Photos by Xandi Crusader & Tim Hain
Around Bali, you see Tai “Buddha” Graham pretty much everywhere: in the lineup, on Facebook, Instagram, and LifeWithout Andy, in the surf mags, at surf parties, MC-ing contests and film fests, scoring outer island reefs, perusing trade shows, lounging in coffee shops, outside corner Uluwatu… he’s here, there and everyone at once. But for all this visibility, it’s hard to pin down exactly what he does.
Or rather, what he doesn’t do.
Graham used to play host to Bali’s hippest underground surfer-party, Black Dog. But since that’s shut down, he now owns the new Single Fin surf shop/restaurant/bar overlooking Uluwatu (best sunset Bintang on the island). He’s the brand ambassador/sales rep guy for the newly launched O’Neill Asia. He’s also winning contests, doing video sections, drumming in the background of Ozzy Wright’s Innersection part, playing bass for visiting bands, catching the biggest wave you’ve ever seen on the head at Nias and generally just getting shacked every time there’s a decent swell. He’s surely busy…and yet he seems to be.
The Kiwi-born, Aussie-raised, Mauri-looking, Bali-vibing Graham grew up party here, party there, and partly nowhere, and dates a Norwegian. Surfs his ass off. Jams with several bands. And is always somewhere near the epicenter of the party.
Baffled yet? Well, fortunately he’s not a hard man to find.
SURFING: What the hell, Tai? Are you a pro surfer? I can’t figure it out?
TAI GRAHAM: Ha! Nah, not really. All my friends are, and I love going on trips with them. For a while I was chasing that program, but now I’m just keeping the dream alive. At a certain point I realized if you’re not getting cover shots or winning World Tour events, I needed to develop a career where I could still live near perfect waves and go on surf trips all the time. This seems to be working out pretty well. I’ve been on ten good trips this year and haven’t had to sign a single autograph.
Well, you can understand my confusion, since I keep seeing you on the victory stand at various contests? Didn’t you just win that thing at G-Land?
Ah, that was a pretty small local deal. It’s called the Put Up or Shut Up Challenge, so everyone puts in their own money and the winner takes all. It’s only $100 per person, but sounds like more if you say it’s a million rupiah per person.
What’s the format on that thing?
It’s pretty much just a freesurf. Everyone paddles out at the same time and then just surfs. It’s over when the last guy paddles in. That was me. I stayed out there six hours. I was so sunburned, so tired and so cold – that was the coldest Indo session I’ve ever had – but the waves were so go I just couldn’t stop.
Were you surprised when you won?
A little bit, yeah. I’d already had a pretty crazy week of surfing, so in the morning when it was huge and I was just super tired and sunburned already, I was thinking I’d just try to go out and get one good one. But then it turned on and I ended up catching, like, 20 or something.
Why were you so tired?
Well, the day before we did this crazy thing where we surfed every single wave on the Bukit Peninsula – from Honeymoons at the bottom to pretty big Outside Corner at the top. It was a 12-hour day of surfing off of a boat with no protection from the sun. On the way back in a wave hit us and sunk the boat I’d rented, so I was up half the night just dealing with that stuff. Then came straight over to G-Land for this thing. Pretty non-stop.
So, when you won, was your first thought that you could pay back the boat you sank?
I actually got a text from the boat’s owner right after I won. He says, “Congratulations, when are you back so I can pick up my money?”
You beat Wardo out there too – any good Ward Stories from the event?
He was actually really mellow and cruisy out there. After he won the Padang contest he went to Lakey Peak, then Supers, then Scars Reef, then Desert Point and then came to G-Land. That’s pretty much all the best lefts in Indo, so maybe he was getting a bit numb to it all.
Now there’s a guy with an interesting job description.
Yeah, seriously. Why are you interviewing me?
You were a lot easier to find.