Well, this is it: Taj’s last hurrah. After 19 laps of the world competing at the top level of international professional surfing, the 37-year-old West Australian is hanging up his jersey once he’s done competing (and presumably celebrating) in Fiji. But referring to Taj as “the 37-year-old West Australian” does him a great disservice; widely regarded as the best surfer to have never won a world title (he’s been the perennial bridesmaid), Burrow carried the torch for progressive surfing through the late 1990s and early 2000s and introduced new levels of excitement and a consistent aerial repertoire to competitive surfing whilst claiming twelve grand-prix wins, including a Pipe Masters title. And then there was his prolific video output through those years…
We asked the definitive authority on surfing, the EoS’s Matt Washaw, what he’s enjoyed most about Taj’s time on tour over the past two decades:
“So much! Taj surfed like a Lamborghini, all low and fast and stylish, and super tight in the corners. I loved his Von Zipper ads from a few years back. I loved that he never looked super fit, had a bit of chin waddle even, but he still swam in an ocean of pussy. Going way back, I thought it was amazing that Taj qualified for the CT, but held back a year, because he was smart enough to know that world travel will eat an 17-year-old alive. I’m pretty sure he’s the only surfer to ever turn down a CT slot. Taj was the happiest person on tour, and it showed, and it no doubt cost him a world title or two, but I believe he’s healthier in mind and body for never having become a world tour points-eating robot.”
Born and raised in southwest Western Australia, Burrow’s surfing is the result of the best of both nature and nurture – a prodigious talent fine-tuned in some of the best waves on the planet. He exploded onto the international scene in 1996 when, aged 17, he won the Pro Juniors and then qualified for and, under Maurice Cole’s advice, declined to join the 1997 world pro circuit claiming that he felt he was too young. The next year he qualified with ease and unsurprisingly won rookie of the year as well as releasing his debut film Sabotaj, but it was the following season in 1999 that saw him finish as runner-up to Occy and become familiar with the view from the top of the leaderboard. Through the transition years from one millennium to the next Taj balanced his competitive career with an enthusiastic commitment to video and photo trips, realizing his love of surf movies in the production of his own signature films. Montaj won video of the year in the 2002 Surfer Poll whilst Fair Bits (2005) received wide-ranging praise across the surfing world. Through the middle years of his career Burrow rode on the back of his natural ability and had a hell of a great time as one of Australia’s best paid athletes. He never shied away from pushing his surfing and enjoying himself, however he also never managed to realise his potential to lift the cup and his 1999 runner-up trophy remained in use as a fruit-bowl. When the realization struck that he’d been close but no cigar a few too many times, Burrow hired a personal trainer – the first professional surfer to do so – and bought a new level of dedication and drive to his ‘CT campaigns.
Last October Burrow became a father, and the sleepless nights that come with a newborn baby combined with parting company with his trainer Johnny Gannon (who left to raise his own family) have made performing at his best this season difficult.
“Everything’s been going too fast and I’ve been going into events not prepared. It’s no fun going into events half-assed and not giving it my all, it’s been making me upset and stressed.”
Burrow announced his retirement on home turf at this year’s Margaret River Pro in April, and will be bowing out (with a bang, no doubt) in Fiji – his favourite event on tour in all likelihood as much because of the camaraderie and atmosphere created by the Australian contingent who stay on Namotu each year, as for the undeniable quality of the waves.
What now then, for Teebs? Well, besides fatherhood, his pad in Yallingup overlooks one of his favourite waves so he’d be forgiven for putting his passport at the bottom of a drawer for a few months and simply running over the road to surf Rabbits Hill whenever it breaks, and he’ll no doubt continue to run his Taj’s Small Fries contest for junior surfers every year. And, it probably wouldn’t be unreasonable to expect some sort of film project from him in the not too distant future. As for his legacy as a competitive surfer? Well, we’ll leave the last words to Mr Warshaw, who sums up fairly perfectly what we here at Surf Simply will remember when we look back at Taj’s time on tour:
“Go hard for the win, but keep your sanity. Taj rode his career as well as he rode Lowers or North Point. You’d like to see a world title crown up there above his sunburned forehead, but even without the man is still smiling and happy and that counts for a lot more.”