When it comes to stalwarts of the big wave surfing world, Aussie Dylan Longbottom ranks among the most well respected. With an illustrious career spanning almost three decades, headline accolades include a starring role during Teahupoo’s infamous Code Red swell and a stint stunt doubling on Hollywood’s big 2015 Point Break sequel.
He’s also a shaper of global renown, heading up the team at Dylan Surfboards, and father to three kids, including 18 year old Summa Winterbottom, one of the world’s most exciting up and coming female chargers.
Having sharpened her claws as a pre-teen in spots including Nazare and Teahupo’o under Dylan’s watchful eye, Summa’s career, encompassing both competitive and big wave surfing, puts her among the top young talents currently blazing out of Australia. Coupled with that, she’s been honing her craft as a shaper, joining the still small number of female shapers around the globe. Bali-based for the last 5 years, the consistent barrels of the Bukit and Canggu proved the perfect playground for a younger Summa to polish her craft. The family’s move back to the Gold Coast has enabled Summa to hit the competitive circuit as well as chase the Southern Hemisphere’s biggest swells. How does the father/daughter dynamic work in the world’s most notorious big wave spots? Has Dylan been a Soccer Mom pushing Summa? We caught up with the pair, fresh from a recent trip to Shipstern Bluff to find out…
The Shipstern’s coliseum. Andy Green / Red Bull Content Pool
SE: How was your trip to Shipstern’s towing in Summa, Dylan? When you’re on the limit together in that kind of environment, how does your relationship as father and daughter work?
DL: Joel Parkinson and Ryan Hipwood [both in the Red Bull Cape Fear event] contacted me because I’m the jet ski driver [for the event], and they wanted to do some training. We brought Summa along to see how she got on, we only made the call 24 hours out, so she didn’t have too much time to think, which was good. A lot of people will get a lot of anxiety, and the fear will kind of get to them.
In the water it becomes natural for us, and we’re always connected, but we’re even more connected because it’s just about us two, and nothing else. It’s about us and the waves, and we’re just focused on each other and focused on what we’ve got to ride. I was telling her to stay relaxed on the back of the ski whilst we waited, bobbing over some big swells. Then it’s the focus on the lines she’s got to surf and to back herself and not to panic. I don’t want her to panic on the wave and jump. If you do that, you’re going to get yourself in trouble. So, we’re just having this kind of communication and connection, and it’s all about that and keeping that communication clear.
SL: It was definitely scary at the start, because it’s a scary wave. But it was a really good experience to just even be out there, and watch it in person. It was pretty crazy to be there and surf it because I’ve always looked up to my dad surfing it, and thought I’d never surf that wave. I guess at the end of the day, even if my dad wasn’t towing me, if it was someone else, I would still feel the same way. It’s definitely cool that it’s my own dad, but I don’t think it helps me to surf better.
Summa watches a few of the world’s best from the boat, before getting behind the rope herself at Shipstern’s. Photos: Ben Bagley
SE: Dylan, if Summa goes down or finds herself in a sketchy situation, what’s going through your mind?
DL: When it’s your daughter it’s even worse. It’s like, “shit, where is she? Where is she?” I’m hunting behind the waves on the ski just going “please make it, please make it”. It’s going to happen, and it’s happened many times already. I can just be there to pick her up. For me it’s hard because I don’t like to see my daughter in that situation. I know she’s very brave, and she’s strong and she has the tools to know how to relax, with all my experience and everything I’m teaching her. I have been teaching her since she was like 5. As a 5-year-old, she just never panicked. I would say to her “you’re going to get in trouble, but just relax. Just go with it. I’m going to be there for you.” She’s learned, and with Shipstern’s under her belt, she really listened and backed herself, did the ride, and did it to perfection.
One time last year we were doing tow-in at a big beach break and she got one of the biggest waves of the day. It was like a 10-footer and I had told her to put an impact suit on, but she didn’t want to. She pulled into one of the biggest barrels she’s ever done, and it closed out. She wasn’t coming up and I thought she was having a two-wave hold down, so I panicked. I was scared. I’m the one saying “never panic”, and I’m the one that panicked, being the father, and I cranked the jet ski. She pops up all-good like, “What are you doing Dad?” She was sweet!
SE: Are you guys pretty close outside of surfing?
SL: I feel like surfing definitely makes us closer, because it’s something that we both love to do. I know a couple of girls that aren’t too close with their fathers because they don’t have the same interests. We both love surfing, so that’s what brings us closer together. I don’t think I would be a surfer if he didn’t surf. I probably wouldn’t surf big waves, so I guess he’s my biggest influence, that’s for sure. Everything we do revolves around surfing, like snowboarding and skating.
