Nathan Hedge has been surfing the world as a professional surfer for the last three decades. From the early age of 10, “Hog”, as his friends call him, has been competing against the best surfers in the world, gracing front covers and starring in many surf videos.

He has been rated as high as 7th on the World Tour with many event wins, including wins over guys like Kelly Slater, Andy Irons, Mick Fanning and Joel Parkinson.

Hog was part of Rip Curl’s famous “The Search” which explored many remote and new locations around the world in the 90’s. Along with teammates like Tom Curren and Mick Fanning, the crew surfed more perfect waves than most would in three lifetimes. Not to mention the people they met and the cultures they experienced.

If you’ve visit any surf spots around the world, I’m sure you’ve heard a tale about Hog. I’ve had the honor of knowing him for 20+ years and he’s a huge character with a bigger heart.

Surfing the world Nathan hedge
Big character, big smile, big heart. Not many people have traveled the world surfing as much as “Hog”. PC: Dave Sparkes

WORDS BY NATHAN “HOG” HEDGE AS TOLD TO DAVE SPARKES

GROWING UP

My name is Nathan Hedge, I’m 38 and I’m from Narrabeen, Australia.

Growing up at Narrabeen, which is located on the northern beaches of Sydney, had a huge influence on my development as a world-class surfer. I think having good wave quality to then transition on to the world tour, along with the Rip Curl “Search” trips, really gave me a good foundation of power surfing and the ability to read good, clean waves.

There was so much depth of talent amongst the local surfers. I’d probably say former world champion Damien Hardman was the biggest influence as far as who I looked up to, and how he surfed with his competitive edge.

At that time, it seemed like anyone who was anyone was from the northern beaches of Sydney, that area between Manly and Palm Beach. There were three or four world champions from that stretch, so it was a really pivotal time to grow up in Narrabeen.

Whenever you’d paddle out there was so much good surfing going on that it really made you want to aspire to get to that level. Surfing legends like Simon Anderson, Terry Fitzgerald and good friend Chris Davidson all used to go so hard and surf so well.

SURFING THE WORLD AS A PROFESSIONAL

Outside of Narrabeen I’d say Occy, Luke Egan, Mick Fanning and Joel Parkinson from the Gold Coast points. All those guys had an influence on me. We pushed each other a lot I think. I got to travel with Luke and Occy on those early years on the tour, so I always looked up to them. As goofy footers, surfing places like Margaret’s and seeing what they did in their movie parts, they were very inspirational to me.

There were actually a lot of great young surfers coming through at the time. Phil Macdonald, Drew Courtney, Trent Munro, Taj Burrow. We all fed off each other’s abilities and ambitions. I’d say for sure we definitely pushed each other.

The ’79 club we used to call ourselves and we really made a big push. All of us were born in 1979 , there was such an array of talent. The generation of surfers before us were gnarly competitors. Kind of a bit more mongrel, and I think we came along and that was still evident. I think guys on tour get along a fair bit better today, but I think you still see rivalries, guys pushing each other in and out of the water.

surfing the world surf travel surfing
Hog having fun on Namotu Island, Fiji, with good mates Mick Fanning, Joel Parkinson, Dean Morrison and Phil Macdonald in 2002.

It can be tricky maintaining friendships with fellow competitors. You don’t really want to hang out with everyone outside of the contest environment. It can be difficult because you don’t really want to let your guard down and let someone in too close. Then you’ve got to turn around and be a prick in the water, and not give them anything you know, so it can be tricky.

I think a lot of my friendships probably suffered a bit because you have a boundary around you stopping you from being open. It’s a delicate dynamic sometimes, but the people that you do let in generally stay around for a long time.

Traveling with mates definitely helps to share the load and the expenses. I think when you start out traveling on the WQS (World Qualifying Series) or doing trips around the world, its good to be in it together and share the experiences and lighten the load.

We used to play cards to see who’d pay for the bill at the end of the trip. That was pretty fun. You would have to buy a case of beer if you lost a heat and a keg if you won. It was definitely good to share all of those moments, grow up together and explore all these new places with guys you knew from home.

RIP CURL “SEARCH” DAYS

I got pulled out of school at thirteen (1992) for my first Rip Curl Search trip. It was to Indonesia on the Indies Trader 1 for the Feral Kingdom movie with some of my idols, Shane Powell and Tom Curren.

