Stab Magazine | "An Otherworldly Sense Of Calmness"

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“An Otherworldly Sense Of Calmness”

The story behind Taj Burrow’s cover (and wipeout) at The Right. 

style // Jun 16, 2018
Words by Stab
Reading Time: 5 minutes

Including our first ever magazine, Taj Burrow has had more Stab covers than any surfer.

But as print publications continue to head the direction of taxis and vinyl records, magazine cover relevance has become a relic of yesteryear. While the medium may change, however, iconic imagery will always capture our imagination, even if that means arresting our scrolling thumb for just a few seconds. 

In that same vein, we thought it would be interesting to hear Taj’s account of his most recent Stab cover, featuring the tube he rode with good friend Mark “Chalk” Mathews at The Right on August 1, 2014. 

But first, some backstory.

Taj was never supposed to be the surfer here. Mark Mathews was, and he was supposed to be in front of French surfer-turned-photographer Laurent Pujol. When Laurent couldn’t make the shoot, Mark said he would play photographer. We suggested Taj as the surfer, and everyone thought that was a great idea – everyone besides Taj.

The shoot was rushed. We spotted a swell in Western Australia and it happened in just a few days. Taj approached the shoot gingerly. We had borrowed second-hand equipment. We didn’t have an inflation vest for Taj – just a short-john Billabong wetsuit with built-in foam.

I was driving the ski at the time. Taj was wanting some smaller warm-up waves, Mark was adamant that it only takes one great wave. After a few smaller shared tubes, we agreed to sit in the water until something “proper” came along. 

Screen Shot 2018 06 15 at 09.05.02

Just a few of Taj’s most memorable Stab covers.

Mark has a zen-like coach quality about him, especially in high pressure situations. Once, on the way to Shipstern’s Bluff, he’d broken down on a ski and was floating out to sea while I was at the break sitting in the boat watching. I called him to see how we was going, as the next piece of land is Antarctica, and he was unexpectedly aggressive.

“What the fuck are you doing sitting on the boat?” Mark asked. “I don’t want to get there and you haven’t ridden a wave. You didn’t come down here to sit on a fucking boat. Get out there and get a set.“

In the same way here at The Right, he was re-assuring and intimidating all at once. He swung seamlessly between staunch and comforting. Mark had a job to do, and he was going to deliver. We sat around for over an hour, floating up and down between swell lines, while a flotsam of boats waited patiently in the channel to capture the moment.

As we came over the top of one particular line, I caught the eye of this wave there was no doubt about it. I said “We’re on, boys” and their game faces arrived immediately.

The wave had everything you needed. It stood tall. It was dark and really thick, as if two swells had joined. And, most importantly, it looked like it was going to close out into the bay. The best waves at these nasty short tubes are always the ones that are going to close out into the channel.

As we approached the wave and it started to stand up, I looked over the front as the swell pulled back from the reef. It looked like a step had formed and it wasn’t going to give them access. I immediately knew I had to get off the wave with the ski. I looked over my shoulder and pressed eject, where I thought they’d join me. The next thing I saw was plumes of spray heading 40 metres in the air. Then I heard screaming. Lots of screaming.

Says Taj:

There’s one thing I remember so clearly from that day that I’ve never talked about. When we were waiting on the ski, Mark kept telling us, “You can never be too deep, you can never be too deep at The Right. You outrun the tube majority of the time, you can never be too deep.”

Then, when we got that wave together, I remember looking at it and thinking Holy Fuck, we might be too deep this time, Chalk.

But we were committed, so I had no option but to pull in and hope for the best. 

This was the biggest tube I’d ever been in, and I was looking pretty deep and Chalky was behind me. I know guys surf The Right all the time and there are definitely way bigger waves ridden out there, but this was 2014, and for me, it was the biggest tube I’d ever been in.  

Then the weirdest thing happened: I had a complete, otherworldly sense of calm come over me.

I thought, Alright you’ve gotten yourself into this tube, you’re at the mercy of this wave so you might as well relax and do your best to get out of it. I remember it so vividly.  

When you get to a level of tube that is bigger than anything you’ve ever been in – and it’s happened to me only a few times – when you’re in tube that’s exponentially bigger than all of your previous, you get this feeling… this thing that comes over you. You’re here now. There’s no use of stiffening up, or jumping off, or panicking, or doing anything stupid. Just relax and do everything you can to get to the end.

I made the mistake of trying to ride it like a normal tube, like… pumping, and I took too high of a line. I wasn’t used to a wave of that magnitude. I should’ve taken a lot lower line. For me, I knew I was gonna get flogged and whatever happens, happens.  

I was super calm underwater. I was like, Here we go. Here’s that waterfall effect underwater that everyone talks about that The Right has. I’m about to get pushed toward the bottom of the earth.

I was relaxing for a while and then I was like, “Holy shit, I’ve been down here for a while.” Then things started going through my head, like I don’t have an inflation vest like everyone else does. I hope I come to the surface. I remember thinking I’ve only fallen on the shoulder, and then I was thinking about Mark who had fallen way deeper than me. Oh my god, his beating must have been so hectic because this was the longest I’d been held down. And I was on the shoulder by the time I’d fallen.


Mark didn’t get off so “easily”.


Russel Ord

I was at peace with it until the end. It was all black and I felt the pressure of the water change. And the pressure was getting lighter and lighter so I knew I was coming to the surface.

When I did hit the surface, I did a quick audit: I’m up. I’m breathing. But where’s Mark? It honestly took about 30 seconds for Mark to come up.

Afterward, everyone was asking about the wave we got but all anyone really wanted to know is what happened to Mark, as they should.

And, what did happen? He got completely fucked up. His camera donked him in the head like a wrecking ball, his ears burst, he had blood coming out of every orifice, He’s an animal. He’s an absolute fucking animal.  


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