Chris Thomson from Longboarder Magazine talks contests, spirituality, music and family with former World Longboard Champion Beau Young.
CT: Starting at the beginning, how did you get into surfing?
BY: I was on a surfboard before I could swim. When I was young I had a near-drowning experience where my mum had to pull me out of a whirlpool near the shore by some rocks, so I was pretty gun-shy in the ocean for a long time. A surfboard felt like a bit of a lifesaving device at first!
I started learning properly at around eight years of age and I vividly remember my first waves, clinging onto my dad’s back in the shallows like a little turtle, riding the breakers into the shore.
CT: What was life like growing up with your dad being Nat Young?
BY: I’d always loved surfing but at a young age I didn’t understand the weight that my dad carried from the things that he and his friends did at pivotal times in surfing’s history. I had no idea. It was probably mid to late teens when it really dawned on me, having watched Morning of the Earth and other films with my dad in them.
Having a famous surfer as a father could have gone either way… it could have helped but it could also have been a hindrance because people expected great things of me that weren’t necessarily there. But my dad was never the kind of person to push me too hard. Neither of my parents wanted me to do anything other than what I was drawn to and I never at any point felt any pressure from them.
CT: Did you get guidance from your parents when it came to the contests?
BY: Honestly, none whatsoever. My dad just didn’t do that and my mum wasn’t really into that side of surfing, but she took me to events when I was in my teens and obviously was hoping I’d do well.
A pivotal event for me was in my last contest against Joel in Raglan. I’d decided that I wasn’t doing it anymore, whether it was a win, a lose or a draw. My dad had his sixtieth birthday on the night before the final and I got no sleep at all. I was beside myself but my dad was there for it – and I remember at that time it felt like I was finally on my journey, not in his shadow in any way.
CT: What continues to draw you to surfing?
BY: The older I get the clearer it becomes. I’ve been writing a lot of songs lately and the album I’m releasing this year is called Higher Calling. A lot of my songs sound spiritual in vain, and I guess they are, but not in a traditional sense. It’s more about being connected, as surfers, with something so much bigger and more important than us. I’d describe it as a daily baptism, immersing ourselves in Mother Nature. So, for me, surfing is a spiritual escape and it grounds me at the same time.
CT: That’s very cool. Nowadays you’re splitting your life between the UK and Australia, so what does a typical day look like for you now? Do you have the same sort of routines for both?
BY: On the days here in the UK I’m mostly with my daughter Ava. We both know that when I leave I could be away for four or five months and it’s a big deal for us, so our connection is really strong. And when I’m not doing daddy duty I’m either shaping boards, making music or going surfing.
Surfing, shaping, guitar, and my daughter remain my priorities when I’m in Australia too, but at this point in time Ava’s not there. She does come out though sometimes, which is amazing.
CT: At what point did you start shaping and who guided you in your craft?
BY: I shaped my first board, a single fin, around the age of twenty and then I plodded along making a few a year. I never learned all of the processes from anyone – my dad showed me a few things but it was often done in haste so I could help him out! The biggest thing I learned from him though, is ‘look at it and look at it again’. That’s so important with hand-shaping and it’s been a really fun learning process that I’ve only just really got my head around, if I’m honest. And I think I’ll always be continuing to evolve. It’s like playing a musical instrument. You’ll never fully master it and that’s the beauty of these fun things that we get to do in life.
CT: I guess it teaches you to enjoy the journey, because there is no final destination with this?
BY: Exactly. And sometimes, with shaping, boards will feel pretty weird under my arm and I’m not sure about them, but then in the water they’re mind-altering. That’s what happened with my Twin Fin, which I named the Quokka after the Australian marcupial! If you don’t know Quokkas, Google them. They’re so cute.
CT: From the Quokka to the Pendulum! Can you tell us a little about that longboard model?
BY: It’s an out-and-out ode to Donald Takayama’s Model T board. Donald left a beautiful board with me once and I rode the heck out of that thing for twelve years solid. It enabled me to truthfully understand single fin longboarding.
