Ricky Basnett. On free surfing, fabric and fatherhood.

In the kind of fiction I write, publishers require a HEA  (happy ever after) or, at the very least, a HFN (happy for now). Why is that?

Because it’s so hard to create happy in real life. Let’s face it. The struggle is real. And fiction should be a more intense emotional experience than our day to day reality.

But once upon a time there was a guy who got that HFN experience in real life. Sadly though, it didn’t last. It strayed from the storyboard for a few wild years. Then one day, he hauled the fairy tale back and he is throwing in some exciting new chapters. It looks like a HEA in the making.


Picture: The Inertia

Ricky Basnett is a surfer whose journey began in Durban with prodigious talent. Warwick Wright said in an article on RedBull.com that Basnett is one of the few surfers in the world who is the complete package, “everything from frontside to backside; one foot to 10, from barrel riding to airs.” After a couple of years on the world tour though, things fell apart for Basnett.  He says in the 2015 biopic film, No Regrets:

“Hi my name is Ricky Basnett and I’m an alcoholic. That’s kind of  the truth of it.”

He goes on to explain that, after having a shocking year in competitive surfing,  he “kind of got lost, the only thing I really enjoyed was picking up a bottle.”

“I was depressed, I was unhappy,  I missed surfing.”

He “woke up one morning after, like a three month bender, and realized I was going to lose my house, my wife, everything I had worked for.”

So Basnett turned his life around. He says in No Regrets that he is “stoked to have a second chance and move forward in my life.”

 A tale of second chances, a comeback story, a journey back from the brink is  inspiring. One of Basnett’s new chapters includes a collaboration with legendary surf photographer Sacha Specker. The two showcased their efforts at events at  Rolling Wood and K.I.S.S in Cape Town last week.

 I caught up with Ricky and asked him how he defines himself as a surfer now.

Yeah I guess free surfer would be where I’m at these days, I’m lucky enough to be associated with RVCA, they don’t really care if I do contests.  I’m just trying to make the best clips I can these days and hopefully bring something a little different to the table.

Which aspect of competitive surfing was not what you expected?

I think it was mostly the politics, there was a lot going on behind the scenes that just didn’t sit well with me, and I think that kinda sucked all the fun of surfing out of it…

You say in No Regrets “When I’m in the water, I’m at peace. That’s why I surf.” I have heard others say that surfing is the ultimate escape. Why do you think that is?

I think surfing is a lot like meditation, it’s a great way to be present and have a clear mind, I love surfing by myself and just being out in the water, even if the waves are terrible. There’s something about being in the water that makes you feel really connected to nature as well, you always leave  feeling better than when you went in.

In his Pulitzer prize winning surf memoir, Barbarian Days, William Finnegan says that “being out in big surf is dreamlike. Terror and ecstasy flow around the edges of things, threatening to overwhelm the dreamer” He says that “the ecstasy of surfing big waves requires placing yourself right beside the terror of being buried by them.”  Have you felt that you are in that place between terror and ecstasy when you surf big waves?
Definitely, there’s absolutely nothing that compares to getting a really big barrel, but I think for me its all about the anticipation as well, when you’re sitting out the back knowing there’s a massive set on the way, your heart starts skipping a few beats, you are shitting yourself inside. It’s such an addictive feeling, I wish I could surf big waves more often!
Tell us about shaka sleds.  You have done a couple of collaborations creating bespoke, “craft” boards. What  process was involved in collaborating with Sacha Specker to create these boards?
Myself and Sacha have been working together for a couple of years now, he is an incredibly inspiring human, and super passionate in whatever he does. I’ve been toying with the idea of doing photo inlays on my boards for a little while, so it was a no brainer to approach Spex. We talked about a few different options image wise and both ended up agreeing that his underwater exposion series would work best on the boards. One of my best friends in Durban owns a printing company, so after a few sample runs we went large scale and managed to get the outcome we were after.

Picture courtesy of RVCA

You have also made some boards that give the impression of 70’s Hawaii/retro single fin vibes. Is that what you were going for?
I love the aesthetic of old school surfboards, there’s something about them that you just don’t get with boards these days, I think I want my boards to take you on a journey without ever having to leave. I try to put my personality into each board I design.

Picture: Ricky Basnett & Van Eijsden

I read that each fin is made from reclaimed wood.Sounds like a little bit of reduce, reuse, recycle going on there.

It was actually more just what I could get my hands on! Using what is available and making the best you can out of it.

In this collaboration you use fabric inlays, right?
The opportunity came along to use Hertex fabrics and those prints immediately jumped out at me, they make you feel like you are back in the 70’s , sitting on the North Shore sippin’ on a pina colada. How could I not use them?  Haha.

 The collaboration is with Van Eijsden , they are an amazing furniture design company from PE, creating really cool high end pieces check them out www.vaneijsden.co.za

Check  out more of the board collab  HERE
Possibly your best creative collaboration to date is with your lovely wife, Candice. You guys have shaped a real beauty there, your baby girl. She looks like she has nearly as much hair as you do?
Ah man she is the best! she came out with such a mop of hair, such a cutie!
What was the biggest surprise to you on becoming a  father?
The first few weeks were rougher than I expected I think! The sleepless nights are a killer but it’s so worth it when they give you that first big smile, heart melting!
What is your favorite aspect of fatherhood?
Just watching her learn about the world around her, it’s incredible to be a part of it.  They grow so fast,  so I just want to try be as present as I can everyday not to miss anything!
Does being a father influence your work and your surfing?
Not too much has changed, obviously your schedule revolves around her, but I still manage to fit in what I need to do, albeit a bit on the groggy side hahaha.
I am partial to the Eastern Cape, as anyone who reads this blog knows. I was told in the surf the other day, (I must have been kooking out, as usual.) “You can take the girl out of PE, but you can’t take PE out of the girl.”
Anyway I digress. What drew Ricky Basnett to St Francis Bay?
Myself and Candice have both been coming to this side of the world since we were little kids, and it always felt like a second home really. Durban will always have a spot in our hearts, but I think the best part of living here is the opportunity my daughter will have to grow up in a kids paradise. We couldn’t be happier!
Gotta love it when non-fiction has that fairy tale ending.

Want one of those boards? Yeah, me too if I weren’t such a kook. But you’re not, so send Ricky an email at shakasleds@gmail.com


Picture courtesy of RVCA

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