Grayson Hinrichs – The World at His Feet
It’s been a long time since Bondi boasted a surfing world champion, but 16 year-old local Grayson Hinrichs rewrote the history books late last year when he took out the ISA World Junior Surfing Championship at Huntington Beach, California.
Not only is he a natural on top of the big blue, he’s also a world class waterman beneath it, confidently spearing kingfish more than half his size when the waves are flat, all the while fending off man-eaters from the deep and maintaining his composure. We caught up with Grayson during the month…
How are you this afternoon, Grayson?
I’m very good, thank you.
What have you been up to this morning?
I went out this morning and checked the surf but it was a little bit fat so I got my spearfishing gear ready and jumped off the rocks and went for a spearfish.
At North Bondi?
Yeah, at North Bondi.
You’re a born and bred Bondi boy, aren’t you?
Yeah, I’ve lived in Bondi pretty much my whole entire life. I’ve surfed here since I started.
What are your favourite things about Bondi?
One of the good things about living in Bondi is it’s got a really tight community, so you always see people you know. It’s a good place to grow up if you want to be a competitive surfer because it’s got really grindy waves and the WQS (World Qualifying Series) is pretty similar. It’s a good place to grow up and learn how to surf bad waves.
You’re 16 years old; what have been your fondest memories of growing up around here?
My fondest memories of growing up in Bondi would be probably back when I was about 12 and we had a massive group of mates and we always used to go down and surf for eight hours every single day. I don’t know how we did it. We had breakfast, went out, then we’d come back and have dinner. It was pretty crazy.
What annoys you about the Eastern Suburbs?
The most annoying thing about living in Bondi and the Eastern Suburbs is definitely the crowds. The crowds are just crazy. You get heaps of people coming in, dropping in on you and thinking they own the joint when they’ve never actually lived here in their life. It’s annoying but it happens.
How do you deal with that in the water, with people not being respectful?
As long as I get a couple of waves in the water I’m not too fussed anymore. When I was younger I got really frustrated because I felt like I could never get a wave, but now that I get a couple more waves, if someone drops in it’s not really worth arguing unless they hurt you.
What changes have you noticed around the area during your life here?
When I first started surfing there were always a lot of people surfing but most of them were pretty experienced. As I’ve gotten older surfing has become pretty trendy, so almost everyone does it now.
Do you think the Eastern Suburbs has changed for the better or for the worse?
There’s definitely a lot more industry in surfing now and everyone’s kind of trying to make money off Bondi. There are heaps of TV shows on – obviously Bondi Rescue has been going forever, but then there’s Bondi Tattoo and The Bondi Vet – and heaps of new shops opening up trying to appeal to the new way of living on the coast. You have the city just there and then you have the beach right there as well, so everyone wants a piece of it.
If you were the mayor for a day, with executive authority to do anything, what major changes would you make?
I would open up Bondi more for competitive surfing and world class competitions. Apparently it’s difficult to get comps in Bondi because there’s already a lot going on at the beach, but I reckon maybe having a couple of fun comps here would be pretty cool.
Are you a member of Bondi Boardriders?
How is the club’s relationship with the powers that be?
Yeah it’s really good. If there are no waves on a particular boardriders competition day they can’t just cancel the whole comp and move it to the next weekend if there’s already another event on, which is understandable. There was the Boost air comp several years ago but that ended for whatever reason. There’s also the SurfAid comps that happen once a year. I heard that people are pushing for more comps in Bondi but they’re hard to organise because there are already so many events on.
Do you remember when you first stood up on a surfboard?
Yeah, it was Christmas, just before I turned seven. That was the first time I surfed.
Do your parents surf?
My dad started when I started, so he’s pretty bad.
When did you realise that you were actually pretty good at surfing and could potentially make a career out of it?
When I was little a few people would come up to me after surfs and compliment me but I didn’t really think much of it. I was still really little.
When you were seven or eight years old?
