How Metallica’s Bassist Catches Waves To Help Him Find His Groove Onstage While Playing To Tens Of Thousands

Metallica’s Black album is the world’s biggest selling album of the last 25 years, and the band are on yet another sell-out world tour. RISING went backstage at London’s O2 to find out how bassist Rob Trujillo uses surfing to unplug from being a rock star, but also to get into The Zone when onstage…

RISING You must have to make special efforts to fit surfing into your life – why is that?
ROB TRUJILLO, MUSICIAN
‘Surfing for me is very therapeutic – it’s a way of life. It’s something that I need and I find if I don’t have it I’m not in such a great mood. I like to be active – if I know the waves are good and I’m at home, but I am running around busy and getting caught up in other stuff, I get kind of disappointed in myself because for me it’s all about just doing it. If that means getting up extra early, taking the time and making the effort then that’s what I need to do. Surfing is my glue and it’s something that Kirk Hammett [lead guitarist] and I can also do when we are in tour. Especially places like Portugal and Australia – it becomes an important part of our journey. I need the sun and the ocean. I couldn’t live without the beach, there’s no way.’

RISING Playing to sold-out arenas with Metallica must be full-on – does surfing help you unplug?
RB
‘It gives a chance to reset but it’s also an opportunity. We’re out in these wonderful cities with great beaches, killer waves and surf spots. There are always those memorable moments on tour when we’re in the right place at the right time, like in Australia at Bells – a beach outside Melbourne – when a big swell hits. We managed to get the perfect day for what we like – overhead waves – and we had a crew with us, a couple of pros. So you both drop in and they’re ‘go, go’ and since they’ve got the right of way they are giving me or Kirk the right of way instead. That works some of the time, but some of the old school locals, they don’t care. They don’t care about Metallica, which I understand! But it’s nice because it can get pretty competitive at some of these breaks, especially in the urban areas.’

‘This one particular wave at Bells I got a really long ride and I got a nice backhand slash, and there was a photographer there who caught it, so I got a shot in the local newspaper – I valued that moment for myself, it was like “Cool man, yeah finally!” Haha.’

‘It’s about your flow and your rhythm, and grooving on the wave – it’s the same thing on stage’

RISING Are there any parallels between surfing and music, for you?
RT
‘Surfing is something that I feel goes hand in hand with music and what we do – the rhythm and flow of the wave, and being able to challenge ourselves with something different. Music is great to challenge yourself in that whole experience of playing in front of a lot of people, but with surfing you get a similar high. You ride a good wave and even if no one is there to see it, and you’re having this moment with yourself, it's very fulfilling.’

RISING What about when things aren’t flowing so well?
RT
‘You find a groove on stage, and sometimes if you are out of synch – it’s a feel thing, you’re just not there – surfing is the same where you can just be out of synch. You’re out there on the water and for me there are consistency issues sometimes where I will get on a wave and I’ll be: “I should have done this, I should have cut back sooner.” You’re always trying to figure out new manoeuvres because I generally ride shortboard.’

RISING So, how do you get into The Zone, both in the surf and onstage?
RT
‘At the end of the day it’s about your flow and your rhythm and grooving on the wave, and its the same thing on stage with your movement when you are in The Zone – it’s just a really special place. It’s the same with surfing when you’re catching multiple waves and your conditioning is up – I workout with a trainer three times a week now. Playing bass on big stages, yeah your conditioning’s got to be up – the calluses on your fingers, and how your muscles feel, all that stuff plays into a performance, especially with Metallica – the performances are all very intense and physical.’

RISING What’s been the most beautiful surf spot you’ve discovered while touring?
RT
‘The Galapagos, that was a very special moment. The swell wasn’t up but it was the surreal beauty and the serenity of seeing the wildlife, alone. Massive iguanas, exotic birds and seals that are totally in synch with you – they are not afraid and almost playing with you in the water. We did a snorkel session, out in this remote mass of rock formations a mile off the coast.’

‘There were these two massive rock structures and you go the length of a football pitch, but they don’t let the boat go through there so you’re swimming through there with your mask and fins – it’s very deep and you will see sharks, and the sea lions will swim next to you and alongside you. There are massive turtles you can get very close to. It was just a really amazing experience.’

