"I’ve got a good mindset, I stay quite calm.”
While most sixteen year olds in Scotland are swilling Buckie and tanning windows, or sitting in their bedrooms crying, Ben Larg is taking Nazaré bombs on the head and getting amongst it.
And all with zero fanfare.
To understand what Ben’s doing requires a little context.
He’s already ridden giant Mullaghmore in Ireland when he was just fourteen, as well as several other legit European heavy water spots.
Yet he comes from a tiny island off the west coast of Scotland with no notable surf scene.
The island of Tiree is a pancake flat dot in the Inner Hebrides. It has a population of only 650 people and is roughly ten miles long and five miles wide.
There’s a beachbreak for almost every swell and wind direction, but the latter is so consistent and strong (with no trees or hills to interrupt it) that the island has traditionally been a haven for windsurfers and kitesurfers.
These days it’s a bit of a winter graveyard of holiday rentals, populated in the summer by bankers from Glasgow who took up surfing during lockdown. When I was there recently it was overrun by fifty-somethings in Teslas with mini-mals strapped to the roof.
SUPs and paunches were also popular.
But from the unlikely sands of (middling beachbreak) Balevullin, where his family’s shack on the beach provides surf lessons to the progeny of Scotland’s suburban go-getters on summer staycations, Ben Larg is rising.
(To be fair, it’s not all pishing rain and gales for days. Ben follows the swallows south towards Africa around November, spending the last few winters in Lanzarote.)
He tackled Nazare a few days ago on boards borrowed from Nick Von Rupp, his unofficial chaperone into the line-up. The two met when Von Rupp was in Scotland recently (YouTubing it to death) and enlisted Ben and his ski to whip him into a heavy slab up North.
They kept in touch and it wasn’t long before Ben got a call to see if he fancied tackling arguably the most famous big wave spot in the world.
Or at least the one that has captured most mainstream attention for the cartoon-ish images of waves against the context of the lighthouse and viewing area on the cliff.
It was Ben’s first time at Nazare.
He got the call at night and flew the next morning. He towed a few and paddled a few, the screengrab he posted in a rare instagram post being one of his better tow waves.
View this post on Instagram
“It was like a football stadium or something,”Ben says. “You can hear everybody cheering when you’re getting waves, and when you’re getting worked!”
I ask him if he took any heavy ones. “I took the biggest set of the day on the head when I was paddling,” he says. “It’s a really heavy wave, you’re under the water for a long time. But I’ve got a good mindset, I stay quite calm.”
Ben wears a float vest and I wondered how many times he’d pulled it, expecting at least once or twice, but I’m surprised by his answer.
“I’ve never ever pulled it, I like to save up the canisters,” he laughs. “It’s kind of a goal of mine. I’ve not done it yet, so I said to myself I wasn’t going to do it at Nazaré and I didn’t.”
I’m struck by the composure of a sixteen year old taking on some of the world’s most iconic big waves. Early in our conversation it’s clear that Ben Larg is cut from a different cloth.
There’s no bravado, no bullshit.
He seems naturally self-effacing.
“I don’t know if I’m a big wave surfer yet,” he says at one point when I’ve referred to him as such.
He spent a lot of the sessions at Nazaré doing safety on the ski for Von Rupp and others, as well as paddling and towing several waves of his own.
It seems a heavy load for someone so young, not just dealing with your own waves, but looking out for other, more experienced surfers you’ve only just met.
“It’s a super sketchy place to drive the ski on the inside there,” Ben told me. “Hardest place I’ve ever driven.”
But this seems all part of the experience for him, and working with the skis is part of it.
“I just love surfing big waves. I love driving the skis and stuff, I’ve always been a massive motorhead. I’ve ridden motorbikes my whole life.”
He was surprised by how busy it was with skis buzzing around and roughly twelve tow teams.
“My paddle waves were good waves, but I never got the proper set waves I wanted. Natxo Gonzalez was on the bombs. I want to paddle it bigger,” he says.
Ben has aspirations of being a big-wave surfer, but doesn’t seem comfortable with the self-promotion that’s arguably necessary to make it.
His Instagram account is quiet. There’s roughly one post a month and sometimes months on end of nothing.
“I hate to talk myself up,” he says. “I’m super inactive on social media, but after staying with Nick (Von Rupp) he says I have to do it.”
It’s an admirable approach, and a pretty remarkable outlier as far as teenagers go, nevermind teenagers pushing limits in heavy surf.
He’ll probably be forced to amp up his online game if he wants to get noticed and keep sponsors happy, but I would hope some brands might recognise the long term value in authenticity and simply being out there rather than talking yourself up online.
Walk softly and carry a big stick, as they say.
Stories are always more powerful if you let others tell them for you.
I ask Ben if he realises that he’s ridden the biggest waves ever by a Scottish surfer.
He laughs and says he hasn’t thought about it like that.
“I was stoked just to be the only Scottish guy in the water.”
And his plans for the future?
“Maybe post more than once a year on Instagram…or I could go onto TikTok and flick my hair about a bit.”