AROUND THE FIRE WITH TAJ AND CREED
Taj Burrow is sitting next to me wearing that trademark Cheshire grin – the kind you couldn’t wipe off with a well-swung cricket bat. As far as life lotteries go Taj’s numbers definitely came up but he never seems like he takes his good fortune for granted.
“Wow, look at the ocean,” he enthuses, as we stare towards rogue peaks in the distance from atop a storybook-green, New Zealand headland. The view is undeniably spectacular but beyond that, Taj’s voice carries all the wonderment of a child who has laid eyes on the sea for the first time. His optimism is so infectious you find yourself shelving petty concerns and feeling better by way of osmosis.
Over the past few days Taj has led the charge on the pool table, coerced our tenstrong crew into a diabolical drinking game and held court with colourful tales from tour life – including the truth about his own J-Bay, Great White encounter.
Of course the airs, impossible tube exits, the finners and the generosity of spirit with random fans are all part of the Taj package – along with a perennial desire to surf his next wave better than his last. All this gushing prose may sound a little sycophantic, but for a surfer to maintain a position at the cutting edge of competition and free surfing for two decades there has to be an underlying reason. Taj’s talent is undeniable, but his real gift is in being able to make every moment fun and get along with the people he meets along the way.
As I write Taj is about to have his own grommet and I hope he can keep up – the kid I mean – because although Taj admits he may not be trying to fly as high as Fil’ Toledo, he’s not really slowing down. He’s still got more positive fizz than a fridge full of shaken Fantas, it’s just all being released in slightly different directions.
In our interview Taj and I speak for the better part of an hour before his fingers grow twitchy and he starts talking excitedly about the bonfire he has to light for the crew before the bitter New Zealand night sets in. Soon he is carefully arranging the kindling, blowing gently to cultivate that first flicker and finally wearing a smile of pride, as tongues of yellow flames dance before him. As Taj derives pure joy from his bonfire project, it’s like witnessing the best boy scout earn his stripes. He really is the ultimate 37-year-old-grommet.
Later that evening, beside the same fire that Taj had lit earlier, Creed McTaggart wails husky, red wine-infused lyrics into the cold night air. It’s an impromptu performance, born of some raw desire for self expression – the sort of unrestrained howl at the moon that says ‘I don’t really give a damn what you think of my singing because I’m just doing my thing.’
Like his surfing, Creed’s act on land is at once flamboyant, creative and a little unpredictable. However, the volatilities of temperament and wave riding are both anchored by an underlying smoothness in and out of the water. It’s the constant that allows him to take risks, safe in the knowledge that there is a solid surfing base and strength of character to return to.
Although both served their surfing apprenticeships in cavernous, Indian Ocean swells and were moulded by the same wild-streaked locals in the continent’s southwest, Taj and Creed are of a different breed and the waves they share a passion for have led them down separate paths. Maybe you will relate more to one of them than the other, but I’m sure you’ll agree they both have an interesting story to tell.