SW: I was going to just start on 2020 for you. Burleigh is currently underwater and there are bull sharks swimming around in backyards in the canals. Feels about right, huh?
LOB: Yeah, I know. I think it does sum things up things pretty well. Just bizarre times.
So tell us a little bit about your year. Clearly it didn’t go as planned.
At the start of the year they finished the Australian leg as per usual but then down in Manly they told us, “This is the last comp, everything else is off.” At that stage it was like, “We’ll probably lock down for a few months and then it’ll be back on again.” Here we are, a year later.
What have you made of the time?
It was a funny old year. I just went through some different emotions. I mean, initially I was really motivated to keep training, because I had a good run at the start of the year but then the monotony of just working toward nothing killed that off. Eventually, I got really unmotivated and I don’t know, just ran off the tracks a bit. I’ve been working part-time in a surf shop and I also started studying at uni. I mean, I’ve worked for a while now, but studying I’ve just been putting off since I left school pretty much so that was a pretty big shift.
What did you enrol in?
I’ve been enrolled in engineering at Griffith Uni for four years now but deferring every year… just doing everything I can to not actually start really. But now, I don’t know, it’s kind of the perfect time to start.
Where does the interest in engineering come from?
I just liked maths at school. Obviously I was going to pursue surfing after school finished, but I kind of just thought I should just apply for something at uni so that it’s there, and then go and do the surfing thing. But I just sort of liked math. And so this year I thought, “You know what? Let’s just start.” And I’ve actually enjoyed it.
I don’t know too many surfers who actually have enjoyed maths at school. What’s the buzz?
It’s just satisfying solving problems where you actually get a solution at the end. It’s not like English or art or anything subjective like that. Not that I don’t like those things either, but it’s just satisfying to come to a solution that’s either right or wrong.
My kids sit here and bitch and moan about having to do maths, and they go, “We’re never going to use this shit ever when we get out.” And I tell them, I say, “Look, it’s not the maths. No one in the street is going to ask you to do quadratic equations. But it’s the problem solving process.”
Yeah, exactly. And then, I mean, if you do want to pursue maths too, there’s a million-and-one different opportunities in this day and age with technology and all that sort of shit. It all pretty much operates based on some form of maths. So, I mean, it’s all there but yeah, it’s definitely like that capacity to problem solve that’s pretty important.
What kind of field of engineering are you interested in?
Good question. I don’t even really know myself yet. I just sort of started doing the core maths subjects and then I don’t know. I wasn’t even sure that I’d stick with it, when surfing came back, or what I’m going to do. But it was more just to start and get a feel for what it was all about. But yeah, I’ve got no idea.
After three years of just surfing was it nice to have something to apply yourself to mentally?
I did, yeah. It’s really nice to have a little bit of purpose. I mean, I apply myself to my surfing, but you get a lot of spare time and you kind of just do pointless things with it. I think it’s pretty easy to get a bit lost, especially this year when you’re not competing, you’re not travelling, you’re not doing anything. You’re just sitting around waiting for something to happen. So it was the perfect time to try something like that. I mean, I get pretty lost, pretty easily, so I need something to keep me ticking over and challenge myself a bit.
What have you kind of done in that regard to keep your brain ticking along? You’ve studied obviously, but have you done anything else creatively to kind of keep things ticking over?
I like to kind of make surf clips but this year it’s been kind of hard. One of my best mates who I film, he’s from New Zealand and pretty much just got stuck there for the year. He still hasn’t come back. So it kind of sucked, because we had some pretty bullshit waves up here at the start of the year. But I feel creatively I didn’t really capitalise on the opportunity. I mean, I always love reading and keeping the mind engaged in that way as well.
What books have you dived into?
I’ve actually randomly read Plato’s Republic.
That’s pretty wild.
Yeah, it was pretty interesting but a tough read. But it’s nice to kind of pull out some of those literally classics every now and then. But then at the moment, I’m reading a book by Raymond Chandler. It’s called Farewell, My Lovely, a crime novel. I’m not reading 10 books a week, but I just like to keep it varied and just jump on anything and everything.
Are you a driven person? If you got time, you’ll find things to accomplish?
It’s funny. When I was a little kid, I was like that without a doubt. I would just always be wanting to do something – mainly surfing – but I would just be very driven in that sense. But then, as I’ve gotten older, I’ve kind of gotten lazy. I think I’m finding that having something to work towards is for me at least, is kind of the key to staying happy and healthy.
Do you think too much about stuff generally?
[Laughs] Yeah, for sure. Always.
Do you feel you’ve made the most of this year?
I think so. Just to be home through that really good window of swell at the beginning of this year was pretty awesome. I don’t know if my surfing career’s going to last long or finish abruptly but for however long it lasts, it’s the only time that you’re ever really going to get a proper break from it. The tour doesn’t really stop. You get your few months at the end of the year, but aside from that, you’re always on. So, it’s just been nice to not think about competing all the time, but instead just think about surfing all the time. Just sort of expand my horizons a little bit.
