BLOOD BROTH­ERS -

TAI GRA­HAM AND HIS KIWI ROOTS.

New Zealand Surfing - - FRONT PAGE -

They look Kiwi, act Kiwi and usu­ally sound Kiwi, and that’s be­cause deep down within while they may have been born off­shore and grown up over­seas they still recog­nise their roots and stay true to who they are. They are our ‘Blood Broth­ers’ could also be sis­ters, but this is­sue we will fea­ture a brother.

If you have logged onto any surf con­test web commentary in re­cent times and heard the com­men­ta­tor be­ing broad­cast, you may have no­ticed one of the MC’S pump­ing the kiwi lads and girls at each con­test a lit­tle more than oth­ers. That guy is Tai Gra­ham and from the mo­ment I laid eyes on Tai at the O’neill Cold Water Clas­sic held in Gis­borne this year, I could tell he was one of the broth­ers, so had a bit of a chat and here we are pre­sent­ing his life story, as a ‘Blood Brother’.

Born and raised on the Gold Coast, Tai re­alised early on that he was dif­fer­ent to all the other kids around him, his dad a Maori lad from Pawarenga North­land had re­belled and run away to the Goldy as a teenager, he then met Tai’s mum who was from Eng­land and to­gether they had a fam­ily.

One of Tai’s ear­li­est mem­o­ries as a small child was his dad watch­ing the All Blacks and bust­ing out a solo Haka in front of ev­ery­one, he was proud of his her­itage, and wanted Tai to know what he was made of as well. Nick­nam­ing him “Maori Boy” around the house, that was his name, and he very rarely called him Tai. Grow­ing up in the Gold Coast school­ing sys­tem saw Tai grav­i­tate to­ward the other few Maori boys that went to school in the area and they would hang out. Tai re­calls that those mates were real hories, of the like he had never seen be­fore, that wore the same school clothes all week long. That was un­til he came to New Zealand on his first ever trip home to visit his sick Grandma for sev­eral months. On that trip he felt re­ally at home and com­fort­able as soon as he met his fam­ily, one thing he couldn’t be­lieve was how many aun­ties, un­cles and cousins he had. He learnt the Haka, stayed on the Marae and kicked it with his cousins play­ing rugby and gen­er­ally fool­ing around. From then on, trips back to New Zealand be­came reg­u­lar as his dad was re­ally miss­ing his fam­ily.

Back home Tai’s dad re­ally pushed the roots, start­ing up cul­tural groups and even a busi­ness called Hangi Jacks where they would put down Hangi’s for lo­cal footy clubs and on Wai­tangi Day. Grow­ing up only 20 me­tres away from the beach his par­ents were al­ways down kick­ing it on the sand, so it was only nat­u­ral that Tai would give surf­ing a crack and at around four years old stood up on a board for the first time. It was a short lived mo­ment how­ever and he never re­ally kicked on at a young age, in fact he grew up to hate surfers and was right into his league, a tra­di­tion passed down from his fa­ther and un­cles. So at five he got into his league mov­ing through the grades till he was train­ing five days a week, play­ing for school­boys, club and rep footy. He ad­mits he was a lit­tle homie hang­ing out at shop­ping cen­tres, dress­ing in baggy pants. His sis­ter was go­ing out with a surfer and she would give him shit, then at about 12 years old he gave Tai a surf­board.

A few years prior to this Tai’s par­ents had split and his mother had moved away to Bali, his dad recog­nis­ing that he had some tal­ent wanted him to stay liv­ing on the Coast to pur­sue his ca­reer in League, as he had shown some prom­ise and was se­lected to play for rep teams and picked up a schol­ar­ship. It was strange for a young boy to be away from his mum, but ev­ery school hol­i­days he would head over to Bali and also dab­bled in a bit of surf­ing there. His Mum would drop him down at Padma Beach ev­ery morn­ing where he would hang out with the likes of Made Kasim, Betet, Mar­lon and more and he got into the cir­cle of surf­ing.

