I wanted to see Taj before he left California, so on his last day here we met at the Hyatt in Huntington Beach. He told me to find him in the hotel gym.
When I walked in Taj was flat on a weight bench, with his trainer bent over him pushing on his hip flexor. It was pretty much the most athletic scene you could walk in on. Like, Crossfit amino acid pool party.
I sat on a treadmill while they finished and watched Major League Soccer.
Then Taj jumps up and says, “Should we get a beer?!”
Which to me, pop-analyzing for a minute, is why people love Taj like he’s fucking Oreos. He works hard but then plays hard and he smiles a lot. At one point or another he’s been everyone’s favorite surfer for at least a month. Below is part of our conversation, which I ruined by talking about the world tour.
Taj: Could we get a couple beers? What do you have?
What Youth: Could I please get a glass of rum on the rocks? A Sailor Jerry please, or something dark.
I’ll just have a Pacifico. Rum on the rocks, well done.
What did you think of the film? [This was right after the Dear Suburbia world premiere.]
Ah, it looked incredible. It’s really hard to focus in at a premiere, but god, it looked retarded, like you’d imagine it would. Dane was the standout to me, he was doing some incredible stuff. It was way above anything I had ever imagined. It set the bar way higher than you would ever expect it to.
I especially like the editing, and the way Kai put together the music. It’s really different.
I loved that he used water angles. That was a great addition. The movie was fucking insane. I’ve got to get my hands on a copy. I’m going to start texting Kai any day now.
Yeah, it came out well.
He must have been so pumped when he was in the studio and he Apple-S’d that thing. When it all connects like that you just must get goose bumps.
How much are you still doing straight surf trips like that Indonesia section? Not for contests or catalogs or whatever, but just surfing.
Not as often as I’d like. That’s my favorite thing, you know? Since day one, my favorite thing has been getting clips and shooting photos and all that. And an Indo boat trip with all those guys is the best way to do it. It’s been pretty rare, for me, because the whole year is stacked with contests and then Billabong is obviously getting me to do quite a few things whenever we get a break.
You’re really still that interested in making films?
Pretty much, yeah. I really love film. I just love a good surf section when it all comes together with good waves, good surfing and really good music. It’s been one of my favorite things for a really long time.
Do you travel at all just for the sake of traveling, like without surfboards? Non-surf travel.
I haven’t done much. No, none at all. Come to think about it, every bit of my spare time I want to go home. Because there’s not much of it, and I just built a house in my hometown so every little bit of spare time I get I want to go home.
Same place you’ve had or a new property?
Same place, I just tore down the original house I was in and built a new one. It’s my favorite beach in the world and there’s no way I’d ever live anywhere else. It’s like heaven to me.
Why is that? What is it about Yallingup? I’ve never been there.
I just love living simply, just the opposite of HB. I like being surrounded by big numbers of people like in these cities, airports and contests — it’s fun in small doses. But I love going home. Home has nice clean water, no people and really good waves.
Didn’t you have a flat in London at one point?
I did have a place in London but it was more for my financial structure. I didn’t spend much time there. I have a lot of interest in passing through cities, but not living there. I still want to do a lot of Europe. I went to Paris and had really good time, that place is sick. I had a lot of fun in New York. I still would like to go to a few places in Europe, like the Mediterranean side, or inland. I’ve only done the contests so I haven’t got to see that much.
I think about it and you’re really a professional traveler, you know? The surfing is almost incidental. You’re just professionally mobile. It’s rad you’re not over it yet. I guess you’d have the whole process pretty handled by now, airports and so on.
It was rough when I qualified; there was no business class when I was first on tour. It’s so funny to see all these young guys traveling business class. But I’m glad I got to go through all that when I was young. Anything over six hours now I travel business class. I have everything pretty much dialed now since I’ve done it so much. I know the best restaurants and places to surf. I travel with a trainer too, which makes it easier on myself.
Do you think about when you’re going to stop contests? Damn, people must ask you that every five minutes. Am I like the fourth person today?
I don’t really know, I think about it all the time. I figure I’ll do a couple more years. I still want to be good enough to shoot a couple video clips after. I don’t know really, but everyone says, “You’d be mad to quit the tour.”
Yeah I guess.
I don’t think anyone’s done the tour as long as me and not had a break. I’ve never had a break. I’ve done it every year. I’ve always been worried that I’m going to struggle to sit still when I go home because I’m so used to being on the move. Even when I go home and spend two weeks there I start to get kind of antsy, like, “Where am I going next? What am I going to do?”
Do you have a plan though, for when you’re done? Done competing, not done surfing.
I’m really keen to do a lot of trips. Obviously I’ve committed to the tour for quite a few years now and I’ve kind of put that stuff to the side. But I really want to shoot surfing so much. The only thing I’m doing is the Billabong project — and they’re interested in inviting some other guys outside of Billabong, which is sick. I really hope to get a dream trip in here soon.
What is a dream trip? Where and with whom?
They asked me and off the top of my head I mentioned a few of my favorite surfers and a couple places to go and they said, “Sweet.” Dane and Kolohe were a couple guys I mentioned because I like to surf with them. Just the best of the best right now. I like the way Julian surfs as well; he’s consistently flaring.
Right about this point in the conversation, Julian was actually about a half-mile away winning the US Open contest. Pretty soon Taj and I we were done talking and he went back to his hotel to have another beer.