DL: I see that Summa gets the same excitement and joy that I get for riding big waves. When I see her face and her pictures after making these waves, it’s just so much joy and happiness, and that’s what I feel too. Once, when she was 13 and we were back in Bali, I was surfing Outside Corner (Uluwatu). It was huge, as big as it gets, like 10 to 12 feet. I said look, just stay here on the cliffs, watch and hang out, eat some Nasi Goreng and some banana pancakes and just watch, I won’t be long. About an hour later I turn around and I hear, “Hey Dad!”. And I look at her and somehow, she’s got out through the cave! Just on her own regard, paddled out. And then as I turned around, she’s paddling for like an 8 to 10 foot on the inside. I’m like Oh no… and said to the lifeguards, “Look at that little girl, go pick her up now and get her back at the beach!” We hang out regularly and now she’s working with me and learning to shape as a female shaper. It was the same for me, because my father worked in the surfboard factories. He’s a glasser.
Dylan blows away the cobwebs with a lofty strapped-in backflip on the inside bowl. Photos: Ben Bagley
SE: When you were younger, did you get to have dad around much or was he on the road a lot Summa?
SL: When I was younger, he was definitely moving around a lot. Whenever he was gone though, I’m pretty sure I was always still out there surfing.
DL: It has been pretty cool, everywhere I’ve lived and made surfboards around the world, a lot of the time I’ve tried to take the family, which has been good. Sometimes I have been a little bit absent because of being a traveling pro-surfer though. My wife’s the total opposite, she’s a full, earthy girl and loves being at home and taking care of the family. She’s the nurturer.
SE: I don’t think she’s ever been excited to go and try surfing. I’ve always asked her, but I just don’t think she’s a sporty person. I remember when I was younger, and dad used to go off to big swells, she would freak out all the time, but I never freaked out. I have always thought that he was going to be fine, but Mum would be sitting at home stressing. She definitely does that with me now too, but she knows that my dad wouldn’t have put me in a situation where I could actually get really hurt.
DL: I think she’s kind of used to it now, we’ve been together for nearly 28 years. But she was always worrying and now she worries about Summa. I just make sure she knows that with my experience, it’s all good, it’s so safe.
SE: Do you ever think you’re in your dad’s shadow?
SL: Oh no, I’ve never thought that way. I wouldn’t be where I am today without him. But it’s not really like being in his shadow, it’s more just like me becoming the person I am because of him.
Dylan in the bay. Photos: Ben Bagley
DL: She developed her own career. She’s been following in my footsteps, but you know, she’s been promoting it herself, with me overseeing it and guiding her and saying, “Hey come with me” and she’s like, “Yeah yeah yeah let’s go!” I think it’s amazing where women’s surfing is in the world, how popular it is, how much it’s booming and how great it is for her to have an opportunity to also be a shaper and to work alongside me, working on my women’s range and being able to free surf and travel the world with me because I have factories in Portugal, Bali, South America and Australia. We can go around the world, chase waves, and she can make boards not just for women, but for men and women. My distributor in South Korea already wants her shapes, so I think that is super amazing. It’s very special to do it with my daughter and give her that opportunity.
DL: Being a surfer, you need to know what boards you’re riding anyway. It’s good to actually learn and better for your surfing. That’s something I’ve been really interested in, because I know it’s not just going to help my surfing, but like I could make a career out of it. A business. I would like to get more girl shapers to work with me and make collaborations, that’s obviously hard now because there’s not many girl shapers.
I can definitely say that when I was younger, I didn’t have any friends that were girls, not one. I don’t think I ever hung out with girls. I only hung out with boys because there were no girls surfing when I was growing up like on the South Coast, there was no one. It was basically me. I would just hang out with boys, because I just wanted to surf, I didn’t want to go hang out with girls that didn’t surf because I just didn’t see the point of that. To this day most of my friends are guys. I want to get a bigger girl community together. I have a lot of friends that surf now that are girls, but there can be a lot more. I want other girls to join me, come on trips with me. We need our girlfriends for support.
Summa pulling in, just days after her 18th birthday, on a self shaped sled. Photo: Ben Bagley
WL: What are your next goals?
DL: When you come on our free surfing trips, whether it’s big waves or we’re just going surfing on our ventures, everyone’s happy and we’re scoring waves because we only go at the drop of a hat for proper swell, and we always come back super fulfilled and everyone is happy. It’s just about being a free surfer and all-around surfer. For me, I love doing airs, I want to do airs in small waves, big waves, just everything. I’d like to get her back to Teahupoo on her forehand, I think she could go really good out there.
SL: I want to keep big wave surfing and I still want to do competitions. I love doing them. At the end of the day I probably do love big wave surfing more than competitions, because competitions are really hard, a lot a lot more stressful. I just want to keep both of them going and just see what happens in the future. I want to be one of those girls that can go surf really good in like 1 foot waves, and then surf really good in like 15-foot waves.
Tasmania was a really big success for me. I just want to keep doing what I’m doing and see what happens this year and just not stress too much about it, because that’s what I’ve been doing, and it’s been working out really well. Swells will just come up and then we just go and I just feel like it’s better that way because you just never know what’s going to happen like next week…it is pretty hectic like at the end of the day, I still can’t even believe it. Sometimes I’m like, oh, I just surfed like Shipstern or I did this so. At the end of the day, you’ve always got to be humble.