Grant “Twig” Baker is one of the world’s top big wave surfers. Since he came onto the Big Wave scene — in spectacular fashion, winning the Maverick’s big wave contest in 2005 — he has gone on to ride some of the planet’s largest waves and has won some of the most prestigious awards in surfing. He has won the Billabong XXL Ride of the Year, Big Wave Africa, South Africa’s Surfer of the Year and more. A fiercely proud South African, he ranks the South Africa Surfer of the Year as one of his crowning achievements in the sport. He just recently got his official invite to on of the most prestigious big wave events in the world — the Quiksilver in Memory of Eddie Aikau contest held at Waimea Bay on the North Shore of Hawaii .
We were curious to chat with the South African charger to learn a bit about his surfing, travels, and how he stays in shape to surf the big stuff.
How and when did you first come to California and surf Maverick’s? That is quite a trek from South Africa to here.
It started when I met Grant Washburn down in Cape Town for the Big Wave Africa event at Dungeons in July 2004 and he suggested that I would love Mavericks and that I should come over and surf with him that Winter.
I took up his offer and rocked up in November that year green behind the ears and just in time for the first major swell of the season; a whistle clean super consistent, perfect, warm sunny day with 20 foot sets.
Gary Linden lent me a 9′0″ in the car park and I paddled out on the North side behind Greg Long and Washy feeling very nervous and vulnerable after all the stories I had heard about the heaviest wave in the world. I had surfed big waves in Cape Town but nothing like this and I could taste the fear in the back of my throat, metallic and strong.
My idea was to sit wide and watch for most of the session and slowly learn to ride the wave but as fate would have it as we got out there this massive 20 wave set came through and everyone just stared getting these bombs. Wave after wave with the best big wave guys in the world just charging them and as I floated there watching in awe I was slowly dragged deeper and deeper into the bowl. Suddenly coming right at me was the biggest wave of the set , easily the biggest wave I had ever seen and I was in the perfect position to catch it and there wasn’t another surfer anywhere to be seen.
Everyone else was paddling back out and screaming at me to go but I was scared and hesitated for that split second before committing which put me in a bad position and very late. I had to come from behind the peak, free fall out of the lip on the little board, air dropped half way down before reconnecting, just escaped the falling lip and bottom turned around a huge wall of white water before riding the wave to Mushroom rock.
As luck would have it almost every main guy at Mavericks at that time was paddling out and saw my wave including Jeff Clark, Peter Mel and Randy Cone. From that wave I got on the alternate list for the Mavericks event the following year, they held a vote system for the alternates to get one surfer into the main event so I got everyone in South Africa to vote for me and see me into the event, which ran in flawless 20 foot surf. I ended up winning it and have been a sponsored big wave surfer traveling the globe ever since.
The variables on that wave were so fine. I was millimeters and milliseconds from falling and breaking my only board, being washed through the rocks and heading back to South Africa with my tail between my legs and I’m sure in a parallel universe that’s exactly what happened. But I chose this universe and it’s been good times and amazing waves ever since.
Fave recent surf experience?
Just hanging in Hawaii last winter, surfing and absorbing the culture.
Fave memory from your ‘12/’13 California surf mission?
That run at Ocean Beach in January was amazing, the afternoon before the Maverick’s contest ran was some of the best waves I have ever seen!
Fave post-surf grinds?
I like a fruit smoothy with some granola and a tall glass of cold water.
Fave evening libation when you are out on the town?
I don’t mind the odd Corona with a Don Julio in-between.
Fave place to travel for surf or other?
I like to travel around Africa, it’s raw, uncrowded and home!
Fave activity when not surfing?
Kiteboarding, SUP and watching soccer.
Fave training or workout for surfing?
Swimming laps in a pool, I have a free dive workout that gets me ready for any size swell.
Fave thing about coming to California and what is it that draws you to California?
The people, my friends and I love the city of San Francisco… So free and open minded.
Any tips or advice for surfers who want to visit South Africa?
Come for a long time because once you get here, you will never want to leave, then start in the Kruger National Park and drive the coast from Mozambique to Namibia.
What advice would you give a competent surfer who wants to step up their game and get into some bigger waves?
Get a good board from someone who shapes specifically for big waves, train hard in the off season and get out there and slowly make your way into the line-up. There’s no rush in waves of consequence, take your time.