TODD WATERS INTERVIEW
Todd Waters is never standing still. He’s chasing the dream across three continents, driven by passion and curiosity and a willingness to put everything on the line.
STORY BY ASHENHURST
PHOTOS BY BAVO SWIJGERS – @shotbybavo
Mate you’ve been traveling non-stop since you left Australia. Where are you now and do you have a regular base?
My year has been a scramble of plans, ideas, organising, training and plane flights. If you told me in January I would be back in Europe racing world championship again for HRC Honda Europe I would of needed to pinch myself. But here we are living in a small village located in Holland called Valkenswaard. I’m almost living like a backpacker. The team organised for me to live with one of the team mechanics in his apartment. It’s actually been a great base, with everything we need at our finger tips.
The original idea was to head to the US but then you went to Europe. Can you take us through the original plan and how that changed?
I decided to pack my bags and head to the States to follow a gut feeling I had worked-up. I always live by the motto aim for the stars and you might just get there. I wanted to race the AMA Outdoors as a privateer. Get a motorhome, travel from race to race with a small support crew including my dad, cousin and girlfriend. A phone call from Yarrive Konsky started the process of combining my US campaign with a return to Australian SuperX alongside Justin Brayton.
Damien from Blue Wings Honda, New Zealand, was stoked to be involved and our first stop was to New Zealand to live with my old team mate Cody Cooper. We pushed each other during four weeks of training. I also did some personal technical training with Ben Townley before racing the last round of the NZ motocross championship.
Right before we left for Los Angeles I received an email from Eric Keyho, manager of HRC Honda US. They had caught wind that I was coming to racing the AMA motocross championship and would like to know if we would be interested in attending their first outdoor test.
Tough question to answer – not! We landed Tuesday morning in LAX to then drive four hours south to Race SoCal (a Californian ride/camp/tour company) to grab a van, then turn around and drive six hours north to Zacca Station where I attended the two day test. The jet lag was definitely accumulating at this stage.
Things were going really well in the States. However, I was starting to feel a little overwhelmed with trying to get bikes, parts and everything organised and the first round was fast approaching. Then one morning I woke to an email from HRC Europe asking if I would consider filling in for the remainder of the MXGP World Championship. Their second rider Brain Bogers had suffered an injury that would take a long time to heal so they wanted a replacement rider. Writing this makes me realise how crazy the year has been! But also how many once in a life time opportunities have presented themselves.
Do you enjoy travelling and do you take time to check out the sights and take everything in or do you just go from track to track?
I think you can see from the above that travelling is all I really know. I spent the years back on Australian soil and even though it’s the best country in the world my feet were getting really itchy. I’m not one to sit still; if I have some time off I’m the first person to go exploring. When I injured my collar bone in Latvia, I headed straight to Austria to spend 10 days hiking some amazing mountains, whilst trying not to sweat too much and keep the wound/stitches clean and dry. Of course the priority is racing, but we open our eyes and take advantage of the beautiful places we get to visit.
I’m pretty sure I could live in France. Have you ever found place overseas and thought, yeah I could stop and live here happily?
Austria became a home away from home back in 2014. When I suffered a fractured tibia and fibula during a practise crash I was sent to RedBull Diagnostic Training Facility in Fuschl, Austria to do some intense rehabilitation. Training would start at 8:30 in the morning starting with blood tests to check my CK levels (creatine kinase), so that I was recovered for the days training followed by fitness training, physio, lunch, psychology, fitness training and physio finishing at 4:30.
After training I would head back to an old Austrian timber pub that smelt like 100 year-old beer soaked into the timber floor boards. Small room with a single bed in it. I got very board quickly.
Being a 23 year-old kid by myself in a foreign country I decided after training each day I would just jump in the hire car (brand new Mercedes), and check the place out. I would stop at a different small village each afternoon and walk around the small cobblestone streets to find somewhere nice to eat. I met some amazing people and saw cool things.
One time I walked into one of the beautiful old churches at Lake Mondsee and saw a bunch of The Sound of Music souvenirs being sold. Turns out it was the church in the movie and the rest of the movie was shot around the area I was based. I could not wait to tell my grandma because she loved that movie and had watched it a least 20 million times.
Stories aside I love the scenery, nature and outdoor activities you can do in Austria. It comes closest to what my Australian lifestyle is like just with a completely different culture, language, food etc. Mind you I could only live there in summer. I hate the cold so I definitely wouldn’t be able to live there all year round.
What’s the hardest thing to adapt to in terms of riding technique and why is it that so few outside riders have conquered MXGP?
It’s really so damn hard because in the deep sand you need to hang off the back of the bike, jumping and hopping bumps and just letting the bike flow to keep momentum. To then go riding hard pack where the focus is to keep the head more over the front of the bike, weighting the outside footpeg to optimise traction. They’re quite a different techniques and that’s why you see riders better at one surface then the other. Keep in mind early in the season some tracks can even be frozen and I’ve even ridden with tracks covered in snow. You’re hands feel like they are on fire. Fast forward a month or two and you’re racing in Thailand or Indonesia sweating your arse off.
It’s a massive advantage to be racing the MXGP championship from a young age to learn the ropes and give yourself time to learn and adapt. For me this was difficult being 22 years-old and going straight into the premier class. I needed to get results right away and having no MX2 experience, I really worked on the fitness side as it’s was the easiest for me to improve on.
My technique is not the best and I know that but these things can’t be changed overnight. The results I achieved in the World championship come from pure hard work and determination.
