An Interview with Andrew Cotton - Adventure Parc Snowdonia



Andrew Cotton is a man of many talents. Professional big wave surfer, top-level athlete, adventurer, guest speaker, qualified lifeguard and skilled plumber to boot.

He is now one of the world’s most respected big wave surfers, forming a critical part of the team that allowed Garrett McNamara to go down in the history books when, in 2011, Cotton towed McNamara into Nazaré, where he surfed a 78-foot wave. This was the largest wave ever surfed at the time.

These days, Andrew splits his time between Portugal and West Ireland for the big wave season, travelling the globe to scope out other spots such as Peahi in Hawaii, Mavericks in California and The Right in West Australia. However, this wasn’t always the case despite his early love for surfing. In order to secure some job stability, Cotton trained as both a lifeguard and a plumber before some promising partnerships meant that he was able to progress into a full-time athlete.

Andrew is also a motivational speaker, offering invaluable insight into topics such as facing and working with fear, setting and achieving goals, overcoming adversity and thinking creatively.

After lockdown forced her to take an extended break from competitions, Barton is back with a bang. In 2022 alone, she’s competed in the ISA World Juniors in El Salvador, hit the shores of France, Spain & Portugal and returned home to reclaim her place on the podium at the Boardmasters Open.  


We recently caught up with Andrew after a session in our lagoon to talk about his upcoming events, what he thinks about wave pools and some memorable moments from his surfing career so far.

Hi Andrew, thanks for taking some time out to chat with us. What’s life like right now – are you training for anything in particular?

Well, of course, it’s summer and I’m in North Devon so there are only really pretty small waves. It’s a good time for me to work on injuries, my training programme, and equipment. There is some big wave action going on in the southern hemisphere, but I’ve decided to stay local this time. My season will start at the end Sept/beginning of October when I’ll head back to Portugal and train in Nazaré.

How was your session in the wavepool at Surf Snowdonia?

So it was quite funny actually because I was doing a challenge to swim in the 3 highest lakes in the UK with XTRATUF. These lakes are Red Tarn in the lake district, England, Loch Etchachan in the Cairngorms, Scotland and of course Llyn Llyffant or ‘frog lake’ in Snowdonia, Wales. Unfortunately, the conditions in Snowdonia meant that we were unable to access the lake without it being a safety risk – I was really blown away by just how quickly the weather changes up there, but the flip side of being unable to complete the swim was that we could visit Surf Snowdonia.

The wave itself was a really clean, nice experience. Some of the other wavepools I’ve visited previously can feel a bit intense, but at Surf Snowdonia you have these peeling lefts and rights that just make for a fun experience.

Where was your very first big wave experience? Do you remember what was going through your head at the time?

Well, what is a big wave? It changes at every stage of your surfing, doesn’t it? For me, my first big wave experience was during my teens at my local spot in Croyde. It was probably around 4-6ft and I was petrified, in my experience that was as big as it gets! As for what was going through my head though it was just really exciting, it gave me that buzz to want more.

Big wave surfing is probably as extreme as surfing gets. Do you think anyone is capable of becoming a big wave surfer, or that it takes a certain type of person?

I think everyone has their big wave – there’s really no size. Some people find a comfort zone and they are happy there, others want to push the boundaries and push themselves. That ultimately also transcends into other areas of life, not just surfing.

We know that you harness the power of fear and turn it into motivation, so what advice would you give to people who want to overcome their own fears?

You can learn to enjoy fear. There are ultimately two ways to go – you can see something scary and avoid it and it just becomes bigger, or you can take on that fear and even if you don’t completely conquer it, you’ll still come away with a real sense of satisfaction, and that’s the powerful thing.

I’ve seen first-hand from surfing with other surfers how they manage to enjoy the worst moments, which ultimately unlocks the door to exciting times.

You’ve had quite the career since becoming a full-time athlete. What words of wisdom would you give to your younger self?

I think for me now where I am, you can always get better – if I could go back and have a word with myself in my twenties, I’d be telling myself it’s not a sprint, it’s a marathon. There’s always time to progress! You know, I’m 42 now and I’m still making profess with my surfing, fitness, diet, recovery, everything.

We’ve seen that your children, Honey and Ace, have inherited your talent for extreme sports. What would you say to parents that want to introduce their own children to surfing?

It can be challenging, and ultimately they have to really want to do it. I’ve just given them the tools and the options to pursue it if they want to. At the moment they’re both really into their team sports like football and rugby. Both are really capable in the water which is really great.

Wave pools like ours are springing up all over the planet. How do you think they can benefit the surf culture and growth of the sport in the right way?

Oh definitely, they absolutely have their place. For starters, it’s a safe environment that’s accessible to everyone and it’s great for surfers who can’t get to the beach every weekend, they can hit the pool and learn to surf whenever.

It’s totally not the route that I’ve gone within my surfing career, but it’s so much fun. It gives a repetitiveness to surfing which is really hard to replicate in the ocean. In that aspect, you’ll develop some muscle memory that will allow you to finetune, learn and practise before taking it all out into the ocean.

Late last year we saw your very cool partnership with Porsche & Sidetracked magazine – can we ask what your most memorable partnership experience has been so far?

I’ve been really fortunate with some of the opportunities I’ve had. Ultimately though, one of the most exciting things for me was to sign with Redbull – I’ve had a long list of injuries through big wave surfing, which could potentially be a huge red flag for some brands but they’ve been there to support me through those worst moments. They’ve been there to scoop me up and guide me through it.  

And of course, being lucky enough to work on little fun projects with brands such as the three peaks challenge with XTRATUF.

Are there any specific practices you follow before heading out into big waves?

So if I’m going into big waves, I’m not trying to amp myself up, it’s a much more mindful practice. I’ll work on nasal breathing, 3 seconds in and 10 seconds out, focusing on the breath. I’ll visualise what I want to do that day and my goals. If you’re going into dangerous situations I think you really need to be going in with a level head.

Finally, describe big wave surfing in three words.

Accept, surrender & embrace.

Keep up to date with andrew’s adventures 

You can find out more about what Andrew is up to on his YouTube channel or on Instagram at @andrew_cotty


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