I was probably about 10. My dad entered me in a couple of grom comps but I could never make it past the quarter-finals. I think I’d just get to that stage every time and have a meltdown and just lose it. I started getting more serious in comps when I was about 12. That was when I started travelling a little bit around Australia.
Did your dad take you everywhere?
Yeah, dad kind of taught me, to see if I wanted to do it or not. He opened it up for me.
It’s expensive to do all the comps too, isn’t it?
Yeah, you really want a sponsor that’ll pay for you to do them.
Speaking of sponsors, how old were you when you first got sponsored?
I’m pretty sure I was 12 years old. I got sponsored by the Globe store in Bondi. This local Globe store opened up and I went in one day and they actually came up to me and were like, “Oh, we’re opening up a team, would you want to be one of the surfers on the team?” I was frothing so hard. They gave me a couple of pairs of shoes, a couple of shirts and shorts; it was like the best day of my life. They gave me stickers too. I only cared about the stickers. I just wanted to slap the stickers on my board.
Who are your major sponsors now?
I got sponsored by Billabong when I was 14 and I’ve been riding for them ever since. That’s my major sponsor. My first board sponsor was Lost Surfboards.
I just bought one up at Surf Culture and it’s bloody unreal…
They’re so sick. Lost was my first board sponsor. They picked me up at Bondi Boardriders. It was actually on a demo day and they were down there. They came up to me after, had a chat, then I called them the next day and ordered some boards. Some of the biggest influences that have come through with my surfing career are Globe, for being my first supporter, and then Lost and Billabong. Lost has just done so much for me; same with Billabong – my first trips, exposing me to new stuff, it’s been awesome to have that support. Surf Culture also opened up a lot of opportunities for me. They gave me some good links.
Froggy (Surf Culture owner) would have to be the most connected man, surfing-wise, in the local area…
You recently won the ISA World Junior Surfing Championship at Huntington Beach, California; can you walk us through that?
I qualified for the world championships in 2017. I won the Australian title, which qualified me for the world titles. I went to California last year, at the end of 2018, and I was going there with a goal just to make the quarters. It was more for the experience. I’d never been in such a big event and I just wanted to just experience the whole thing. I kept pushing on through my rounds and I got to the quarter-finals. I made it through my quarter-final heat and I had this gut feeling; I was like, “Hey, I could win this.” I felt so good going through the rounds. I was thinking, “If I just keep doing what I’m doing and avoid thinking about anything else, I probably could be able to make the finals.”
I got into the semi-finals and then the nerves slowly started kicking in as the rounds got more progressive. I made it through the semis and into the preliminary finals, which is the decider just before the final. There are kind of two finals – it’s a weird format – and I was just standing there thinking, “Wow, this is crazy. This is my chance. I’ve got to go for it.” I ended up winning that and making it to the final.
I was by myself, warming up for the final, and I paddled out four or five minutes before it started. The under 16 girls were on at the time. The girls had just finished as I got out the back and the girl who won stood up on her board, splashing water and just going crazy. She started crying and stuff. I was just like, “Wow, that’d be the best feeling ever, imagine that.”
I went out there and got off to a good start straight away, then backed it up immediately. I was in first place for half the heat, then Kade Matson came in with a couple of pretty good scores, so I needed an 8. The formula was pretty much two turns out the back, two turns on the shore and you’ve got a score of eight-plus, so I waited to have priority and managed to get one, and I ended up getting an 8.6. There was about two minutes left and I just tried to sit on everyone.
Everyone had big scores; everyone was in striking range. They all had sevens and eights. The Japanese guy in the final needed an 8 to win. He took off with about a minute to go and did a massive air and nearly made it but kind of stomped and fell back. If he made that, he would have won. Finally the hooter went off and there I was. I’d actually won. It was pretty intense.
Is it true that most of the guys were a year older than you as well?
Yeah, I won it when I was 15, and I’m pretty sure the rest were 16.
How has your life changed since then?
Coming back to Sydney, everyone was coming up to me and saying congrats, people I’d never seen before. I even signed a couple autographs for some kids, which was pretty funny. People I’d never seen before wanted photos and stuff.
