Taj Burrow Wins Four Seasons Championship Trophy, Maldives
Words by Sean Doherty
Just a month before he arrived in the Maldives, Taj Burrow had been below decks on a rickety Indonesian charter boat, lying in a coffin-like bunk, sweating, sick, locked in the seventh circle of an equatorial hell. Every hour or so, as the waves of nausea built, he’d dash to the ship’s toilet, a dark, foul hole, and thrust his head into it, screaming chunks.
A month later and Taj’s fortunes had changed somewhat. He was standing astride the bow of a dhoni, an ornate wooden gondola steered by a Maldivian local dressed head-to-toe in billowing white cotton. Taj himself was dressed in a floral dressing gown, sashed at the waist, the breeze blowing the gown open to reveal... shorts, fortunately. He was making the perilous return voyage from Day Spa Island – one hundred metres across a tranquil, shimmering, milky blue channel – and from the bow he surveyed his new five-star tropical surroundings and suddenly the Mentawais seemed a lifetime ago.
Taj Burrow had never been to the Maldives before. For a guy who’s surfed pretty much everywhere else, this seemed odd, unthinkable even, yet, as he explained, to travel from Australia to the Maldives means flying clear over Indonesia and its cornucopia of surf. “Why would you?” Taj reasoned, and he had a point.
Taj’s father, Vance, however, had been to the Maldives a bunch and had come home each time raving, banging on about the waves, on and on for weeks. Okay, okay... enough already. Taj had heard too much.
In Taj’s mind, these vainglorious tales of Vance’s surfing heroics reinforced the notion that the Maldives was a paradise for old boys in surf hats; the water warm, the waves forgiving in a way that Indonesia’s weren’t, the whole scene a giant tropical swimming pool that, like the swimming pool in Cocoon, stripped away the years from whoever surfs in it. Taj called ‘em, “Old man waves,” although by the end of the week he would upgrade the claim to, “the best old man waves ever.”
This was fitting, because Taj woke up one morning not long ago and realised he, himself, was old. It was a horrible realisation for a guy who has been 18 all his life. But alas, the sweet bird of youth had flown, and now at 38 the perennially boyish king of hi-fi surfing had just retired from the pro tour and found himself with time on his hands and an invitation to the Four Seasons Maldives Surfing Champions Trophy, an exhibition event for leathery legends. Taj felt old. He might as well have been wearing Vance’s ceremonial legionnaire’s surfing hat.
Thing was, Taj was in the Maldives to shred.
The only problem was that for his first heat they sent him out on a single-fin. So pure has Taj’s lifetime devotion to performance surfing been that he’d never set foot on a single-fin. Ever. Didn’t even own one. He’d had to borrow one from Jake Paterson back at home, a sporty single-fin Jake had shaped himself, resplendent with a huge decal stripper in high heels on the bottom. The one condition of Snake lending Taj the board was that the decal stayed on. And so Taj kissed his girl, Bec, and baby daughter Bella goodbye, grabbed the stripper board and jumped over the side of the boat for his heat.
And Taj blazed on the single fin, blazed down the line at Sultans, blazed like Vance in one of Vance’s Maldives stories.
Despite Taj’s ancient status, this was the most contemporary edition of the Champions Trophy event yet. Usually the reserve of ex-world champs in their golden years, this year’s invite list featured surferswhose best surfing days – it could be argued – still lay ahead of them. Taj was joined in the Maldives by Jamie O’Brien, Bethany Hamilton, reigning champion Shane Dorian, Rob Machado, Travis Logie and local wildcard, Hussain Areef, for an event that’s a little more freestyle and a lot more relaxed than the ones they’re generally accustomed to. Surfing rounds alternately on singles, twins, and thrusters ensured that heats were more liberated than gladiatorial, and the event scored a week of blissed waves.
But if there’s one thing this event will do with some certainty... is ruin every future surf trip for the invitees. Nothing will compete with this. They will look around themselves at their lavish Four Seasons villas, they will survey the sublime lineup at Sultans, and they will walk down the palm-framed white sand beach quaffing a tropical cocktail and realise life can only go downhill from here. After a week of good living, 12 gourmet meals, three visits to the day spa and two books read under palm trees, Shane Dorian quipped with just the faintest whiff of sarcasm, “I need a break. This is getting a little grindy.”
Anyway, so yeah, the contest. Channelling Vance, Taj won. Taj was the champion Sultana. “It got the heart rate up out there,” he said back on the boat after surfing the final against Shane Dorian. “I was trying my guts out on every wave, so it definitely wasn’t relaxing. If you throw a singlet on any of us we’re going to battle to the death, so as relaxing as it’s been on land, it was intense in the water.”
After a week of five-star resort living and perfect surf, Taj got back to the contest boat and said, “Now I can really relax! Get me back to Paradise Island! That’s one of the best weeks of my life. You couldn’t ask for much more. We’ve been incredibly spoiled this week but it was hard work out there. It was intense.” He guzzled a beer. “And I thought I retired from this crap!”