Progress Over Perfection: An Interview With Nathan Hedge
Photos by Ted Grambeau
Growing up with the ocean at his doorstep, Nathan "The Hog" Hedge was born to surf. Since the age of five, Nathan chased waves up and down the Australian coast, eventually earning a spot in the professional surfing world at just 17. Despite a deep-rooted love for competition and scoring the perfect 10 wave, Nathan felt his path was a precarious one, and chose to retire with hopes of both a mental and physical change for the better.
“It certainly took some time to be OK with myself and understand that I am Nathan who surfs not Nathan the surfer. You go from being someone in the limelight to nobody in an instant–it's a ruthless industry at times.”
Retirement provided Nathan with significant time to self-reflect as well as a much needed break from the industry. After pursuing a more stable career as a longshoreman, Nathan welcomed the birth of his daughter, Summer-Leilani, and gained even more appreciation for where his life was headed. But surfing was never far from his mind. Nathan has since come out of retirement on special occasions to compete alongside the new generation of surfers, and still enjoys hunting remote, off-shore swell when he can. However, the notorious wave chaser still claims he’s happiest catching local, knee-high waves with his daughter, and relishing in his meaningful relationship with the ocean.
“With the uncertainty in the world, there’s one thing I can forever count on and that’s the freedom and connection I feel when I jump into the ocean. All the noise between my ears seems to switch to mute mode and in fact any adversity I’m currently dealing with seems to cut the severity in half after riding a few waves.”
We had a chance to chat more with our Outerknown ambassador to hear more about his story.
Did you grow up chasing waves in Australia?
My dad built a block of apartments on the beach front in the 80s. I grew up with the ocean on our doorstep and soft gentle waves in abundance to play in as a young kid. My earliest memory of surfing was with my dad and brother, Damien. We were on a camping trip up at a gorgeous place on the Australian coastline, Double Island Point off Noosa, a long sand bottom point break you find in Mexico, very similar but with turquoise water color and white sand–it's magic. I was about five years of age at the time, and I don’t recall everything, but I do remember going back side across a green wall holding on so tight with my fingers, gripping onto the outside rail and just being blown away by how long the ride went for. Joel Parkinson was with us on that trip, along with his dad, Brian, who was a bricklayer working for my dad.
What are some of your favorite surf spots?
A piece of my heart will always be at my home break of North Narrabeen on Sydney’s Northern Beaches. The waves there are amazing, super consistent and can get super hollow, high-performance rides. Teahupoo is my favorite wave in the world, closely followed by Pipeline and Sunset, GreenBush, and Haleiwa.
When did you decide to retire from the pro surf world?
I had a long break away from the tour to deal with some personal issues in my life. Some of the decisions I was making really weren’t serving me in moving towards the person I wanted to be. I had to unlearn some things and be open to changing and evolving and living a life without relying on something to change how I felt. So for me, to be honest, it was not just a retirement from being on the tour but also a total transformation. My whole life had been a life of a professional surfer and competing nonstop all over the globe from the age of 17. Big personal growth for me occurred through the years of 2011- 2013. Since then, I had some unique opportunities to return to competing while celebrating getting my life back on track. Some highlights came from two separate wild card opportunities, one at J-Bay Africa in 2012, I scored a perfect 10-point ride, and then in 2014, I rode a wave at Teahupoo that will be cemented in my brain forever as my most committed effort in a contest vest, another 10-point ride, the first of only seven 10-point rides at the WSL Tahiti Pro–that was a moment in my life that I’ll never forget.
How did you know retiring was the right choice for you?
In 2018, I had a six-month-old baby girl, Summer-Leilani, while I was working as a stevedore in port side logistics in Port Botany in Sydney. Although it was tough work and shift work often went through the night, this job provided me financial security, and I wasn’t relying on making heats to get by. I knew it was time to try something new, to step out of my comfort zone, be open to new challenges and not miss out on those super early days being with my daughter.
How did life change for you after retiring?
