Full Throttle: Taylor Knox

In the bullpen with Brad Gerlach

Taylor Knox is a slasher, just like O.J. Simpson¿only Taylor slashes waves instead of innocent people. Unlike O.J., Taylor Knox is well-liked and the favorite surfer among millions of pros and beginners alike. Taylor’s sheer power and precision put his surfing way ahead of most competitors on the world tour. If you want to learn how to turn the right way, watch Taylor and you’ll learn. If anything, Taylor is America’s Occy, and the world title is coming home. The conversation below is a dialogue between Brad Gerlach and Taylor Knox. Read carefully, you could learn something.¿C.C.

[IMAGE 3]What I want to know is, what goes through your mind when you’re looking at an oncoming section?

Detail. That’s what goes through my mind. I can see little ripples, the way the wind comes off the lip, where I’m going to put my board, if I’m going to put all my weight into it, or if I’m going to climb onto the edge of it and glide right by it.

Yeah. Do you have attitude going into some sections based on how you feel at the time?

Yeah. It’s pretty much based on how I feel. Laughs If I’m pissed off, man, I’m just going into it like, yeeaahh!

Are there other emotions that are going through you when you attack the lip and you’re not pissed off?

My best maneuvers might be done when I’m pissed off, but my best surfing is not done then. I do my best when I have no emotion¿good or bad, I’m just surfing the wave.

I notice you listen to your Walkman a lot, and you also put your towel over your head before your heat. Are you visualizing?

Yep. I do visualization, but not about maneuvers, really. I just picture myself out there in the right spot. Whenever I visualize myself surfing, I seem like I do pretty bad. I’ll think, “It’s a good day for floaters,” and it’s bad. I can’t think that way. I’m a terrible premeditated surfer.[IMAGE 2]You’re one of the most powerful surfers in the world. What do you attribute your powerful style to?

From my youth, from watching videos of good surfing when I was young and coming up with a brilliant group of surfers. I knew they all had their uniqueness, so I wanted to be different than them. I’m with them, but I’m different than them. Power was going to be my thing. At the time tailslides were big, and my favorite surfers were Curren and Richard Cram.

What’s your take on the current Top 44?

I think it’s pathetic. If you look at the ratings of the Top 44 right now, I’d be hard-pressed to say that’s exactly how the talent divides on paper. It’s the best competitor, not the best surfer.

If you could pick the Top 44, would you pick a different group of guys?

I think so laughs.

You won the contest two weeks ago in Durban. Everybody who I talked to said you were absolutely blowing people’s minds. Did you feel like that’s how you like to surf in competition?

I don’t really feel like I did anything different than I do when I’m having fun at my home break. It definitely wasn’t one of my career days. It was just good solid surfing. Instead of doing three-quarter turns, I was doing full turns. I didn’t have to do an aerial 360. I never left the water.

Do you have a favorite turn?

No, but I’m a sucker for barrels. I’ll stick my head in the whitewater.

What is style?

There’re a lot of good styles. Sunny Garcia and Luke Egan have a good style, but they’re completely different. Richie Lovett and Pat O’Connell also have nice styles.

What makes a good style to you?

Good style is a flowing body movement. Low and compact, not straight-legged. Straight up and down, back, throwing pizzas everywhere.

What’s throwing a pizza?

Like when your board’s going down the line, but your head and arms are back toward your tail.

So it’s almost like a fake turn.

You look like a paraplegic in a bathtub.

Laughing That’s good stuff. What do you want to do with your surfing?

My surfing is fine. My boards have gotten really good in e last month.

Talk about that.

I’m riding swallow-tailed channel-bottoms, and I’ve never ridden channel-bottoms.

What are you feeling?

Little bursts of speed. It’s like having a squash tail that goes through all the motions nicely, but then it’s like having a trigger button.

There are some new guys coming up¿who are your favorites?

Parko Joel Parkinson is a great surfer and a terrific athlete. Fred Pattachia and Mick Fanning are both good surfers.

How do you learn from competition surfing? Do you learn from the situation and move on, or do you get stuck on it? I used to dwell on it. If I would lose, it might stick with me for a couple contests. Then I got to where it was a couple days. Now I’m blasting it. I just had two frustrating weeks at Huntington where I wanted to rip my hair out. As long as I’m surfing good and I’m not making major mistakes …

It’s kinda the way the cookie crumbles, you’re looking at it like that?

Yeah. I had no pressure on me from my sponsors to do contests. I’m doing it because I want to do it. I don’t feel complete as a person until I go out and achieve. I’ve won contests, but I have a couple more goals to finish before I want to kick back and just do videos and photo trips.

You have high aspirations for yourself and where you would like to be.

Yeah. I think that I am a realistic person with my goals.

You started working on your surfing at an early stage. That work ethic brought you to where everybody else was, and then you kept working¿you kept getting better and better. Do you see yourself continuing to get better?

