Chasing My Dream on 80ft Waves – Andrew Cotton Big Wave Surfer

My dad bought me a surf board when I was 7yrs old, we lived in North Devon by the beach so it was the natural thing to do. I took to it pretty easily, I liked the ocean and I was quite a confident swimmer.

Andrew Cotton Red Bull Surfer

My first passion is surfing. I’m a qualified plumber but a couple of years back I decided plumbing wasn’t what I wanted. I was spending a lot of time away from home and away from my family. Sure I was earning good money but that’s not what life is about, I’d rather be skint and surfing than surfing just at the weekends!

My plumbing trade did come in handy as I built our family home. I did all the plumbing myself and project managed the build. We’re in a year and a half now although my wife will argue the house wasn’t finished when we moved in as I only got round to one of the bathrooms about 6 months ago! I guess it’s true what they say about tradesmen’s houses, always the last to get done!

When I quit plumbing I retrained as a lifeguard. The plan was I would spend my time near the water get surfing properly again. My goal was to try and make it as a pro surfer and I needed to be near the water to do that. It has turned out OK, I’m sponsored by Red Bull and some other great companies and get to do what I love!

Product idea

I’m not a contest surfer. I won some local competitions around where I grew up never the national competitions. I always found surfing the bigger waves easier so I naturally progressed to surfing the big waves I do now. We don’t get the big waves here in the UK so I’ve been chasing swells in Portugal and Ireland. Nazare in Portugal is the biggest in Europe, in February 2014 I surfed a 70-80ft giant. That was the toughest I’ve surfed for sure!

I’m always amped for any kind of surfing. I guess the ultimate feeling is a barrel but I love surfing, 2ft or 20ft waves it doesn’t matter. I surf them all the same. You see some guys surfing big waves bouncing down out of control, but I want to go out there and surf waves progressively, pull critical exciting turns, surf the wave in a way I’d like to watch.

The life of a pro surfer is the dream really, I’d been working hard to do for a long time. It’s not just surfing. I do motivational talks, promotional events, shot videos, I work closely with sponsors to make sure we all get the most out of the deal.

As a big wave surfer, I’m just one of a team. Gareth makes my boards with SPO in Portugal, they’ve come up with a pretty magical formula. Their board changes the game really.

It’s different to a normal surfboard, short at only 6ft but weighs in much heavier than normal at 12kg. It’s a tow in board, I’m pulled onto the wave by a jet ski. It’s a shorter smaller board for control but super heavy so I can generate the speed needed on the face of a big wave.

Andrew Cotton Red Bull Surfer Ireland

The board has got a carbon deck so the deck doesn’t bend under my feet, straps to hook my feet into and a flex in the nose so that I don’t get the shock from the big bumps you get on big waves. I don’t wear a helmet, some people do it’s just my personal preference. I wear an inflatable vest that goes under the suit from Patagonia, and UK surf company Tiki have made me other personal floatation kit that goes over my wetsuit.

I fall all the time! But every big wave we do is calculated, I trust my kit and trust the team to rescue me so it’s actually relatively safe. You’re only as good as your team and I’m really lucky I work with some of the best people in the world. I’m used to falling so I’m relaxed about it even if the wave is pretty big. Just relax, hold your breath and wait until you surface.

I travel a lot for work and often hear horrific stories. I’ve just returned from Fiji where I was lifeguarding at an event. I was working with local fishermen, working on their boats we were chatting. The fishermen were telling me how their government is selling the fishing rights to these super trawlers from China.

Product idea

Once a month these massive boats come in and take all the fish out of the sea, leaving nothing for the locals. These are guys who just want to feed their families and feed their communities, how is this fair? And this stuff happens the world over. I would like to know more of the facts and spread the word. It’s not right, and it’s not sustainable.

As a surfer I see lots of plastics in the sea and it’s worrying. I always do my best to do my little bit, clean the ocean or the beach. It’s important, but it would be much better if the plastics didn’t up there in the first place.

Andrew Cotton Red Bull Surfer Bike

Some of my favourite days surfing have been off the West Coast of Ireland in Mullaghmore in County Sligo. That’s where big wave surfing started for me, Ireland is beautiful. It can be cold and harsh but if you’re organised you can have some of the best waves in the world from October through to March.

Probably my favourite beaches in the UK are where I grew up, both my parents are from Devon and they got me started on the beaches there. It will be the same for my kids if they want to surf. There are 3 beaches I think are the best, right along the North Devon coast, Saunton, Croyde and Woolacombe. Each has got different waves for surfers of different abilities.

What I really like about surfing, particularly surfing big waves like I do, is you never know when or where the next big wave will come from. It’s not like other sports where you’ve a set day for an event or a race, which suits me because I don’t lead a particular structured life! The waves get bigger, and we’re always finding new waves. Nazare is only relatively new, discovered about 6 years ago. That’s the plan, find these new big waves and the dream continues!

Follow Andrew’s surfing at

Photo Credits: Hugo Silva and Richie Hopson / Red Bull Content Pool