Did your Instagram following go up?
Yeah, I got like 1,000 followers in a day.
Have you had to fight off the birds or were you fighting them off anyway?
No, ha ha, no comment.
A few years back we got sent a photo of a grommet pulling a skateboard down Hastings Parade with an enormous kingfish hanging off either end; do you know the photo I’m talking about?
Yeah, I don’t have the photo of it on my skateboard but I have a photo of me holding it up. I shot that one south of Bondi. I was pretty far away from home and I couldn’t get home because my dad was annoyed with me. He came to get me but I was taking too long. I ended up just strapping it to the skateboard with my float line and dragging it home. It took me about an hour and a half to get home because everyone was stopping me to take photos. Every five metres I’d get stopped. I just started powering through everyone towards the end.
What gives you a bigger buzz: blasting steel through an unsuspecting hoodlum or getting a stand-up barrel?
Oh, getting barrelled is way better than shooting a kingfish. It’s a different feeling, I suppose. Getting barrelled lasts longer. You just always have the memory there; the feeling stays there forever.
Every time you think about it?
Yeah, it’s just there. When you shoot a king there’s kind of like the buzz of adrenalin, but it happens so quick that you don’t really remember what happened. You just fillet it, eat it and it’s just gone – you kind of eat the memory – whereas getting barrelled stays with you forever.
Has your diving helped with your surfing in any way?
Oh, yeah. Ever since I started pushing my diving, holding my breath for up to two minutes plus, I kind of enjoy getting pumped by big waves now.
Because you can hold your breath for so long?
I can just hold my breath and stay really relaxed. The Surfing Australia High Performance Centre actually did a little course on impact zone training with breath-hold. They taught me some skills to stay calm in big waves if everything goes wrong, which it usually does.
How long can you hold your breath for?
Have you done a timed breath-hold? I’ve never timed it but I can dive down to 20 to 25 metres for around two minutes, but I’m not really fussed about that because to get the fish you don’t need to be down long.
How long do you need to be down to catch a 95-centimetre kingfish?
What depth are you usually at? The kings sit mid-surface at about 10 metres so you need to be around 15 to 20 metres down. They usually just hang off ledges. They’re stupid fish most of the time so you don’t really need to hold your breath. You just dive down, shoot it in the head, hold on to your gun and pray it doesn’t take you down with it. That’s about it.
How far do you think surfing can take you?
Obviously you’re still young, but are there other things that you would like to pursue or are you just going all out with your surfing? I’m definitely going to go all out with surfing, really try and milk it and see how far it can take me. I’d love to be able to do it professionally and be on the World Championship Tour (WCT) within the next few years. It’d be the best thing ever. I’m definitely interested in lifeguarding as well. Lifeguarding at Bondi would be really fun. I know it’s pretty hectic but I just reckon it’d be so sick. If I wasn’t surfing right now, if I didn’t have surfing going for me, I would definitely be lifeguarding when I finish school, for sure.
If you do make a career out of surfing would you prefer to do so as a competitive surfer contesting WCT events or as a free surfer?
Competitive surfing is what I’ve grown up doing. It’s all I know really and you can’t angle yourself towards free surfing. It just doesn’t work like that. You have to pretty much come from a competitive background. I definitely would rather be a competitive surfer. Getting to travel the world with all your mates and just surfing and making money from it would be sick, but free surfing does look amazing. You get to do nothing and surf and get paid for it, but I’m not going to go for that; it’s too far-fetched.
Did you make many new mates when you did the Huntington Beach comp?
Yeah, there were around 400 people in the event and I probably made 100 new friends from all around the world. Everyone says, “Stay at mine next time you’re here!” You make so many great connections.
How was your recent trip to Hawaii?
Hawaii was epic. I managed to get a few good barrels and learnt to foil with some mates that I’ve met over there in the past. The waves were pretty good and we had a couple of insane sessions between the winds.
Do you have a favourite WCT surfer?
I reckon Wade Carmichael’s pretty sick. His power game’s so good. I love watching power surfing rather than people just doing chop-hops.
