First Drive: Rolls-Royce Phantom Series II

On the roads of the French Riviera, we pilot the aesthetically enhanced model and have never been so pampered.

By Robert Ross 01/08/2022

When pressed to call out a product that represents the pinnacle of luxury, one often precedes the pronouncement with “the Rolls-Royce of.” The reference is hardly new. The British marque’s reputation was duly noted as far back as 1907, when the British publication Autocar called Rolls-Royce the “best car in the world.” Arguably, that title, bestowed 115 years ago, remains relevant, as evidenced by our experience with the automaker’s new 2023 Phantom Series II.

The flagship of Rolls-Royce Motor Cars since 1925, and now in its eighth generation, Phantom is the longest continuously running nameplate in the automotive industry—as forward looking and thoroughly modern as it is historically informed. For Rolls-Royce, there is no other way to build a Phantom. Its creators chose to launch the “Rolls-Royce of Rolls-Royces” (our words, not theirs) with a first global drive at the Maybourne Riviera, a brand-new, five-star hotel in Roquebrune-Cap-Martin, perched on a hilltop within shouting distance of Monte Carlo. The crisp, clean architecture and tranquil lawns made it the ideal venue at which to reveal 10 colourful Phantoms, each one a unique commission designed to showcase the near-unlimited capabilities for customisation.

The Iconoclast, one of 10 debut examples of the Rolls-Royce Phantom Series II.

The Iconoclast, one of the 10 debut examples of the Phantom Series II. James Lipman, courtesy of Rolls-Royce Motor Cars.

e Phantom Series II, in all its singular expressions. The region of Nice was a favourite part of the world for the most notable artists of the 20th century. Here, Picasso, Matisse, Chagall and dozens of other painters, sculptors, writers and thinkers revelled in the sky, the landscape and the casual lifestyle that artfully inspired each one in a different way. Like those artists, what Rolls-Royce calls the “Poles of Luxury” are ten cars with names like Maverick and Connoisseur. Between these extremes were Platino, Patriot, Founder, Iconoclast, Prodigy, Sentimentalist, Extrovert and Aristocrat.

Sophie Weekes, Bespoke Lead on Phantom Series II, explained that, “Each of these ‘10 Exemplars’ exudes its own distinctive character. Our designers work with clients to develop a deep knowledge and understanding of our customers’ personality and then express that through their commission.” Indeed, the Phantom Series II is the ideal automotive canvas on which an owner can explore new colours and combinations of materials, fabrics and finishes to paint a masterpiece as individual as it is exquisite.

The interior of the Iconoclast, one of 10 debut examples of the Rolls-Royce Phantom Series II.

The Iconoclast example’s radiant interior complements the lights of Monte Carlo below. James Lipman, courtesy of Rolls-Royce Motor Cars.

Rolls-Royce Motor Cars, under the aegis of BMW but fully autonomous, reinvented itself with the Phantom VII in 2003. It was a car that charted the company’s course for the 21st century, and was succeeded in 2017 by the Phantom VIII. But the Phantom—and Phantom owners—do not embrace radical changes, and so the Series II incorporates the most subtle aesthetic and technological enhancements that reflect the input of clients.

Astute observers would need to see the new car and its predecessor side by side to recognize the changes. In the front, a polished horizontal line connects the daytime running lights above the classic Pantheon Grille, while the “RR” badge and Spirit of Ecstasy hood ornament are more prominent as well.

The Sentimentalist, a custom Rolls-Royce Phantom Series II sedan, in Monte Carlo.

The Sentimentalist commission catching the last light of day in Monte Carlo. James Lipman, courtesy of Rolls-Royce Motor Cars.

Felix Kibertus, Rolls-Royce’s head of exterior design, took a holistic approach to the lighting. “The grille itself is now illuminated, while the headlights are graced with intricate laser-cut bezel starlights, creating a visual connection with the Starlight Headliner inside. This concept which we call ‘light touch’ adds further surprise and delight to Phantom’s nighttime presence, and we see tremendous opportunities to continue to push our creative ideas.”

