It’s a cold afternoon in mid-November and I’m sat in a busy cafe, on a nondescript industrial estate on the outskirts of Plymouth. Opposite me, wearing glasses and a thick puffer coat is Torren Martyn, the wirey, 29-year-old surfer from Byron Bay who’s been setting the surfing world alight over the last half-decade with a steady stream of short films featuring his silky-smooth surfing and adventures in far-flung locales.
When I arrived at the sprawling cluster of commercial units somewhere off the A38 I found Torren standing inside an entirely empty Ford Transit, save for one wooden armchair, complete with a brightly patterned fire-proof cushion that wouldn’t look out of place in your nan’s conservatory.
The van was parked inside a darkened warehouse unit, adjacent to the UK headquarters of NeedEssentials. It turns out this is the first time he’s stepped foot on British soil and it struck me that his current surroundings serve as a stark contrast to the little patch of tropical rainforest in Byron which he calls home. He’s spent the last few days wrapped up against the onslaught of the British winter, touring around the city’s many bric-à-brac shops and reclamation yards, searching for fixtures for his new mobile-abode.
The plan, he explains, is to spend the next few days converting the van with his friend and filmer Ishka Folkwell before setting off for Scotland and Ireland.
“I’m really excited to spend some time up north in those remote areas,” he tells me. After that, the boys will roll down through France, Spain and Portugal, before hopping on a ferry across to Africa.
“Last time I was in Europe was nine years ago,” he continues, “me and a couple mates bought a beaten up old Opel Astra wagon. We did Oktoberfest and then drove from Munich all the way down. First surf in Hossegor I blew my knee out and ended up running around on crutches for a few weeks. I had to come home to get an operation, so the boys dropped me off at Lisbon airport on their way to Morocco.” As a result, Torren always felt like he had unfinished business with the north African nation and its abundance of reeling right-handers.
During the original planning his forthcoming trip was going to end there, however, the more people he spoke to, the more he was drawn to extending it south, earmarking Western Sahara and Senegal as the final stops. However, with the start just a few days away, he concedes they haven’t really got any idea where they’re going or where they’ll end up.
“I feel like we’re going to be at the mercy of the waves,” he says. “One thing will sort of lead to the next, as it does.”
Having a base in Plymouth for the last few days has afforded the boys a level of readiness that sometimes alludes them ahead of such missions.
“I remember on the last trip, we were so unprepared for everything;” says Torren. “Me and a mate just had this shitty little junior dome tent between us and we’re both like six-foot-plus. He’s a total mad dog as well just so turbo the whole time. We ended up in the Pyrenees in the middle of the night, with no idea where we were. We slept in this little thing and were just shaking ourselves silly. When we woke up our wetsuits were frozen. So it’s going to be fun going back through there with a bit more knowledge.”
Prior to his arrival in Devon, Torren had been enjoying an extended stint in Bali along with his uncle and 88-year-old grandma, who has been travelling to the island for almost 50 years.
“She called me like a month ago and said ‘I’ve decided I’m going to go to Bali,’” he explains. “Her and I are really close, but she was like ‘you know you’ve got a girlfriend now and you’re really busy and you’ve got commitments’. And I was like ‘as if you’re going to Bali and I’m not going.’ It took me about 15 minutes of chatting her up and I booked the flights.”
Torren has been going to Indo ever since he was born, first with his mum and grandma and later, on regular surf trips with pennies saved from working various jobs in shops and warehouses around Byron. Although he spent a bit of time competing as a youth, in his late teens he decided these trips were more worthy of his hard-earned cash. He felt such a connection to Bali and its waves that in his early twenties, he decided to move out there and start his own business giving swimming lessons to kids.
“I guess I was at the stage in my life where I was a bit more ready to feel that freedom of making my own decisions,” he says. “And from there I can see where my life kind of forked.”
“Because I didn’t go to university or anything like that, and I didn’t meet my dad till I was 16, so he didn’t have much influence on me. My mum’s partner taught me to fish and surf and tie knots and my grandma taught me to drive, so I had this really close connection with my family, but not a whole lot of direction. My mum makes jewellery and sells silk shawls and my grandma sells second-hand clothes, so I haven’t grown up with any expectation or pressure.”
