There’s no denying Taj Burrow’s amazing career in the singlet. But with his recent retirement announcement, we thought this would be a good time to ask Senior Lensman Steve Sherman to dig up some of his favorite Taj moments. No one has spent more time around the WCT than Sherm — so it’s only fair we ask him to reflect a little on what some of his favorite images. As you can see, Sherm’s quite the storyteller. —Peter Taras
This is probably one of my most famous portraits. It was shot in 1999 for TransWorld Surf as the first in a series of Mark Seliger style shoots I did for them. Chris Cote and I came up with the concept of turning Taj into the movie character Mad Max, so I flew to Hawaii with some old football shoulder pads, my punk rock jacket and some black leather pants. When I explained the idea, I’m pretty sure he thought I was out of my mind. But Taj trusted me, so we grabbed the bag of gear, a sack full of dirt (for makeup!) and headed to an old car graveyard on the East Side. Taj got into the role and gave his all for the shoot, which lasted about 45 minutes. I’m sure he’d never done anything like that before, but it was the perfect way to introduce him to the American surfing public. Taj later told me he dug the way it came out. It was a total success.
In March of 2005, I flew to Australia to shoot a cover for SURFING Magazine. It coincided with the first event of year on the ASP Tour, so everyone was around. The idea was to get all the Generation Now boys together for a group photo. You can image the logistical nightmare of getting everybody in the same place at the same time. Somehow, a miracle occurred and all the boys showed up on time. I could tell that Taj realized how important this photo was going to be. I shot for about 45 minutes then called it a wrap and just like that, they all split in different directions.
This is Taj with coach and trainer Johnny Gannon at the Quiksilver Pro in New York in 2011. Taj had just been beaten in the last seconds of a Quarterfinal heat with Kelly Slater. It seems like Kelly was Taj’s Achilles’ heel. I could tell that it really wears on him. He wants to win! Taking images like this are always a bit of a risk — especially when you’re friends with the subject — but I think they show the passion and the drama of pro surfing.
I was at J-Bay in 2014, and I asked Taj if I could come over and shoot a few images of him at his apartment overlooking the point. When I got over there, I noticed this note pinned up on his bathroom mirror. He put it up so that it’s what he saw when he woke up every morning and looked in the mirror. He seemed a little bit embarrassed when he saw me shoot it. He didn’t end up winning the event, by the way.
This was shot in Japan in 1999, during The Marui Pro. It was his second year on tour and he’d won Rookie of the Year in his first. When I was covering the WCT event in France that year, my wife Pam was back at home, 8 months pregnant with our son who we had not yet named. Late one night, I drunkenly called her from a pay phone in Hossegor and said, “Pam, we have name the baby Taj! He killing it over here. He’s surfing soooo good and he’s always got a beautiful French woman on his arm!” All she said was “That’s a good name. OK!” So my son Taj is as old a Taj Burrow’s World Tour Career.
This one of my favorite surf shots I’ve ever taken of Taj. It was 1998 in Cabarita, Australia. There was no swell on the Goldy, so they moved ASP World Tour event up the coast to this beautiful cove. I shot this image with Nikon FM2 with a 50-year-old, manual focus Century 650 lens and T-Max 3200 film. I love this image because the lens and the film make a modern surf move look retro. I think Taj made the Semis in this event — he was surfing fast and loose as always.