When a swell jacks, Twiggy comes wild for kicks. The Right, WA. Photo by Russell Ord
I Just got fired but my fiancé is a Playmate!
Amidst all that industrial turmoil you've been hearing about: In which the surf industry has become a frigid sea of deadly icebergs, and major surf companies sail blindly through the darkness like the Titanic, there's been plenty of casualties. One big wave surfer who just took a full sponsorship wipe care of Billabong, is South-African Grant 'Twiggy' Baker. Twig is a furiously committed big wave surfer. He is a nominee for various XXL Awards every year. He owns a rock bar. His gal, Kate Lovemore, is a playmate. Don't fight it: You envy Twig.
Sometimes change is good, and sometimes it reinvigorates the soul! That’s what Stab likes to believe. But Stab also believes in kindness through cruelty, sometimes, so Stab cold-called Twig and gave him a fairly hard time. He responded brilliantly.
Interview by Craig Jarvis
Stab: You just got fired! What happened? How does it feel?
Twiggy: Yup, you got that right. No one likes to be fired. It means that you haven’t been doing your job and that you don’t deserve the salary you've been getting. It’s a terrible thing. It's made me take a long, hard look at myself.
What did you see? A skinny man? (Laughs) Apart from that… I’ve had to question everything. I’ve had to look at my performance and to decide whether I should be surfing professionally, whether I should continue surfing big wave events, representing South Africa on a professional level. I’ve had to stop and consider that at my age it’s the right thing to carry on competing. Not the easiest process to go through.
You reckon you got the sack 'cause your performances have been poor, or because of the current finances at Billabong? It’s a bit of both. I haven’t been surfing my best, and there are quite dire financial situations. I’m not the only surfer to get fired, and I’m definitely not the best surfer to get fired, but I haven’t been winning either.
What’s been happening with your surfing? Quite simply, I didn’t win any major events this past year. I needed to win a Mavericks event, or The Eddie, or a XXL or something, and I didn’t.
Don’t be so hard on yourself. Athletes are being dropped all over the world right now. Right. They are, but in South Africa I still see guys like Travis going strong, and Slade is getting his back covered and of course Jordy. The guys who are winning are the guys who deserve the backing.
But you won the Australian Big Wave Awards, One Wave Wonder in South Africa and two runner up positions (Biggest paddle/Overall performance) at the XXL awards, some might say that's good enough? Unfortunately the powers that be at Billabong South Africa didn't deem it good enough and that's the nature of the game right now, you have to be surfing at the highest level to warrant being paid. I respect that they set their standards so high and I just hope the same people who set those standards for the surfers are man enough to look at their own performances as well.
It’s weird timing, as with the new financial restructuring, Billabong looks nice and stable again. The thing is, the South African market is such a small part of the global market, and sales have dwindled in South Africa, and I guess I’m just a part of the downturn. People who don’t do anything tangible for the company, like surfers, are going to get shaved in a bid to streamline. In times of financial stress companies shave down to maximise profits. It’s the nature of corporate business.
Billabong has given you 20 years of unwavering support. They built you. Exactly. Who am I to complain? It’s an amazing brand with an incredible history, from the times of Pump and Green Iguana, and Occy, it’s still got a good feeling to it. I worked for the brand for 16 years and was a sponsored surfer for four years, and it has been a great run. It’s just all a bit sad right now I guess.
No bitterness? No, just sad to see the surfers cast aside.
It could be argued that big wave surfing is not all about results. It’s also about style and other things. You’re wrong. It’s all about results. If I wanted to stay a sponsored surfer I should have been getting the good results. If you have the good results then you deserve to stay. I didn’t win and I can accept that. I do feel that this system should go further though, and if you’re working at a top company like Billabong, and you’re not performing well, not making your targets, then your job should also be under scrutiny. Everyone has to look at themselves, as I’m trying to do.
Maybe it’s time to get sponsorship outside of the surf industry? Chris Bertish is in a beer advert all about big wave surfing, you’ve got BOS iced tea on your side. BOS has been amazing to me but unfortunately these days if you’re not black and playing soccer in South Africa, it’s hard to get sponsorship. Having said that, previously disadvantaged people deserve sponsorship money in South Africa a lot more than a big wave surfer. It’s tough out there.
Do you reckon you might have made a few enemies along the way? You have been hungry and demanding in the past, pushing hard, even arrogant at times. I wouldn’t say enemies but yes, I have been a little too out-there, trying too hard to get publicity. I was over exposed by South African media for a while, and have tapped out there. Some of the younger big wave guys would have had a problem with the way I monopolised a lot of the coverage. And you’re right - I can be brash and arrogant to a point, but I became a sponsored person four years ago as a job. My job was to get exposure and I did it aggressively, and not everyone is going to like that. I have a rock and roll bar and a Playboy playmate as a girlfriend. That sort of lifestyle isn’t quiet at all! I can also be opinionated. If I don't like something I’ll say so. That’s me.
Do you have anyone you want to apologise to? What do you mean?
Just people you might have wronged? In what context?
Whatever context. Take the bait! Take it! Well, I’d like to apologise to my mom for giving her grey hairs, and I’d like to apologise to my girlfriend Kate for making her wait 10 years before we got engaged.
Oh yes. Yesterday wasn’t it? Congrats on that. Thanks. I can’t believe she said yes. Surfers can be very selfish people. I've been very selfish for the last 20 years as a surfer. I haven’t been the best brother, or son, or boyfriend I could possibly be.
On a lighter note, next year sees the start of the Big Wave World Tour, all ASP aligned and in place. How does it work and where are you on the tour? Each event will consist of the top six seeds from the previous year. Then there will be six wildcards per event, guys who they feel deserve a shot and I fall in there along with Healey, Kohl, Dollar and Dorian. Then I believe there will be six surfers selected from the WCT. Surfers like Kelly, John John, the Hobgood brothers, and then finally we will have six surfers who are local at each particular surf spot. The guys who know and charge their local big wave spot are usually some of the best surfers out there. With this formula you'll see the very best guys at every event and that'll make for some amazing viewing.
Now that you’re without a major sponsor, what has it done for your approach to big waves and to the approaching events? I’m totally hungry. I have decided to go the next six months without a sponsor, to alleviate the pressure. I want to be able to concentrate purely on being ready for the contests and not have to worry about promoting a brand or myself. I want to focus on the events, and spend time surfing and hanging at the spots where the events are going to be. I want to be fit, and mentally prepared. I’m pretty good at big wave contests. I have a formula for these events and I stick to it. I’m quietly confident I can win one and then the whole sponsorship thing won’t matter, because first prize now is way more then my yearly salary was anyway.