177: Dr. Tony Butt/On The Wild Frontier

Tony in his element. Photo: Alan van Gysen

He’ll hate me for saying it. But Dr. Tony Butt, this week’s guest, is one of UK surfing’s bone fide big wave legends. As Nathan Carter put it in a recent interview for Wavelength Magazine, Tony is ‘probably the British big wave surfer with the most giant paddle waves under his belt’.

Not that you would realise this if you used Tony’s media profile as an indicator. In a world of instant edits and Insta surf porn, Tony flies gloriously under the radar –  which is just the way he likes it. Not for Tony any social media clout-chasing. Instead, he is content to keep to himself over in Asturias in northern Spain, where he spends his time exploring the reefs and waves of this lesser known nook of the European surfing universe; and indulging his other passions of oceanography and wave forecasting.

Photo: Hubi Schulz

Indeed, if anything, Tony is better known for this side of his repertoire rather than his actual surfing thanks to his pioneering academic work, and thought-provoking journalism in titles such as The Surfer’s Path and Magic Seaweed.

He is, in short, a total legend – if an extremely self-effacing and unassuming one. Perhaps that’s why it has taken us around three years to arrange this conversation. But it’s worth the wait. This one ranges all over the place, from how our perception of mortality shapes our life path; to the difference between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation, and how it affects our surfing. Of course, we also delved into Tony’s vast experience of big wave surfing, too.

The result is a hefty, thought-provoking chat with one of the true unsung heroes of European surfing, shot through with the wisdom accrued from a life of exploration around surfing’s wilder frontiers.

Listen to the episode here:

Connect with Tony

Show Notes

  • Jobs and factories
  • Paddling in circles 
  • Weather predictions 
  • Big wave contest antipathy 
  • Family waves 
  • Surf culture and identity 
  • How it all started 
  • First surfboard 
  • The influence of Tony’s father 
  • ‘I wanted to retire first’
  • Being 57 
  • Mortality 
  • ‘ sacrifices health to make money..’ 
  • Menakoz locals
  • Flow state
  • Lessons learnt 
  • Extrinsic and intrinsic goals 
  • Motivation 
  • The Afterglow Paradox 
  • The Requiem experience 
  • The PhD double learning curve 
  • Wave forecasting and Magic Seaweed
  • Environmental articles
  • Pragmatism and the win/win approach 
  • Protecting local spots
  • Personal responsibility 
  • The electric van 
  • Surf travel then and now
  • Forecasting and the waves on your doorstep 
  • Own your experience 

Names Mentioned

  • Frances McDormand 
  • Tom Doidge-Harrison 
  • Margret Thatcher 
  • Dalai Llama 
  • Ken Bradshaw 
  • Mark Foo
  • Craig Sage
  • Lesley McKenna
  • Mat Arney 
  • Alex Dick-Read
  • Paul Russell
  • Malcom Finley 
  • Jim Peskett 
  • Jason Lock
  • Lewis Arnold 
  • Kevin Naughton 
  • Craig Peterson 
  • Mike Dobos 

Places Mentioned

  • Punta Galea
  • Basque Country 
  • Spain 
  • Sunset Reef
  • South Africa 
  • Hawaii 
  • Bournemouth 
  • Sandbanks 
  • Sydney 
  • Boston Pier 
  • Bournemouth Pier 
  • Southampton 
  • London 
  • Kimmeridge 
  • Cornwall 
  • Sheffield 
  • Mundaka
  • South America 
  • Peru 
  • Piko Alto 
  • Mavericks 
  • Menakoz
  • Australia 
  • Patagonia 
  • Plymouth 
  • Iceland
  • Scotland 
  • Camino de Santiago 
  • France 
  • Finisterre
  • Mentawai Islands Regency
  • Florida 
  • Brighton 

Companies, Organisations, Brands Mentioned

  • Amazon 
  • Magic Seaweed
  • Windguru 
  • Volkswagen
  • British Aerospace 
  • The Cleanest Line 
  • Patagonia 
  • Permanent Publishing 
  • White Lines 
  • Surfers Path 
  • Surf Line 
  • Netflix 
  • Instagram 
  • Google

Films, Books and Music

  • Nomadland, dir Chloé Zhao 
  • Game Changers, dir Louie Psihoyos
  • Free Solo, dir Jimmy Chin & Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi 
  • The Far Shore