Newly-crowned Big Wave World Tour World Champion Grant ‘Twiggy’ Baker of South Africa is not only one of the world’s best surfers, he is also one of the fittest.
Launching yourself down the front of a wall of moving water 80 feet (25 metres) high might sound exciting, but even the big wave surfers who do this admit that it is one scary sport! So says Grant ‘Twiggy’ Baker, whose wins at the Punta Galea Challenge in Spain and Mavericks in the USA saw him top the points standings of the 2014/2015 Big Wave World Tour at the end of March and thus be crowned World Champ.
“I still get terrified when the waves are that big, but it’s about controlling your fear and using it to make smart decisions, and surf smarter. If the fear wasn’t there, you’d probably be killed, because you’d do something stupid,” says 40-year-old Twiggy. “I’ve had friends who have drowned, and I’ve come close, too, but that was in the old days. We’ve got a lot more safety measures in place now, like the jetskis that tow us in and fetch us if we come off our boards, inflatable emergency vests, better leashes, and the right people on the jetskis with medical training and big wave experience.”
FIT TO SURF
Anybody who has tried surfing will know that it takes a lot out of you physically, even more so as the waves get bigger, and thus Twiggy works out in the gym regularly, doing weights and core work, plus bike work, stepping and running on the elliptical flyer for leg work. “I played a lot of soccer when I was younger and then tore my knee ligaments while surfing, so I don’t run on the road any more to reduce impact on my knees. I also do Yoga, which I find is the best possible thing for mental and physical preparation, but the best way to be surfing fit is to do a lot of surfing!”
Twiggy is actually in the water most of the time. When the waves aren’t good, he brings out the paddle for some stand-up paddling (SUP) to work on pure stamina fitness, and if the wind is up, he goes kite-boarding, which he says is a great cardiovascular workout. He also does a lot of pool work: “I swim and do free-diving, which helps build confidence for when you’re underwater after a wave hits you. I can hold my breath for five minutes static.”
LIVING THE LIFE
While it is a dangerous profession, Twiggy is definitely enjoying his current lifestyle. He owns a bar in Cape Town, has his own surfboard and clothing labels, both called TWIG, is engaged to model Kate Lovemore, and is based in Hawaii much of the year. “I prefer Hawaii, as I can spend more time in the water, but every time there is a big swell off the US West Coast I’ll be down there, and I also go over to Europe quite often.” However, his recent success came just in time, as he was close to making some big changes in his lifestyle.
“I was almost ready to retire from competitive surfing if I didn’t do well this past Northern Hemisphere winter. I will always surf big waves – that will never change – but maybe the travelling would have slowed down. Luckily, Bos Iced Tea backed me with a three-year contract, and my recent wins helped me pick up a few other sponsors as well, and that now allows me to follow this most amazing lifestyle, travelling around the world to these contests, making some money and then staying for a few weeks to surf with the locals. Without Bos coming on board, I wouldn’t have been able to afford to go to the US and Europe, and we wouldn’t have a South African champion.”