Tuesday Oct 06, 2015

Andrew Cotton: What it takes to surf the world's biggest waves

This time last year Andrew Cotton was faced with the harsh reality that he might have to give up his surf career and return to plumbing.

Cotty lost his sponsors and could have called it a day. Instead, one year later, he is celebrating the release of a new film, Behind the Lines: Deeper, and preparing for another winter chasing monster waves around the world.

Now supported by a host of sponsors like Red Bull and Saltrock – he used to be a manager at one of their clothes stores – he is back on the hunt for the biggest waves on the planet. 

We sat down with the man himself to find out exactly what it takes to surf big waves, and whether he can track down the world’s largest…

Check out Andrew Cotton’s web series, Deeper, with new episodes dropping every Friday!

Q. How did you get into surfing?

“I grew up in Devon by the coast. My dad bought me a surf board as a present when I was about seven. That was about it. I just love being in the water.”

Q. What attracted you to big wave surfing?

“It was just a natural progression. I always wanted to have a career in surfing because I loved it but back then a career in surfing was contest surfing. The problem was I was pretty shit at contest surfing!

“But just through travelling and surfing, and like every British surfer does I’d work in the summer and travel in the winter, I just ended up in a few places where there were big waves. When the swell got big my game sort of raised when others maybe dropped."

The consequences are pretty full on. Getting clipped by one of those waves is like getting hit by a truck.

Q. What does it take to ride the biggest waves in the world?

“A lot of it is mindset. You’ve got to really want it and be confident. You can be a really good surfer but if you haven’t got that mind set or that passion to really want it, if you’re not doing it for the right reasons, then that comes across pretty quickly.

“The movie delves into the mindset and the other aspects that make a big wave surfer, other than just the swells. You can’t do these things by yourself. Even when you paddle now the waves are so big and scary a lot of guys have a safety team.

“You can’t physically take that many waves on the head or you’re not going to get very far. I’m really fortunate to have met people, some of my heroes who are now good mates, who now trust me just as much as I trust them.”

Q. How did you go from losing your sponsors to releasing your new movie?

"This time last year I didn’t have any sponsors and there was no film project. When I lost that the reality was that I had kids to support and I needed to get a full time job. It just makes it a bit harder to reach that dream of surfing giant waves.

"Sometimes people say they can’t do it because they don’t have the support, rather than trying to make it happen. We did a crowdfunder. The support was nuts. We got over the target which paid for us to travel to seven swells and film them. Over the winter I got signed with Red Bull as an athlete, which was a major dream come true."

Q. Do you ever get nervous when you're paddling out to a monster swell?

“Nerves are really healthy. It’d be foolish to say I don’t get nervous or I’m not scared because that’s not the case, but it’s about dealing with nerves and fear.

“You’re playing with Mother Nature. One false move and the consequences are pretty full on. Getting clipped by one of those waves is like getting hit by a truck.”

Q. What’s the scariest moment you’ve had out in the surf?

“I’ve never had something where it’s put me off. I’ve had nothing that I haven’t weirdly enjoyed! That’s the exciting thing about surfing – you never know what the next swell will bring or how big it will be or where you’ll be.”

Q. Where is your favourite place to surf big waves?

“My two favourite places have come across in the movie. I truly believe Nazare is where the biggest waves in the world break without a doubt. Then one of my favourite waves is Mullaghmore, Ireland, where I first experienced big waves in Europe. I’ve had some of the best moments, but also some horrific moments there. It’s sort of shaped my surfing.”

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Q. What do your wife and kids think about your surf career?

"They are key. It’s cool sharing these experiences with them. They’ve been coming to Portugal for the last three years. We holiday in Nazare and they love it. It’s given us an opportunity to travel.

“I think maybe once it was big in Portugal when they were there but I don’t think my wife would be that into watching it all unfold. Last year I injured myself and left the session early and just watching your mates do it is hard.

“It’s alright being in there because you feel like you have some control over it but watching is actually quite scary. I wouldn’t want to put Katie through that. My parents have never been either. They watch the footage but that’s when you know the outcome!”

Q. What do you want to achieve in the rest of your career?

“I don’t just want to be the best in Devon or the best in England or the best in Europe. I want to be the best in the world or do stuff that gives me a chance at being the best in the world.

I haven’t surfed the biggest wave in the world yet. I’ve had a couple of close calls but I haven’t done it.

“I still haven’t achieved some of my first goals. I haven’t won an XXL award, I haven’t surfed the biggest wave in the world. I’ve had a couple of close calls but I haven’t done it.

“You just put your heart and soul into it and at the end of the day I can say I did my best.”

Q. You towed Garrett McNamara into the wave he rode which broke the world record. Can you beat his ride?

“Two years ago that was my main focus, I wanted to get the world record and I put my heart and soul into that and that’s all I was interested in – wave height. But last year I put less focus into the biggest waves and more into trying to get more waves and just enjoying it.

“Being part of Garrett’s ride made me realise what was possible. That wasn’t my time. I’m just waiting for one of those waves. You can’t make those things happen.

Some big wave surfers never ever get one wave that will make their career. They are always on the edge of it. I’ve been lucky to have a couple of waves that have put my name out there and I’m fortunate for that. For me that’s not enough though, because I haven’t had that wave I really want."

Q. Do you think this could be the winter?

“The tough thing with big wave surfing is that you never know. It could be out there somewhere and it’s about focus, belief and keeping on top of your equipment. It’s about continually working so when it does come I’m going to be on it.”

Want to WIN a chance to meet Andrew Cotton and spend the day shredding around on a jet-ski? Click here to find out how Saltrock can make it happen!

Cotty surfing closer to home in Devon

Channels: Extreme.com, Surf