Last week Cornishman Tom Lowe joined the world’s hardest chargers on a mass exodus to Fiji, to meet a giant swell as it marched solemnly towards Cloudbreak.
It was Lowey’s first time at the world renowned reef break, and the historic day of surfing that ensued did not disappoint. We caught up with him last night as he touched down in LA for an overnight layover on his way back to Mexico to get beyond the highlight reels and find about the sessions.
Hey mate, how are you feeling?
Just fucking knackered! It’s been a pretty full on week. I just landed in LA after an overnighter from Fiji and I’ve got a night here before I fly to Mexico city and back to Puerto, which is where I came from for that swell.
Talk me through the decision to go to Fiji?
I was talking to Damien Hobgood and some of the other lads who have been there and are pretty experienced at reading the forecast. It was always going to be a gamble, because the local weather is always a question mark. Ticket prices and the whole deal were out of this world; it’s the most expensive surf trip of my life!
But I’ve literally dreamt of going out there my whole life and I thought at least it’s going to be massive, so I’ll get to see it.
I ran into Jerome Sayhoun, the Moroccan lad, and he was keen to go, so I linked up with him, Coco and Edwin Morales. Damien Hobgood wasn’t even going to come- he was on the fence till literally a few hours before we left. Eventually he pulled the trigger and I got a message from him saying ‘I’m coming to the airport’.
I stayed with him once we got there, because I like his vibe on a trip, he just takes it all in his stride and just listens to his instincts, he’s not all hyped up, so I just thought yea, I’ll go with that.
It seems like most of the world’s most high profile big wave surfers were in town. What was the atmosphere like when you arrived?
We saw loads of guys as soon as we got to the airport and we were on the same flight as Slater, Billy Kemper and a load of others. You could tell a lot of people were nervous. I was really excited and kind of just freestyling along the way. Usually that’s not my vibe, I usually set myself up and know where I’m staying and when I’m going out to surf.
I like to be out there at first light, checking it. But in Fiji it’s a 40 minute boat ride from the mainland to Cloudbreak. The morning of the massive swell was really stormy, rainy and windy and I thought ‘oh shit maybe this is a no go,’ but we headed out anyway.
When we turned up there were just a few tow teams sitting out the back and only a couple of boats in the water. There were some bombs coming in every once in a while and then within half an hour, there was 50 boats and a hand full of tow teams. No one was really paddling, then Dane caught his wave. That was the first legit barrel of the day and it kind of got everyone excited.
The majority of the surfers who came for the swell were just waiting for that window, because you’re looking for that blue glassy Cloudbreak, you’re not looking for stormy rainy Mully looking waves, so I just hung fire too. Damo was having a little nap on the boat, and so were the Hawaiian guys I was with, so I kept my eye on it. It got to around 10 and the weather looked like it might be really set, so I thought this might be it.
Damo and I decided to suit up and get out there. The current was really strong and pushing you into the channel, so it was really hard to sit in the right spot. It was a fresh thick swell and guys were towing into twenty foot waves, it was pretty insane and intimidating. If you saw a set, you had to scrape to the horizon.
Was there any part of you that wanted to tow? Because you used to tow a lot…
Mate, I’ll be honest with you, I went in to paddle first, I was focussed on that, but once I got out there and saw the tow guys getting seriously barrelled and all the bombs going by I wanted to get behind the rope. I got three paddle waves, and they weren’t anything special, I got one nice drop on one I was happy with, although it wasn’t a huge wave, I got a nice little bowl on another, but I made my waves so I was stoked. I went in for a rest on Jerome’s boat, and he said he was going to tow and I said ‘Jerome, what’s the deal? Tow me into one of those things if you can!’
I mean shit, it was one of those moments where if someone gave you a shot you’d have give it a go, but it just didn’t come about. It was too busy, there was too much going on with too few sets coming in anyway, Makua, Kai Lenny and Garett McNamara got a few- you know these are all big heads, so me and Jerome were like ‘Nah, we’re not going to get a set.’
Where were you for Ramon’s wave?
I was back in the boat at that point having a rest and the wind kind of lightened up and there was a little window when suddenly there was like thirty guys on it. I saw Ramon’s wave and it was just beautiful.
It’s funny because although it did stand out, when you’ve seen so many bombs come through you get quite desensitised and you don’t really know who’s on what. For Makua’s though, I was right there looking down into the barrel and I was speechless, like ‘that was a big wave you gnarly bastard!’ The line he drew, it was so critical, he meant business, he was like ‘I’m going to get barrelled on this thing,’ he faded almost, it was crazy.
Watching back the footage of Ramon’s, is that one of the biggest heaviest barrels you’ve ever seen?
It probably is isn’t it, if you look at the footage and the photos I don’t think I could produce a photo of a bigger one, but at the same time, some of the tow waves I’ve seen at Mullaghmore seem more frightening to me, because there’s a lot of weight in that wave. But overall I reckon Ramon’s probably is it.
How was the rest of the swell?
On Monday there were some absolutely perfect ones coming through, it was sort of 12, maybe 15 foot on the sets, still hitting that ledge, and there was a couple of nuts ones. Laurie Towner was absolutely ripping. On the big day he actually let me have a really nice one. He was towing into it and he pulled back, because he saw me paddling and shouted for me to go which was cool. He was a real standout, as was Nathan Florence.
Congratulations on the pregnancy by the way! Since finding out you’re going to have a kid, has your approach to surfing waves like these changed?
Err, I don’t reckon at this point it’s had any effect on me, because I feel really detached from everything in a lot of ways when I’m actually out there. All I’m doing is making decisions based on taking or making waves and keeping safe. That’s kind of how I approach every session believe it or not, although you’ve seen a few wipeouts, but that’s sort of part of the game, where something is driving you to go on a certain wave. I really can’t tell you until it’s born if that will have an effect on my surfing though.
And was your partner Tess back in Mexico?
Yea, basically we were on a trip to Puerto and we decided to stay there for a couple of months, obviously because there’s going to be swells, but also because we met there and we both love it.
And how was she with you going? Does she say be careful out there before you go, or does she not even bother?
She’s a clinical psychologist, so whether or not she tells me what’s good for me at that point or whether she tells me what she’s actually feeling would maybe an interesting thing to ask her about.
Before that trip though she genuinely wanted me to go with her heart because she knows it’s my job and my dream to go to these places and she wants me to keep following my dream as far as I can. She’s really strong mentally, she travels by herself all around the world and she’s really comfortable with being out of her comfort zone. She’s more comfortable than I am when we’re travelling and things don’t go to plan.
When I was at Fiji airport for instance they wouldn’t let me board the flight because my return ticket was on her email and obviously she was asleep in Mexico, so I had to buy a new ticket and cancel the other one. She would have just strolled through that, whereas with me I felt the stress and the anxiety. So being with her, when she’s alongside me, is a really positive influence on me mentally and spiritually.
What are your plans now?
I’m just going to cruise in Mexico for a while, just soul surfing down there, and there’s always that chance you could catch a nice wave. I reckon we’ll probably be down there for another 6 weeks and then head back to New Zealand to have the baby.
Nice one Lowey, thanks for speaking to us and good luck with everything.
Cover photo: James Tull