Day or night, the car’s profile emulates the formal proportions of every Phantom throughout history, with short front and long rear overhangs, and a long wheelbase in between. That long wheelbase can be made even longer in the Phantom Extended, the likely choice for owners wishing to be chauffeured. A high shoulder and wide C-pillars afford privacy for rear-seat occupants. Polished exterior brightwork is a feature of the Phantom design, but in response to client requests, both the grill and exterior trim are now available in darkened chrome.

The interior of the Prodigy, one of the 10 debut examples of the Rolls-Royce Phantom Series II.

The rear passenger compartment in the Series II example named the Prodigy. James Lipman, courtesy of Rolls-Royce Motor Cars.

Perhaps the most apparent new exterior design cues are the wheels, whose triangular facets are 3-D milled from solid stainless and offered in a polished, paint or chrome finish. Optional stainless 22-inch disc wheels are a tip of the hat to those on the very first Phantom, and are polished or available in a black lacquer finish.

Project Manager Ralf Langmeier enumerated some of the engineering and production challenges, saying, “To produce a fully polished version takes 60.6 hours per wheel, mainly as a result of the multiple polishing finishes. On the issue of heat, we specify that the heat dispersion rating of the brake fluid is slightly higher than with other Phantom wheels. Also, we have designed the openings to optimize airflow between the 20 [hidden] spokes. This took a number of simulations to find the ultimate size, angle and position to ensure that performance remains.”

The new wheel design featured on the Rolls-Royce Phantom Series II.

Perhaps the most apparent new exterior design cues are the wheels, whose triangular facets are 3-D milled from solid stainless. James Lipman, courtesy of Rolls-Royce Motor Cars.

Because today’s Rolls-Royce owners are a tech-enabled crowd, the new Phantom Series II incorporates “Rolls-Royce Connected,” which communicates with Whispers, a Rolls-Royce private-members’ App. This preloads navigation instructions, displays the car’s location, security status and other information to a mobile device when the owner is away from the vehicle. And when they do enter through the wide “coach doors,” they encounter as comfortable an environment as one can imagine—at least on four wheels.

Front passengers enjoy opulent seating, separated by a wide center console, but apart from a thicker steering wheel, the cabin remains almost otherwise unchanged. In the past, clients might have assumed that a Ponderosa’s worth of leather and acres of burl would swath the interior, but today’s Rolls-Royce customers—whose average age is 45—appreciate other materials and finishes, including fabrics in wool, silk and even bamboo-based fibers. Embossing patterns and hand-painting fabrics and surfaces are also not out of the question for the artisans at the marque’s headquarters and production facility in Goodwood, England. All that is required is a creative idea, an artful solution and time.

The optional 22-inch wheel design on the Rolls-Royce Phantom Series II.

The optional 22-inch disc wheels are a tip of the hat to those on the very first Phantom. James Lipman, courtesy of Rolls-Royce Motor Cars.

The Phantom Series II’s most arresting interior feature is the Gallery, a glass-encased expanse across the dash that can contain a custom design of the client’s choosing. Recent displays have included cloisonné butterflies, porcelain roses, bas reliefs replicating a client’s DNA and paintings commissioned from favourite artists.

Driving the Phantom is the quintessential luxury-car experience. Both front and rear occupants enjoy what Rolls-Royce designers call a “magic carpet ride,” one as soft and compliant as it is silent and smooth. The famous Ogilvy headline written in 1958 remains true that, “At 100km/h an hour, the loudest noise comes from the electric clock.” Thanks to more than 100kg of sound insulation and tyres that use a layer of foam inside to lower cabin noise by as much as 9 dB, wind and road noise is greatly attenuated, while the engine and exhaust sound are distant reminders that one is underway.

The headlight design on the Rolls-Royce Phantom Series II.

According to Rolls-Royce’s head of exterior design, “the headlights are graced with intricate laser-cut bezel starlights, creating a visual connection with the Starlight Headliner inside.” James Lipman, courtesy of Rolls-Royce Motor Cars.

