“It is really intimidating, but you just figure out how to work your way around the lineup and paddle circles around certain guys. I’ve got to know a lot of the locals there and chat to the guys in the water, but there’s no way they’re going to pull back on any waves for me”
INTERVIEW: BRETT BELLAIRS / BRENDAN BODY
PHOTOGRAPHY: SEAN LAURÉNZ (PORTRAITS)
PHOTOGRAPHY: ZACK NOYLE (SURFING)
Charging around the world for big waves is the stuff of fantasy for most surfers from this country, especially with our weak currency at the moment. We understand that you have quite the entrepreneurial side to you – what are some of the more interesting ways you have found to fund your surf missions? (e.g. cutting and selling chritsmas trees in california or similar job descriptions)
Ja it is the dream to be able to travel places like hawaii every year and if you got to hustle a little bit along the way to keep it going i got no problem with that. My first job i did to keep it going was local and was working for a friend jason in cape town over the winter season. He’s got a carpentry company and because i have no carpentry skills i would work as the driver/manual labour guy! Over in the states frank solomon and i have done all kinds of odd jobs on our travels, construction, packing bricks, painting, gardening, weed trimming, catering, christmas tree salesman, even tried to get an airport shuttle service going in hawaii the one year! Haha we did one run to the airport in a car someone gave us. Short lived taxi career! Sometimes the jobs are really kak, but mostly we have fun and we work when the waves are bad so its keeps us busy.
Tell us about “gosh!”, your baking venture that you have with your girlfriend’s aunt – how did it come about and how is the baking business going? (elaborate on what you are baking, where you have your kitchen and where your brownies can be got etc.)
Well gaff was baking out of her home kitchen supplying a few home industry stores and coffee shops when dom (my honey) suggested i help her out a bit and keep myself busy while at home. Things went well and we decided to make it permanent, calling ourselves gosh! (gaff+josh) this was almost 3 years ago now and it’s grown into a nice little business for us. We supply brownies to a lot of outlets which include coffee shops, school tuckshops, restaurants, work canteens and a few spar grocery stores. We have a few different products and still supply a couple of coffee shops with cakes, but our brownies are the best and they have really taken off so we have just kind of put our focus into getting them out there. We have worked really hard to get gosh! To where it is now. We baked out of gaff’s home kitchen for two and a half years pumping out of these two home ovens all day every day, just her and i, doing deliveries and all that in between. Now we are in our own new sick kitchen with capacity to grow. We also have a really nice lady working for us, have a good customer base and are really just in a happy place with our business right now!
Are there any plans in the pipeline to open your own outlet for your wares?
No, we don’t really want to be manning a store, dealing directly with the public and all that. Maybe somewhere down the line, who knows what the future holds, but at the moment we’re happy with the way things are. This way, it allows us to be a bit more free. Bake, supply, done!
You did a chef’s course a couple of years ago – was getting involved in the culinary industry something you were always interested in or did it evolve just from a passion for cooking?
It was something that i always said i wanted to do because i enjoyed it and it was the only thing besides surfing i could ever see myself doing! I didn’t see it coming as soon as it did though. After doing a year and a bit on the surfing tour (wqs), i wasn’t really doing well or enjoying it that much, so my ballies gave me the opportunity to do my chef’s diploma and i just went for it. I wasn’t too sure what i was going to do with it when i was done because i wasn’t ready to stop surfing and start working in a kitchen. I was 21 when i did the course in 2009 and it took me 4 years until i finally used my acquired skills when i joined forces with gaff in 2013.
What attracted you to the baking side of the culinary arts specifically?
I love all parts of cooking and it was never the plan to have a baking business. Everything has just unfolded the way it has. I’m pretty sure god had a plan to put the unlikely pair of gaff and i together though. We really just work well together. We both have our strengths and weaknesses and it’s a good balance. I actually enjoy going and doing promotions, when we introduce our brownies into new spar stores. I chat to the customers about our product and have a bit of interaction haha. It’s funny but i do dig to chat to everyone and get this reaction from the grannies when they find out that i’m the one doing the baking. They try and quiz me about it sometimes to try and catch me out because they don’t think i made ’em. But then they get all stoked when they realise that i do. But the point is, gaff doesn’t like promos, i do haha!
The other great thing is that gaff’s husband paul is a surfer as well as her daughter liv, who is actually in the south african surfing team this year heading over to the states. So she understands the part that surfing plays in my life and when i need to go on a trip she picks up the slack in the kitchen. Even as far as letting me go to hawaii for 6 weeks at a time!