I do bevel the front third around the concave dish quite a lot more than Donald did because I like having multiple rails for turning capabilities…but otherwise it’s a 100% ode.
CT: What kind of sizes would you ride the Pendulum in?
BY: Probably ankle high to shoulder-high, nothing more, personally.
CT: And what board size?
BY: 9’4 is my go-to.
CT: How would someone get their hands on one?
BY: Through my Instagram or website.
CT: Great. Can you tell us a little bit about being a brand ambassador for Coastlines and how that came about?
BY: It all came about through a Kiwi friend of mine who wanted me to be involved with testing the wetsuits in New Zealand in cold water. I liked what they were doing as a company, so I agreed. They don’t have lots of flashy names or catchphrases in their brand; they’re just bloody good suits at a great price and I love that. Check out Coastlines here.
CT: You’ve recently released your album, You, so let’s talk music. How would you describe your approach and style?
BY: Wanting to write more music was one of the big reasons that I stopped competing. I feel that music can be a big voice for change and the more I’ve played, the more I’ve felt I have to say.
I think that everyone thinks that if you’re a surfer playing an acoustic guitar you’ve got to sound like Jack Johnson. He’s an amazing guy but I’m at a different end of the spectrum. I’m not good at being boxed in and I think that my latest album is a good example of that. There’s eighties Eurythmics/Talking Heads driven-stuff and there’s all-out rock and there’s pop and there’s Americana… I’m not in one lane, creatively, but it feels natural to me.
CT: Who would you say has influenced your music?
BY: Bob Dylan, massively. JJ Cale, Paul Simon, Tracy Chapman, Talking Heads, John Cougar, Steve Earl, Tom Petty, Neil Young. On the slightly heavier side, The Cult. I listen to a lot of jazz too.
CT: When is your new album coming out?
BY: We’re going to do some single releases by the middle of the year so the album may be the end of year. I know that people have short attention spans these days and don’t even necessarily listen to full albums, but I’m going to do it anyway and make a vinyl record!
CT: What are your other plans for 2023? Would you do more contests?
BY: The ego in me might like to compete but the real me doesn’t. I love seeing Ben Skinner and Taylor and Joel and all those guys surf, and I love seeing the young guys coming through. They’re great people to be around but I just don’t like the way that competition environments make me feel. I don’t have it in me anymore.
CT: What was your most memorable contest?
BY: A tube-riding event in Puerto Escondido in 1999. It was a serious rising hurricane swell that day but they wanted to prove a point that longboards could ride anything that shortboards could, so they sent us out anyway. Myself and the other guy in the final paddled for a twelve footer, missed it, and turned around to a freak obscuring the horizon. We almost got caught. My three fin Volan triple stringer got dragged eighty feet and broke in three pieces and I thought that if the wave had got me I would have died there and then, because it was only about a foot and a half deep. We couldn’t go in but we managed to get back to the boat on the outside which took us back to the harbour. I remember I kissed the sand and called my grandmother to tell her I’d had this near-death experience and wanted her to know that I loved her very much.
It stands out as the monumental contest for me because it was life and death and Mother Nature being the almighty power.
CT: Wow, I wasn’t expecting that! On a lighter note, what would be your dream surf trip?
BY: Well, I’ve always been torn between the two aspects of surf trips. I love Europe and its history, so the best surf trip could be Italy, for example, because of its history and people. But when it comes to waves, I’d have to say Northern Indonesia. I got to experience waking up to six to eight foot perfection there, by fluke after our boat broke down overnight! Absolutely no-one was around except me and my friends. I think that’s the ideal.
CT: Left or right?
BY: Right. I get that there might be a little tug-of-war out on the boat with all my goofy mates though!
CT: Finally, why do you think that longboarding is continuing to surge in popularity on a global scale?
BY: Well, I see the world through a musical lens a lot and I think that surfing has gone through phases of being trapped in a genre. Like, why does it all have to be pop? Why can’t it be jazz? I think there’s a lot of factors that have influenced its popularity but overall, the surfing world has opened up with its shapes and styles. It’s so special to see. And it’s about freakin’ time! It allows for individuality and the more individuality the better.