Sunday, January 15th 2012 (Yallingup, West Australia): West Australian surfing legend, Taj Burrow, entered his first competition at the age of nine, a local boardriders club round at Exmouth in the state’s north. There were so few young surfers, spindly little Burrow was forced into the Under 18 division. He won.
Now, more than two decades on and his astonishing professional career still bubbling at its peak, the 33 year-old ASP Men’s World Title aspirant presides over one of Australia’s most revered competitive stepping stones – the annual Billabong Taj’s Small Fries U/16 junior event – held each January in Yallingup in his honour.
In 2012, the Taj’s Small Fries celebrated its seventh edition and again the Fries came, nearly 100 grommets and their families, coaches and minders, to compete and encourage each other to the podium across five divisions. In building three-to-four foot waves (double overhead for some competitors!) at Yallingup’s intimidating main break, the 2012 Small Fries contenders battled their way to the finals.
Jack Robinson, a prodigy of Burrow’s ilk from nearby Margaret River, surfed his way to his third straight win in the blue-ribbon U/16 Boys division, the blonde 14 year-old natural-foot holding out two other locals, Jacob Willcox and Josh Burke, and perennial East Coast contender, Jeames Young (Angourie, NSW). Robinson has made the comp his own. Three years ago he qualified for the final in all three divisions and everybody was suddenly asking, “Jack Who?”
Zac Wightman (Skennars Head, NSW), Dexter Muskens (Kirra, Qld), Eliza Greene (Yallingup, WA) and Emi Campbell (Denmark, WA) won the other divisions, accepting their first-place swag from Lord Burrow during a casual preso at Yall’s infamous rest-stop, Caves House.
Some surfers are still too frail to paddle in the ocean alone. For them Burrow conceived the “Push In” division; a spectacle where fleets of micro-sized grommets are pushed by loving parents shoreward on boards that would not float anyone twice their size. Except of course these kids are about two-foot tall and if the wind was strong, could be blown away like bluebottles on the breeze. They are awarded prizes too.
“It’s unbelievable to think this event has been running for seven years,” reflects Burrow, who can see the entire set-up from his newly built home overlooking Yallingup’s surfing amphitheatre. “There’s some guys I surf with locally and I still look at them as younger kids. Then they told me they were in the first Small Fries event and I was like, ‘Huh, what?’ but they’re fully-grown, in their early 20s which is just bizarre. Time has really flown.”
Burrow is undoubtedly a surfing freak. Well before he won his first event, it was clear he possessed something special. With his parents watching nervously from shore, little fry-guy Burrow was confronted with a wall of white water during a freesurf. Instead of panicking, baby-Burrow held on tight and copped the wave head-on. Somehow in the fracas he stood up with his back to the beach, the board spun round and he continued riding in.
“I’m of the belief the more experience you have, the more time in the water, the more heats you surf, the better the foundation you have to a successful career. I’ve watched a few guys compete right through the under twelves, under fourteens, under sixteens and during that five to six year period progress a lot,” says Burrow. “It makes me feel good to know that kids come across the country to surf in the event. Rivalries have developed, there’s the opportunity for them to develop their skills in a variety of conditions and I’m proud to be a part of that,” he adds.