Stab Magazine | Non-UK folk: Andrew Cotton deserves your attention!

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Non-UK folk: Andrew Cotton deserves your attention!

Ain’t a surfer alive who doesn’t know the story of Maya Gabeira nearly drowning at Nazaré last week, and Carlos Burle saving her before heading back out and whipping into what’s being called by many the biggest wave ever ridden. And, Laird Hamilton later saying that Carlos’ wave doesn’t count cause he didn’t ‘make’ it, […]

news // Mar 8, 2016
Words by stab
Reading Time: 5 minutes

Ain’t a surfer alive who doesn’t know the story of Maya Gabeira nearly drowning at Nazaré last week, and Carlos Burle saving her before heading back out and whipping into what’s being called by many the biggest wave ever ridden. And, Laird Hamilton later saying that Carlos’ wave doesn’t count cause he didn’t ‘make’ it, and that Maya shouldn’t have been out there, and then Skindog Collins calling out Laird and saying that big wave surfing needs more moral support. And is the saga even finished yet?

But while it was shadowed internationally by Carlos’ wave and Maya’s excessive water inhalation, Andrew Cotton’s wave at Nazaré was the UK surfing equivalent of Miley’s VMAs performance. Cue eruption of public profile, social media double-taps and the thirst of mainstream media to drink in Cotty’s charmingly-understated Devon modulation, as he recounted the face bumps and hold downs of a blackened Portuguese beachbreak jacked up on Atlantic goofballs. The 34-year-old plumber with a kink for terrifying waves was in his car with his baby, while his wife shopped, when Stab lit up his phone…

Interview by Craig Jarvis

Stab: Cotty! You’re famous! Mainstream UK media! The BBC!
Cotty: Yeah, it’s been weird. It’s been this massive mainstream media scenario. They picked up on it and they just ran with it. I think it’s because surfing isn’t obviously that popular here in England, and big wave surfing is even less popular, so it was probably picked up because it was just an unusual piece of news.

Is this your first experience as a TV star? I picked up a Billabong XXL nomination for a chunky wave last year at Mullaghmore, so the BBC did an interview and stuff with me about a year ago, but they never ran it. Then they called again after the Nazaré session and actually flew to Portugal to finish the piece.

(Continued below)

You looked kinda, endearingly nervous. Well, I was going to be interviewed by Jeremy Paxman and he has a pretty gnarly reputation. I didn’t know if he was going to come in and congratulate me or call me irresponsible or have a go at me about something. I had no idea what approach he was going to take…

He tried to outwit Russell Brand recently and didn’t win. Exactly. He’s a tough nut. I was shitting myself. Definitely more nervous to go on TV and be interviewed by Paxman than I was to go and surf at Nazaré.

Does the UK understand big wave surfing? Paxman was talking about falling into a giant washing machine. They don’t understand it. They don’t really understand surfing at all. Big wave surfing obviously has more drama and appeal than normal surfing, though. My mum doesn’t know how hard it is to do an air, you know, but when she sees a big wave on the TV screen she goes, like, “Woah that’s really big.”

You’re actually a plumber and a lifeguard? (At this point, Cotty’s 18-month old baby starts screaming from his lap.) Yes, I’m a plumber by trade, but I really hate it and haven’t plumbed for like, seven years. I lifeguard from March to October and then my sponsor Tiki wetsuits helps me out with my winter missions. They’re really good to me. It’s not much money, y’know, but they’re a small company and they totally support my endeavours.

How’re you doing for sponsors? With all this coverage of late… I have Tiki, and I used to be sponsored by Analog, but they have no surf program anymore. I’m pretty lucky with Tiki. There are a lot of surfers out there now with no sponsors. It’s just a sign of the times really. It has definitely changed my whole approach. I can’t afford to go on every mission now, so I have to wait for the best missions when it’s going to be pumping. I have to stay focused and use my resources wisely.

How much harder is it for a UK surfer to become a big wave charger? It’s tough. You’ve got to have loads of commitment. I can’t just be sitting around at home all the time, I need to be in Ireland, or tracking swells in Portugal or France. It’s a small and tight-knit community of big wave surfers in Europe, guys from Portugal and France and Ireland. And we all keep in regular contact.

Where else can you get a big wave fix in Europe? Last year I paddled Belharra and it was a massive eye opener. Nathan Fletcher was there and it was so good to see him push it and to see what was possible. I’ve also been to Hawaii. I was there when I was 19 and had a go at Waimea when I was there. Just watching the guys rip Waimea was a real motivator. It was pretty funny, I was there and there were a few UK pro surfers around and they didn’t want a bar of it and I was just totally frothing for it.

Carlos and Maya got the lion’s share of international exposure, but you seemed to only get traction in the UK. Why? I honestly dunno. If you look at the coverage we all got big waves, but I don’t know why I was a bit left out of it all.

But you got one big enough for a Billabong XXL Ride Of The Year nomination. How big it was? I don’t really know.

(Continued below)

Throw us a number. If you put a bunch of Cottys on top of each other… I don’t think it really matters. We all got some big ones. People throw around numbers and sizes in feet and records and stuff, but it doesn’t really matter. I read somewhere that Carlo’s wave was scientifically measured at 58 feet, so where does that put my wave? People call an overhead wave three feet. It doesn’t really matter. So, I don’t have a number for you.

How about we call it, say, 61 foot? What? No. I can’t call it.

Online commentators accused you of being an irresponsible dad, amongst other things. Yeah, that was pretty funny. Just some people sitting behind computers miles away from the sea. It depends on what you call irresponsible. I would be stoked if my dad did things out of the ordinary and made an effort to, y’know, achieve goals. I don’t take that to heart. People said the waves were shit, that it didn’t even break, so many negative people. I don’t care about that. I surfed there because I wanted to. It’s why I surf. Not to please these people.

Ok, your take on Carlos and Maya? I don’t think anyone had any reason to say that she shouldn’t have been out there. Maya is an elite big wave surfer and that’s what she wants to do. She’s probably surfed more big waves than I have. The whole thing was unfortunate and she was very lucky, but that’s how it goes. Those videos don’t show the 80 foot shorebreak and the massive whitewaters that were pouring through. They just show two or three little moments amongst the chaos. Those people who were having a go from behind their computer screens at Carlos have never faced a beachbreak like that. He saved her. She’s fine. We can move on now.

What about Laird’s rant? Laird? I don’t really know what to say about that, but I liked what Skindog had to say. He has a good profile and it’s cool of him to offer congratulations. It’s a cool thing to do in such a situation. Laird’s speech was just a little embarrassing.

You feel embarrassed for the guy for being so lame. Exactly.

You’re kinda the best British big wave surfer. No. There are loads of British surfers who charge. I’m the luckiest British big wave surfer. I’ve been at the right place at the right time and have had a good support team. I’ve worked hard to get here, but I am very lucky as well.

In this post-Nazaré session world we’re living in, who’s the biggest idiot? That would probably be me. (Noise in background) No, no. Hold on. My wife has just climbed into the car and she reckons that I’m not such an idiot. She reckons that this guy called Lyndon Wake is a bit of an idiot. He’s a friend of mine actually. He charges.

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