At around 15 years old he re­turned from one Bali trip hooked on surf­ing and broke the news to his dad that he was done with league and was gonna quit. His dad tried to talk him into play­ing one more sea­son, and said that some bloke down the club would buy him a surf­board if he played one more. In true Maori style, Tai said “Sweet as, but he has to give me the surf­board first” he took the board and was out of there, and never went to a sin­gle train­ing.

He was now a surfer and that’s all he wanted to do. Through his league days he had be­come good mates with Jay “Bot­tle” Thomp­son and Bot­tle was into surf­ing, so they nat­u­rally started hang­ing out. Within a few years of in­tense surf­ing Tai had ex­celled to a level, that up against the likes of Bot­tle, Bede Dur­bridge and Luke Munro all surfers that went on to surf on the World Tour. He won the Gold Coast U18 Ti­tle and his dad then said, “lis­ten boy, you should have a bit of a crack at this surf­ing gig.” So Tai started do­ing the ju­nior se­ries and at­tracted spon­sors, pick­ing up a few semi fi­nals and some re­spectable WQS re­sults in Ozzie and Ja­pan. In the end he was spend­ing more than he was mak­ing so pulled pin on that ca­reer and sim­ply headed to Bali to surf per­fect waves and have fun. Tai was get­ting a small amount of cash from his spon­sors at the time, but to pay the bills he started plas­ter­ing with his dad, and when there was no surf he’d go hard, then have time off when the swell kicked in or a trip came up.

At 20 years old he de­cided to go it alone with a mate in the plas­ter­ing busi­ness, so with some ad­vice, tips and con­tacts from his old man they launched a sweet lit­tle busi­ness that started to boom. Af­ter 18 months Tai re­alised that all he had been do­ing was work­ing 18 hour days and while mak­ing great money, he wasn’t surf­ing and wasn’t happy. So he took off to Bali for six months. While in Bali Tai met a mate that was a life­guard back

home, and upon re­turn­ing, his mate put in a good word for him and he started life-guard­ing on the Gold Coast based at Main Beach Surfers Par­adise. He was thrown straight in the deep end and learned so much on the job and had an awe­some time, the bosses un­der­stood that he was try­ing to make it as a surfer and al­lowed him time off to travel, but as soon as he was home, he was back on the job. The lifesaving led Tai into buy­ing a jet-ski as they were on them all day at work, and they went off chas­ing big wave spots up and down the coast. These mis­sions then led into Tai work­ing water-pa­trol at events and lead­ing into commentary which he still does to­day, en­ter­tain­ing the masses.

Af­ter a solid six years work­ing the beaches, there were days when it was windy and rain­ing, and no one was on the beach at all, while sit­ting there twid­dling his thumbs, it dawned on him that he wasn’t happy with his ground hog day life and af­ter a re­la­tion­ship break-up took off to Bali to see his mum. Bali had been such a huge part of his life and he had spent many years there with his mum and friends he had met, but he had never seen him­self liv­ing there at all. A men­tor of Tai’s en­cour­aged him to chase his dream and pro­vided the mo­ti­va­tion needed to make Tai suc­ceed. Through all his con­tacts in the in­dus­try Tai be­gan guid­ing crew through Bali and even­tu­ally, af­ter over­stay­ing his wel­come at his mums house, moved down the road into a place of his own which he ren­o­vated him­self, us­ing all his sav­ings and set up as a place peo­ple could come and rent out. Within months it was all paid back and it snow­balled, and be­fore long Tai had be­come the go-to guy for in­dus­try types com­ing to Bali, hook­ing them up with cars, skis, bikes, ac­com­mo­da­tion and guid­ing them to the best waves on the is­land. As his de­mand grew so did his need to ex­pand and he brought an­other pad which he fully decked out with a pool, air­con, maids and se­cu­rity and this at­tracted a whole new level of clien­tele, such as the Bull­dogs League team, Olympics Row­ers, Hawaiian swim-wear mod­els, grand­mas and grand­dads and peo­ple from all walks of life, it was awe­some times! As time went on Tai felt that he had enough of this life­style and that he had be­come a full time babysit­ter in a way and didn’t have any of his own per­sonal time. He met the girl he still sees till this day, and de­cided to get out and get his own pad away from the tour guide life. Hav­ing met lo­cal leg­end Tipi Jabrik back as a young­ster dur­ing those days at Padma beach, the two started their own bar called ‘Black-dog’ which only opened Fri­day nights from 10PM-1AM and steadily be­came the place to party. At­tract­ing some of the most fa­mous celebri­ties Indo has. The 1AM shut down was put in place so the lads could still get a surf in on Satur­day.