‘Being on the water, out in the sun and being able to ride mother nature in that way is reward’

RISING Extreme cold-water surfing is a thing now – Metallica once played a gig on Antarctica, so were you tempted to try and surf there?
RT
‘It’s a beautiful place and we almost could have gone surfing – but it was a good deal that we didn’t. There were a couple of guys that we know who are pro surfers and they were on an expedition. They invited us but their camp was far from the gig. They’re adventure guys – they live on the edge and they got caught in the middle of a snowstorm out in the middle of the break – they couldn’t see which way the coastline was. It turned into a whiteout and there was this moment of confusion. I can only imagine me being out there with them on jet skis, at a moment of confusion: I wouldn’t fare well.’

‘These guys were scared and they ride 50ft waves. The surf was big but they said it was the confusion, and how cold it was – their hands were freezing. I can’t have that, you know! When it gets to that level, that’s where I need to be cautious and fearful – Kirk, maybe he can handle that, but I’m different to I was 10-15 years ago when I was like: “Yeah, bring it!” I value certain things so much that I won’t put myself in that kind of danger anymore. But I do enjoy the rush of an expedition, within reason!’

RISING Where did you catch your first wave?
RT
‘I grew up in Venice Beach, in what we call Dogtown – my first wave was on Venice Beach. You always remember your first wave – I was on this big 8ft Hawaiian gun, a borrowed board single fin. I remember catching this wave that was waist high, but it was one of those special memories. Growing up in that area it was the punk rock culture, the skate culture – a melting pot that revolves around that lifestyle of surfing and skating. I’m so glad that I’m still a part of it and more than anything that my kids are a part of it – my son’s a part of that tribe now, it’s pretty cool – I take him skating at Venice skatepark, and surfing too.’

RISING Your professional life revolves around pitch-perfect performance – do you ever find yourself applying that to surfing, even though it’s not your job?
RT
‘Now there are times when I will try to get up on a wave, a perfect wave but it’s too small, I’ll ride it on my belly, no shame – literally boogie board style and trying to get in the barrel. That’s where I’m at, just having fun and enjoying the moment, putting less pressure on myself. For a while everything had to be perfect, every turn. I was never a pro – I have a brother who competed but I was never that good – but I think everybody has their moments, you do something that you’re proud of when you’re riding and you’re, “Oh man I wish I had a picture of that, even if it was just for myself!”’

‘The sound of the wave was a cross between a lion or a grizzly bear meets a freight train’

RISING What’s the heaviest wave you’ve ever ridden?
RT
‘The heaviest wave that I ever ridden was in Tahiti, a place called Haapiti, on one of the islands there called Morea, and I happened to be there on a big swell – I basically got caught inside on the first wave. All the waves break out on reef passes so you’re about a kilometre out to sea – we went out there on a boat – and this black horseshoe wall just came out of nowhere. I had never seen anything like that in my life. There was this innocence to me being out there and all of a sudden seeing this beast and getting hammered.’

‘Time stops and I got held under and then thrown, but everything happened underwater and I ended up 75 yards from the point of impact, in the lagoon. I came up to the surface and the boat that brought us out was like: “Oh my God dude, you got dragged all the way over here!” And it’s all sharp reef so it’s pretty scary. I had never seen a wave where even the sound of it is a cross between a lion or a grizzly bear meets a freight train. To see that kind of power and witness it was just incredible.’

RISING What about Hawaii’s legendary North Shore, the ultimate mecca for heavy waves?
RT
‘I rode Small Waimea last winter and I realised that I have nothing but respect for The North Shore. The last time I was there last Christmas, I understood better about when you are here it’s a different level of ocean movement, the waves are different here. You have to have different board sizes, a quiver, because you need guns sometimes, these 10ft boards, to get into the waves. It’s very different, very interesting and very humbling because those boards are so massive and they’re a bit heavier. Also just to be in a certain type of shape – it’s a challenge but it’s also very rewarding and incredible. When I was there I was thinking I want to take this more seriously, get a quiver and be here more on The North Shore, when I can. I hope to explore bigger waves, but nothing that’s going to hurt me!’

RISING What would you say to people who haven’t experienced catching a wave?
RT
‘It’s a trip because I tell people who haven’t surfed, who live by an ocean – you need to do this because it’s such a beautiful experience, it's very therapeutic, even if you’re on your own you can think about things and work things out. Even if you just catch a wave for a few seconds, and you’re paddling around that’s already better than not. Being in the water, out in the sun and being able to ride mother nature in that way is reward. It’s special.’

WHAT NEXT? You can catch Metallica live on their World Wired tour until May 2018 – in the meantime watch a song from their new album Hardwired To Self Destruct performed in Mexico City…

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