Hannah Bevan chats with three-time world longboard champ Taylor Jensen about life, love, Firewire tech and contests. Plus he shares his plans for more wins in 2023 and beyond.
So, let’s start at the beginning! How did you start surfing and what are the earliest wave experiences that you can remember?
I started surfing because my dad was big into beach volleyball and we spent a lot of time at the beach! He also worked at The Charthouse, a restaurant chain that was started by Joey Cabell, so I was always surrounded by surfers and surf culture and I gradually gravitated towards it.
My earliest memories are of standing up on a bodyboard, starting to do little wiggles in the whitewash – I was around six or seven years old then. I got hooked and from there, it all escalated really quickly!
And when did you start longboarding?
Around the age of ten but my earliest memory of it is actually when I entered my first longboard contest at age thirteen. I grew up in a town that has really bad waves so a lot of the time I was on a longboard because it was the only thing that could catch a wave! But one day there was a little local longboard contest that was a memorial for a guy. I entered that and I’ve been longboarding ever since.
When was your first contest win?
I think it was a high school contest or something! But I can remember my first pro win was at sixteen years old at an event called the San Miguel Surf Festival, just south of the Mexican border. It was a super fun right-point.
And the rest was history, right? What would you say has been your most memorable contest, and why?
I’m going to throw a little bit of a weird one in here – it was actually Noosa in 2017 and I lost, pretty much in the first heat. I had a really bad event…but I ended up meeting my wife that day! After I lost, we both went to the bar and meeting her was one of the most important moments of my life because it transpired into two beautiful little girls and a life of travelling the world surfing together. So yeah, that’s probably my most memorable event for that reason.
Obviously the world titles were some pretty good competitive glory moments! But as I’ve got older and had kids I’ve started valuing different things, like my family and the path that led me to enjoy this life with them.
That’s beautiful! How old are your kids now?
One’s nine and the other one is four.
Are they out riding waves yet?
My nine-year-old is just getting the surf bug now. We had a lovely week in Noosa recently where she was riding green walled waves by herself on her own board and I was like ‘YES!’. I’m not just swimming next to her anymore, I’m riding my own board next to her.
My four-year-old will go out with me but she needs to get a little better at swimming before I start pushing and letting go!
Aside from taking your kids out, what does a typical day look like for you right now?
A lot of it is spent working on surfboard designs, going back and forth with shapers, manufacturers and the team at Firewire, planning ahead for what we have in store. Also I’m working with my sponsors and keeping on top of all that stuff. I get a lot of beach time in my day-to-day life too, fortunately with my family.
What are your plans for the rest of 2023?
The biggest thing on my radar at the moment is the series of WSL events towards the back half of the year. I’m prepping for that, working on different boards and building my fitness. I’m getting older so I’ve got to put more emphasis on my training and being in better physical shape so I can have longevity in my career. I want to give myself more opportunities to win more world titles as I go into my forties! That’s one of the reasons we’re in Bali right now, so I can train, surf a tonne and eat well. It’s easy to put your health first here.
The WSL locations this year really suit me too, so I’m just excited for that and mentally gearing up for it. It’s so nice to get some quality venues on the schedule, with waves that I’ve always dreamed about surfing, like Bells – I’ve never been there. It’s exciting.
Sounds like you’re on the right track for it all, for sure. What do you think about the new separate high-performance longboard tour that kicked off at Noosa Fest?
I think it’s cool. It’s kind of the same- – but opposite – of what it was for years when WSL was high performance and there was this whole Duct Tape and Mexi Log Fest on the other side. But really, I think that moving forwards we need to get to a place where everything is dictated by the conditions on hand and get away from this divisive ‘high performance vs. traditional’ narrative.
It’s one of the beautiful things about longboarding, and shortboarding too, actually. You can design boards to ride certain types of waves – and we all do. All shapers, designers and surfers gravitate towards certain equipment in certain conditions because it’s what brings us the most joy on that day, in those waves.