I look at guys like yourself, Wade Carmichael and Morgan Cibilic and you’ve all had to kind of slog to get to where you are. You look back a generation and there was tons of surf industry money around and a pretty defined career-path, but it feels like today you’re doing it more on your own. In a way, is there a benefit to that?
I mean, it’s never a slog because you’re doing what you love and at the end of the day you wouldn’t do anything else. But there’s definitely more of a workman-like approach to the whole QS these days. Pretty much everyone in Australia who competes on the QS has at least one part-time job or some sort of labouring job when they’re home. And I mean, I think that’s also a good thing, because it makes you question whether you want it or not. It forces you to kind of commit 100 per cent and not kind of just go in there half-arsed.
Because you worked a thousand hours to save for that airline ticket.
Yeah, exactly. And you’re well aware of the alternative to not making it as a surfer.
How did you go with work this year? Did you enjoy it?
Yeah, it’s been pretty good. I mean, working in a surf shop is cool. It’s kind of close to home at least and it’s not back-breaking work or anything. But I mean, work is still work. It’s nice to get that perspective though, to stay somewhat in touch with the real world.
What kind of car do you drive?
I recently I bought my Mum’s Hyundai I30 off her. Because I’m never home, there hasn’t been any point in having a car.
What’s harder: getting a wave at Burleigh or getting a car park?
Parking for sure. That place is so annoying to get a park. You’re doing lap after lap and the waves aren’t even that good.
The tension starts even before you even get in the water.
So you’ve lived at Burleigh all of your life?
Pretty well. I was born in Brisbane actually and then kind of lived on the Gold Coast until I was five, and then we moved back to Victoria. All my family and extended family is from Victoria. So we lived in Melbourne for a couple of years and lived in country Victoria for a few years, which is where my family are from originally. That’s where I started surfing. I started surfing with Adam Robbo, he was always my hero as a little kid.
Where were you living?
In Portland. That’s where my family’s from. So Robbo was always my hero. And then, we moved back to Queensland when I was nine. Initially, I actually joined Snapper but one day I was just surfing the point at Burleigh with Dad, and Ed Lindores, one of the elder statesmen at the Burleigh club was sitting at a table with a sign hanging off the front that said, “Junior sign-on”. We walked up, Dad had a chat to Ed, and the rest is pretty much history.
I suppose as a kid, being out at Burleigh was probably a bit of an eye-opener.
Yeah, well coming from country Victoria, when I first came to the Gold Coast I couldn’t even catch a wave. Down there it was just wait your turn and someone will give you a wave. But here it’s just a dogfight. No one’s going to give you anything. So I didn’t catch a wave the first year I lived here. And then obviously Burleigh, there’s a lot of core, local guys who can be pretty intimidating. But having joined the club and getting to know them, once you’re a part of the family, you’re in. Everyone there has been so supportive of me since I’ve been in Burleigh. The level of surfing there is super-high, especially after coming from fucking nowhere.
The Burleigh rep as you just mentioned is kind of pretty heavy. Did you see any of that when you were younger?
A little bit, but being this little kid you always felt this pretty supported out there. I always remember Nick Heath, he’d always call me off from the outside. [Laughing] Somehow I’d get in position for a good one and he’d be down the line yelling at me, “Don’t even think about it!” But beyond that, it was all love. Everyone was super-supportive. But yeah, you definitely see some angst in the water at times. But I mean, other than that it’s just like anywhere really.
That’s being very diplomatic. Who were the guys you looked up to out there?
Well obviously, Bottle’s [Jay Thompson] had a huge influence on my surfing life… and life in general. But when I first started here he wasn’t around much because he was doing the tour. But then, he kind of showed up a bit more towards the end of his career and that was kind of when I was 15. He started coaching us and our relationship kind of evolved from there. Seeing him out the points obviously was always pretty inspiring to watch. He’s better than anyone out there. Then obviously, all the other older guys, there’s heaps of guys in the club who surf really good. As far as peers, most of my best friends I’ve met through the club and through Burleigh. Guys like Toby Mossop, Maddy Job.
How would you say that the Burleigh crew are different to the Snapper crew?
I’d guess the Snapper crew, they’re everyone’s arch-nemesis on the Gold Coast. It’s pretty funny. Every other club just bands together to beat Snapper. So, anything you can do to beat Snapper is always a win, even if you get third and they get fourth. But it’s different now though. When I first started doing the comps we sucked and we didn’t really do that well. We had the odd victory and it was more about the support. Everyone would be down there cheering on. But now it’s kind of changed and there’s a heap of different clubs that do really well.
I was going to ask you, surfing Snapper it’s a pretty easy place to define the hierarchy out in the water, because the rock’s there. How does it work at Burleigh? Who gets set waves and how do they get them?