I would be a miserable person if I didn’t improve. On the day I just decide I’m not going to improve anymore, that would essentially mean I don’t care. I don’t care, I just want to grab my egg, go out, sit and talk with everyone, and have social hour. I think I’m about 40 years away from that.[IMAGE 1]For all the people out there, how does one become a better surfer?

I guess if you asked Pat O’Connell this question, you’d surf five times a day. I think that by watching waves and judging how you want to approach them, you can improve. For me now, it’s not surfing as much as you can¿it’s a mindset. I see Kelly after not surfing for about three months, go out, and take everybody down. He just wasn’t ready to surf for a while. Then, when he felt the fire in his belly, he could have surfed for three months straight.

What about you? Do you take breaks?

I do now. I never did before. If I was out for two days, I’d lose it. I’d be the grumpiest, most freaked-out person in the world.

I find that hard to believe. What’s a long break for you?

Two weeks would be a long break. It depends on what I’m doing. If it’s off-season, then I might go to the mountains. I never had two weeks where I didn’t have to do something.

Are there maneuvers you don’t do right now that you want to do?

I’d like to kickdown aerials more¿good, clean, fast aerials. Not the ones that project high, but lengthwise. It’s an aerial, but it’s not four feet above the water and covering five feet, it’s two feet above the water and covering ten feet.

Would you be grabbing your rail on those?

Yeah, I’ve tried them. I also think the rodeo flip is cool. I think that it’s insane. There’s a high possibility of you getting hurt doing those things. But this year we’re going to be having a four month off-season, so we’ll be able to do shit like that. Then if you get hurt, you’ll have time to recoup.

What about moves in the water?

I think there’s some stuff I want to try, but I need good waves for that. I need barreling waves. Just some different positions in the barrel, like watching old videos of Dane Kealoha riding short “stick” boards at Backdoor. He could get so far down to the bottom of the wave, really close to the breaking lip, with the explosion never throwing him off. Then he’d get way up onto the wall. If you looked out from the beach, his board’s completely flat on the wall, sideways, and you could see both rails. You’d have to be low with your hands down near both rails.

You’d have to be pretty flexible to do that. Are you flexible?

I’d like to think so.

You say that with a little bit of cockiness. Do you practice yoga?

Yeah.

You’re going to do yoga for life.

The rest of my life. Two things that I’ll do the rest of my life are reading my books, and I’ll go to yoga.

How do you do surf without losing speed?

A lot of it’s your body movement¿in your hips. Groms need to be watching videos, but not trying to copy guys’ styles. When I was coming up, I saw a lot of the young surfers trying to copy style. It held them back so much that they never made it as a pro surfer. They were good, but they didn’t let their own true style come out of themselves because they were trying so hard to be like someone else. Watch the positioning of the guy’s board under his body, but don’t worry so much about where the hands are at. Videotaping yourself every couple weeks can be helpful, too.

What about flexibility issues?

Stretching is always great. Most kids don’t worry about it, because when you’re a kid you’re flexible.

Is it ever too early to start yoga? I was talking to this one kid down at the contest, he said he hurt his back, and he was doing yoga at age eleven.

That’s pretty heavy.

How would you say life is as a professional surfer?

It’s hectic, but beautiful. I flew home from Tahiti for eighteen hours, then turned around and flew back to Fiji. I was so tired by the time that I got to Fiji. We get on the boat to go out to Fiji, and it’s sheet glass. Shane Dorian and I look over at Cloudbreak and it’s twelve-feet, and spitting tubes. I got into a car accident during those eighteen hours I was home¿I was shot. All I wanted to do was go to bed, and I ended up surfing for five hours, getting beat by 30 set waves. But I ended up getting some massive tubes, so it was worth it. It was the best wave I’ve seen in several years. We were freaking out. I’ve noticed when we’ve gone surfing, people kind of perk up and want to do a sick turn in front of you or something.

Yeah, I get people spraying me all the time. The best is groms,like when a twelve year old’s out, and he has you in his sights. He’s flying down the line, all he has to do is just snap in your face, and he’s checking his spray out like, “Did I hit him? Yeah!” It’s rad, I dig it. It doesn’t bum me out at all. Bring it on.

What do you think is the perfect age for a surfer?

Thirty-four. I think that’s when guys peak. I used to think 28, but …

You just turned 28, right?

I just turned 29.

So you kind of feel like you’re coming into your own?

I think I’ll be peaking in about three or four years. I don’t know. It just depends on how motivated I get.

Do you think everyone’s different with their peaking time?

Yeah. It depends on how much you abuse your body. If you eat burgers, don’t stretch and work out, that’s when you hit 33 and you’re on your way out. I think pro surfers should have twenty-year careers. They should compete from age eighteen to 38.

Would you say there’s less demand on your body with surfing than there is with basketball or baseball?

Way less. There are 40-year-old baseball and basketball players.

Karl Malone was the NBA MVP the year before last, and he was 35.

