002: Andrew Cotton/Surfing The World's Biggest Waves

Cotty at The Right. Photo: Cain Salmon

“I’m never content with normal”

My guest for episode two of the Looking Sideways podcast is British big wave surfer Andrew Cotton, a man who routinely charges the world’s biggest and scariest waves, and who tends to make a lot of headlines in the UK – in particular as ‘the surfing plumber’.

Don’t be fooled by this lazy journalistic shorthand – the fact that he’s a qualified plumber is the least interesting thing about Cotty, who is in reality one of the most respected watermen in the world today, and somebody who has travelled a long way from his first days surfing his local beachie at Saunton in Devon.

Photo: Red Bull Media House

In this conversation, recorded at Red Bull Studios in London in early 2017, Cotty and myself got right into it as we discussed his life, his career and his achievements (or lack of achievements if you believe him) to date. Among the nuggets uncovered:

  • How he met Garrett McNamara
  • What it’s like taking a Mavericks wave on the head
  • How he finances his career through film collaborations
  • The importance of having plenty of ideas
  • How he funded his early surfing career
  • And yes, how he became a plumber

It’s a great conversation with a fascinating, thoughtful lad, so get stuck in to Andrew Cotton on surfing big waves.

If you only have five minutes…

Listen to this section - Cotty on watching Garrett get a huge Nazare wave on the head.

Connect with Cotty

Show Notes

  • Surfing Mavericks
  • Tweaked knee
  • First steps – North Devon
  • Starting surfing at aged 7
  • Cotty’s first memorable waves
  • Swimming as an aid to childhood asthma
  • His early surf lifestyle
  • Working in a surfboard factory
  • Surfing becoming a lifelong passion
  • Early surf travel lifestyle
  • Hawaii – first introduction to big waves
  • On pushing it, rather than being scared shitless
  • Early surf role models
  • The move from glassing surfboards to becoming a pro surfer
  • On his mid-twenties crisis, and getting a ‘proper’ job
  • Training as a plumber
  • On realising he needed to pursue his passion
  • ‘It was more important to be happy and be poor than have a good job and hate it’
  • On consciously training as a lifeguard to gain the skills needed to become a better big wave surfer
  • Being contacted by Garrett McNamara
  • Blagging it with Garrett
  • Combining this apprenticeship with plumbing and lifeguarding
  • Garrett on a mission
  • ‘He used to treat every wave like it was 100 foot’
  • On the importance of being multi-skilled in the big wave environment
  • How it works at Nazare – three to a team
  • Big wave cameraderie and the importance of teamwork to achieve anything
  • How other projects like films can help you achieve what you really want to achieve.
  • Beneath the Surface – where the idea came from
  • How sponsors are necessary to make such long term projects a reality.
  • Winning at the Waimea Ocean Film Festival 
  • Always having ideas
  • Mikey and Cotty’s new trailer
  • Big late Jan Moroccan swell
  • Early January Nazare swell
  • After the Storm clip
  • What it’s like surfing Nazare
  • The line between fun and fear – and how that threshold moves.
  • Enjoying the bad things to experience the good – and what this means for coping with punishing wipeouts
  • An important lesson from Garrett
  • The importance and enjoyment of training.
  • ‘I’ve never actually achieved anything though’.
  • The goal of winning the XXL Awards
  • His career still being young, and how big wave surfers go on into their 40s and 50s.
  • Never content with normal
  • His trait of always pushing things as far as he can, whether training or surfing
  • The hardest thing about his lifestyle
  • On the advantages and disadvantages of balancing family life with the big wave lifestyle.
  • The habit of setting achievable goals
  • ‘Hooks and helpers’, and how they can help you break down goals into more manageable chunks
  • The dangers of middle aged skateboarding
  • His spot for last ever session…
  • ..and the board he would surf
  • What surfing means to him now
  • How surfing is still the same as when he started, while at the start time completely different
  • Surfing with his kids
  • ‘How do I relax? I don’t think I do relax’.


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