Taj Burrow spent nearly two decades on tour, surrounded by fellow competitors and congenial locals — people so close he considered them family. Then, not long ago, he met a girl and they made a girl — Arabella Rose, now 11 months — and something changed. Home was harder to leave, contests much easier. His tour family couldn’t compete with his new family; Arabella Rose was growing up and he wanted to be there. It was time to hang up the jersey. Soon after Taj announced his retirement to the world, 17-year-old Jake Marshall announced his arrival. Not with a press conference, but in the same manner that so many of his heroes have in the past — with an NSSA Nationals Open Mens win.

One star fades, another is born. Mufasa, Simba, circle of life, etc. It’s happened before and it’ll happen again. But Taj and Jake are happening right now, so we talked to them, with their respective wisdom and reflection, gusto and hope. Both were in California. Both were unquestionably content. —Taylor Paul

Taj Burrow:

SURFING: HAS FATHERHOOD BEEN EVERYTHING YOU EXPECTED?

Not really. It’s a lot more than I expected — more incredible. Before we had our daughter, every friend that’s a parent was telling me how insane it is and I was just like, “Yeah, yeah. That’s cool. You’ve got kids.” And now that I’ve experienced it, it’s just the greatest thing in my life. Me and my girl still look at our baby girl and just can’t believe that we created a little human that’s just tagging along with us now. It’s the most bizarre thing. I couldn’t be happier.

DID THE BIRTH OF YOUR DAUGHTER PLAY A BIG ROLE IN YOUR RETIREMENT? LIKE, DID IT MAKE YOU FEEL LIKE MAYBE COMPETITION WASN’T AS IMPORTANT AS YOU THOUGHT IT WAS?

I think that had a huge part in it. It definitely puts things in perspective. After we had our baby I was still going to events and sometimes they didn’t come with me. And just being gone for a week while our little girl was growing and changing, I felt like I was missing out. It made me want to slow things down and spend more time with them. That’s probably when I started thinking about wrapping things up on tour and living a normal life.

WHAT WAS YOUR FAVORITE MOMENT FROM YOUR TIME ON TOUR?

Man, it’s hard to pick one over the course of a couple of decades. Looking back, I think just being there while Kelly and Andy were battling for titles, some of those heats were just monumental. I think of one in particular, when Kelly and Andy were both in the final at Pipe and whoever placed higher would win the world title. It was the end of the heat and Kelly and Andy were fully jostling for position on the takeoff and Andy got it, went Backdoor, got a 10, and won the title and the Pipe Masters. I get goose bumps just thinking about it. I was a title contender with those guys, but they were such good surfers and competitors and had such an overpowering presence, I just felt honored to be amongst it.

IT’S INTERESTING THAT ONE OF YOUR FAVORITE MOMENTS WAS ONE THAT YOU WEREN’T EVEN A PART OF.

Yeah, I know…that’s just something that stands out to me when it comes to my time on tour. Obviously, all my contest wins were my greatest highlights, but when it comes to a moment in professional surfing, that was one that really stands out.

J-BAY JUST STARTED YESTERDAY. YOU’RE IN CALIFORNIA. IS THAT WEIRD?

That was always the greatest fear — pulling the pin and then being freaked out when the next event rolls around. Like, “Damn, did I do the right thing?” But I don’t miss it one bit. I caught some round 1 highlights this morning and I liked watching it and seeing who was ripping, but I have no FOMO whatsoever.

AFTER THE BUILT-IN STRUCTURE OF TOUR, DO YOU FEEL LIKE YOU NEED TO CREATE SOMETHING FOR YOURSELF NOW THAT THE CONTEST REGIMEN IS DONE?

After 20 years of being programmed to travel every couple of weeks, it’s hard to say what this next chapter will bring. But I’m looking forward to the freedom. Obviously, just being a human being, you have to do something to keep you sane. I’m going to be doing surf trips, doing photos and video and whatever, chasing some swells and not missing any good days at home. My No. 1 goal is to just get some good surf away from the tour. I’m done freesurfing with the best 32 guys in the world [laughs].

OK, SO YOU WON’T MISS THE CUTTHROAT LINEUPS. WHAT WILL YOU MISS FROM TOUR LIFE?

