Big wave surfing is a combination of a lot of things. Things far more complicated than any land locked sport could possibly understand. Aspects that signify a harmony with nature and razor sharp intuition. Big wave surfing demands presence with your entire being, to separate yourself from this plugged in world and hand that control over to Mother Nature herself. 34 year old Braunton native, Andrew Cotton knows this feeling all too well. With a little bit of luck and a lifetime of skill and planning, Andrew conquered the biggest wave of his career earlier this year and plans to keep raising the bar.
“You have to raise the bar in big wave surfing. There always needs to be a higher obstacle to achieve.”
What struck me most about Andrew was how incredibly humble he is. After learning more about his undeniable spirit and sheer motivation that have carried him to one of the highest points (literally) in his career, it is hard to doubt the potential for Andrew’s future. With any sport there is a complicated dynamic of skill and drive that push the athlete forward, and after discussing many of these factors, it is obvious that surfing pushes these aspects to the limit.
Andrew and I were able to chat about times when the waves weren’t so big and the 62 foot giant in Nazare, Portugal was only a dream.
I have surfed my entire life and like any kid wanted to be a pro surfer. As life goes other things come into focus, but surfing was always there. Big wave surfing developed slowly. It clearly isn’t the easiest route, but every decision I have ever made has been aimed towards becoming a better surfer.
What is your greatest achievement?
Never giving up. You get so much life advice from people who haven’t got a clue about it. Life could have gone in a different direction at any point. I have always maintained a bigger picture. It takes a thick skin to stand firm in your passions.
You also have a few regular jobs. How do you balance the 9-5 and a career in surfing?
My family has always been incredibly supportive. My wife and kids inspire me to surf more, to be better, to try harder. People are so quick to point out the negatives of family and marriage, but contrary to their opinions, my family has helped me focus on what really matters to me. The support helps my wife Katie and I balance, we hold each other accountable to reach our goals and live our passions.
What does it take internally to achieve what seems impossible?
A strong unwavering belief. That’s what makes surfing so hard. The wave can happen at any point and you need to be ready. You have to be ready despite the bad day or the head cold, that’s just the way life goes. Sometimes it lines up and sometimes it doesn’t. And then sometimes things come together like they did for me.
Would you say surfing takes a little luck? To be at the right place at the right time? Do you make your own luck?
My Mom always said I was the unluckiest kid. I was constantly injured and getting caught for everything. This lack of luck showed me the power of resiliency. Nazare differed, it was much more specific and intentional. I was patient and focused, I wanted to be ready for it.
What would you say to someone on the days when you just want to stay in?
You don’t achieve if you stay in. I injured my knee a few months ago and faced this temptation on a daily basis. After 30 minutes of warming up on a stationary bike my knee felt fine. I kept training with care towards my injury, when the easiest thing to do would have been to say “I’m not training my knee hurts.” It’s the same thing with where you live, and pursuing your goals. Everyone clings to their comfort zone. I don’t want to be 50 in the pub and talking about what could have been. No one should live with that kind of regret.
Career surfers like yourself seem to have no fear. How do you turn off that fear switch?
It’s not really like a switch, you’re crazy if there isn’t some level of fear. I think of it more as a factor of raising the bar every single time. 4ft waves seem scary to start and then after some time 6ft waves seem scary. You have to push that element. I think that’s why big wave surfers are always a little bit older it takes time to get there, and a sense of maturity to know you can get through it.
I find a lot of inspiration through others who have lived this experience. Guys in the game like Garrett McNamara have taught me how to never give up, how to focus, and be patient. I think I would have given up a long time ago without mentors like these in it with me.
Anyone who has ever told me to get a day job. You get told this all the time especially when you are young. Saying that to anyone kills those little dreams and passions. I like to think of it as an ‘F You’ look what I can do instead.
Andrew is the definition of dedication. He is an inspiration to anyone wondering if they can do it too. As far as the future goes Andrew has a few more personal achievements to conquer from finding new spots to paddling more big waves. All of this combined with an openness to what the future may hold seems to be the recipe for success for this big wave talent.