Af­ter a year and a half they closed that down and Tai, through a spon­sor of his at the time ‘Rhythm’, moved into the surf in­dus­try. He knew most of the surf shop own­ers in Indo, so pitched it to his spon­sors to let him dis­trib­ute ‘Rhythm’ in Bali. Hav­ing no idea how it all worked and not even know­ing what a spread sheet was, Tai’s first stum­bling block came when he tried to come through Bali cus­toms with 60ki­los of board­shorts, but ended up brib­ing the of­fi­cers off with four pairs of board­ies cov­ered in Banana prints. A small price to pay to launch his busi­ness. Steadily busi­ness grew and shops through­out Bali be­gan to stock the brand.

Then through a chance meet­ing a few years ago Tai was asked to come and meet with Gen­eral Man­ager of O’neill who wanted to pick his brains on the lo­cal scene. O’neill had never been rep­re­sented well in In­done­sia and they were look­ing to make in­roads into the lo­cal scene. Ad­mit­ting he was still green and un­sure of whether he was up for such a big task with such a big com­pany, they asked him to help rep­re­sent the brand and of­fered their sup­port and help. He was flown to Oz for sev­eral in­tense sem­i­nars, learn­ing the ropes of run­ning the brand. Two other guys in the form of Rip Curl’s, Jeff An­der­son and Mac­beth’s Tim Russo, the In­done­sian op­er­a­tions man­agers for their re­spec­tive brands, also of­fered sup­port and ad­vice in how the in­dus­try works and Tai was as­pir­ing to live the type of life­style those guys had setup, work­ing and surf­ing. At present the role with O’neill sees a good el­e­ment of both the busi­ness side and surf­ing side keep­ing Tai busy from day to day, along with the other pies he has his hand in.

With the suc­cess of ‘Black Dog’ the de­mand for Tai’s skills in run­ning bars was also in de­mand and it was an un­ex­pected call from Ba­li­nese leg­end Made Kasim that came last year. Tai had met Kasim as a young grom and had been taken on surf trips out to Ulu’s by the leg­end on some of his very first trips to Bali. Kasim had a ho­tel out on top of the Uluwatu cliff called ‘Blue Point’ and rang Tai to pitch an idea of a bar to him. Upon pulling back some crusty old cur­tains in a con­fer­ence room of the ho­tel, the pro­posed site for the bar. Once Tai saw that view over­look­ing the fa­mous Ulu’s lineup and up to Tem­ples he was sold, and early in 2011 ‘Sin­gle Fin’ was opened with Tai run­ning the front end of the busi­ness and Kasim tak­ing care of the back end.

From those early years head­ing back to his home­land of Aoteroa, he had felt a spe­cial con­nec­tion with the fam­ily val­ues and cul­ture, and while he ad­mits that he will prob­a­bly never come back to set­tle down in NZ, he has found those sim­i­lar val­ues here amongst the Ba­li­nese peo­ple and with warm water and per­fect waves on tap, who can ar­gue. Af­ter all ‘Sin­gle Fin’ even has satel­lite TV to watch those fa­mous All Black vic­to­ries on. One thing is for sure though af­ter a re­cent trip where Tai fell back in love with the kiwi cul­ture and scenery he will re­turn in the new year to show the love of his life his true heart­land. Blood Broth­ers for life!

LEFT: TAI LOCKED IN AT PADANG PADANG. ABOVE: THE SMOOTH LOOK­ING MAORI BOY. PHOTO: REDIGERA IN­SETS TOP TO BOT­TOM: BALI HAS MORE THAN LEFTS. PHOTO: SWILLY. BACK­HAND JAMMA & GET­TING ALL TRA­DI­TIONAL ON US. PHO­TOS: CURLEY

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