Yeah, it’s a bit different at Burleigh because it’s more of an open playing field. But there’s a lot of dropping in that goes on at Burleigh from all sides. Locals dropping in on random people, random people dropping in on locals. On any given swell you’ll see four different people riding the same wave. But usually, to get the best ones you kind of just go with the sweep and you’ve just got to time it and get sucked through that top section at the right time… then hope you don’t get faded.
Have you faded the wrong person at some point?
I try not to fade. I just hate it when it happens to me and I’d rather just set the example and not drop in, because there’s nothing more annoying than when you’re in a pit and someone fades you. It’s the shittiest thing ever.
What do you reckon growing up in Burleigh’s done for you as a surfer?
Obviously, surfing a pointbreak gives you the prowess to ride a long wave and draw your lines out. And then, I just think the community in Burleigh keeps you humble. You can’t go around and claim yourself, or you’ll get put back in line pretty quick. But as far as surfing goes you obviously learn to ride the barrel and you learn to go right.
Your backhand’s actually pretty good though. How did that happen?
Yeah, well, I’ve actually always lived up the north end of the coast since we moved here. So I’ve probably surfed up this way more than Burleigh. I kind of just make the pilgrimage down to Burleigh when the swell’s up but otherwise there’s no shortage of lefts out there. Don’t make me ride a left barrel though.
I was going to jump to the US Open final at Huntington last year. You kind of came from nowhere. Is that how it felt?
Yeah, for sure. I mean, I don’t know how else to describe it. It felt like a dream. As a kid I watched this comp and watched Huntington and watched all my favourite surfers and then to actually be in the comp myself was pretty awesome. And then to be in the final I was kind of going, “What’s going on here? This isn’t right.” I’ve barely ever made a heat in a QS and that was even my first time to mainland America.
What do you put it down to?
I’m mean, in surfing, you can just have your day and get lucky. It’s unlike a lot of other sports in that some random bottom seed guy can just have his day and get all the waves and somehow scratch his way into the final. But I also had a really good epoxy board off Darren Handley. I’d never really ridden epoxy’s before that and I definitely think that that was a massive help. And there’s a similar wave at home called The Spit. I mean, it doesn’t really break the same as Huntington, but the jetty’s there and there’s some lefts into the jetty. I’d surfed that for two weeks straight before going there. But to be honest, I just got lucky and it all just clicked.
Do you feel like that result kind of shifted your expectations?
Oh, for sure. Up until that, for two years of I was just trying to scratch into the 10,000s. And then, when I found myself in the final, it was like, “Holy shit” maybe I could qualify. But I ended up on a cloud of hubris. I got sent back to Earth in the next few comps where I just got smoked. You hear people talk about the emotional rollercoaster that is the QS, and it’s pretty accurate. The contest before Huntington I got knocked early and I was over it. Just depressed and despondent. And then, the next week I just have a purple patch and make the final, and the week after that I lost first round again.
It’s been interesting to watch you surf in Hawaii, and it struck me who you reminded me of. The last couple of winters I’ve been watching you surf maxed out Off The Wall, looking for the one wave in a hundred that doesn’t close out. That used to be Kieren Perrow’s gig. It feels like you have a bit of that high IQ psychopath about you as well.
I don’t know. I’m shitting myself the whole time in Hawaii. I just get the shits with not catching any waves at Pipe. But Hawaii is so intimidating. The waves there obviously aren’t like anywhere else and then the pack is just so intimidating. I definitely wasn’t going there kind of with that macho mentality. I was just hoping to get a wave. You can’t live with yourself if you don’t take up the challenge though, if that makes sense? There’s a huge perfect wave right there. I got to at least try.
So, it feels like you kind of developed a fair bit of composure in bigger waves though. The double hand drag off the bottom makes you look pretty comfortable.
I don’t know how to answer that. I’m definitely not super-comfortable. It’s almost just survival and you just defer decision-making to your subconscious self. Don’t even think about it. But yeah, I’m not doing too much thinking in bigger waves.
You strike me as a very upbeat kind of guy. What gets you down?
I mean, competition and the emotional rollercoaster. There’s nothing worse than when you’re on a string of losses and you just go, “Fuck, I can’t do this.” When I first started the qualifying series, in the small events, I got knocked every single heat, first round. I went here, there and everywhere around the world and spent all my money and barely made a heat. By the end of the year it was like, “Fuck, I guess I’m going back to uni. This isn’t working.”
The Mark Richards comparison gets dragged out all the time but it is uncanny. You not only look like a young MR, but it’s actually more the manner. You’re both impossibly nice guys who’ve come from maddog surf towns. Are you comfortable with the comparison?
Ah, probably not, just in the sense that I don’t deserve that sort of comparison. He’s a living legend. So, I mean, obviously to be compared to him is pretty awesome, but I don’t think I stack up.
Have you guys met?
I have met him a couple of times before. I’ve never talked with him about the whole comparison thing though.
Yeah, yeah. An awkward silence there for sure. I’d love to know what he thinks of this stupid kid though.