Andrew Cotton is an inspirational surfer who tackles some of the world’s largest waves. In this interview, he talks about how his connection to Nazaré, Portugal helps him overcome some of the mental challenges faced when surfing these extraordinary waves.
Ahead of the release of our upcoming big wave editorial film 'Cotty: Comfortable with the Uncomfortable', the Saltrock team flew over to Nazaré to catch Cotty in his natural habitat and delve deeper into the Nazaré story:
Like the look of this sweatshirt? Check out the Dimension Stonewash Sweatshirt
J: People describe you as humble and you never go seeking attention or fame. In North Devon, obviously everyone knows you.
C: I don’t know if that’s good or bad haha.
J: I think it’s a good thing. If you could surf without all the attention, do you think you still would?
C: I think it’s funny because I do love surfing, but also, I love working on projects and creating content, so it’s like a double-edged sword. You’re creating things to raise your profile and inspire people, but at the same time I feel like there should be no ego about it. And I think there is a lot of ego in surfing but for me it’s always about having fun, surfing in a crowd of waves and just trying to not get involved in all the hype. Let your surfing do the talking, which can be hard to do. It’s a tightrope of having a career and keeping on doing what you love doing and a huge part of that is being in the media, but still making sure not to listen to your own ego and hype.
J: It’s funny because Pedro said something similar yesterday, he said at the end of the day it’s a competitive industry and [drama] is always going to happen... but Cotty’s one of the people you never really hear gossip about.
C: Yeah, it doesn’t mean you don’t think about it. In any sport and any industry there’s always politics, but it’s not getting sucked into all that because it’s something that doesn’t make me happy. What makes me happy is nice weather and good waves. That’s what it’s about… hanging out with good people who aren’t too self-centred.
J: You’ve got a lot of support in the local community; how does that help you?
C: I suppose life’s often about relationships and building relationships, and friendships. I find myself fortunate as an outsider coming to a foreign country where I don’t speak the language but still being able to create friendships over the same passion. Waves, surfing, filming, photography and where we are. I love Nazare and Portugal and a lot of the people I’ve been fortunate to meet are also very passionate about where they’re from. For me, I’m just a tourist enjoying their country and their town and for them they’re local people who are very passionate about showing tourists their town and country. They’ve been so helpful and welcoming, which speaks volumes. That’s why it works so well because there are so many passionate people.
J: Do you see any parallels between North Devon and here?
C: Yeah and no. Nazare is a seaside town with amazing beaches, and it is very seasonal like North Devon, and relies on tourism so I guess there are parallels. But also, the cultures are very different, and the people are very different as well.
J: We spoke to Jorge and Pedro, both kept talking about your dedication and perseverance as attributes that make you stand out.
C: It’s funny they say that because that’s how I’d describe them both as well. They’re both very dedicated to the surf industry and the town. Jorge from a filming and photography perspective how he’s dedicated a large part of his career to capturing Nazare and promoting it. And Pedro with how he’s been key in starting it. That’s why we’re here in the first place… that’s definitely why I’m here.
Pedro started the project in 2010 to bring Garret here and how he’s always helped and supported me personally. I couldn’t have done a lot of the stuff I’ve done here, projects and spending time here and yeah just making me feel so welcome. And supporting me as an athlete with the car surf, the facilities there and the pool.
Fact: Nazare has produced five of the six biggest waves ever surfed.
J: It’s amazing that you’ve managed to make a career from a sport where not many seem to make it. How do you think your ambition has led you to into the more dangerous side of surfing?
C: I’m just doing what I love, and if I didn’t love it then I wouldn’t do it. There’s a tipping point – I’ve made so many sacrifices and I’m almost at the point of no return, like why would I give up now? You come so far… I could never image life without surfing or big waves.
J: Earlier you mentioned being ‘comfortable with the uncomfortable’, could you elaborate on that quickly?
C: I think that kind of mindset is in training, but also being in the ocean when the waves are crazy and massive. It takes a lot to be comfortable in those situations which takes time. That’s why I go back to treating the surfing journey as a marathon not a sprint. You can’t expect to be comfortable in those situations overnight or just after a season – it takes time.
Before any swell or before a surf, there’s board prep and attention to detail with the skis and all that stuff, those things have been going on for so long. It’s 10, 20 years of prep, not just the day before – it’s constant. That preparation with boards, jet skis is constant.
J: How does your surfing fit in with your lifestye like family life and even down to your morning routine?
C: I think that’s the beauty of doing something you’re so passionate about about. Every day is about the ocean; being outdoors; checking the conditions and deciding you’re gonna do that day… things that make you happy.
J: Even after surfing for all these years, do you still get nervous at all?
C: Yeah, of course you do before surfs and sessions, but for me that’s a good thing it keeps you in check and again it’s that feeling of overcoming those nerves and still getting those waves/moments.
J: How would you describe to people that don’t know what it’s like to be under water for those huge waves?
C: You can’t describe it. Falling and having a wipe-out is like having a car crash underwater. The impact, force, not knowing when you’re next going to be able to breathe. There are certain waves where being able to detach yourself from the situation is key to surviving.
J: How would you describe the feeling when you’re riding a big wave or about to?
C: You’re zoned. Pretty focused, things don’t matter. The monkey mind or negative chatter which I think we all get, and the self-doubt just goes. When you’re actually doing – there’s always that before thing and the after but when you’re actually doing, it’s just tranquil no matter how crazy the waves are. That’s the peace. I think that’s maybe the thing that draws you back to it, because in this day and age we constantly seem to be stimulated and there’s so much going on. And in those moments when you’re actually surfing big waves, or you’re on the ropes or you’re doing safety or you’re driving all that chatter’s just gone.
J: Does it feel quite special because you were the one that pulled Garret in… does it feel quite special to be here from the start?
C: Umm, yeah but again it’s like I just feel very fortunate and lucky, you know? Because it could have been anyone! People have been surfing this beach for so long, the locals, the bodyboarders, the crew… it’s not like we came here and invented surfing haha. They were all doing it before us, they might not have been using jet skis all the time. Again, it’s just about not getting caught up in the hype and not believing your own bullshit haha.
J: You still must be proud of what you’ve done?
C: Yeah, of course I’m proud but it is what it is. I’m not going to let it – it’s not gonna change how I act or be. You still act with respect and a lot of ambition personally. Its not like okay I've done that I don’t need to do anything else. I still want to achieve, want to surf – every season I still have those goals.
J: It’s nearly the end of the season. What are you aiming for next year?
C: To be on every big swell, slowly improve, be fit and to get a couple of the biggest waves, the most critical lines, every season. I don’t want like fifty of the biggest waves – just one or two and I’m stoked.