It’s fair to say Benji Lowen’s trajectory in surfing has been outstanding. He’s on a performance surge right now, punching above his weight in New Zealand and he now has Australia in his sights. Despite only being 11 years old, he’s one of the hungriest competitors we’ve seen in the water. Add in his impeccable work ethic and this Sumner kid is destined for greatness.
During the South Island Surfing Association’s South Island Grom Series in 2021 Benji was unstoppable. He contested Under 12 and Under 14 divisions and went home with pockets full of cash, earned through his results, each time. Benji took the victory in both divisions after the four-round series concluded, and finished second overall in the New Zealand rankings in the Under 14s. His speed on a wave and commitment to the biggest turns are about as impressive as his 15-minute heat wave counts.
We caught up with Benji and his family as they were gearing up to move to New South Wales, Australia, to pursue the surfing dream … and chase some warm waves and weather.
NZSJ: Tell us what motivates you in surfing?
Benji Lowen: It’s fun and heaps of my friends surf, which I love. I like the challenge of trying new turns and learning. I also like competition and surfing with friends where we are pushing each other.
NZSJ: Who do you surf with at home and how did you get so good?
Benji Lowen: I surf with Jack Tyro heaps. He is one of my best surfing buddies and he rips. He is older and pushes me to try new things. He lives down the street and we surf heaps at our local break together. I also surf heaps with Sonny Lyons. He used to always beat me in comps, which motivated me to want to get better. Sonny lives in Kaikoura and he has the sickest forehand whack. My dad, Dax, takes me surfing almost every day after school. He charges. My other dad, Jonny, videos me and we look at the footage together. I started surfing when I was three and a half. Mum used to put a lifejacket on me and push me in on a soft top.
NZSJ: Which surfers do you watch and study?
Benji Lowen: I’m a goofy footer so I look mostly at Gabriel Medina. Gabriel is super technical and has good fundamentals. I also like Owen Wright’s backhand attack. Lately I have been looking at John John Florence’s carves. I love the look of how smooth his carves are. I also really like Ryan Callinan, who is a goofy footer as well.
NZSJ: You have a very strong work ethic – where has that come from?
Benji Lowen: I really like learning and trying new things. At the moment I’m working on my forehand bottom turns. Nailing a good bottom turn feels amazing especially when we have been working on it so much. The reason I surf is because I love the feeling when you catch a good wave. I also love the feeling of having a good heat, because I know that all my hard work has paid off.
NZSJ: You’re often competing up an age group or two – why do you do that?
Benji Lowen: The older surfers push me hard. They often have good heat strategies that I can learn from. I also like going up an age division, because they are so much more focused and aggressive. That helps to motivate me to bring that into my age division. I feel like I actually surf better because there is less pressure when you’re the under dog.
NZSJ: What is life like on the road for you at comps?
Benji Lowen: Me and the family usually take our caravan to comps. Our caravan is super small and has bunk beds just big enough for the three of us. We normally arrive a day early so we can get some practice in and have a surf. On comp day we wake up early to get a good spot for the caravan and to check the surf conditions. Sometimes I’ll go for a free surf depending on the order of events. Before a heat I would do some stretches on the beach and watch the surf to think about where I will sit through the heat. During the day I will always try to eat and drink heaps and make sure I keep sunscreen on.
NZSJ: Is it tougher for you coming from the South Island? Do you think it would be an easier pathway being in the North Island?
Benji Lowen: Surfing is good in the South Island because there are nearly always waves at home or close by. So, I get to surf a lot. But the bad thing about the south is that the water is freezing. There are a lot more surfers in the North Island and the competition up there is good. But I’m lucky down here – there are some real rippers who are pushing each other like Alexis Owen, Lewis Murphy and Sonny Lyons. We all get along great and surf heaps together.
NZSJ: Tell us about the move to Australia.
Benji Lowen: We are going to be based in Coffs Harbour, New South Wales. We had some friends move there at the start of the year. My mum randomly looked at jobs there and there was a nursing job that she applied for. She got the job. We hadn’t thought about moving to Australia, but then when she got the job we decided why not and that it would be a good move for the family. It’s an adventure. And it helps that there are lots of good surf spots to go and explore.
NZSJ: What is it about the Australian surf environment that appeals to you?
Benji Lowen: Warm water is definitely on the top of the list. I love snowboarding, but skipping the winter this year appeals as I’ve already been surfing in booties and sometimes a hood for the last month or so at home. It will be nice to stash those for when I return for the October holidays. In the holidays when I come home to visit friends and family, if there is a comp on at the same time I’ll be keen to enter. It will be good to see all my comp friends as well. Making new friends in Australia will be fun, too. I hope I have a group of friends that push me like my friends here in New Zealand do.
NZSJ: Where do you want to take your surfing?
Benji Lowen: I have been dreaming of being a pro surfer on the World Tour since I was seven years old. I am going to try my hardest to get onto the World Surf League. You must be committed if you want to be the best and always try your hardest no matter what happens. I really just want to be the best surfer I can be. I’m going to do that by working hard and I’ll take it as far as I can.
NZSJ: Give your sponsors some love, Benji.
Benji Lowen: Exit Surf supports me. The guys in there are super nice and also give me some extra wax. They are really encouraging and enthusiastic. Mum and Dad are always providing for me also. Surfing and going to comps all around New Zealand is super expensive so I’m stoked that they give me the opportunities I have had to do that.
NZSJ: 10 years from now where will you be?
Benji Lowen: In 10 years I imagine I will be traveling to a lot of different places like Hawaii and Mexico. I would like to still be surfing heaps and still entering comps. And I’d like to have a group of good friends to travel with.
NZSJ: Thanks Benji and keep ripping!
Benji Lowen: Thank you!