Some time Winter time. from zac haynes on Vimeo.

Only hours after the Nazare Big Wave Challenge had finished I walked up to the top of the ancient fort to check on the free surfing session. As I arrived I saw a giant teepee rear up, as big as any ridden in the comp. At the last moment a ginger hued goofyfooter swung, committed completely and airdropped down the face of a 30-footer. He stuck the landing, before being lit up like a Christmas tree that had just been struck by lightning. 

“Who the fuck was that?” I asked. The answer, I found was Zac Haynes. The 23-year-old West Australian has quietly gone about making a name for himself in waves like Nazare, Cow Bombie, Cloudbreak, Puerto Escondido and the Right. The results, shown in his clip Winter Madness, blew minds. Even more impressively he’s done it with limited sponsors. We decided to catch up with Haynes and see just where he’s come from and where he’s going 

Tracks: How much time have you spent at Nazare?

Zac: I’ve been there the last three years. My first was the Euro winter in 15/16 when I did a quick trip. However I ending up getting two weeks of waves and just fell in love with the place. This winter I spent four months there, just trying to paddle it mostly. 

Most surfers there have a crew, how did you manage it? 

I was solo mostly. It’s hard in many ways as everyone is in a team. They’ll have two skis, a driver each for surf and for safety, so you need to be in one to tow the wave. So I mainly paddled. I’d just paddle from the town and then if you get cleaned up you have to start again and walk back over the hill. I mean the guys there have been amazing, and always go out of their way to help and pick you up, but I don’t expect anyone to come and get me. I’m putting myself out there on my own and back myself to stay safe. 

How do you fund the European trips? 

I’m lucky I have dual citizenship. My dad’s Irish and mum is English so I worked over in London as a plasterer to fund my Nazare trips. My sponsors ION and 3DFins have been great in throwing the odd plane ticket here or there, but I’m pretty much self-funded. I work as landscaper at home and my bosses have been great in letting me bail when there’s a swell.  

Where did you grew up? 

I grew up a cupla 100 metres from City Beach, Perth, that known big wave spot (laughs).  It was never over two foot. However most weekend we went to Margarets and that helped my big wave surfing. Because we never got waves at home, I would go out no matter what. It didn’t matter how big. Not having waves pushed me. 

There’s big, and there’s big though. When did you realize you wanted to go the next level? 

I remember when I was about 13 or so and I’d see the guys like Antman Patterson and Dan Corbett going out to Cow Bombie from Gracetown. I was like, ‘I just want to go out there.’ I kept asking for them to take me out. I didn’t know how big it was out there, but I just knew I wanted to surf it. Eventually they took me out and it was so big, and loud and I loved it. Then next I wanted to surf the Right, and that happened. It just snowballed from there. 

Now though, especially at Nazare, you are surfing with some of the best big wave guys in the world. Do you think you are one a similar level? 

At Nazare it’s been great to surf and make friends with guys like Twiggy Baker, Cottie, Chumbo and Garrett. I think I’m at their level. I mean, if a wave comes and I’m in the spot I’ll go every time. 

That Cloudbreak swell was another big step it seemed. You stood out there in what was a heavy crew of chargers. 

Well, I don’t have a problem taking off any size wave at Cloudbreak. That day I scored it I paddled out at first light and there was only Tom Lowe and Dane Gudauskas out there and we all got some sick ones. I had so much fun. I only made one wave, but it’s all about the vision. If you make it I reckon you haven’t gone deep enough. If I haven’t been absolutely flogged, I feel I haven’t gone as hard as I could have.

And what are the plans for 2019? 

My goal is to make it on to the BWT. I think I had a good year last year. I scored a big swell at Cloudbreak, and scored a few big ones, both paddle and towing, at Nazare. With my partner Mick Corbett we are focusing on the winter in Oz. I feel like I’m on the right track. I just have to keep chipping away. 

How hard is it to crack a spot on the BWT? 

It is difficult. There’s no set pathway. You get on by showing up to the waves and performing when it matters. I’ve missed out on a few good sessions at Jaws and I’ve had some time at Mavericks, but for me it’s hard to chase all the swells because of the costs. 

But my goal is to make a career out of surfing. I want to make the tour as a first step and if that happens the goal would be to win it. I want to keep pushing myself and progress the sport. Oh, and have fun while I’m doing it.