He might not yet be a household name on Australia’s wave-crazy shores, but plumber turned pro-surfer Andrew Cotton is certainly riding high on waves of success. Andrew’s plumbing career backed a dream to turn his 9 to 5 to surfing. As a successful Red Bull athlete, Andrew travels the world in search of perfect waves and a dream to ride the biggest of all time. Our roving reporter Matt Reynolds chatted with Andrew as he began the big wave season in Portugal. They share an insight into surfing, sponsorship and lessons learned with plunger in hand.
MR We first connected because you commented on one of my Instagram posts. I clicked your pro le and found that you are referred to as Britain’s most famous plumber. I had to nd out more. For a start, who gave you that title?
AC [laughing] Yeah, I think it was the Daily Mail. Britain’s most notorious newspaper came up with the headline ‘plumber surfs biggest wave ever’ and it stuck.
MR Do you hold the record for the biggest wave ever surfed?
AC No, it wasn’t certified as the biggest. That record is still held by Garrett McNamara who I actually surf with loads. The wave I surfed was reported to be about 80 feet. It’s always been a dream and I’m sure it will happen at some point. I always try to have fun and enjoy my surfing. If I stick by these rules, I’m pretty sure the goal of surfing the biggest wave will happen naturally.
MR Tell me about the work you did as a plumber?
AC I retrained as a plumber in my mid-20s when I had that moment of panic. I was trying to be a pro surfer, working in surf shops. My Dad told me to get a trade because at the time I wasn’t getting anywhere. I went to college, went to night school and got an apprenticeship. Plumbing really worked for me. I got a job right away installing solar panels and under floor heating.I lived by the ocean and was having a great time but could only surf on the weekends with a fulltime plumbing job. So, I handed in my notice and went self-employed for a few years.
MR I’ve found that people who create a high level of success for themselves seem to have this ability to navigate the ‘following my dream verses putting food on the table’ equation with the underlying confidence to back themselves.
AC Yes, you’re absolutely right. I remember the conversation with my wife, I was part time plumbing, life guarding a bit, had some sponsors for my surfing and would do odd jobs to bring the money in. Then I lost the sponsors. I always had plumbing as a back-up, but I simply had to follow my dreams to surf the biggest waves in the world. My wife and family supported me through that decision. It’s such a good feeling when those nearest to you won’t let you put off your dreams.
MR Do you surf for the love of fear or is the fear something you came across in the process of surfing?
AC No, I surf because I grew up by the beach and I love the ocean. I wasn’t much good on smaller waves but I enjoyed the bigger ones, just my style. Maybe I just enjoy the thrill of being scared. After you overcome that fear and make an amazing drop or surf a giant wave, you get a buzz because you know you’ve overcome something. So, rather than pulling back and stopping, you just go for it. That’s exciting and I enjoy that part.
MR So in your mind it’s not craziness, it’s working through a process?
AC You learn to keep calm and cool in those situations. You could lose the plot and freak out, but that really doesn’t help anyone, it just puts us all in danger.
MR Have you carried any lessons you learnt while plumbing into your surfing?
AC There are two main things. Firstly, to keep my cool at all times, no matter what. To be efficient you need to do things only once. Secondly, you cannot cut corners because it will always come back to haunt you. That applies in my training as it did to my trade. If I miss a couple of reps or whatever, no one will ever know, but I’m only cheating myself and that comes back to haunt you. It’s crucial to do things properly the first time around. Attention to detail and pride carries through across multiple professions.
MR You were recently involved in a study at University College London where they tested the difference in brain function between a group of elite athletes and general citizens. How did that go?
AC They used images to test how different people react to completing a task after seeing different types of images. The images would appear, some nice, some horrible and some everyday stuff. The idea was to test the reaction time after being exposed to the different images. It turns out the athletes were much less affected by the type of image they were presented with and were about 20 per cent quicker.
MR 20 per cent quicker in terms of reaction time?
AC Yes, the athletes weren’t slowing down; I guess plumbers need to be quick thinking too.
MR Can you see yourself returning to plumbing in the future?
AC I’m really not sure. But I’m certainly glad I have a trade and a skill. It’s probably the best thing that I ever did and I’m glad I did it when I did. As my Dad said, when you have a trade you have a job for life. Whether I do go back to plumbing or not, it’s always going to be of help to me, my family and my friends. It’s good grounding. Plus, it’s always handy to know a good plumber right?
MR It sure is. Thanks for connecting, good luck catching the biggest wave.
AC Thanks, catch up again soon.