“I really, really want to free myself of competitive surfing, basically."
Taj Burrow Announces Retirement From Competitive Surfing
An exclusive Stab interview with one of the best to ever do it, about hanging the jersey for the last time in 2016.
Today, Taj Amos Burrow announced his planned departure from the world of competitive surfing. The Fiji Pro will be the last event Taj surfs as a World Tour surfer.
In '97, aged 17, Taj qualified, turning it down because he was "too young to do the tour full-time." He's still the only surfer ever to do this. The following year, aged 18, he became '98 rookie of the year.
Taj has won everywhere. He’s won events in Rio, Saquarema and Florianopolis. He scooped a champagne shower at J-Bay in 2007 and touched the holy grail, the Pipeline Masters, in 2009. Australia? He won the 1999 Coke Classic in Manly, rang the Rip Curl Bell in 2007 and was carried up the sand at the Quik Pro, Gold Coast in 2001, 2010 and 2012. And, California: The 2012 Cold Water Classic was a breeze, and the 2013 Hurley Pro at Trestles was an itch that was finally scratched.
This is the kind of thing Taj toned down a little too much as his surfing evolved with the judging criteria. Expect to see more of it, post-tour. France.
Taj's love of surf films has been a defining factor in his career. Sabotaj (2000), Montaj (2002) and Fair Bits (2005) were staples on the list of every young surfer's "Films To Try And Emulate." The way that 5’11” danced for the cameras ushered in a new way to surf. What has always made him great has been his ability to not only stay on the curve, but to shape it himself. It's cliched to call Taj timeless or Iconic. But, like any good cliche, it's a cliched for a reason: It's fucking accurate. Spanning across – and dominating – as many generations as Taj successfully has is impossibly rare. And while we’ll certainly miss seeing him in the jersey, Taj’s act runs so much deeper than the world title he never won.
But beyond any of that, and perhaps most importantly, Taj is universally adored for one simple reason: He's a fucking great guy. It's no secret that he is Stab's all-time fav, and much of that is to do with how personable he is, how much time he gives, his generosity, and his love of the good times. But before we get too blurry-eyed, remember that this ain't an obituary, it's more like waving someone off at the airport.
Here, Taj shares with Stab some sentiments and thoughts about hanging up the jersey for the last time in 2016…
"I’ve already ordered a whole quiver of boards that I can do big, long carves on and have a lot more speed and drive to work with, instead of my tiny blades that are really rockered," says Taj. Fuck. Yes.
The reason I want to retire is because my heart’s not in it anymore. I always pictured my last year on tour as being really stress-free, going through the motions and having fun, not caring what result I’d get. But it’s not happening that way. I’ve become more stressed this year than any. I still want to perform at every event, but at the moment, not having (ex-trainer) Johnny Gannon helping keep me fit and eating the right things, and also having a baby, and pursuing a lot of business ventures for my post-career chapter, there’s been less surfing, less training, less stretching, less trying boards before events… I’m just going into events unprepared. Going into those events and not surfing the way I should, and not feeling as fit as I should, I get really irritated with myself. I just haven’t been able to relax and enjoy it. I’m not sinking my teeth into it the way I did in previous years, or the way I should be. And when I lose, it’s still heartbreaking. I’ve got no motivation, but then it hurts when I lose. It doesn’t add up, but that’s more stressful than anything.
"I just really, really want to free myself of competitive surfing, basically."
"In the early stages of my career I always loved getting my tail out or doing airs, and that’s all I cared about," says TB. See his cinematographic body of work for proof.
It’ll be easy not going out on a victory. Everyone’s got this fairytale idea painted in their head of how their last heat or last event is gonna go. But realistically, it’s just another event. Of course I hope to do well, and shit, it’d be an absolute fairytale to win one and go out like that, but I don’t want to put too much pressure on that because I really do just want to have fun and enjoy that last event with all my friends on tour. I don’t wanna think, I’ve got to win an event to retire! I just want to have fun, and enjoy my remaining time there.
Few images more perfectly represent Taj's current world. Holding on through uncertainty, but about to be blown into the crisp air of relief. Indo.
Even though it’s a stressful 30 minutes, I’ll miss getting really good waves with just one guy out. We get spoilt with locations. What I won’t miss is travelling at that speed. Tour life, which has been the past 20 or so years of my life, is fast-paced. You’re just constantly going. I really look forward to toning that down a couple of notches. I so badly look forward to not living by that same schedule. I’ve had the best years of my life on the world tour, but I absolutely cannot wait to be free of that schedule so I can pick up and go wherever I want, whenever I want. It’s weird to live by that same schedule for so long. Every year I fill in my diary with the same thing: Goldie, Bells, Margarets, Brazil, Fiji, J-Bay, Tahiti, Lowers, France, Portugal, Pipe. Every year. It might’ve shuffled a little bit in 20 years but it’s a really, really weird thing. Life goes by super fast living like that. So I just want to turn down the speed of my life a bit.