Where did you find the recipe?
It was a family recipe that we have adjusted here and there to work best for us. The recipe is like the coca-cola recipe. Nobody except gaff and i know it and we keep it very close to us. The only place that it is printed out is in our heads! Haha no it’s not that secret, but it’s a secret.
Your surfing career has also taken a somewhat new direction, was the route of big wave surfing always where you thought you would take your surfing or was the contest scene not really doing it for you?
Ja it was a bit of a combination of the two. Right from the start i was frothing on anything bigger that i could surf, but you need to dedicate yourself to chasing a swell in order to get bigger waves, especially living in durban. Surfing junior contests when i was younger consumed most of the year, especially during winter, we were just back and forth doing comps, so the chance to surf bigger waves didn’t come around often. After i grew out of juniors i freed up a bit more and was able to chase a few swells to cape town which gave me a good taste and got me more amped. Once i did my stint on the wqs and didn’t do too well, i got over contests and started putting focus into bigger waves and that was really what i needed to refuel my passion for surfing. The ‘qs kinda burnt me out and i was in a bit of a slump after that. Bigger waves got me psyching again harder than ever!
You recently surfed jaws, a big wave break in hawaii that most mere mortals can only dream of surfing – tell us about that experience and did it live up to your expectations?
‘jaws’ was a spot i had been wanting to surf for a while and what i had been imagining in my head couldn’t compare to the real thing. It was mind blowing and even though i didn’t get to surf it that big, it was still crazy. It’s such a scary beautiful place, i was so taken aback. Hawaii is amazing, to have such a perfect big wave, with warm crystal blue water and the tropical backdrop, there isn’t much more you can ask for. Now that i have an accurate picture in my head i’m dreaming even more about my next encounter with the place.
With surfing waves of consequence always comes the risk of serious injury or even death, is this something that crosses your mind when charging breaks like mavericks or pipeline that have claimed the lives of some of the best big wave surfers?
Sometimes it does, but it’s not something i like to think about. I’m not scared of death, but i am scared of serious injury, so that is something i try to keep positive thoughts about and keep the ugly ones out of my head. It’s pointless being scared of death, if it’s going to happen it happens, and if it doesn’t you were being scared for nothing. I won’t lie though, when a 20ft wave is about to break in front of you, you quickly start praying “save me from this and i’ll stop being naughty!” Haha!
Do you feel that big wave riders don’t get the exposure that they deserve in the surf scene or surf media and that most of the focus is on the contest surfers?
There definitely isn’t enough money in the sport. For what the guys are putting on the line there is a very small percentage making a living out of it. There are the top guys that are making good money, but then the guys that are just outside of that trying to break through aren’t getting a cent. Now guys from south africa are even more disadvantaged because our currency makes it hard to travel and chase swells beyond our border, which is what you need to do to get mileage on the international stage. The surfing market in south africa is tiny if you compare it to the states or europe or wherever and then you throw the currency factor into that equation… I’m super lucky to have had the support i have from my sponsors over the years, which has allowed me to make these opportunities happen and keep the dream alive! We are lucky to have the quality of waves we do here at home and to chuck in a hawaii / northern hemisphere trip at the end of the year, i don’t care! I’m happy!
I’ve read that big wave riders do all sorts of training to prepare mentally and physically to take on these behemoths, what is your personal approach to this?
I had previously done next to nothing in terms of breath training besides smoking some ciggies on the jol back in the day! But i got over that and this year i have been doing some pool exercises to strengthen the lungs. Feeling a lot more confident now going into this year. I also train at a boxing gym that two of my good mates lee and trev own. I can’t say i’m a very good boxer but it’s amazing for fitness and i love training at domination. It’s a way to train where you’re always doing different stuff and they keep it interesting.
Most people find baking quite therapeutic, do you feel it helps in any way to prepare mentally for surfing big waves?
Hahaha no not really, i get in the zone when i’m baking and get quite focused on what i’m doing, but there is a lot of surfing daydreaming that goes on too. If i know there are good waves and there’s no way i can get out of baking, my mind spins so hard. I actually feel physically sick in my stomach some times. It’s lucky that that doesn’t happen too much seeing that i am one of the co-founders.
You were a bit of a beard celebrity recently before you cropped it, why did you crop it and are you planning on growing it out to epic proportions again?
