With Single Fin a hit and a new global surf deal with Billabong, Tai ‘Buddha’ Graham is set to roll out his latest project – The Lawn.
TAI, what the hell have you been up to? Haven’t seen you in a while …
I’ve been busy man. Got engaged to my amazing girl, been working on a couple new projects, and signed a super rad deal with Billabong. I guess I’ve moved into a transition period where I was all about surfing, chasing swell after swell all over the archipelago pretty much every other week. At one point I think I did over 20 trips in a year. It was where I was at. I’m still as down as ever to chase the wave program but I’m a bit more selective. Put it down to a few injuries and other things in life falling into place. My surfing, my personal life and my business. My passions fall into these different aspects. So it all feels good.
It’s amazing to think back to the early years at Single Fin … and what it’s become. You must be proud of that.
Yeah it’s crazy. I remember when I got the call from my friend saying that my now business partner wanted to meet up and chat about doing a restaurant and bar up at Uluwatu. My buddy Tipi and I had just finished our first bar venture with Black Dog and things progressed for both of us. He went on to some great things and I took the plunge to head up to Ulu’s. I was super apprehensive at first with the distance and the market up there. But man the place is so magical. We started super small, my partner had the history with the hotel and location and I took care of the brand. It was tiny, 70 square metres or something. I really like observing markets, and trends and seeing where the gaps lie. I also like to celebrate the location and environment it sits in. The challenge was to simply get the girls to go there. I know that Uluwatu was full of guys because of the surf, but only the die-hard girlfriends who enjoyed basking on the beach and waiting for their boyfriends would bother to come down. For the everyday girl it didn’t have much to offer. So we tried to create that. I also didn’t want to take any of the business away from the locals in the warungs. No nasi goreng, no jaffles, no banana pancakes. I wanted us to work with the environment in as many aspects as we could. Six years on and a few extensions, we have a couple retail stores, a clothing line and some joint partnerships with guys like Nalu Bowls, and giving jobs to over 100 staff. It really makes me look back and think wow, look at this.
And now there’s the new spot in Canggu, The Lawn. What can we expect there?
I’ve always loved Canggu. It was one of the first spots I surfed when I was young. I’d ride my bike from my mum’s house down to what’s called Echo now, hang with the boys and surf all day. There was a warung with the temple at Echo, one warung up by Pererenan and one at Batu Bolong. They were the three main spots, it was little dirt roads and all. To see what’s become of it now is like wow, that happened quick. I’d always wanted to do something down Canggu way, again it sat in well with what was important to me … being in front of really good waves … ha, ha. With this location though again I really want to celebrate what’s going on locally. We have taken on a beach warung-style build, but just a scale up to accommodate more people. We’ve kept this big beautiful patch of grass, hence the name The Lawn. Something about grass, and by the beach, it reminds me of being a kid by Burleigh Heads, chilling on the grass, having some lunch and watching the surf. We’ve used some beautiful recycled timbers and kept things as environmentally conscious as possible. I really wanted this to blend in and look like it was meant to be there. The mantra we’ve been working off is that it’s “a laid back beach lounge with high end values”. A relaxed beach bar feel but with great service and product.
What’s been the hardest part of bringing a project like that together?
There’s always challenges with new ventures no matter how simple and smooth you may see it going. It’s hard but its fun. I enjoy the start up phase the most, the conceptual phase, design and planning, then seeing it come to fruition is awesome. I guess I’ve had itchy feet for a couple years now to get a new project up. I like to stay super busy and have multiple things going on, it’s when my mind is at ease, funnily enough. But to answer your question the hardest part was getting it off the ground and getting started, after that it’s just working off the vision you’ve put in place and problem solving.
When’s the opening party?
December. Just in time for the wet season! Because beach bars are awesome in the rain …
What’s the story with Billabong global?
Yeah it’s rad. I mean I’m super stoked to have the opportunity to align with Billabong. It’s a brand that I’ve liked since I was a kid. They’re home base is in the hometown I grew up in as well. I’ve kinda calmed down from being the full surf frother, but they were down to keep things more about quality over quantity. I help out on the creative side with the creative directors with shoots as well. I like the whole phase of a shoot from the concept of a campaign to seeing it come to life with us guys in the water getting barreled out in the 8-10 foot perfect Indo wave. We worked out a pretty cool deal that allows me to do what I love to do and have it compliment each other.
What does a sponsorship deal like that mean for you in terms of travel and adventures?
I guess my whole thing during my surfing career has evolved into being about chasing the tropical tubes. I live in Indonesia, with the most perfect waves in the warmest water in the world. It’s seriously a dream. I’ve had a few trips this year with the global guys like Taj, Jack Freestone, Italo Ferreira and Joel Parkinson. To be able to head out on adventures with these guys, sitting on a boat getting pumping waves all day and kick back and drink a beer at the end of it is a dream. I’ve definitely put my time in here, studied the weather patterns, the ocean movements with tides and all the technical side of surf forecasting. My theory is if I’m going to do something I may as well make it the absolute best I can do.
Any epic wipe-outs so far this year?
No, thank god! I had a rough patch last year and the year before with really bad neck injuries, tore my MCL in my knee, ligaments in ankles – but thankfully this year has been all good. I mean aside from the odd reef cut and all, I’ve been in the clear. (Insert over the falls shot here, lol).
How’s your love life?
Good. My fiancée and I are planning to get married next year. We’re both super busy – she has her thing going on being co-owner and creative director of Faithfull The Brand, and I’m keeping busy. But we made a pact to always keep things balanced. Bali taught me about balance. So amongst our travels, if one of us can come along and help out with the other we’ll do that or we like to take time out head to somewhere off the grid and enjoy each other’s time. We just got back from Rio, Brazil. Amazing.
Will you ever get too old for all this? How do you keep it fresh?
I hope to be surfing in my 70s. I’d love to one day have a son and go on a surf trip with him. My dad is a huge inspiration for fun. He’s 62 years old, fit as a fiddle, walks and works out everyday, can party all night, comes on jungle surf missions with me (even though he can barely swim) just to hang out. But he’s just a massive (literally) ball of fun. My buddies actually joke about him being way more fun to hang out with than me.
That’s pretty funny. Look forward to a beer with you at The Lawn bro, best of luck.
Cool, I’ll see you there. T.S.