Among some of the young guys there seems to be a bit of a move away from the fancy aerial manoeuvres and back towards power surfing; do you prefer ripping out a big carve or getting airborne?
I think doing airs is the best feeling ever. If you just spin through the air and land it that definitely gets you super psyched, but I think you need a bit of both now. It was definitely angled towards aerial surfing for a while there but the tour is kind of shifting back to a bit of both, so you definitely need to be able to do both to be on tour.
Which surfers do you look up to around the Eastern Suburbs?
Definitely Perth (Standlick) and Sage (Gubbay). They help me a lot with my surfing. It’s good to know them when you’re surfing crowded Bondi.
Do they take you away on trips and stuff as well?
Yeah, definitely. They’ve showed me a lot of new waves, especially Perth.
Maroubra surfer Blake Thornton is coaching you; is that right?
Yeah, Blake’s probably my biggest inspiration. He’s taught me everything since I was 12. Blake is the best surf coach in Australia. He just knows me the best out of everyone. He’s so supportive.
Is he still competing in any comps?
I think he does a couple every so often when he travels with some of the older QS (Qualifying Series) people he coaches, but not really. He just has his own business now, Awayco, and a bunch of other stuff.
Is it true that you’ve never beaten Perth in a Bondi Boardrider’s heat? Yes, that is true.
Will this be the year?
Yes it will. I refuse to lose to him again. I have to beat him once. I’ve gotten close but he’s always gotten the better of me. It sucks.
He’s in your head…
What’s your favourite surf break?
In the summer I like surfing Tamarama the most because of the nor-east swells. Or Mackenzies, but that place doesn’t break anymore; it’s given up.
What about your favourite wave you’ve ridden anywhere in the world?
It would have to be Teahupo’o. I surfed there at the start of 2017, so I would have been 14. I went with Lost Surfboards and a couple of other groms. We stayed there for a couple weeks and it’s just the most perfect wave ever.
How big did you score it?
Well I paddled out when it was on the border of tow size and paddle size, but I only got one in the morning and the crowd got too intense with the locals. When it’s around that six-foot size it’s just the most perfect wave you’ll ever surf. It just rolls in, easy take-off and then it hits the shallow section and you get so barrelled.
Is it dangerous?
You hit the bottom every wave if you fall off. You literally hit the bottom every time you fall. It’s really shallow. You get cut up and you definitely want to have a bunch of limes waiting at home.
What are your thoughts on traditional fibreglass versus epoxy surfboards?
The great debate. I own a bunch of both and I reckon you have to go with an epoxy when it’s small and grovelly. It’s easier. You can’t really surf a one-foot mushy wave with a glass board. Epoxy boards definitely make your surfing really flicky and slidey. It’s a bit like you’re riding a skateboard. I definitely prefer to ride a glass board in anything over two foot.
What’s your go-to short board for competitions?
My all-rounder go-to is definitely a Lost Surfboards ‘Driver’. It’s just a normal rounded square thruster with light glassing. It goes good.
Do you have any other sporting skills beside your spearfishing and surfing? Are you one of those blokes who is good at everything?
I love skating. Skating’s definitely an awesome thing to do when there’s nothing else to do, but I recently injured myself pretty badly. I was out of the water for a month because I tore my LCL (lateral collateral ligament) skating, so I’ve kind of steered away from skating a bit right now.
Do you play any team sport?
I hate all team sports. When I was little I used to go to Cranbrook so I played rugby, and I was actually pretty good at rugby, but everyone grew and I didn’t. It wasn’t very enjoyable getting destroyed by kids three times your size.
There have been multiple shark sightings this summer, including a four-metre great white at Bronte and Tamarama when I was out the other morning; are they on your mind?
I only really think about sharks when I’m by myself on the far north coast, but I never think about sharks at home. They’re there but they’re usually just cruising past.
Do you think there are more sharks around now, or do you think it’s just because there are more drones and more people looking for them so they’re spotting ones that previously would have gone unnoticed?