I just think it would be cool if the competitive platform could adapt to that and say look, you guys are going to be out at six to eight foot Bells, so we’re going to want to see some nice big turns and beautiful, unforced surfing. Or if it goes the other way and you’re going to be out at waist high Malibu, some noseriding and classic stuff. I think the WSL would attract a whole lot more people to longboarding if that was the case, because not everybody lives where there are perfect waves for riding a 16 pound single fin on a daily basis. Most people live at crummy beach breaks, where something lighter with side bites and a hard edge is going to work better for them.
So yeah, I think it would be great if we could showcase all of longboarding and not just this one dimensional traditional or high performance. It’s got to progress and come together to evolve.
There are talks of longboarding being in the 2028 Olympics – how do you think that will impact or change the sport?
It’ll be interesting to see if it does. I don’t think having shortboarding in the last Olympics made as big of an impact as some people thought it would. But I don’t think it was as big of a failure as some of the haters thought it would be either!
Los Angeles is a pretty special venue though, so it’s a cool way to showcase longboarding to the world, especially if they get lucky with the swell. It could be phenomenal but honestly, I don’t know what it’ll do for the sport. We’ve just got to see what happens!
Why do you think that longboarding is continuing to see a global surge in popularity?
There’s probably a whole lot of factors in this but the lifestyle that longboarding portrays online is something that appeals to people. It’s more relaxed than shortboarding, which has become marketed as an extreme sport, all about pushing limits. Longboarding’s much more approachable, especially for people who are starting out. It’s allows for the fun of surfing without the serious consequence that comes with the shortboard imaging.
Ok, let’s talk boards. How has the TJ Pro Model developed over the last thirteen years?
Ah man, it’s changed quite a few times. The criteria in the WSL has had an impact on that, because my whole focus with Firewire for the past fifteen years has been to win world titles – and my equipment was geared towards achieving those goals. The tweaks we made from the original TJ Pro Model which was a squash tail, hips pulled back, super lightweight board to what it is now, which is a rounded pintail with a fuller nose… they’re all about smoothing things out and making a more well-rounded board, as noseriding was getting rewarded and so on.
Can you give an overview of the difference between traditional PU constructions and the alternative Firewire builds you ride, Timbertek and Thunderbolt.
Basically traditional PUs lose their spring and pop over the time, which as a competitive surfer, I used to hate! I’d be psyched about a magic new board but the more I rode it, the worse it would start to feel as it would break down and lose some of its response. And that was one of the biggest reasons I approached Firewire in the beginning. I really liked their tech! It felt as good six months later as it did the first day that I got it, so that was a big competitive advantage for me. If I could get the same board every time with a flex that’s not going to deteriorate over time, that’s huge! And now I can walk into a surf shop anywhere in the world and grab one, hop on it and it feels like the board I left at home. It’s an insane thing to be able to do.
The Thunderbolt is a different level again, using crossweaves and carbon t-band stringers and scientific builds, which allows control of torsional flex. And that’s a whole different variable for being able to springload turns. It’s kind of an addictive feeling!
What fin set-ups do you recommend for the new Pro V?
You know what, I get bombarded with fin questions! I probably get ten to fifteen DMs a day – and my answer is always the same. When it comes to 2+1, whether it’s the TJ Pro, the Pro V or the Gem, I really like to have a 7 inch centre and a 4.25 inch side bite – they’re my signatures. They create the drive and the power that I want.
Finally Taylor, can you describe your dream surf trip??
You know, I’ve been fortunate enough to go to places that I’ve dreamed of throughout my career – but I’d really love to go on a trip and find new waves that no-one has discovered before. The kind of trip where you’re just looking at a map and chasing swell. I’ve had a taste of that on surf trips before, where you can look around the corner and find something… but, of course, it’s always already been found and surfed before.
As weather patterns get more erratic, different places are getting storms that didn’t used to, so there is the real possibility that places that didn’t have waves before do have waves now. The world’s so big and there’s so much coastline. There’s got to be some crazy perfect wave out there that nobody knows about.