That engine is the same 6.7-litre, twin-turbocharged V-12 from the previous Phantom VIII, making 420kW at 5,000 rpm and 900Nm of torque at just 1,700 rpm. In other words, as the old Rolls-Royce ads used to say, power is “Adequate.” Actually, power, and especially torque, are obscenely adequate, delivered to the rear wheels through an eight-speed automatic transmission shifted with the aid of GPS that pinpoints the car’s location, computes speed (which is limited to 250km/h) and optimises gearing based on the road ahead.

The wafting ride of the Phantom is underpinned by self-levelling air suspension, fine-tuned by a camera-aided “Flagbearer” system that scans the road to preconfigure spring and damper rates based on road conditions. Tipping the scales at a little less than 5,800 pounds, the Phantom Series II is no lightweight, but that heft is judiciously managed, thanks to Rolls-Royce’s modular aluminium space-frame chassis that is stiffer and lighter than steel. Most of the body is aluminium as well. That modular architecture will lay the foundation of every future Rolls-Royce, regardless of its motive power. It’s no secret that Spectre, the automaker’s electric coupe to be unveiled later this year, is a harbinger of things to come. With that, some speculate that the Phantom Series II may be the penultimate—or even final—V-12-powered Phantom. Whichever it is, we say, “Savor the moment.”

A close-up of the Spirit of Ecstasy hood ornament on a Rolls-Royce Phantom Series II sedan.

The “RR” badge and Spirit of Ecstasy hood ornament feature more prominently on the latest Phantom. James Lipman, courtesy of Rolls-Royce Motor Cars.

And savour, we do. Leaving our hotel, we hit the motorway and soon exit onto serpentine mountain roads toward the picturesque village of Gourdon, sharing narrow lanes with dozens of indefatigable bicyclists. The Phantom has the uncanny ability to “shrink” when pressed into athletic moves, its handling dynamics akin to a sports sedan with a little meat on its bones. Acceleration is stupendous, but so too is the braking. And the steering is quick and offers plenty of feedback.

With sure-footed precision, the Phantom negotiates tight turns at speed—some with precipitous drops on the right. Much of the deft handling is due to four-wheel steering that aids maneuverability below 60km/h and improves stability above 80km/h. In short, this is a delightful driver’s car. It’s also the perfect car in which to be driven, as I discover during a stint as rear passenger.

The Gallery display inside the Sentimentalist, a custom Rolls-Royce Phantom Series II sedan.

The Gallery display inside the Phantom Series II example known as the Sentimentalist. James Lipman, courtesy of Rolls-Royce Motor Cars.

Our destination is Saint-Paul de Vence, one of the most perfectly preserved medieval towns on the French Riviera. Situated on the crest of a hill, it was frequented by artists like Picasso, Miró and Matisse, whose paintings hang in the Café de la Place, a small restaurant attached to La’Colombe d’Or. Marc Chagall is buried in the cemetery up the hill. Nearby, the gardens of the Fondation Maeght are filled with sculpture, and its galleries contain one of Europe’s largest private collections of modern art, including important work by Giacometti, Miró, Braque and Chagall. Each of these artists was connected by the period and the place, yet each was unique, not unlike every personalised Phantom Series II, the base model of which starts at $475,000. It should be noted that, with exclusive options, each commission might require a year or more to build. But then, creating art takes time.


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Watch This Space: Justin Hast

Meet the game-changing horological influencers blazing a trail across social media—and doing things their own way.

By Josh Bozin 09/07/2024

In the thriving world of luxury watches, few people own a space that offers unfiltered digital amplification. And that’s precisely what makes the likes of Brynn Wallner, Teddy Baldassarre, Mike Nouveau and Justin Hast so compelling.

These thought-provoking digital crusaders are now paving the way for the story of watches to be told, and shown, in a new light. Speaking to thousands of followers on the daily—mainly via TikTok, Instagram and YouTube—these progressive commentators represent the new guard of watch pundits. They’re actively swaying the opinions, and the dollars, of the up-and-coming generations who represent the new target consumer of this booming sector.



