Blake Thornton is a man of pleasant paradoxes. The Aussie pro-surfer proves it’s possible to be a savage adventurer and an upstanding citizen at the same time. He’s an adrenaline junky and a golf addict. He both digs and disses social media. He’s calculated and reckless. Is a lifelong beach dweller who loves the mountains. He doesn’t drink coffee or tea which, frankly, we find slightly disturbing.
CONVICTS caught up with Blake in Maroubra and got his word on rebellion, footy, and surviving Cape Fear.
Hey, homie. To start can you tell us who you are and where we’re at?
Hey I’m Blake Thornton, we’re here in Maroubra, we’re just on the rocks on the northern end. This is where I grew up, where I learned to surf, where I’ve lived my whole life. It’s obviously a very special place for me. It’s kind of just sinking in how much it’s evolved. It’s always been a city beach, always crowded but you know, that’s obviously shaped me into the person I am, as far as the competitive surfing background. It helped me have such a strong competitive nature. Wouldn’t want to live anywhere else. Three hours south, there’s hundreds of good waves, three hours north, there’s hundreds of good waves. Very lucky to live in such a good place.
What’s up with the bad wrap that Maroubra gets?
There’s definitely a stigma with Maroubra but every beach you go to has their form of localism. There’s localism at Bondi, there’s localism at Manly, there’s localism at Narrabeen. A few bad eggs got a little bit more publicity and really put Maroubra in the spotlight. It doesn’t exist like it used to. Nowadays, there’s none of that going on down here, the whole generation of kids coming up and are very steady kids, great parents, well educated. The future is looking really bright for Maroubra which is awesome.
Nice, man. Have you had any dealings with any trouble around here?
Nah. I’ve been pretty lucky, flying under the radar in that regard. I’ve just gone about my own business and always tried to carve my own path.
On that note, you got any good trouble stories for us?
Plenty. I hope I can’t get into trouble for it this far on, but I used to take my parents’ car out before I had a license, touch wood. I do not condone or encourage that by any means but I got pretty lucky to get away with that. I’m a good driver, what can I say?
What’s your escape in life? Seeing as you surf for a living and live near the beach, what’s it like to escape?
I’m a golf addict. I absolutely love golf. I’m out there as much as I can. I’m stuck in a spot where I can’t get any better but I just love the game and we’re pretty fortunate around here. Literally, the coast golf course where I play is based on this exact same clifftop setting. You go out there, it’s peaceful, it’s the end of the road.
That and a little South Coast escape too. I’m fortunate enough to have a family holiday home down there. I can drive down there whenever I want. This time of year is when I love to go down because people shy away from the cold but that’s what I really love and enjoy. I’m actually heading down there tomorrow. I’ve got two good escapes which is good to have.
Tell me a little about Cape Fear.
Cape Fear is a great opportunity. I was on the cusp the first year it ran and it was a bit lackluster, and then last year I got the call up for the main event which was awesome. I don’t think anyone expected what happened to happen. That swell comes around like every ten years. Even still, on the day, it was borderline runnable, it was so big and so nasty. It was such a good experience. It was terrifying, but awesome. It’s just one of those things: you overcome that fear. Everyone involved in it had a little bit of fear and was very anxious but we all just revved each other up and just had a dig. I think it was one of the most viewed surfing events ever.
I’m in the main event again, and it’ll be great to get it in that 6 to 10 foot range where it will still be quite terrifying for the viewer but also have that semi-fun element where you can get that really nice perfect one.
Weren’t you injured at Cape Fear?
The day before, I actually surfed in an event over the north side and copped a fin straight to the head. It split me open so I had to get six stitches the night before. Everyone was saying, you shouldn’t surf, you should not surf, but the opportunity was just too big and there were some ambulance staff on scene. I had some visions in my head of strapping my head up like the old football days, taping the ears back like Paul Sironen and going out there. I went to them and asked if they could strap them up and they said there’s no point, if you’re going in you’re going in, if they’re gonna rip, they’re gonna rip. I just went in. I had a couple of nasty wipeouts but the stitches held. Full credit to the doctors that stitched me up the day before.
Can you give us a blow-by-blow of the feeling you get when catching waves like Cape Fear’s?
