A DAREDEVIL IN TAHITI: Interview with stuntman Robbie Maddison, who charged Tahiti on a moto
In the video above, you’ll see a madman take off on a sizeable wave in Tahiti on a highly-modified motorcycle. His name is Robbie Maddison, and he’s a surfer-slash-stunt-rider from Australia. “Maddo” seems to know no fear, as he’s backflipped the Tower Bridge in London, jumped the Corinth Canal in Greece, and acted as the stunt-double for Daniel Craig in James Bond films. But looking over the ledge in Tahiti, while holding onto two handlebars, is another level of madness. We caught up with Maddo to ask him, well, why?
Well, let’s take it from the top. Where the hell did this idea come from?
Well, I grew up surfing, and my wife is a big-time wakeboard champion, so every time we’re home in Australia we’re in boats, on the water, etc. I guess the idea originally came from—well I mean I’m obviously a motorcycle guy—but I was on the back of a boat and we were cruising along the river and I’m looking at the wake coming up the back, watching her wakeboard, and something clicked in my head. I fantasized putting skis on a bike and riding on water. It was a stupid vision at the time, but I kept toying with it, playing with designs and concepts, and eventually it became a reality.
Like most people who surf in Tahiti, you don’t have a good trip unless you meet up with Raimana. We heard he was pretty crucial to pulling this off.
Yeah, I’d never met him before, but he’s a nice guy, very hospitable and a great surfer. Before the stunt, the day before I got the big wave on my bike, a big swell came and Raimana towed me into the sickest waves I’ve ever experienced. I caught some wearing my full gear to get used to wearing it in the water, and he towed me into ‘em. Then right after, he towed into a couple waves and I watched him get some of the sickest barrels I’ve ever seen first-hand. I was up on the Jet Ski right in front of where the lip was hitting the water, parallel to the reef—it was just so epic. That scene will live with me forever.
Having grown up in Australia on the beaches just south of Sydney, did understanding the physics of a wave and ocean dynamics help you at all? Did your past as a surfer influence how you were able to ride that bike in the surf?
Yeah, 100 percent. I’ve surfed since I was 8 years old. I’ve been a surfer for like 26 years. If I wasn’t a surfer growing up there’s no way I would have ever even imagined this, not to mention have had the knowledge of how to read the wave. I was only comfortable in this scenario because I’ve spent the majority of my life dropping in on waves. Honestly, the whole way I imagined I needed to ride the wave on my bike was wrong, but after watching some footage, with my knowledge of surfing I realized I had to adjust to be up on the face of the wave—and I’m comfortable being there because I spent the majority of my life dropping in on the face of waves. If I hadn’t been a surfer at heart, I couldn’t have pulled it off.
How does the perspective that we see in the photos and the video relate to what your perspective was of riding those waves in full gear on your bike?
The thing that sticks with me the most after that whole experience was how physically demanding it was. Honestly, I really thought that getting the right wave would have been easier [Laughs]. I don’t think the photos or video show how physical it was. You can’t see that when the wave broke right behind me, I honestly thought that might be the end of my life. I’ve never felt like I was in the wrong place at the wrong time more than I did right there. It was a near-death experience. At the end of the day, the images and footage say something pretty awesome, but the ferocity and how gnarly that thing was can’t really be put into words.