Retired Taj Burrow Crowned Surfing Champion of Champions (Again)
2017 FOUR SEASONS MALDIVES SURFING CHAMPIONS TROPHY | EVENT PARTNER
TAJ BURROW DEFENDS HIS TITLE AGAINST ROB MACHADO
Photos by Sean Scott
Story by Hugh Wyllie
At the Four Seasons Maldives Surfing Champions Trophy!
My plate is stacked like today’s swell. The grill sizzles up a seafood bonanza of mahi mahi, giant prawns and fresh squid. The salad bar is a jungle. The desserts – lavish. Corks pop and bass booms on the island of Huda Kura, because tonight, a champion is to be crowned. “We’re getting pretty sick of this guy,” quips event commentator Scott Gilles as he invites a very ‘suncooked’ Taj Burrow onstage to collect his third cheque of the week. He’s surfed four heats today, won the Thruster Division final and shared a searing grand finale with Rob Machado. Taj may be scorched, but his stoke flows forth when he says, “this is such an amazing event, I would have retired earlier if I knew this is what life would be like!” But all things shall pass, even champagne. Calling last drinks at the Four Seasons Maldives Surfing Champions Trophy.
Round one of the Thrusters division is finals worthy. Ceejay Hobgood, Rob Machado and Taj are ramming around the 3-4 foot Sultan’s lineup for priority. There’s eights and sevens across the board but no backups. The waves pulse and Taj whips from peak to shelf to take the lead.
Likewise, Ceejay, sneaks a nugget to nail a couple of big belts. The sea lulls and Rob is left adrift. Time’s up, and Rob bows out of the thruster event, but having finished first and second in the singleys and twinnies respectively, Rob has already secured his spot at the grand finale. Back on deck of the Explorer, The Rob eyes the draw like a reactivated contest freak! He can’t help but smirk, saying “that’s what’s cool, everyone comes here to have a good time but when you go out and put jerseys on, it’s kinda weird… You get pretty frisky,” says Rob. “We get a little fired up. It’s in our blood. It’s deep in there when you put this thing on.”
The next heat is Rosco Williams, against Brazil’s Maya Gabeira and Maldivian local Kuda Issaey. Big wave charger Maya is surfing with new liberty after a week honing the backside. She’s busting lip smacks like she’s surfed here all her life! Kuda lets loose on the inside runners and bags a score. Ross threads two drainers in a matter of minutes. The first threatens to clamp, then somehow hollows out a high 8. The second is just as good, and offers the perfect wall for Ross to saw out a huge layback hack. Ross moves to the semis, along with Kuda.
The first semi goes under siege… To Hobgood. His opponent? Kuda Issaey. Kuda lives on the next island – Thulusdhoo – and to surf against the 2001 World Champion at his homebreak is his dream come true. Kuda does his island proud, and throws everything but a coconut in CJ’s direction for a 12.50 heat total. But CJ is on a mission. He needs a win today if he’s to make the grand finale. A wave approaches. There’s the classic hook, there’s the backside vert, there’s the cannonball punt. There’s CJ into the final. Meanwhile, Taj surfs a blistering semi against Ross Williams that sets the tone for a Thruster showdown.
A Taj versus Ceejay final on thrusters in a big bowl of tropical fruit punch. Are you kidding me? Whoever wins will face Rob Machado in the grand finale. Taj nabs an early sidewinder that drains off the coral. Taj tucks, he dodges, he drives, he slides, he puffs out and scores a perfect ten. The first of the event.
Moments later, Taj knifes another freight train barrel but goes down. CJ sees his chance and swings late over the hangers, snapping his board in pieces. Taj later claims he was making it out until CJ pounced, but there’s no interference call. CJ goes upside down on the verts, Taj dries the fins. Two totally different approaches, from two equally crazy talents. But the nod goes to Taj. He takes out the Thruster Division and is into grand finale. Yet CJ remains blissed when asked of his run, saying “I can’t believe I got to have this experience it’s definitely once in a lifetime,” says Hobgood. “It was a shame I had such a bad heat in the final but I’m not too disappointed. It’s been great to see all of these old friends and hang out. Waking up in Kuda Huraa, the perfect island and then cruising on a boat for 2 minutes and you have waves like this, is like a dream.”
Sun beams on the sapphire ocean. Seabirds play in the clouds. And vibes are skyhigh for the grand finale. After a poor result in this event last year, Machado’s looking zoned.
Taj is defending his trophy, with an angry red head after surfing back to back. Rob’s release through the arc is simply sublime. Taj’s monster fin ditch is as radical as it gets. The exchange is feisty alright, ‘til the waves slow, and Rob never quite takes the reigns. Rob 14.93 to Taj’s 16.73. Sweet relief for the defending champ.
Everyone hoots, conga drums play and the pair are rinsed with victory bubbles, after which Taj says “I had to surf out of my skin to beat these guys. It was so hard, all of us had crazy battles. I put in so much effort and it’s so sick to take out the win!”
When asked of his run, Taj admits “I didn’t think it was gonna happen because I lost in the single fin pretty early and I was bummed about that, but I got a win on the twinnies and thrusters. It was sick. I had the time of my life!” While Rob Machado concedes, “I came out of the gates hot, I won the single fin event then got second in the twin fin event. So that gave me the slot in the final against Taj,” says Rob. “I was hoping Taj was going to run out of gas. He surfed three heats in a row. I thought ‘leave him out there in the sun a little bit longer, let him cook. But he’s surfing too good. Tough guy to beat, man.” Still, it’s a great week for Rob, rounded off with pure lefthand barrels the day after, at somewhere nearby... It’s a quick ruler’s edge – too fast for many – but not for Rob. He soars into highline while the wind sings offshore. It’s magic.
Massive thank you to contest director Ross Philips of Tropic Surf for another epic year of competition! All the riders for putting on a great show, and Randy Shimabuku of The Four Seasons Maldives Resort for his awesome hospitality.
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