Ever since drones have come into the picture I think they’re just out there to scare you more. I know they’re intending to be there to let people know if there’s a shark so they can get out of the water – I think they’re helpful and they probably do prevent shark attacks – but I think now that they’re showing it to everyone, it’s just more of the scare factor. I don’t really ever look at the footage anymore.
Have you had any close encounters?
Yeah, I’ve had great whites breach next to me surfing on the north coast and I’ve had a bull shark kind of knock me off my surfboard on the north coast, but nothing around home. I’ve seen big bull sharks and hammerheads while diving around here though.
Can you tell us what happened the other month after you’d speared a little kingfish?
I’d just jumped in the water, shot a nice little king and I was gutting it on the surface hoping for some more kings to come in. I did a drop and I just saw this massive bull shark coming straight at me. I just dropped my heart rate, gave it eye contact and it swam off into the depths.
How do you drop your heart rate?
You just kind of relax. You don’t really think about it. Just don’t move any muscles and kind of slowly move your head. Keeping eye contact is the most important thing.
And was there a hammerhead on the same day?
Yeah, a couple of days before. I’d shot a 13-kilo kingfish and was gutting it on the surface. It was pretty murky water actually. My mate just started screaming, so I looked up and there was this massive hammerhead right next to me. I think it was just there for the guts and then it swam off.
Do you think culling should be allowed?
Culling sharks is the worst idea the government has ever put out. It just kills all the cycle, the natural cycle. They’re not out there to kill you. We’re in their home. It’s our problem. If we get attacked, it’s our fault not theirs.
It’s just something you have to live with?
Something you have to live with, yeah. Don’t go in the water if you’re scared of sharks.
I agree, although if I knew that I was definitely going to get eaten by one I wouldn’t mind if someone killed it first…
If one ate me, or took a foot off or something, I’d definitely go out and try and get revenge.
How do you feel about the current marine park legislation?
I personally think the marine park lockouts are complete rubbish with no science-based proof of recreational fishing’s impact – there is no impact. It’s a bid to appeal to the uneducated on the issue and it needs to be completely thrown out.
Why should young local kids join their board riders club?
Joining Bondi Boardriders or any local club when you’re a grom is great for meeting new people and getting that first experience in competitive surfing. That’s how I started. I just joined Bondi Boardriders, did a couple of comps and built up my competitive surfing through that.
Who’s Bondi’s A-team at the moment?
Bondi’s A-team is probably Perth, Sage, Chris Friend, Pama Davies and sometimes they bring Clancy Dawson down from up the coast. They mix it up a bit. It’s changed a few times.
How far off are you from getting a spot in the A-team?
I surf for them in the tag teams now but I suck at tag teams.
What is your plan of attack for the pro juniors? Do you have to pick certain comps? How does that all work?
I plan to do every single pro junior this year. I want to make top 10 in the pro juniors. I missed one because I got invited to a Julian Wilson comp, and when Julian Wilson personally invites you to a competition you’re definitely going to choose that over anything else. I’m glad I did because I ended up winning that comp.
I assume you want to beat Perth in board riders this year too?
That’s my number one priority.
When can you start competing in the QS?
I did one the other week but I stuffed up. I nearly made my heat, actually, but I made a priority mistake and the waves were too small to get back in first priority. There’s no making mistakes in those events and there’s a lot of luck involved, too.
Will you do more QS competitions?
I’ll hopefully do one or two more this year, depending how everything’s going and my schedule, because with surfing a lot comes up out of nowhere.
Who are the local groms to look out for at the moment?
Definitely Luke Adam. He’s probably my best mate. Luke’s getting really good. His surfing has stepped up to the next level within the last year, so within a couple years he’ll be deadly. Monty Tait from Maroubra is next level too. He should be on tour.
In a perfect world, what does the future hold for Grayson Hinrichs?
I’d definitely like to be on tour in a few years, and stay on tour. And then whenever that ends, depending on how old or young I am, I’ll either get back on the QS and try to get back on tour or go and work as a lifeguard.