Taj has a whooooooooole lot more of this to look forward to. And it sounds strange to say of a pro surfer (boo-hoo!), but... he really has earned it.
I’ll be 100 percent ok with sitting back and watching, and not being a part of it or competing. Like I’ve said so many times through my career, I’m such a huge fan of surfing, and I love watching two people who are in their prime, both having a great heat and just battling, raising the bar. I get goosebumps watching people surf out of their skin to win. I’m happy to give my spot up to someone who’s chomping at the bit to be on tour and putting heats like that together. I think I’ll be fine with watching. I love watching. And I’m going to be watching.
One of the top three most iconic backhand performance games of all time? Better believe it.
I feel like now in my head I can surf a lot better, but probably not physically. I feel like surfing so many years on tour, you adapt to the judging criteria. In the early stages of my career I always loved getting my tail out or doing airs, and that’s all I cared about. But then I had to adapt to the criteria, and it’s much more beneficial to do big carves and throw big spray. Instead of going right out of the lip, go just next to it and throw those buckets. I’ve evolved my surfing to fit that better. Over the years I’ve found myself being a lot less innovative, just to get through heats. Which is not how I wanna surf. I don’t like surfing conservatively. But that’s what wins heats the majority of the time.
“I’ll be 100 percent ok with sitting back and not being part of it. I’m such a huge fan of surfing, and I love watching two people who are in their prime, both having a great heat and just battling, raising the bar. I think I’ll be fine with watching. I love watching. And I’m going to be watching."
Taj should very much get used to this. "I definitely want to focus on doing photos and video while I can still surf," he says. "When I have all this time on my hands I want to do trips wherever, whenever, with whoever."
In the future I’d say I’ll be riding a lot more different surfboards. I’ve already ordered a whole quiver of different surfboards from Mayhem, with a much flatter rocker and a lot more drive. Boards that I can do big, long carves on and have a lot more speed and drive to work with, instead of my tiny blades that are really rockered, suited for competitive surfing where you’re on-point and have to stand perfectly in the right spot. I look forward to a board with more speed and drive so I can explore different curves of a wave, taking different lines. I want to do something different to three, quick, straight up and down hooks in the pocket. I want to race down the line and skip a few sections but then do a huge roundhouse re-bound. I don’t want to have to fucking rush my surfing, like I frantically do when I’m in a heat. I want to slow things down, take a breath and draw my surfing out.
“I think I’ve already swallowed the pill of never winning a world title," says Taj. "I’ve come to terms with that. I don’t feel weird about it at all. I have no regrets and it doesn’t bother me." Looking at this, you can't help but believe him.
The thing that really stands out in my World Tour career, probably the best competitive run I had, was when I won Pipe in 2009, and then as it rolled into 2010, I won the Burleigh Breaka Pro, and then I won Snapper. And then I got second at Margarets to Kerrzy. That was my best competitive streak, three wins in a row and then a second. I was feeling so invincible, it’s such a good feeling.
After penning the exact same schedule into his diary at the start of every year for around two decades, TB is ready to slow his life down and re-introduce some spontaneity. That's when the best times really roll.
I think I’ve already swallowed the pill of never winning a world title. I’ve come to terms with that. I don’t feel weird about it at all. I have no regrets and it doesn’t bother me. A lot of people might think it does, but I’m more than happy to have had a successful career being a professional surfer. That’s a pretty special life to lead. There’s so much more that goes into a world title than just surfing well. It’s really hard to maintain that focus for a whole year. You have to be dedicated and make so many sacrifices. I’ve had fun along the way but I’ve tried to balance it so I could win some events too. If I was starting my career again with the knowledge I have now, I reckon I could win a world title or two. I’d tell 20-year-old me to go get good at all the waves that the tour goes to. Go charge at Chopes, go charge in Fiji, get to know the reef, be prepared to spit blood, and really sink your teeth into those waves, instead of dancing around them and surfing them the way I did in the early stages of my career. It was terrifying going to those waves as a teenager.
"Over the years I’ve found myself being a lot less innovative, just to get through heats," says Taj. "Which is not how I wanna surf. I don’t like surfing conservatively."
It’s a certain type of person that wins titles, and I just don’t feel like I was really that guy. I don’t surf that consistently. If you want to win the title, you’ve gotta be really confident and know each wave so well, and have the perfect boards for each wave. You need a little arrogance at each wave. I’d do a couple of years of not being a nice guy, and just being a prick, having that fuck you attitude. It’s not me at all, but if I was to go for a title, you do kinda have to adopt that attitude, I think. Nice guys never really win. Well, they win every now and then… I won a couple of events.
"There’s a lot of places I’ve never been that I want to tick off." Go get 'em, tiger.