Those guys take way more abuse. They’re not as flexible as surfers, and they get beat. They’re getting hit a lot.

Would you say you’re hot when you’re young, but you’re not so hot when you’re older?

That’s all wrong. A Trevor Hoffman fan is going to be a Trevor Hoffman fan until the day he quits. Tony Gwynn is 40 years old, and there’re fans who root for him, watch his every move, and will be Tony Gwynn fans until they die. There are going to be Kelly Slater fans until the day he quits. It doesn’t matter, because they’re going to grow up with him. There are still rd’s completely flat on the wall, sideways, and you could see both rails. You’d have to be low with your hands down near both rails.

You’d have to be pretty flexible to do that. Are you flexible?

I’d like to think so.

You say that with a little bit of cockiness. Do you practice yoga?

Yeah.

You’re going to do yoga for life.

The rest of my life. Two things that I’ll do the rest of my life are reading my books, and I’ll go to yoga.

How do you do surf without losing speed?

A lot of it’s your body movement¿in your hips. Groms need to be watching videos, but not trying to copy guys’ styles. When I was coming up, I saw a lot of the young surfers trying to copy style. It held them back so much that they never made it as a pro surfer. They were good, but they didn’t let their own true style come out of themselves because they were trying so hard to be like someone else. Watch the positioning of the guy’s board under his body, but don’t worry so much about where the hands are at. Videotaping yourself every couple weeks can be helpful, too.

What about flexibility issues?

Stretching is always great. Most kids don’t worry about it, because when you’re a kid you’re flexible.

Is it ever too early to start yoga? I was talking to this one kid down at the contest, he said he hurt his back, and he was doing yoga at age eleven.

That’s pretty heavy.

How would you say life is as a professional surfer?

It’s hectic, but beautiful. I flew home from Tahiti for eighteen hours, then turned around and flew back to Fiji. I was so tired by the time that I got to Fiji. We get on the boat to go out to Fiji, and it’s sheet glass. Shane Dorian and I look over at Cloudbreak and it’s twelve-feet, and spitting tubes. I got into a car accident during those eighteen hours I was home¿I was shot. All I wanted to do was go to bed, and I ended up surfing for five hours, getting beat by 30 set waves. But I ended up getting some massive tubes, so it was worth it. It was the best wave I’ve seen in several years. We were freaking out. I’ve noticed when we’ve gone surfing, people kind of perk up and want to do a sick turn in front of you or something.

Yeah, I get people spraying me all the time. The best is groms,like when a twelve year old’s out, and he has you in his sights. He’s flying down the line, all he has to do is just snap in your face, and he’s checking his spray out like, “Did I hit him? Yeah!” It’s rad, I dig it. It doesn’t bum me out at all. Bring it on.

What do you think is the perfect age for a surfer?

Thirty-four. I think that’s when guys peak. I used to think 28, but …

You just turned 28, right?

I just turned 29.

So you kind of feel like you’re coming into your own?

I think I’ll be peaking in about three or four years. I don’t know. It just depends on how motivated I get.

Do you think everyone’s different with their peaking time?

Yeah. It depends on how much you abuse your body. If you eat burgers, don’t stretch and work out, that’s when you hit 33 and you’re on your way out. I think pro surfers should have twenty-year careers. They should compete from age eighteen to 38.

Would you say there’s less demand on your body with surfing than there is with basketball or baseball?

Way less. There are 40-year-old baseball and basketball players.

Karl Malone was the NBA MVP the year before last, and he was 35.

Those guys take way more abuse. They’re not as flexible as surfers, and they get beat. They’re getting hit a lot.

Would you say you’re hot when you’re young, but you’re not so hot when you’re older?

That’s all wrong. A Trevor Hoffman fan is going to be a Trevor Hoffman fan until the day he quits. Tony Gwynn is 40 years old, and there’re fans who root for him, watch his every move, and will be Tony Gwynn fans until they die. There are going to be Kelly Slater fans until the day he quits. It doesn’t matter, because they’re going to grow up with him. There are still Brad Gerlach and Tom Curren fans. There are still people who go, “Right on, man! I’m behind you!” They want to see you win.

Is there anything you want to say to your fans?

Thanks for your support. I’ve tried to give as much of myself as possible to everyone who’s come up to me. I’m sorry if you came up to me on a day when I just couldn’t give myself. But I’m sure that the next time you do, I’ll be there. I don’t want any kid out there to think I’m not approachable. I’ll probably notice you before you notice me.ill Brad Gerlach and Tom Curren fans. There are still people who go, “Right on, man! I’m behind you!” They want to see you win.

Is there anything you want to say to your fans?

Thanks for your support. I’ve tried to give as much of myself as possible to everyone who’s come up to me. I’m sorry if you came up to me on a day when I just couldn’t give myself. But I’m sure that the next time you do, I’ll be there. I don’t want any kid out there to think I’m not approachable. I’ll probably notice you before you notice me.