We stayed on the boat for 28 days. It was before any one knew about the Mentawai Islands and waves like HTs, Lances Left, Macaronis, Bawa, had only really been surfed by the Rip Curl guys at that time.

We’d turn up and there would be no other boats or people in sight. Then we’d come in and the line up would be totally empty. Looking back on it now it was just pretty crazy, an amazing time to be in that region.

Surfing the world Nathan hedge
Surfing in the Mentawai Islands on a Rip Curl “Search” trip, well before most surfers new these islands existed. PC: Dave Sparkes

It definitely helped my surfing, getting to surf all those perfect and uncrowded waves. I got to surf with some of the best surfers in the world at the time like Shane Powell, Pancho Sullivan, Tom Curren, Boris le Texier, Byron Howarth, Frankie Oberholzer, Chris Davo, Mick Fanning, Zane Harrison and Darren O’Raferty.

I really enjoyed it. Surfing with a great bunch of guys and such a great concept from Rip Curl. We got exposed to a lot of things as kids going away on those trips. There was a lot of partying going on, but at the same time it was an amazing time to surf such pristine and untouched waves.

MOROCCO

One Rip Curl Search trip to Morocco with Neco Padaratz, Byron Howarth, Justin Matterson, Frankie O, Chris Davo and Pancho was classic. We surfed all these sick right hand points down the coastline and got to snowboard in the afternoons.

We’d go to the Marrakesh night markets, go and do all that stuff that goes on there with the hash and stuff. It was pretty cool to surf in the morning, snowboard in the afternoon, and just soak up all this incredible culture.

GALAPAGOS ISLANDS

Another trip that comes to mind was to the Galapagos Islands with Rip Curl in the early days, with Mikala Jones, it was a special trip.

I would always watch these documentaries on National Geo, Darwin’s theory of evolution, but it was incredible to be there on a boat, and see all these different species of sharks, iguanas and seals and all the wildlife there. That was a special trip. Something different, a place I never thought surfing would take me too.

INDIA

India was another great trip where we traveled to the Bay of Bengal to look for some surf. It gets the same swells as Indonesia, but the swell is a bit smaller by the time it makes it up the bay.

We had to fly into Calcutta, get on a bus, then on to a boat. It was a blow out landing in India. We didn’t really get in the thick of things, but it was an eye opener to just see. It’s a different sort of a surf trip, going through cities and seeing the poverty and the longing in people’s faces. You feel very lucky sometimes.

HAWAII

One of my favorite trips was probably in the early days going to stay at Pancho Sullivan’s place in Hawaii. He was one of those young, fit guys from the North Shore, a couple of years older than me, who I always looked up to.

Surfing the world Nathan hedge
Hog’s back hand is one of the best in the world, especially when he’s in Hawaii. PC: Dave Sparkes

Pancho showed me the ropes in Hawaii. He had this bachelor pad with three or four guys living there. He was probably about in his early twenties and I would have been seventeen or eighteen. I would go over and stay with him for a couple of months. He’d take me out at maxing out Sunset, we surfed Pipe together, and just surfed so many different big waves. It was an incredible memory to share with Pancho at that time in our lives.

MICK FANNING’S MOVIE        

One of the best Rip Curl Search trips was one we did in the Mentawai Islands. We were shooting for Mick’s movie Me, Myself and Eugene by Jon Frank. We were surfing Green Bush and I got a wave that earned me the Barrel of the Year award.

It was just a madness trip as well. There was Raoni Monteiro, Jonny Frank, Mick, Ted Grambeau and it was just good times. Surf all day, come in and get smashed on the boat in the afternoon, wake up and do it all again. Just an incredible existence.

It all seems like a bit of a dream now, to live that life. We just surfed hard and played hard, and just basically were living on the edge every trip. Every time we went away, just trying to push the limits in and out of the water. It was incredible surfing the world on all those Search trips

TAHITI

Another place we got to go to in the early days was Tahiti, where we got to surf Teahupoo. Same thing, uncrowded, just us Rip Curl guys there.

I knew that Joel and Kye Fitzgerald had been there, and I had seen really early Quiksilver photos from there. I went there with Rip Curl when I was about 20, and stayed there for a few weeks. I got to stay with Manoa Drollet and he showed us around. It was incredible to surf Teahupoo back in the early days. It was really uncrowded and I got so many amazing barrels there.

REUNION ISLAND

Reunion Island was another Rip Curl trip that was amazing as well. We got to surf St Leu, which is one of the best lefts in the world and at the same time enjoy the amazing Creole culture. I really love that island.

