Tim Baker - Writer / Journalist

When did you first start surfing and when did you get your first surfboard?
First time I surfed was when I was on Christmas holidays in Perth when I was about 11. I got a foamie under the Christmas tree that year. I grew up in Melbourne far away from the surf so used to grab rides out to Mornington Peninsula and Phillip Island with older brothers and mates’ older brothers, or the public transport marathon.

Did your family surf?
My older brother surfed. We lived in Canada for a couple of years where we skied and played ice hockey and on our way home stopped in Hawaii where my older brother got a few lessons.  When we got back to Melbourne and he got his drivers license we were away.

Do you have a favourite surf spot?
I’ve got a few. In Australia, it’s probably Angourie because it’s just a perfect family surf holiday. Gnarloo in WA, and overseas Lances Right in Mentawaiis. 

Do you have a stack of boards in your garage?
Regular board is a Greg Webber double concave 6’6” swallow tail, got an old eggy single fin that I like quite a bit, got an Al Byrne channel bottom, an 8’0” Jim Banks gun and a family long board.

Were you always interested in writing?
Yeah, I was always a keen reader and mum was an English teacher who always read to us as a kid. I trace my writing career back to my HSC English exam where I wrote a surf story. I’d always planned on studying Forestry or Agricultural Science but I got a really good result for that story and thought to myself well, there might be something in this, so decided to study Journalism instead. I did a cadetship at the old Melbourne Sun while I studied a Bachelor of Arts in Journalism at RMIT and that really put me on the path.

Did you work in many Newspapers?
I did the cadetship, then saw an ad in Tracks for an Associate Editor, applied for that and got it after a job interview with Nick Carroll on the cliff at Bells beach.

Did you have any influences while you grew up?
I was influenced by the early Tracks mag work so guys like Phil Jarratt. Those mags, when I first started reading them were like a window into another world. From the bland suburbs of Melbourne I was mesmerized by places like Sydney’s Northern beaches, Indonesia, and Hawaii. I just wanted to be a part of it.

From Tracks you then went to Surfing Life?
Yeah, I spent 5 years at Tracks, spending half of that as editor. I then met Peter Morrison from Surfing Life and he asked me if I’d ever thought of moving to the Gold Coast, at the time I hadn’t, but he told me if I ever did then he’d have a job for me. I went up there and he showed me my office overlooking Burleigh Point and that was it.

How long were you at Surfing Life?
I was probably there for about 4 or 5 years. I spent 6 months on the road taking a bit of a sabbatical and travelled. When I came back I took on a position as an editorial director for the whole company which was about 8 magazines at that point. It was more of an admin position and I hated that because there was no creativity involved. I lasted about a year in that role and left to essentially write Rabbit’s biography ‘Busting Down the Door’ and did some freelance stuff, which I’ve been doing now for 20 years.

Were the books your idea?
They were all different circumstances. The Rabbit deal was pure luck. I was out at a restaurant in Manly with some friends and had a bit too much tequila and was telling stories about Rabbit whom I’d got to know in Hawaii.  Unbeknown to me, somebody at that dinner worked for Harper Collins and a mate of mine rang me the next day to tell me that this girl at dinner had gone to work the next day and told her boss about these stories and he was keen for me to write a biography. It fell in my lap, which was really fortunate and such a great experience.

Are you working on any books at the moment?
My wife has banned me from writing books for a while. She thinks I get too grumpy. They’re a lot of work and it’s a real roll of the dice whether they’re going to really pay off for the amount of time and work you put into them. I was doing a book a year at one point and I just don’t think I can take another one on for a while.  After writing the History of Australian Surfing books I’ve learned that you’ve got to really have a fire in your belly if you’re going to take on a book and do it justice.

What keeps you busy these days?
I’m writing a series of short documentaries for Red Bull TV at the moment, which is a good gig. I really like the film medium. I’m organizing an event ‘(M)Ocean’ for the Bleach festival, which is a long held dream project to combine surfing with live music and present surfing as more of a performing art than competitive sport. I’ve never been completely sold on competitive surfing. I find the competition tedious and a bit disappointing.  The competitive model is like a suit that surfing puts on to try and make it look respectable and it doesn’t quite fit. Surfing is more wild, free and creative than that. I edit another quarterly magazine that has nothing to do with surfing called Slow Living, which is more of a general lifestyle magazine. It’s really refreshing to do something outside surfing.  Plus the PSYCHED album of course.

What does the (M)Ocean concept involve?
The band is called Band of frequencies. They’re surfers and talented musicians who really get the concept. Dave Rastovich is an occasional member of the band but he’s surfing this time around with another long list of guys riding historic boards from over the last 100 years. Older guys like Rusty Miller, Peter Harris, Dean Morrison and some other guys and local young Burleigh groms to represent the future of surfing. The band will be set up on the flat section of Burleigh point so people can sit back and watch the band and the surfing and watch how surfing has evolved over the last 100 years from the solid planks that Duke would have used to balsa Malibus right through to the present day.

Do you have any grand projects in the future that you’re working on?
(M)Ocean is my focus at the moment just because it is something that I’ve always wanted to do but it’s so far out of my comfort zone and has taken a lot of organising. I’ll see how it goes before deciding whether I want to do it again. Beyond that, the magazine Slow Living and the Red Bull work is my bread and butter, anything else that comes along is just an extra.

Are you involved with the Bleach Festival organization?
I’ve been involved every year.  Each year Louise comes to me with a different idea for a project and asks me to be involved. It’s such a great experience as a writer because it’s such a solitary profession. The first year she had come across a children’s book I had written called The Surfer and The Mermaid and asked us to adapt it into a children’s play. From writing a children’s book to being in a room with actors, set designers, musicians etc. It was just a fantastic collaborative experience that I really enjoyed. Bleach has been great for me and Louise has been really clever in bringing people together from the creative community on the Gold coast.

As a writer, do you have any advice for any budding surf writers?
I run writing workshops and go to schools to speak about writing, but the two pieces of advice I can give is to appreciate the craft of writing. You need to read great writing and try and understand what makes it great. You need to deconstruct it to understand it. The other piece of advice would be to be in touch with what is going on with our media landscape as it is going through this massive evolution and recognizing the opportunities that exist. There are no obstacles to anybody publishing anything anymore in relation to blogs and ebooks etc. Whatever future mediums might involve, if you have something to say and can say it in a compelling way then you will attract an audience. Making a career from it is a bit harder. Don’t become a surf writer to get rich. You’ve got to do it because you love it and be into it for the journey rather than the outcome. I’d recommend that you have a plan B. Lewis Samuels is a good example, he’s a web analyst who writes as more of a hobby.

Are there any writers that inspire you?
I was always a fan of the classics. More recently it would have to be guys like Tim Winton & Richard Flannigan. In terms of surf writing there is a lot of diverse and interesting stuff going on. I still enjoy Jarratt and Nick Carrol. Derek Rielly is a creative and talented guy, and guys like Sean Doherty and Vaughan Blakey always do good work.

Find Tim online

Web: bytimbaker.tumblr.com
Twitter: twitter.com/bytimbaker


Posted by: Troy Roennfeldt, on March 15, 2015
Categories: Interviews