I’m gonna miss the people that have become my extended family at all the tour stops around the world. And all my friends from the tour. I’m starting to realize that I’m not going to see them that much, and it’s kinda sad. It hit me when there was a bit of celebrating for me in Fiji, and then my girl organized a surprise party for me in Sydney. All my friends on tour just went above and beyond to celebrate with me and I just didn’t expect it. It was the best couple of weeks of my life.

ANYTHING ELSE?

I’ll probably miss the prize money. It’s pretty good [laughs].

IN ADDITION TO THIS INTERVIEW, WE’RE TALKING TO JAKE MARSHALL ABOUT HIS HOPES AND DREAMS FOR HIS CAREER, WHICH IS JUST STARTING TO RAMP UP. WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE HIM?

The one thing I always say is that you should surf everything, not just what you enjoy, and surf it regularly. Everyone’s got their strengths, but I notice that if you just stick to them, life can be difficult for you tour. You should try and get good in all areas. If you’re not as good in big, backside tubes, commit to going to Fiji or Teahupo’o for a couple of weeks. Post up and work on your weakness. I never used to like riding bigger boards. All I wanted to do were tailslides and airs and reverses. So when it came to going to Hawaii and riding a 7’6”, I was like, “I’m not into this.” It took me quite a few years to get my head around the fact that I needed to be able to do it all. Then I got more of a taste for it and realized how cool it was to ride a big board and swing it around at Sunset or whatever. It was like an acquired taste, surfing those kind of waves. So that’s what I’d recommend — do it all and love it all.

Jake Marshall:

SURFING: WE ASKED TAJ BURROW TO GIVE YOU ADVICE, SINCE YOU’RE JUST STARTING OUT YOUR PRO CAREER. HE SAID YOU SHOULD “DO IT ALL AND LOVE IT ALL,” MEANING THAT YOU SHOULD FIND YOUR WEAKNESSES AND THROUGH TRYING TO IMPROVE THEM, ACTUALLY LEARN TO LOVE THAT ASPECT OF SURFING. HOW DOES THAT RESONATE WITH YOU?

That sounds like great advice. I’ve been trying to take note of that kind of stuff, because I know some of my weaknesses and want to improve them. Just last year I went to Tahiti three times because I wanted to work on backside barrels in bigger waves. Once you get on the tour, all your weaknesses will be exposed.

WHAT’S IT MEAN TO YOU TO WIN THE NSSA NATIONALS OPEN MENS TITLE?

I started doing NSSAs when I was 7, and I remember watching Nat and Kolohe winning Open Mens. Now they are on the tour, and it seems like a lot of guys who won that title have gone on to be successful, so it means a lot to me. Winning that title gives me a lot of confidence moving into my professional career, which is always a huge thing to have on your side.

WHAT WILL YOUR NEXT FEW YEARS LOOK LIKE?

I don’t want to force anything, but now that I’m done with my amateur career I’m gonna start to do the QS pretty seriously this year. Hopefully by the end of this year I’m in the 6-Stars, or the best-case scenario would be the Primes. Ideally I’d qualify in the next two to four years. A lot of the guys who qualify around 20 or 22 seem to need less time to adjust than the guys who qualify at 17 or 18. Obviously, there are exceptions like Filipe and Gabby, who came on and started winning stuff right away, but I look at someone like Conner as a career path I’d like to follow. He qualified a little later than some of his peers but now that he’s on, his surfing looks like it belongs there.

WHAT ARE YOUR LONG-TERM GOALS?

I would be really stoked to win a world title, that’s what the end goal is. At the same time, I’m not in a position to treat that as a current goal. Right now, I just want to get better at surfing.

HOW DO YOU PREPARE FOR A LONG CAREER?

I believe physical training is really important, so I do a lot of that to try to get my body in really good shape. I’ve always been kinda skinny, so I’m trying to put some weight on so I can match some of the guys on the QS and CT. Besides that, I’ve been trying to fill some gaps in my surfing, like backside barrel riding and all categories, really. The best surfers eventually rise to the top so I’m super focused on improving across the board.

WHAT DO YOU THINK OF SOME OF YOUR PEERS WHO ARE ALREADY ON THE CT, OR DAMN CLOSE TO IT?

I look at guys like Leo and Kanoa having tons of success on the QS and CT, and it makes me realize how attainable that goal is. Like, I was just surfing against those guys a year or two ago, and now they’re on top of the world. That’s super inspiring to me, and it makes me want to push even harder to catch up to them.

Photographers: Chris Papaleo, Nicola Lugo, Layne Stratton



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