Rip Curl hired us a house and we had a really good atmosphere there, just local culture, fishermen, and local people. We’d have a lot of fun at nighttime, then just go surf and shoot all day. Wake up and do it all again.

Because we were close to Africa, all the South Africans were on that trip, Byron, Frankie – the Rasta boys – its always good to travel with those guys. They’re always really grateful and never too fussed. You know they didn’t need things perfect, it was just about getting on and having a really good time.

MAULI OLA FOUNDATION AND LIVING IN CALIFORNIA

The way I got involved with the Mauli Ola Foundation was when I was on the North Shore of Oahu. I saw an event down at Haleiwa and I could see some kids that were struggling, in as much as being disabled, and some Hawaiian friends were taking them surfing.

I found out these kids had Cystic Fibrosis which is a disease that makes it hard for them to clear the mucus from their lungs. Salt water helps relieve their symptoms. I loved what they were doing with these kids, it was making such a big difference to their lives, so I decided to get involved.

After helping with the event each year when I returned to Hawaii, I decided to move to California. Mauli Ola Foundation was from the Laguna Beach area and had put together a tour of the USA.

We were doing hospital visits and surf experience days from California right across to Texas. We did twenty hospital visits and many more surf days all the way across mainland America.

It was a really good eye opener to what kids who are really sick deal with in the hospitals. Some never leave their hospital beds and walk, so it’s a really special thing to be involved in and just share a little bit of what we’ve been so fortunate to have been blessed with, our lives of surfing.

I’d love to do a whole lot more of it too. There’s so much work to be done and sometimes it’s just starting with doing the small things. If you make one person’s day it goes a long way you know. It’s freely given to us and can be freely given back. That’s the beauty of surfing and the ocean, so it’d be fantastic to stay involved with initiatives like that.

MY FAVORITE PLACES TO SURF

My favorite place to surf is probably Tahiti. The French Polynesian people, the culture, the amazing waves and the fact that it’s only a six-hour flight from Sydney, makes it so special.

The mountains, the color of the ocean and the quality of the waves makes Tahiti paradise. Tahiti is just insane and really untouched.

Tahitian waves get so glassy and perfect, and the watercolor is so clear you can see the coral reef below. You can get so deep inside the waves and the waves are perfect from 2 -10 foot.

Actually I’d say it’s a toss up between Tahiti and Jeffrey’s Bay in South Africa. Jeffrey’s Bay on my backhand….. I’ve never gone that fast before. It’s incredible the speed you can generate going down the line and the different lines you can pull.

I just really enjoy walking back up the point after surfing. There’s a really nice feeling, a vibe about Jeffrey’s Bay once you hit that water. Just hanging on the point, it’s got quite an amazing, magical feel about the place.

AUSTRALIA – HOME

Within Australia I‘d have to say my favorite wave is home at North Narrabeen. I’ve just got so many great memories from there of my late dad down watching me surf and so many early sessions in the dark. I’d just ride my bike up from South Narrabeen as a kid every morning in the cold. I loved it.

Many things went down at Narrabeen. It was such a pivotal place and it’s still got such a soft spot in my heart. There is so much quality and variety around Narrabeen.

Surfing the world Nathan hedge
Surfing at home in Narrabeen, which is still his favorite wave in Australia. PC: Dave Sparkes

We’ve got the alley rights, the left off the point, the long famous left out the back and then you’ve got the carpark. We also have South Narrabeen when the swell gets big and from the east . “Southy” can barrel like Puerto Escondido in Mexico or Hawaii, big open barrels.

LONG DISTANCE FRIENDS

I’ve made a lot of friends all over the world, and it can be a bit tricky staying in touch. I think the friends you make, you may not see them for over 12 months, but when you meet at a comp or do a trip together, its kind of like you only saw them yesterday.

You pick up where you left off and I think that’s the beautiful thing about surfing. You’ve got that common interest and it connects people in a very unique way.

It’s always really nice to go to a place where the local’s spot is on and they extend the offer to come and surf with them. And it works vice versa when they come back to Australia. It’s a really special thing to be able to share waves, culture and food with new people.

I think in this day and age it’s much easier to stay in touch. Social media, emails, skype, whatsapp, all make it so much easier then when I first started traveling. We used to have to go to the phone box and collect call home. There wasn’t even email.