Especially surfing at Cape Fear, you have to have 100% confidence in yourself. It’s just total commitment, you’re using all your ability and just trying to get to the end of the wave. It’s seriously one of the places you get the best battles of your life. The risk is worth the reward. That’s the basis of it.
So on the dry side of the break, how’s life guarding? Is it as much like Baywatch as we imagine?
I wish it was like Baywatch. Maroubra is a very dangerous beach, lots of rips, lots of currents, we have designated swimming areas and unfortunately people just still refuse to swim in those areas. We’ve got the red and yellow flags, you can’t miss them they’re bright as anything and we give a generous area but there’s days where we’re doing 30 or 40 rescues collectively throughout the day it’s just nonstop. It’s rewarding job and one that came pretty naturally to me, with ocean knowledge, it is a bit of a community service. You’re giving back, you’re helping out, so it’s good in that regard but I’d like to see people’s beach awareness improve. It’s a bit of a nightmare really.
We hear you’re working on a show. Can you tell us a bit about that?
Me and my best mate, Matty Gilsenan, started it about five years ago. We always love filming our little adventures. We were in Mexico in 2011 or 12 and we had a good camera and filmed a lot, and at the end of that that we realized there was something more than just the surfing side. There was a lot of travelling involved and culture, we knew there was something here so we formulated the idea to have an adventure show based around extreme sports.
We all surfed, we loved snowboarding, Matty sky dives, my other best mates base jump, we love mountain biking, just all these other activities. The show has evolved massively: we’ve got distribution agreements and all sorts of stuff so hopefully it’s going to air later this year. It’s mostly adventure travel, but we’ve also now become proper hosts and it’s a how-to guide for people. Rather than just go to work and spend your money going out on the weekend, how about you save up and go to New Zealand and get an RV. That’s what we showcase, it’s not the lavish style of travel, it’s moreso how every day people can relate and get out there and do it. We’re just trying to encourage people to get out there and have a go because regret is a scary word. You don’t want to get to a point and think “Oh god, it’s over, I wish I did that.” Just do it.
Did you have a fuck it moment, when you decided surfing was the direction you’d follow through life?
Massively. Even though I was only seventeen or eighteen at the time it was the biggest decision I had to make. I was surfing on the side, football was life, I went to a school for football. My dream was to play for South Sydney, I was on that pathway, it was the next step and where I was headed. A couple of things went wrong, I had a pretty massive injury when I was hit by a boat when I was sixteen, so that put me on the sidelines for about six weeks and then the knees. I was always pretty lean and agile with my football, but I had a couple of knee ops and at that age, those three ops and those factors led me to a doctor who was saying if I kept playing football I’d probably have arthritis in ten years. But if you surf, you can go for thirty or forty years. That health issue helped me make up my mind and literally right then on, I quit football and would just surf, surf, surf. My dad surfs, so all of a sudden I went from being a guy who was surfing in competitions here and there when not doing clash work footy, to bang! I’m into it. Luckily it progressed pretty quickly and within a year I had sponsors and had a good junior career. Probably the best decision I could have made. I don’t regret it at all.
Do you still enjoy football?
We’re all die hard footy fans, we live in South Sydney territory so I still bleed red and green. I love it, and still down on the coast everyone still gets the footy out and passes it. I do still enjoy it, passing, kicking. I often wonder what I’d look like if I kept playing footy, like visually? We know there’s obviously a bit of a guideline to what a football player looks like, big muscular with tattoos. I’m sure I’d be limping or on crutches or have fake knees by now. Surfing I can do forever. I’m happy.
Switching gears. What’s your drink of choice?
Red wine. I know the exact brand and blend and everything. Vasse Felix which is a vineyard in Western Australia, their cabernet merlot. That’s my favorite. If I had to sit down in an afternoon and have something I’d have a big glass of that.
Fair, fair. Coffee or tea?
Neither. I’m probably the only person in Sydney who doesn’t drink coffee and tea does nothing for me. I’d rather have water.
What’s your favorite holiday destination?
I love Indonesia. It’s close for us, you’ve got the best of both worlds. You can go and get off the track and get pumping waves or just hang in Bali where there’s good surf but really good places to eat, a good nightlife, all that stuff. That’d be my favorite.
