2014 has been an incredible year for Tom Butler’s surfing career including winning the Fistral Beach Night Surf Event earlier this year.
We got the chance to chat to him about his year and where the waves have taken him on his journey around the surfing world.
Coming from Newquay in the UK where there are not huge waves Tom said, “I learnt to surf in fun sized waves at Fistral Beach when I was 10 years old I started standing up on the board and I’m now 25”.
Getting out there and travelling to some of the rawest most powerful and scary breaking waves across the world over the last 4 years has developed my big wave skills. Tom lives by the ideal that If you want something bad enough and it isn’t right on your door step then you must be prepared to go the extra step and chase your dreams.
Tom’s current location is Nazare in Portugal, a fairly sleepy fishing town 120 kilometres north of Lisbon. What definitely isn’t sleepy in Nazare is the wave that breaks off the town’s beach.
Tom continued, “Here in Nazare, I can surf some of the biggest breaking waves on earth and last week I rode one of the biggest waves surfed here this year. I will continue to base myself in Nazare for the remaining European winter ahead as the winter storms bring in the huge waves. Added to this challenge is the cold weather we are surfing in, Portugal is a breeze in comparison to a big wave session over in Ireland in the middle of February where I’ve often launched the jet ski in the snow to go tow in surfing on the huge reef breaks of Irelands west coast”.
The equipment his sponsors have supplied means coping with the cold is easy enough. Keeping really fit and making sure you stretch a lot avoids injury in the cold when the big waves land on your back.
Tow in surfing is chasing a huge wave using a jet ski and a rope when the waves become too fast and big to paddle your way into.
The Jet ski driver will follow the selected wave keeping the jet ski and rider on the tow in rope just in front of the big wave that is forming. At the correct time the surfer let’s the handle go and has the speed to ride the wave. The job of the jet ski driver at this point is to drop off the back of the wave being surfed and get ready to collect the rider at the end of the wave.
If the rider falls, the jet ski driver must perform a pick up rescue, hopefully before the next wave lands on top of the surfer who is then swimming in between the waves. The driver of the ski offers the left hand to the surfer, swimmer at this point and hoists the surfer onto the foam rescue sled attached to the back of the jet ski. All the time keeping the right hand on the throttle of the Jet Ski driving away from the next big waves behind, along with the rescued surfer. This is the ideal “pick up”, although many variables can happen.
Big wave surfing isn’t a sport that you learn over night Tom has been surfing for 15 year’s and driving the Jet Ski in waves for five years. A lot of preparation has gone into making his decisions and actions safe and well timed!
Tom teamed up with and travel to surf the big waves with a German rider called Sebastian Steudtner who is a bit older and has passed on a lot of his experience.
Like Newquay, Germany isn’t renowned for big waves or any waves! Sebastian stepped well out of his comfort zone and learnt the art of big wave surfing on the Hawaiian Island of Maui. The expertise and skills Sebastian has passed onto Tom speeded up his progression in the sport.
Tom concluded, “More storms will continue to pile into the European coastline and I’m very excited and focused to continue going bigger”.
Below is a clip of Tom and Sebastian chasing some big waves in Portugal.