ADVICE WHEN TRAVELING

It definitely helps to have a positive attitude when you’re traveling. That would be the best advice for some young grommets out there or anyone who is going to travel on their first few trips overseas.

Go with the flow as much as you can! It’s good to be organized and have things planned, but just say you miss a flight, then maybe there’s a reason for that. Maybe as a result you might meet someone on the next flight, someone who can open a door for you or answer a question that you might have been asking.

Just try to keep an open mind and stay positive no matter what. Things feed off that energy.

If you go up to the airline counter and you’re all grumpy and start to get stroppy, you know things aren’t going to go your way. When you walk up to the counter to check in for your flight, just put whatever day you’ve had or how tired you are aside and just try and be positive. Smile and work a bit of charm with the person on the other side of the counter. Be respectful and polite! You might find yourself in a better seat or maybe not getting charged for boards.

When you’re packing your stuff, I always like to travel with my normal board, a board for really small waves and a little bit longer one in case the swell gets big. Maybe get the longer one glassed a little bit heavier as you will be surfing heavier waves with this board.

Surfing the world Nathan hedge
Having the right boards in your quiver is super important. Hog shows off his Hawaiian quiver. PC: Dave Sparkes

Another thing to do is just to pick up a bit of the lingo, even if it’s a few words. Just make an effort. If you make a little bit of effort, then people will be more willing to help you out. That’s been my experience. As long as you have a try at their language, they will show you respect.

CONNECT WITH THE LOCALS

Try and connect with the locals. Don’t eat in your hotel lobby or just get room service. Put yourself out there and take a few risks. Get out on the streets and just see where the busiest places are and where the local vibe is.

The locals know where the best places are, not Tripadvisor. Be respectful and friendly and they will tell you the places to stay, eat, surf and party. Traveling is about getting out of your comfort zone and exploring.

Most important thing when you paddle out to a new spot is, don’t just go straight to the inside, take your time and sit off the edge. Let a few sets go through and wait your turn. Then go in and take off as deep and late as you can on a big set. You’ll get the respect of the local guys this way.

Always have a chat to the guys in the water as well. Ask them where the local spots are to eat, the best nightclub, places to stay, best conditions, whatever really. The locals will tell you because they know what’s going on.

TRAVELING WITH A BABY

We’ve got our first baby on the way and it’s probably going to be a little bit hard in the early days for sure, but I think it’ll be nice to stay put in one place for a while and enjoy being close to home as a new family.

Probably around six to twelve months after the baby is born, I’m sure we’ll get traveling a fair bit again. I think with one kid it will be ok traveling. I think it will be hard with two or three kids, though we’d still love to travel a lot.

You speak to some of the parents that travel with their kids and it can be a bit unsettling with no routine or structure. I do think it’s good for kids to experience new cultures, people and languages. We have a lot of friends around the world to introduce our new family to, so I am sure there will be plenty of places to stay and people to help.

WHY I LOVE TRAVELING

I love traveling and the anticipation of the first swell in a new place. The excitement of packing my boards, the preparation that goes into planning the trip, and then actually getting to the location.

I just love the night before the first swell hits. I love waking up early when it’s just getting light, seeing the offshore breeze, taking in the new landscapes and seeing in the new day. What keeps me going is that new day and new swell. When you turn up and the waves are perfect, that’s what I live for.

Surfing the world Nathan hedge
In his happy place. When the swell gets big, Hog really shines. PC: Dave Sparkes

It’s not just the surf I love about traveling; it’s the people that I meet along the way. You never know who you’re going to meet on a trip. Some of my best friends now were total strangers one day. I think that’s what traveling does for you. It can open up some doors that you never thought possible and can create some friendships for life.

I love not knowing whats ahead, not knowing what to expect and just keeping an open mind; I love that about traveling.

 

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Dave Sparkes
Author

I was born in Bondi Beach in 1962, moving to Blueys Beach, on the NSW mid-north coast, in 1998. I have been a full time professional surf photographer/journalist since 1996, working worldwide for companies like Rip Curl, Billabong and magazines such as Tracks, The Surfer’s Journal and Surfing World. I have also written and photographed travel features for Outdoor magazine and The Sydney Morning Herald travel section. My travels have taken me to many countries including Hawaii, Tahiti, Indonesia, Chile, Philippines, Solomon Islands, Papua New Guinea, Marshall Islands, Mexico, Tonga, Fiji, China, Cook Islands, Japan, Mozambique and South Africa. Currently I reside in Byron Bay.

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