It was a tough transition. I was so accustomed to the rollercoaster of emotions that elite-level competing is, and the radical lifestyle of flying all over the world. It certainly took some time to be OK with myself and understand that I am Nathan who surfs not Nathan the surfer. You go from being someone in the limelight to nobody in an instant–it's a ruthless industry at times. I felt a disconnect with all my tour family and the close network that I had grown up with for the majority of my adult life. But I embraced being a new father and stepped up to meet each challenge as it came, to the best of my ability. Being retired has given me an opportunity to put energy into some old friendships closer to home, and be open to engage in some business opportunities.
What do you miss most, and what do you miss least about competing?
I miss connecting with friends all over the globe that surfing blessed me with; The culture hits, the secret spots only the true locals can take you to; Experiencing the local delights. I miss getting on a flight and waking up in an entirely new country, but I never lost my love for travel and exploration. The anticipation of a new swell arriving, running over the sand dunes to see what Mother Nature had created overnight; Getting to perform on the world stage and having my family watching; The pressure when it's all on the line, competing in waves of consequence gave me a unique opportunity to search within myself to see exactly what I was made of. You can train and practice all you like, but there’s nothing comparable to game day when there’s a minute remaining, you need a huge score, a massive set stands up on the horizon–will it make it in time for my hands to leave the rails–I need to go big, swing, and go!
I least miss the heat losses when you're as far away from home as Brazil, and you miss your loved ones, and you’re feeling empty because you didn’t get the result you were after–that sucks. I don’t miss the walls that are put up amongst other competitors when you're in battle. And the first few days of jet lag can go to hell too!
Have you dipped your toe back into the competition world since retiring?
I have returned to competing a few times since full-time retirement. Competing gives me drive and energy to put the pieces of the puzzle together. I was inspired to compete against the younger generations to see what I could achieve now with more experience and wisdom. I wanted to surf and perform at a high level, also in a way make some of my past right within me as at times the fire still burns deep inside me when there’s an incentive to surf for. I surf now for my daughter, to make her proud and to keep in top shape so if she chooses to enjoy surfing when she grows up, I can still be out in the lineup enjoying that experience with her.
You said in a previous interview that “surfing can be a reflection of what is going on personally, how we approach the waves and ride them.” How do you feel your surfing is reflecting your personal life now?
I’m needing my connection to the ocean now more than ever. With the uncertainty in the world, there’s one thing I can forever count on and that’s the freedom and connection I feel when I jump into the ocean. All the noise between my ears seems to switch to mute mode and in fact any adversity I’m currently dealing with seems to cut the severity in half after riding a few waves. I’m not surfing for hours on end at the moment. I’m enjoying seeking challenging waves that are a little harder to get to with little to no one around. But my pure joy and connection with my surfing currently is through perfect knee-high waves to surf with my daughter–one wave with her finds me smiling for days. Looping back and reaffirming what it is in life means the most to me.
When you’re not surfing, where else might someone find you?
I have a daily yoga practice. I enjoy being out on a jet ski hunting remote waves and fishing for mackerel. We have some epic mountain bike trails that run along the pristine coastline here on the East Coast of Australia. I love getting out in the fresh air riding the hard sand checking waves and staying fit. Also caravan adventures with my daughter are my absolute favorite!
We are so grateful to have you as one of our ambassadors. What does being a part of Outerknown mean to you?
It means I get to be a little part of an incredibly powerful movement towards ensuring the future for our kids is just a little brighter. It means I’m in a unique position to speak with pride and authenticity about what I’m wearing, how it was created and how this differs from the norm. Wearing sustainable clothing this good makes me feel unstoppable and gives me confidence, it’s as simple as that.
I’m charmed by the unwavering dedication and commitment of Outerknown to keep learning and striving towards the North Star of sustainability, progress rather than perfection.
Any advice for someone with dreams of becoming a pro surfer?
Surround yourself with positive people you strive to be like. Get yourself situated in a lineup with the best surfers and athletes that are training and surfing at an elite level on a daily basis. Ride longer boards to help you learn how to surf on rail. Respect the locals, and put your time in waves of consequence, it's all a relationship–get to know “her” intimately so you can trust and back yourself when your time comes.