Burrow, Taj

Friendly, lightning-fast regularfoot pro surfer from Yallingup, Western Australia; world-ranked #2 in 1999 and 2007. Burrow was born (1978) and raised in Busselton, Western Australia, the only child of two New Age surfers originally from San Diego, California, and began surfing at age seven. At nine he entered and won a local contest for surfers 18 and under; at 16 he was the national juniors division champion; at 17 he won the prestigious Pro Junior.

Burrow earned a coveted slot on the 1997 world pro circuit, which he turned down—the first and only surfer to do so—claiming that at 17 he was "too young to do the tour full-on." The slender (5' 9", 140-pound) white-blond Australian had by that time distinguished himself as one of the world's most exciting surfers, matching an electrifying aerial repertoire with impossibly cool-handed tuberiding skills, and directing all maneuvers out of a smooth, low, aerodynamic stance.

Burrow easily qualified for the 1998 world tour, and earned rookie-of-the-year honors on his way to a #12 year-end finish. The following season he won two world tour events and finished the year runner-up to fellow Australian Mark Occhilupo. Burrow dropped to sixth in 2000, then faltered badly in 2001, finishing 35th in a contest season reduced to five events after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. "At 23," surf journalist Matt George wrote, "he's bone tired. His surfing is still electric, but the current is irregular, and fuses blow all the time."

In November 2001 Burrow signed a six-year contract with surfwear giant Billabong thought to be worth $650,000 a year. Added to his other sponsorship deals—along with sales from a Taj Burrow surfing action figure, a diary-style book, and surf contest prize money—Burrow had become one of Australia's best-paid athletes, bringing in an estimated $1 million a year. He made a return to competitive form in 2002, winning a world tour event in Brazil, and finishing #4 in the final standings. He then settled in to a perennial top-5 ranking, every year seemingly a world title contender. In 2007, Burrow finished runner-up to Queenslander Mick Fanning. For three years running, starting in 2009, he finished at #4

In the late '00s, Burrow and world champion Kelly Slater developed a low-simmering rivalry, after a number of hard-fought heats in which Slater often came up with some last-second heroics to pull out the win. The animosity was kept in check, at least in part, because the two surfers' girlfriends were sisters. Burrow had also become something of a surf-world fashion plate, indulging, as Stab magazine put it, "a penchant for opulence."

Burrow, one of the most cheerful and approachable big-name surfers to ever come down the pike, is the subject of three sponsor-financed video documentaries, Sabataj (2000), Montaj (2001), and Fair Bits (2005), and has been featured in dozens of other surf videos, including The Show (1996), Hit and Run (2000), Pickled: The Movie (2001), Campaign (2003), Secret Machine (2006), and Year Zero (2011). He released Taj Burrow's Book of Hot Surfing, a fitness how-to, in 2003. Burrow was one of the first surfers to hire a full-time personal trainer.