Albee Layer Reveals His Pre-Jaws Secrets
“When it’s big enough and west enough, that big board theory goes right out the window.”
The Jaws Challenge goes live first thing tomorrow.
With a massive west-north-west swell and lightish winds on tap, the waves could be non-hyperbolically immaculate. Of course, forecasts always leave room for speculation, but the competitors we chatted with are buzzing.
“Fuck yeah, never been so pumped in my life,” the 2x Peahi champion Billy Kemper (who got a 10 at Sunset today!) told Stab. “[It’s gonna be] 25-foot Backdoor barrels. I’m not thinking about anyone but myself on the biggest barrel that comes to me…”
That same competitive spirit is what brings the world’s best big wave surfers to Maui this weekend. Shane Dorian, widely considered the best Jaws surfer, looks to the younger generation as favorites in the event. He told Stab:
“Russell Bierke is awesome. So is Chumbo, he’s a beast. Porcella is insane on his backhand. And Twig looks like an old crusty pirate but he’s a frothing grommet. Kai Lenny and Albee will be super insane to watch. They are so good in the wind.”
Speaking of Albee, the Jaws local posted a funny Instagram video today depicting his “training” regimen for the Jaws Challenge. The caption reads:
“By the far the most underrated jaws prep work out. You can always buy more Co2 but regular O2 is much more valuable at jaws #GoStraightInflate
This clip inspired us to call Albee and see where his head’s at going into the biggest event of the year. Below is our conversation.
Stab: When was the last time you surfed a “big” wave?
Albee Layer: Probably at the end of last winter. There was a Jaws swell in… I think February?
Then you spent all summer in Southern California, probably never surfing a wave above your head. So how do you prepare, physically, but most importantly mentally, for paddling out at Jaws on the first swell of the season – in a contest, no less?
Well, since November started I definitely stopped partying and stuff [laughs], and I’ve been getting in better shape because I know [a major swell] can happen at any time. And as far as the mental side goes, I actually watch a lot of Jaws footage before I know there’s gonna be a swell.
Who do you like to watch?
I don’t know, obviously guys like Shane… everyone really. I mainly watch highlights from swells that were similar to the one coming.
What do you eat on the day of a Jaws event?
It’s pretty hard to eat on the morning of a Jaws day, because there’s all that nervous energy. So it’s pretty much whatever you can get down. Maybe a banana or granola bar or something.
Are you gonna be on the boat or will you do the paddle out?
I’m gonna paddle out, and then I’ll have a buddy on a ski with my extra board.
What size boards will you be riding?
I’ve got two 8’8″s. They’re my old faithfuls.
Will you try to catch a couple waves, or even a wave, before your heat?
I’m gonna wait to see what the buoys do tonight. If it’s gonna be big and pumping in the morning I’ll probably try to surf, but I’m thinking I want to surf in the afternoon after the contest more than anything.
Is Tuesday not going to be bigger?
I’m not sure… a few people are saying it’s gonna peak midday Monday, but others think overnight on Monday. I think Tuesday will still be solid but probably smaller than Monday evening.
Let’s talk about your Instagram post, and about some of the actual training you’ve been doing. Is it mostly for building muscle or stamina? Both?
You didn’t like my inflation pulls [laughs]? Well I’ve been biking a shit-ton lately which definitely helps, because I’ve always had pretty bad cardio. But a lot of the stuff we do is just balance-orientated, I guess, so that when the time comes I don’t feel “off”. And then I’ve got that hip injury, which is gonna need surgery in a few months, so for now I’m doing some PT to keep them in relative working order [laughs].
Oh man, sorry to hear that your injury has gotten to that point. Can you not wait for the summer to do surgery?
Kinda… the problem is that if I wait too long, I put myself at risk at needing a different surgery that adds a couple months to recovery. So it’d just be smarter to do it as soon as possible. I’m thinking end of February.
That’s good, at least you’ll get most of the winter in first. Now back to the balance thing you were talking about… most people haven’t ridden a Jaws gun before. Is it tough to find your feet on that massive stick, especially on such a big, bumpy wave?
Well my boards are the same ones I’ve been riding for the past five years – they don’t really age like normal boards do – so on my first wave I’ll sometimes feel a little off, but it comes back pretty quick. It’s not like normal surfing where you have to catch a couple waves to warm up – you’re pretty warmed up already just because of all the adrenaline.
If you paddled out for your heat and the biggest, best Jaws wave you’ve ever seen came right to you, would you feel comfortable swinging?
I wouldn’t be “primed and ready” so to speak, but I’d still give it a go and there’d be a good chance that I’d do alright on it.
Most surfers get a certain level of anxiety when a slightly overhead swell is heading to their local. I can’t imagine what that’s like on the scale of Jaws, especially when you haven’t surfed anything like it in so long…
It’s definitely easier this year than it was five or six years ago, when it was my second year going into it. So you never completely get used to it, but you get used to it in a way, I guess.
What about the contest? Are you thinking about competing and winning, or is it all about going out there and getting the best possible wave?
As of right now it looks like the waves will be insane tomorrow – west swell with a little bit of wind – and if that’s the case I’m just worried about getting good waves. That’s what’s most important to me when it’s pumping.
Like last year’s Pe’ahi Challenge…
Everybody thinks that heat was firing, but really there were just three or four good waves, and one really good wave, being Ian [Walsh]’s. But it gets so much better out there. There are days where every set you know you’re getting barreled. That was an amazing hour, but it gets better. I’m not sure it’ll be like that tomorrow, but it could. And when it’s big enough and west enough, that whole big board theory kinda goes out the window, so I hope I’ll have a little advantage there.
How will you feel the night after the event?
Kinda just depends how the day goes. This time I’m going into it knowing that I want to surf after the event, regardless of whether I win or lose, so that takes a lot of the stress away. But I hope we’ll be chatting again after it’s over [laughs].
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