If you’re there, where would you sleep, eat, drink, see?
If I’m in Bali, I’d stay in my mate’s guesthouse down at Chungoo – good friend of mine, great local fella. Favorite place to eat down there is called Piring Daun, which is like Indonesian and Indian mix but comes out in a traditional style on a banana leaf and you have all these little things to mix together – and it’s cheap as anything. I’d have a beer, I just like having an afternoon beer at any of those crusty beach bars, there’s one in particular called 707 at the end of Batu Belig, it’s nice. They’ve got a smaller setting and it’s still the local style, there’s a DJ and a great view of the sunset.
Seems like a duh question but, ocean or mountains?
That’s actually a little tougher than it seems. We’ve spent a lot of time in really cold climates so I’ve definitely fallen in love with mountains. I’m an average snowboarder but I’ve ended up in Alaska heliboarding, which I had no right to be doing. I did a month in New Zealand last year, and been to Iceland so I’ve deadset fallen a lot more in love with mountains. I’m still gonna pick the ocean but it’s not as black and white as it seems.
How do you apply what you get while you’re away when you come back home? How do you apply those experiences?
There’s obviously always some you can apply to home life and some you can’t. I think the experiences you see when you’re away shape you as a person. There’s different cultures that value different things, I guess the biggest thing I’ve learnt is an appreciation for what we’re fortunate enough to have here. It’s insane, I’ve seen some parts of the world where people have absolutely nothing and they’re so happy. I just try and be positive about things, because no matter how bad it might seem here it’s way worse in lots of places. I just feel like experiences shape you more so than using them in your day-to-day life.
If you’ve got four extra seats on a roadtrip, who are you taking?
I’d take Julie, Gilso, my dad and my mum.
What inspires you?
People inspire me. I used to really be inspired by mixed martial artists before it became so massive and mainstream. From an athlete’s perspective, I just appreciate that they apply themselves to so many different disciplines. In my eyes, they were the most superior athletes because they weren’t just good at boxing, they could wrestle, they could do all the other stuff. People, especially athletes, from any discipline continue to inspire me. There’s plenty of stuff that freaks me out: skateboarding, BMXing, motocross…who had the good idea to jump a motorbike that far? That inspires me.
Did you have any strange hobbies as a kid?
Not strange, but I used to bite my nails till they deadset didn’t exist. I don’t know if that was a nervous thing. I still find myself doing it. That’s not that strange, but I guess I went like full overboard extent of it where I just literally bite and bite and bite and bite… till there was nothing left.
What’re your thoughts on social media?
I see both sides of it I guess. There’s definitely an argument with social media. I see the value in it and I see the good in it, but I also see the bad it does. I constantly argue with my girl Julie about the Kardashians: they’re social media icons but I just feel a lot of stuff they do is negatively shaping young girls and just giving them the wrong outlook and the wrong impression of what’s important in life. So I guess that’s the bad in it, the good in it is that it’s a platform for me to share a lot of photos and the experiences. There’s definitely good sides and bad sides.
What does the word rebellion mean to you?
Taking a stand. I’ve definitely rebelled, on many occasions. I wouldn’t say I’m stubborn but I just obviously have an opinion. If I think something’s not right, I’ll rebel against that. If something seems in my eyes blatantly wrong or silly, then I’ll share my opinion, but everyone’s their own captain of their ship. It’s only in those cases where it seems just obviously stupid or something that I’ll step in.
How do you make big decisions in life? Do you have a process? Do you calculate it or just jump in?
Unfortunately we’re dictated by financial things now. So on a financial scale I’m calculated, but on a sporting scale, I’m calculated but can also be reckless at times, that’s what our shows about a little bit. It’s still calculated but we do push the limits for sure.
What does being a Convict, or being Australian, mean to you?
The owners of Australia are the aborigines, the indigenous people, so everyone else is a convict in a sense. And it’s not an insulting term at all I feel. As I mentioned, I’m super blessed and fortunate to live in Australia, it’s deadset one of the best countries on Earth, so if being called a convict is a part of that, so be it, I’m happy. I’ll be a Convict all day.
Same man, and right on. Best of luck with the show.