I had planned to grow it for a certain length of time and had agreed with my chick that when i came back from hawaii that year it would be gone, which is why i cut it then after 9 months of growth. Now she’s agreed to let me grow it just one last time! She’s taking it surprisingly well and being a good sport about it even though she doesn’t really dig it. She understands why i want to grow it again and is letting me run with it thankfully. The plan is to get back to jaws next season with a viking presence! I’m pretty sure i am of viking decent. I don’t know if i can prove it, but after watching the series vikings it all makes sense! Haha nah but while you’re young you have to do these things, why not
Your brother dan is also a great surfer, how did growing up with a brother who surfs influence your surfing and does he ever paddle out with you on your big wave missions?
It was mental growing up. Always having someone to surf with at that level really helps your surfing. Especially between the ages of like 12 and 16 for me when i was kinda pushing into a bit heavier waves up and down our coast. Nothing huge but we have incredible powerful waves along the kzn coast and to see my brother charging always got me pushing myself. Whenever there was a deeper, heavier peak that most of the pack in the water didn’t want a part of, dan would lead the way and i would follow. I have the best memories of our surf missions when we were lighties and know for sure that this period sparked my love for heavier waves. Besides dan, there was a good crew of us that would push each other in durban. Guys like brandon jackson, jordy, chad du toit, matt kruger and wok wright, we all used to surf together most days, and when it got big, soon as one committed to going out we were all in. We had such a sick childhood growing up on the durban beachfront. Jackos ballie owned the coffee shop down at new pier and every day we were there after school, every weekend all day and never mind holidays. We had such a solid crew that used to hang there in that era. You don’t need to leave a bunch of groms together at the beach for long before they start causing kak! Sheez it was fun.
Surfing hawaii from what we understand can be an intimidating experience, waves wise as well as locals wise, what’s it like at the backline at pipe paddling around with some of hawaii’s heavy hitting locals who would probably much rather see you surfing your local wave at new pier.
It is really intimidating, but you just figure out how to work your way around the lineup and paddle circles around certain guys. I’ve got to know a lot of the locals there and chat to the guys in the water, but there’s no way they’re going to pull back on any waves for me. It’s their local spot and they get priority, that’s just the bottom line and as long as you know that and have a good attitude in the water, you shouldn’t have a problem. Staying at the volcom house right in front of pipe/backdoor is unreal. The volcom team is really like a family and i’ve made a lot of good friends there. The local guys all come hang there and they’re all legends when you get to know them, just don’t step on any toes in the water.
You stayed at the volcom house in hawaii and surfed with guys like ozzie wright, nathan fletcher, dusty payne and mitch colborn – you must have some interesting stories?
When mitch and dusty are in town its normally for the volcom event at pipe and they’re all focused for the event so the mood in the house is pretty mellow. They’re both legends though and it’s pretty sick watching them surf. Nathan on the other hand, i hang with quite a bit at the house because he lives there. He surfs so well and charges hard too so to hang and get to surf pipe with him is pretty epic. Then you have john john florence and jamie o’brien out there daily blowing minds. It’s everything you see in these surf movies happening right in front of you. It’s pretty amazing.
You surf a lot with cape town’s frank solomon, another big wave charger – what other south africans have inspired your surfing especially on the big wave scene?
Frank and i have spent a lot of time together over the last 5 years or so and he’s been doing really well lately, signing up with hurley international in the process. Makes me so stoked to see my good mates’ hard work paying off. He’s just followed his dream and is now getting paid to do it. There is a really good mix of big wave guys in south africa to look up to and i’ve been fortunate to spend time in the cape with legends like Andrew marr, mickey duffus, Simon louw, Jason Hayes, the Britisher brothers, mike shliebak and more. It’s such a tightknit crew and i really love just being in the water with all those guys. Those are the guys i look up to the most. It actually all started when john whittle, who is from durban, offered to let me tag along with him down to cape town when i was 14 for the redbull dungeons event. We drove down and hung for about 3 weeks with the whole event crew and got to paddle out to dungeons for my first time. That was really where it started, even though i never got to surf dungeons again till i was about 18, i knew i was going to go back.
What surf missions have you got planned for this year locally and will you be heading back overseas anytime soon?
My year is always uncertain. When i’m at home i work and watch the charts and as soon as i see something happening along our coast i start making plans. The majority of my trips are to cape town for some bigger swells and other than that durban’s coast keeps me pretty happy over winter. Then when our winter comes to an end i start planning my hawaii/northern hemisphere season which is normally 1-2 months. That’s been my cycle for the last 4 years and we’ll just have to see how long i can make it last!
‘All eyez on me’
THE NOTORIOUS BIG
‘Ready to Die’