“I remember thinking to myself in my early 20s ‘what am I doing?’” And now looking back that’s when I decided to start the swimming business.” The work allowed him plenty of time to surf, as well as bringing in enough money to live the lifestyle he wanted. “Living there allowed me to strip back all the things in life that make it more difficult; like mortgages and expensive rent,” he says.
A few years later in 2014 on the other side of the Lombok Strait, Torren’s career and his entire approach to wave riding were about to hit another major fork in the road, setting him on the trajectory that he’s still following today.
It began with a phone call from Track’s mag, asking him to be involved in their annual board test. For the feature, they paired him with Simon Jones of Morning Of The Earth Surfboards, who was based back in Byron. “I met him down at the beach at Lennox,” says Torren. “And his boards were beautiful, they were works of art.”
Simon gave him a thick-stringered 5’7 single fin to take back to Indo for the project and a few weeks later, Torren was paddling it out at pumping Desert Point.
“I was so excited, but I didn’t click with it at all,” he says. However, there was something about the board that meant he couldn’t let it go, so he decided instead to take out the middle fin and put in a couple of new boxes, transforming it into a twinny.
“At that time my boards were all 5’7 to 5’9, and thrusters or quads,” he says. “But when I put the two fins in Simon’s and started surfing world class waves I was familiar with over there, I couldn’t get off it.”
Then, when he got home, he asked Simon to shape him an actual twinny, based off a similar template. “The first time I rode that was at Broken Point, and I didn’t have a leg rope. I’m super inconsistent, so I always wear a leg rope, because I always fall. But that surf, I didn’t fall once all session, and I was just buzzing.”
The next week, Kirra was 6 foot and pumping and Torren rode the board in draining tubes, then the week after he took it on a trip to Cloudbreak with a few friends, where he stayed glued to it.
“After that, I’d go somewhere with four normal boards, then all of a sudden it was three and then two and then one, and eventually I ended up with this quiver made up entirely of channel bottoms and twin fins.”
Two years later in 2016, Torren and Ishka set off on a 3 month trip around some of Australia’s remotest coastlines, producing a series of web clips called The Lost Track, that garnered a huge reaction around the world. The clips encompassed so many of the elements that seemed to chime most with surf audiences at that time. There was an authentic, almost attainable sense of adventure to it all; searching out waves in the wilderness with nothing but a slightly temperamental 4X4.
The final film included amusing snippets from the journey, including a dancing cockatoo and an exchange with a burly Aussie mechanic somewhere in the outback, which divided up sections featuring flawless waves, expertly threaded on boards that many would have previously deemed entirely inappropriate. The surfing was unmistakably high performance, but in a timeless way that pleased purists and progressives alike, with a focus on fast and flowing lines, beautifully complete rail turns and casually wrangled square turquoise tubes.
Filmed by Ishka, and directed by both, the film formed the blueprint for the pair’s many collaborations over the following years, which would take them to Central America, South Africa, New Zealand and Europe. Earlier this year, they released their first full-length feature film entitled Thank You Mother, filmed largely over an extended stint in J-Bay and narrated by the great Alby Falzon. Since its release, the film has picked up a slew of selections and awards at Surf Film Festivals around the world, including a nomination for movie of the year at the Surfer Mag awards.
Despite his exotic travels and international acclaim, Torren maintains a modest lifestyle back home, based out of a small caravan in the rainforest just south of Byron, perfectly placed between two of the region’s best point breaks. His way of life centres around simplicity, inspired by the kind of living that has been practised in the region since the early 60’s.
By drawing on the past, Torren has found a practical alternative to the constrained and unaffordable modern living arrangements experienced by many. I asked if he feels this notion of borrowing from days gone by also manifests in his approach to surfing, and the craft he rides.
“I feel like there’s the linea evolution of surfboards; from the traditional log, to single fins, into twinnies, into thrusters, and I’ve sort of gone the other way, from quads and thrusters back down to two fins. And I think my surfing on the technical side has probably regressed, but I think that’s what’s been the draw, because it’s the whole feeling that I’ve been thriving on.”
“It’s interesting to think that progress is seen as just wanting more and more,” he says. “But sometimes, progress can be going back the other way.”
Torren’s surfing, like his life out there in the rainforest, is stripped back to all but the simplest of pleasures; like tea under a squawking canopy, or a weightless high-line in the pocket. And in a world where we’re always told to want more and more, it’s no surprise that his approach has resonated with people as much as it has.
Cover photo @pjph0t0s
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