Exclusive: What Happened to Laurie Towner?
One of the world’s best big-wavers went missing four years ago — we wanted to know why.
Surf fans born in the early 2000s may not recognize the name of 30-year-old Angourie local, Laurie Towner.
“Laurie Towner?” they might ask. “Who’s she?”
As anyone born in the 20th century will tell you, Laurie Towner is not a she. Laurie is a man and not long ago he was one of the most decorated surfers in the big wave community. Ask any of the current professional slab-hunters like, say, Mark Mathews, and he’ll tell you this about Loz: “Laurie’s one of the most talented surfers from Australia — in big waves or small. Even today, if you threw Laurie in the Jaws event, he’d absolutely crush it. He could easily be a big wave world champ. Even at last year’s Cape Fear event, him and Hippo looked like the two best surfers out there. He’s just that kind of guy.”
But before he became known for his big wave antics, Laurie was just another Aussie wundergrom. Sponsored by Billabong at age eleven, Loz had a decorated amateur career, including a top-5 ranking in the junior series and the odd event win off his uber-talented generation in Australia, including Julian Wilson, Wade Goodall, and Mitch Coleborn. Prior to exceeding the age cutoff for the under-20s, Laurie was pushed by Billabong to pursue big wave surfing — something he was doing exceptionally well on his own accord — as a full-time career.
Here’s a short-list of Laurie’s major achievements in heavier surf, just from memory: He won multiple Big Wave awards; He had a number of incredible rides on Teahupo’o’s Code Red swell; He nabbed the wave of the day off Andy Irons at Shipstern’s Bluff; And he caught one of the biggest, longest Backdoor pits in history — at the age of 18.
Laurie Towner has done nearly everything a man can do in heavy waves, and all of it before the age of 27. That’s because in 2014, during one of the most successful years of his career, Laurie’s main sponsor Billabong dropped him with no explanation. “I had a few covers that year,” Laurie explained, “and I thought everything was going well, but then bang — it was over. It was kind of a shock.”
With a baby girl on the way and a new mortgage to pay off, this sudden loss put Laurie in a bind. Out of financial necessity, he contacted a laundry list of brands, hoping they’d want to pick him up. “I thought maybe they’d want someone like me on their team, considering I was a good age and at a high point in my career,” Laurie said, “But when they didn’t show much interest, I kinda lost interest myself.”
Talk with Laurie for five minutes, and you’ll realize he’s not the type for shameless self promotion. In fact, the loudest you’ll hear him speak is with his surfing, which could be described as a calculated, but in no way sheepish warcry.
It’s important that Laurie, along with the reader, understands the reason for his untimely loss of occupation. In 2014 the surf industry was, and realistically kind of still is, in financial peril. The results of this were widespread, with cuts made in every sector of most major surf brands, athletes’ salaries often being the first to go. Anecdotally, this meant that surfers who had been making half-a-million dollars five years before, were now lucky to get $75K — hell, they were lucky to have a sponsor at all. To think Laurie was going to pick up a new sponsor immediately, even considering his talents, was to misunderstand the market entirely.
Realizing the severity of his situation, Laurie was quick to adapt. He put his surfing dreams on hold to cover more immediate needs — putting food on his family’s table, and making sure that table had a roof and four walls to protect it.
In order to pay the bills, Laurie took up work as a carpenter in his hometown of Angourie. It was hard labor, and he didn’t love it by any means, but Laurie did what was necessary to support his growing family. After three years, with yet another newborn under his wing, Laurie grew tired of working in the sun all day and decided instead to pursue an apprenticeship in tiling. He’s now less than a year into this venture, and it’s still not an ideal occupation, but Laurie’s kept a positive attitude about the situation at hand.
“It’s all good,” Laurie told me, convincingly. “There’s something beautiful about having a family and appreciating the little things around you. It’s a simple life, but it’s good. I’m just grateful I was able to experience all that other stuff when I did.”
Speaking of little things, though, it must be hard for Laurie, who has traveled the world eight times over in pursuit of the world’s heaviest waves, to get his kicks from Angourie’s relatively small surf. So I asked, does he go a little crazy thinking about the waves he’s missing around the world?
“I definitely am starting to get the itch… to get into some real surf,” Laurie said. “The waves around here get fun, but it’s not the same as massive Chopes. I just realized the other day that I haven’t been on a plane in over a year. I’m hoping that will change soon. The boys at Need Essentials have said they’re keen to send me on a trip or two, so we’ll see how that goes.”
Then I asked if there remained any hope that somehow, some day, he’d get another crack at this professional surfing thing.
“There’s always that little bit of hope,” Laurie explained, “but a percentage fades away every year.”
At thirty-years-old, this is an admirably realistic viewpoint, but the way Laurie is surfing today, there’s no reason he shouldn’t have a major sponsorship deal. Like Mark Mathews said, Loz is talented enough to be pro in waves three foot tall or thick. Laurie’s new video, produced from the kindness of Caleb Graham’s heart and wallet, demonstrates that point with authority. Watching Laurie’s turns, there’s no way he shouldn’t be heading to Haleiwa next week, fighting for his spot on the tour. He surfs like if Bede Durbidge did a bit of yoga.
So I asked Laurie if, given the opportunity, he would take sponsor money exclusively to chase the QS. Just out of curiosity.
“Oh absolutely. One regret I have is that I never gave the QS a crack,” Laurie admitted. “I started on the big wave trip at such a young age, that I never had the opportunity. I don’t know how I would have gone in the comps, but it would have been cool to try anyways.”
I found that interesting, and I’d love to see Laurie get his shot at the QS, but if I’m to be completely transparent, I believe Loz exists to push the limits in heavy water. The way I see it, he could either work as a tiler, have a middling career as a comp guy, or Laurie could become the best big-waver the world has seen.
Hyperbole? I don’t think so.
Will he ever get the chance? God I hope.
So somebody, please, sponsor Laurie Towner. Not for Loz, as he already lives a happier life than most, but for the sport of surfing. Because if this 30-year-old Angourie local, with his surplus of talent, character, and utter fearlessness isn’t being promoted, then who the fuck is?
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