Grant “Twiggy” Baker has just won his second Mavericks Invitational.

Baker rides waves that weigh a few tons, blow eardrums and wipe out towns.This is how he trains for it…

He’s a swell hunter, a water-based version of those tornado-chasers with the storm-proof tanks.

Except, he doesn’t have a tank. He has a surfboard.

Baker relies on two things to keep breathing: his confidence in his abilities, and his fitness. Treadmills and weight belts aren’t much use to him in his water world. Instead he uses Stand Up Paddleboarding (SUP), kiteboarding and freediving to train. He trains outdoors, harnessing the environment to his advantage. For Baker, fitness isn’t about getting a pixel-perfect six-pack. He trains for a pay cheque, to win big wave awards and in some cases, to save his life.

Baker may not have the fame of local rugby or cricket stars, but chat to anyone
who surfs, and he’ll be described with hushed respect. He’s scooped up awards around the world (like the Red Bull Big Wave Africa), broken records and discovered some of the biggest swells ever shown in surf magazines. In 2010, Baker and Rusty Long found a 100 foot wave off Isla Alejandro Selkirk, a few hundred kilometres off the coast of Chile.

My main training tactics are all water based.

“I don’t do any regular gym work. The only time I did gym work was for rehab when I tore my ACL playing soccer (which has great cross-training benefits). I then spent six months rebuilding my leg, but eventually had to give it up. Now I spend all my training time in the water. SUP relies on core work, but it also exercises my chest, core, shoulders, arms and legs. It’s the equivalent of spending two hours on a balance board doing weights.”

I don’t exercise for exercise’s sake, I do it because I love it.

“SUP is the best workout because you can do it when the waves are small or when the waves are flat, crappy and not barrelling. Kiteboarding can be done almost anywhere if there are strong winds, and if you spend two or three hours doing it, you arms and body will feel it. These two different options keep my training fresh. They also help me to work on my surfing technique by fine-tuning my big wave skills. For example, doing SUP work means I improve my big wave skills because it is a much bigger board and I have to work hard to manoeuvre it into the right position. Kiteboarding helps to work my tow-in skills, as it builds up arm strength and stamina.”

How Twiggy Trains Outdoors

My secret weapon?

“Freediving. The other training I do is jumping into a pool and doing a freediving training programme. (They have been created for me by the incredibly talented Hanli Prinsloo.) It’s very hectic – it normally leaves me lying on the side of the pool for a very long time. But it also provides me with the confidence to be underwater when things go wrong and to know my limits. You aren’t normally under for longer than 45 seconds to a minute, but you learn to calm down and trust in your own ability. Hanli and I have worked my way up to breath holds of five minutes, which really helps in the long run.”

Fear is always there.

“It’s something you learn to conquer, bit by bit. Big wave surfing isn’t something you just pick up in a few days, you need to work your way up to the bigger stuff. Most of the famous big wave surfers are between 30 and 40 years old (or older), and that’s because they have worked their way up to the level they are now. I train hard so that I’m confident in my physical abilities and in the mental preparation that I’ve done. Every session I’ve done helps me with facing the giants (the over 50 foot waves).”

I don’t need reasons to motivate myself.

“I’m the luckiest guy in the world. I’m sponsored to surf, SUP and kiteboard all day, every day, and I get to chase swells all around the world. I was recently in Madagascar with a few friends for a surfing expedition. We hiked in the jungles of the North East to find the perfect wave that hadn’t been ridden yet. It was an incredible experience, and it’s where I will be returning soon.”