Towner a monster wave chaser
WHEN you meet Angourie’s Laurie Towner for the first time one thing stands out.
How can a guy who makes a living out of taming monster waves be so relaxed?
Maybe the secret to becoming one of the world’s best big wave riders is to have a laid-back attitude.
Towner received his first surfboard as a nine-year-old and has been surfing ever since - the only difference from his early days surfing the pristine beaches around Angourie is the waves have got bigger... a whole lot bigger.
Surfing tsunami-like waves not only requires skill and dedication but above all a fearless approach - a characteristic Towner possesses.
“You do get a bit nervous sometimes before catching a big wave, you’re looking at how big and powerful the ocean looks,” says Towner.
“I usually don’t get too scared. If I see a big wave-and you don’t see them every day - I get excited and can’t wait to get out there.”
So what goes through the mind of a surfer who gets a rush of facing death and surviving some of the most powerful waves nature has to offer?
“The most dangerous part of the wave is at the start, when you first drop down it... that’s probably when you can get yourself in a lot of trouble,” he says.
“You pretty much need to concentrate on the wave and nothing else is on your mind... you don’t think about anything else except that particular moment.”
Dropping down the vertical face of a powerful rolling mass of wind-born energy moving through the water at speeds in excess of 45km/h is perilous in anyone’s language and Towner has suffered his fair share of wipe-outs.
“Everyone who surfs those waves end up with some sort of injury, it’s pretty much a dangerous sport,” says Towner, pointing to his shoulder.
“I dislocated my shoulder and had plenty of stitches. You try not to fall awkwardly but sometimes you don’t have a choice.
“You get thrown around like a rag doll because the waves are so powerful. I just try and relax in a bad situation as much as I can.
“You can’t afford to panic... which is something I don’t do. You put yourself in a situation so you have to get yourself out of it.”
Towner says it is inevitable big wave surfers will experience wipe-outs when taking on reef breaks and big wave breaks.
“I’ve had a couple of two-way hold-downs before. I’m not sure how long that is under the water but even if its 10 seconds and you’re getting thrown around it takes it out of you,” he says.
“I’m not scared of wipe-outs, if it happens it happens... it’s just part of what we do.”
Although Towner calls Angourie home it is not unusual for him to pack up his belongings in an instant when the word is out that a large swell is developing offshore somewhere around the world.
“I suppose we are like storm chasers. I’m in a pretty good situation, I’ve got plenty of friends that do it and you’ve always got a crew to go with,” he says
“I’m sponsored by Billabong who are also involved. We are continually looking at the computer checking out where the big waves are.
“These days what we get off the computer is pretty accurate so you can tell where the swells are going to be.
“If I’m in Angourie and there is word of a huge swell anywhere in the world I get in my car, drive to the Gold Coast, get on a plane and off I go.”
Towner rates the famous Maui surf spot in Hawaii, which locals call Jaws as the biggest waves he has surfed. The offshore reef sculpts swells into 12-20m walls of water.
“Jaws is pretty much one of the big wave places in the world, they are certainly the tallest waves anyway,” he says.
“I have surfed places that are more powerful and more life threatening then Jaws but if you get yourself in a bad situation out there (Jaws), you’re pretty much in big trouble.
“The first time I surfed Jaws it was full on. There were four helicopters and 38 jet skis... it’s just crazy.”
Towner says he enjoys spending time in his hometown with friends and his dog Buster - an apt name for a big wave surfer - but realises a phone call is usually not too far away.
“I love relaxing and enjoy life in Angourie and waiting for the next phone call. I like what I do and want to surf as long as I can,” he says.
Towner says his all-time favourite place to surf is in Tahiti at a break called Teahupoo which when translated to English means ‘broken skulls’.
According to seasoned surfers who regularly surf Teahupoo - ‘make one mistake and you are kissing coral’.
“Teahupoo is a really nice place and the waves are perfect... it’s as perfect wave as you can get,” he says.
“The waves can get as big and intense as anywhere... it’s as scary as a wave can get.”
Towner recently took out the coveted Biggest Wave title at the Surfing Life Big Wave Awards in Sydney where he picked up a cool $20,000 for his winning ride at Cow Bombie off the Western Australian coast.
You get the feeling 22-year-old Towner will be chasing more Goliaths of the ocean for years to come meeting fear head-on in his relaxed and unpretentious fashion.
“A haze settled over my brain like I was in a dream. No place put the fear of God in me like Big Makaha.”- Greg Noll on surfing Makaha
“Waves are not measured in feet and inches, they are measured in increments of fear.”- Buzzy Trent
“Where we go and what we do could be described as the pinnacle of stupidity.” - Ross Clarke-Jones