got skunked and the second week John got really, really sick. So the first two weeks were slow but then the third week turned on. We got some really good beachbreaks and then Dungeons three times. Dungeons is such a trip. Doing that paddle out through shark alley is so scary.

Were sharks in the front of your mind the whole time you were surfing?
The day I did the paddle out I was terrified. You literally paddle through something called shark alley — a really deep channel between two islands covered with seals. It's stupid, so scary. It's not as scary going out on the boat, but there was still a point where there were only four or five of us out with seals jumping everywhere, and I was pretty nervous.

Is there any other big wave you can compare it to?
Kind of. It has moments where it looks like Jaws… but it's more like a beach break — like a beach, reef, slab or something. It's the most unpredictable lineup I've ever seen. At any moment you could get caught inside by a 20-foot double up slab.

So how long were you out surfing before catching that wave?
I had exactly two hours to surf. At 1:15 I had to catch a Jet Ski in to catch a flight, and I haven't stopped traveling until just now. In the beginning I caught a couple fun ones, and then I tried to go over to the deep peak. It was a rising swell and we were all expecting it to get 30 feet at any moment, so no one wanted to go over to the deep peak and get caught. I went over and got an alright one, but I couldn't get the one and I was getting super frustrated because I knew I was leaving and it was only getting better and better. Then, I got caught by a set because I was getting too greedy on the inside, broke my leash, almost took a 20-footer to the head, took a ski ride in, grabbed my board…and at that point I got back to the boat and it was already 1PM. I had to leave by 1:15 no matter what — so I sprinted back out, waited 15 minutes, and literally at exactly 1:15 that wave came. I put my head down and went. I didn't even think it was going to be a good one, and then as I was bottom turning I realized it had turned into a really good wave for some reason [laughs]. If I didn't catch that wave, I would have had to paddle in to the boat and I would have been a grumpy bitch traveling the last 30 hours.

It's funny — before that wave I was bummed, and everyone was encouraging me, like, "Get back out there you still have time!" And then I caught that good one, came back to the boat and everyone just says, "Get the f—k out of here you dick. Bail!" [Laughs]