AROUND THE FIRE WITH TAJ AND CREED

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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.

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