The championship is largely based in Europe. Each year they are adding more and more overseas rounds but all the teams are European based. This brings its own set of challenges for outside riders. I watched the Tony Cairoli movie earlier this year and they talk about how hard it was for him to move from southern Italy to Belgium. I thought, dude try coming all the way from Australia!
We’ve all been watching Herlings run at an insane pace this year. Can you give us an idea of what he’s like to watch up close?
For me it’s cool to be a part of the Herlings/Cairoli era as I don’t think we will see another pair of riders like them for a very long time. From what I know Herlings’ work ethic is insane. He has been known to be out riding the Monday after a GP weekend. Talent and hard work is a lethal combination.
It really is a sight to see him ride a sand track as it looks like he’s riding supercross; riding much faster and jumping way further than anyone else, to then riding hard pack in a similar way jumping off breaking bumps into turns and hopping off walls.
He’s definitely an impressive rider to watch and the crazy thing is the MXGP class at the moment is packed with insanely good riders.
Do you have a long term plan in MXGP or is there another goal you’d like to chase?
I love racing the MXGP’s and being a part of the big family. We have so many lifelong friends and my girlfriend and I really enjoy it.
But it’s been a really big dream of mine to be racing in America and that’s something I would really love to experience. My current mindset is to race my motorbike wherever challenges me and gives me crazy life experiences. I’ve put the money making thing aside and just want to become the best racer I can. We could find ourselves anywhere.
Can you take us through some of the logistics of moving to another continent, finding a place to live, get the shopping done, get a car and get race bikes sorted and compete at the highest level.
In 2013 after our motocross championship I set off to Europe myself with two gear bags and no idea. So first-off we needed a visa as we can only stay for three months but ended-up only able to get a holiday visa for 12 months.
Then buying a car in between our preseason training camp in Spain and racing the three round Italian championship was a nightmare. First riding my pushbike 20 minutes to the car yard to put a deposit down. Then riding back to the bank to see it’s closed from 11:30 to 1:30. Once I paid for the car I needed to make a four hour trip to the main city of Brussels to pick up the plates and all this happened in between racing and training. It was a process and don’t get me started on selling the car (laughs).
The simplest things like grocery shopping can be tough. One shop has good meat but no fresh milk, so you go to the other shop but is has very little fruit and veg. Then before I got a car I would load up my bike with two bags on each side of the handle bars and ride home with 20 jackets on because its eight degrees at the start of the year. But looking back I loved every minute of it
Before the Brazilian GP you need a visa to enter and it’s simple to do but lucky for us one of my girlfriend’s family members had been there before told us you can’t enter without having a yellow fever vaccination. There is always little things like this popping up all the time.
This time around because it was so last minute and I’m only filling in for half a season (not a three year contract like last time), I really haven’t organised anything. The team booked me flights over, I got picked up from the airport by the mechanic to go to Valkenswaard and move into a room in his apartment (where we have to single beds pushed together and some serious gear piling up). For transport I have a Dutch style push bike which is all we need to get around. The mechanic drives me to every training session and any airports for travel.
The US side of things was a little more organised. I have a five year athlete visa (which cost a small fortune) and organised to stay at Race SoCal while I got on my feet with a vehicle and motorhome (RV). I got as far as buying a van (which is still over there) before flying over to Europe. The shopping and basic lifestyle stuff is pretty similar to Australia. The cool thing I noticed in America is that everybody wants to help you out, especially if you’re an underdog.
Of course it can be really tricky to keep your physical fitness and get in riding practise with all these distractions. The more you have to organise yourself it can take a toll on your performance.
What’s a perfect weekend off look like for you?
Riding my bike in the sand dunes with my buddies and driving the four-wheel drives down the beach to set up camp. Enjoying company around a bonfire with friends and family to waking up with the sun to enjoy a surf only walking distance from you camp site.
What do you miss most about Australia and will we see you back soon?
The active beach lifestyle and my beautiful family and friends. Will you see me back soon? That’s a question I can’t answer as I’m just going where the opportunity takes me. But no doubt I will be back in OZ racing as I love what I do.
Is there anyone you want to give a shout-out to for helping you chase the dream?
To be honest the list is huge as I wanna go back to 2013 and thank Robby T and Jeff Leisk for getting me to Europe and opening my eyes to the world. These two men really changed my world and outlook.
The behind the scenes and commitment from Yarrive Konsky was really from the heart and I really appreciate the big part he’s played in my year so far.
My two longest personal sponsors Geoff and Jenny from Cairns and Leeanne and Ant from Berry Sweet strawberries are amazing and have made so much possible for me.
The commitment and understanding from my partners at Honda Au, Blue wings Honda NZ, Snap On Tools, Storyboard, M2R Helmets, Scott goggles, Fly, Sidi, Asterisk, Fist, Unit, Lusty industry, Ogio, Dunlop, Yoshimura, Renthal, CFX seats, Mooloolaba Brick a Block.
The people who have helped me along the way, my good buddy Matty from Owlpine group, Steve from Race SoCal, Jarah Bresse (Swift supplements) for creating a hydration supplement for me, Ben Schodel (BSMX) for giving me more than just a place to ride at and Cannon Smith just for being the legend he is.
The inner circle, my dad Steve (head mechanic and the smartest man I know), Mum, my girlfriend Gill and my cousin Jason, always supporting my crazy dreams.
And of course everybody at Honda HRC Europe and US.
For an extended version of this interview keep an eye-out for DIRT ACTION issue 225!