Grant “Twig” Baker is best known for his big wave surfing achievements, which include winning the Billabong XXL Biggest Wave award in 2007 (60ft+ Dungeons) and taking first place at the Red Bull Big Wave Africa event (2008).
Grant is also one of South Africa's most progressive kitesurfers, and after watching him tearing apart some waves on a downwind north of Durban - I tracked him down for an interview on kiting, surfing, and what its like to be the local 'man who rides mountains'...
Full name: Grant “Twig” Baker
Who gave you the nickname "Twiggy" and why? It’s a long story but let’s just say I was a skinny little kid with some very mean friends...ha ha
If you could choose a new nickname what would it be? The Trunk....ha ha
If you could give someone a nickname that would stick, who would it be, and what nickname? Well I’ve given a few in my time but “Butty” and “The Wog” stand out.
Years surfing? 25
Years kiting? 12
Kites of choice? I use a mix bag of kites at the moment from my Slingshot 5m and 7m to my Airust 9m and 11m. I love to mess with my equipment and mix up different bars ,lines and leash brands with different kites.
Board of choice? All sorts....I have Cyclone ,Firewire , Baron and Surftech boards which I use in different conditions. I have found that my normal surfing shortboard (6’0”) is what works best for me at the moment and I love to be able to surf in the morning and kite in the afternoon on the same board. Generally the windier it is and the bigger the waves the shorter and heavier the board
Sponsors? Billabong, VZ , Kustom , Nixon and Dakine
Twintip or surfboard? Ha ha
Favourite kite spots? The North Coast of Kwazulu , Mauritius and Madagascar
Ideal conditions? 20 knot wind from the right, low tide, 6ft waves and Kate on the beach.
Whats your favourite thing to do after a long days surfing or kiting? I like to relax on the couch, watch soccer and eat.
I put bread on the table by...(ie do you have a day job or are you 'living the dream')? I am very lucky to be able to combine my work and play so it’s not quite the “dream” but close enough. I am the agent for Billabong and assorted other Brands in KZN for ¾ of the year and the other four months I spend surfing and kiting.
I know there is a lot of skepticism amongst surfers, especially here down the South Coast, about getting into kiting? What made you start? It was an easy decision, I have to be in KZN from August to December selling my ranges and preparing my stores for X-mass and this is the worst time of the year for surfing in the area. On the flip side it’s the best time of the year for kiting and I get all the adrenaline rush I can handle in the amazing conditions we get here during these months.
What's holding a lot of surfers back – ignorance of what they're missing out on, or worried about their image? Would you like to see that change? No, the less crowded the better...ha ha. No, seriously I don’t know what it is but it could be a time issue, if you only have enough time to do one sport then surfing normally wins. But I know quite a few good surfers who are now kiting and ripping at it. Dick Sills, Shaun Holmes and Andrew Carter to name a few.
How did you learn, self taught or lessons? All self taught, I was the first guy in KZN to start kiting in the ocean after a few years on the beach with skis and between Gavin, Alwin and Rob we kind of just bumbled along for a few years trying to work things out between us. The days of two line kites, 7’0” boards and heavy beatings hold some found memories.
What is more addictive, surfing or kiting, or can't you compare? They are both equally as addictive. My year consists of a stint in the USA/ Hawaii in Dec - Feb doing both, then March – May in KZN just surfing, then June – August in Cape Town just surfing and September – November in KZN just kiting. What this does is keep them both fresh and after not doing one or the other for a few months makes it that much better when I get back into it.
What's the biggest wave you have ridden? Well its hard to say what is the biggest but just this Winter in Cape Town I paddled into a +-60ft wave at Dungeons during the Red Bull Big Wave Africa event and a week later towed into a +-70ft wave at “Tafelberg” the outer reef off Hout Bay and these where some of the biggest waves I’ve encountered in my life.
What's the biggest wave you have ridden on a kite? Mmmmm....We’ve done some crazy downwind runs from Durban to Umhlanga over the years and ridden some waves in the 25-30ft (faces) range.
I hear people say things like " If you're gonna kite with a surfboard and catch waves, you might as well just surf, its stupid" What would you say to someone who said that? Is there any truth in it, or are they two different things?
I would say these guys are a bit short sighted ,I started on surfboards and have always loved the feeling of surfing with a kite but I have also done the twintip freestyle thing and actually ended up coming second on the KPWT tour in 2002 and if it wasn’t for some bad injuries I would still be doing the freestyle thing today. So to say that one discipline is “stupid” or better then another is crazy, it’s all kiting and it’s all amazing!!
What sort of training do you do to prepare to tackle bigger surf, mentally and physically?
Mentally I just try not to take things to seriously and to not focus on the negative things that could happen but rather what it’s like to ride big waves and what an amazing experience it is to take on the ocean and nature at its most extreme. On the physical side I just try to be as healthy as possible within my lifestyle and I try to kite, surf ,swim and play soccer at every opportunity. You will never find me in the gym and I would rather incorporate some kind of watersport as a training tool.
Do you have any superstitions, lucky speedo etc? No, I just like to relax and stay as calm as possible before a really big day and take that feeling of relaxed euphoria into the session.
Picture Credits: Alan van Gysen and Greg Ewing (kiting shots)