“IS THIS THE BEST BARREL ever ridden on a foilboard at Cloudbreak?”
That was the question posed by surfer.com—and everyone watching on at Cloudbreak that day—after Alex Hayes cruised through a tube at Fiji’s most notorious shallow reef break, making it look easy as pie. What was going through his head? “Nothing,” says the Sydney-born surfer with a laugh. “It all happened so quickly. It was a pure, blissful moment… I train nard for these moments and I felt really, really calm. I guess it just happened, and it was magical.”
If foiling is a relatively new sport—it wasn’t until the mid-2000s that surf foiling began gaining traction—foiling big waves is still pretty unchartered territory. This is because it’s difficult—and dangerous. Foil boards travel across the water significantly faster than regular surfboards, and as a wave increases in size and power, so does the speed (and height) at which you can be thrown off the board. You only need to google surf ‘foiling injuries’ to see what can happen if you get dumped (though I don’t recommend it).
“Yeah, it’s pretty dangerous,” admits Hayes. But the risk hasn’t stopped him from pushing the boundaries of the sport by chasing some of the world’s most intimidating waves. “It is terrifying. But it’s really exciting. I want to foil some of the biggest waves in the world.”
He says he doesn’t like to “count his chickens before they’ve hatched”, but he does have “a bunch of solid waves on [his] mind”. “Especially Australian slabs. There’s one in Tasmania in particular that I’ve surfed before. But I would like to to foil that in my time. Maybe soon… maybe very soon,” he adds with a grin.
Hayes grew up surfing—regular surfing—and doing Nippers at his local Surf Life Saving Club, which eventually led to him entering Iron Man competitions. He also surfed competitively as a teenager, but he’s the first to admit he “wasn’t getting crazy results”. He enjoyed the thrill of pushing himself to the limits, though, so he shifted his focus to big wave surfing, conquering massive waves like Ship Stone and Pipeline on Hawaii’s North Shore. Then, in 2020, a friend introduced Hayes to foiling.
“It became an instant addiction. It was so trippy to me that it was possible. ‘Cause as a surfer, you have a pretty small range of waves that you can surf. But with a foil, you can traverse across flat water into a wave this way or that way,” he says, swerving his body from left to right as a demonstration. “The sense of freedom is just unbelievable. Pretty shortly after foiling came in my surfboards have just started to collect cobwebs.”
The training regime and travel involved means that being a professional surf foiler could be Hayes’ full time job. But foiling is only one part of his prolific output. He also skydives and skis, competes in the odd Iron Man comp and documents it all on video. He’s also a successful DJ, having warmed up for Diplo and played alongside Fat Boy Slim.
This summer, he’s playing gigs all over Australia and Indonesia every other weekend.
Hayes says he’s always been interested in music, and would join the school musical production crew to work on the lights and sound (“and to get out of school”), but it was when he began filming and editing his own videos that he realised a solid understanding of music was key to creating a captivating video. “You have to find the right songs to tell the right story. There was a moment of, ‘hey, I could create the sounds I want to hear and the feelings I want to share’.”
359k people subscribe to Hayes’ YouTube channel, where he posts clips of himself doing adrenaline-pumping things—all exquisitely cut and soundtracked. He says the drive to document his life comes from knowing evidence of his adventures will be around forever. “When I’m really old, or when I have a family in the future, I can show them these videos,” he says. “I guess it’s like a modern-day journal.”
Hayes is no stranger to being in front of the camera. But usually, he’s wearing a wetsuit or boardies—not threads from iconic Australian menswear brand Calibre’s new spring/summer collection. Yet on the day of our photoshoot, the surf foiler put the pieces through their paces—he even went for a surf in one of the brand’s graphic print camp collar shirts—and they stood up to the task at hand. The ultimate summer uniform? Hayes reckons so.
As we near the end of this year, the multi-hyphenate says he’s excited for what 2024 has to bring. “I’m looking forward to releasing a lot of music this year,” he says. “And I really want to put out an action sports film where I focus on foiling some of the biggest and best waves in the world.”
Although he’s hesitant to say which waves exactly—he’d rather those chickens hatch first—he’s got a trip to Hawaii planned for the New Year, smack bang in the middle of big wave season. Will we see videos of him foiling Jaws? Maybe. But at the end of the day, his quest is simple.
“I just want to share my love for action sports. That’s the main goal.”
This story originally appeared in the December/January print issue of Esquire Australia. Subscribe here.