Credit Oracle Time

There’s something comforting about Justin Hast’s watch commentary. It could be his broad English accent; a soothing melodic chime that hits all the right notes. But rather, it’s probably his insatiable thirst for all the little things in and around watches. It jumps right off the page with anything he’s ever written, and it’s infectious if you tune into his Instagram reels, where he speaks to over 50,000 followers almost daily.

Above all, he simplifies what, for the everyday enthusiast, can sometimes be a dry, jargon-heavy topic.

“I never really trained as a writer, photographer or producer of any kind,” says Hast. “It was very much, get stuck in and see what sticks. It’s not lost on me what a privilege it is to have access to these brands, these watches, and to the shows and events. I feel like a kid on Christmas morning every Monday.”

After spending a decade researching watches, enduring the drudgery of his office job, Hast’s big break came when he met Frank Geelen, owner and CEO of the influential Monochrome Watches website, at a Bell & Ross boutique opening in London.

“I can’t remember how much Frank drank that night when he agreed to allow me to write a story for him,” he quips. “That was the starting point that allowed me to pick up a camera and explore the watch world.”

From that chance encounter, Hast has gone on to contribute influential words to the likes of Hodinkee, Mr Porter, Revolution Watch and Forbes. He is the author of The Watch Annual, which was created for watch enthusiasts in 2020 as a means of cataloguing the best timepieces of the year.


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A post shared by Justin Hast (@justinhast)

Listening to Hast, it’s fair to say that he lives and breathes watches, and it’s been this way for a large chunk of his life. He recalls two formative moments: the first, age 10, when he received his first red G-Shock watch from a schoolfriend; the second came with the passing down of his grandfather’s Omega Constellation Day-Date —a watch designed by Gérald Genta.

That experience goes a long way to explaining Hast’s affinity with vintage dress watches. Unsurprisingly, then, his top four picks from the recent Watches & Wonders fair in Geneva are all vintage-inspired pieces designed for the modern watch consumer: the Piaget Altiplano Ultimate Concept Tourbillon, the IWC Portugieser Eternal Calendar, the Vacheron Constantin Patrimony 39 mm in rose gold, and the Laurent Ferrier Classic Moon.

Hast’s motto for life is “win the day”, one that he lives by as he continues on his journey to “inspire the next generation of watch enthusiasts”. And it’s clearly a mission already accomplished.

Read more about the watch industry’s horological influencers Bryan Wallner and Teddy Baldassarre.


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Watches & Wonders 2024 Showcase: TAG Heuer

This year at Watches & Wonders TAG Heuer continued on its path towards high-watchmaking status.

By Josh Bozin 09/07/2024

There was a moment last year when TAG Heuer surprised the watch world (and naysayers of the brand)—you couldn’t have missed it. At Only Watch, the biennial charity auction of luxury one-off timepieces, TAG Heuer dropped the proverbial mic with its release of a unique Monaco Split-Seconds chronograph; a piece completely left of field for the otherwise mid-entry level luxury watchmaker.

It was then inconceivable to arrive at the Palexpo in Geneva, day one of Watches & Wonders, to find the very same Monaco Split-Seconds Chronograph as TAG Heuer’s hero release of 2024. Don’t mistake TAG Heuer’s intentions; this is a big moment for the brand, particularly as it endeavours to reach cult high-watchmaker status.


TAG Heuer Monaco Split-Seconds Chronograph


This new $200,000 Monaco, which is aptly released in its 55th anniversary year, is an absolute workhorse of a timepiece. Retaining all the hallmarks of its legendary racing history, the new Monaco features an open-worked aesthetic that completely draws the eye to its intricate design details and mechanics. This is, folks, the first mechanical split-seconds (or ‘Rattrapante’) chronograph that the brand has made, essentially allowing the wearer to measure two separate events that start simultaneously but have different durations.

Of course, powering such a watch is no small feat; TAG Heuer has called upon the expertise of Vaucher Manufacture Fleurier—a specialist manufacturer of high-end mechanical movements—to help craft the new TH81-00 caliber.

Available in two colour ways, red or blue, the watch also features a grade-5 titanium case (allowing for its lightness), a sapphire dial, and a neat 41 mm package that makes this a truely “wearable” timepiece—if the price tag doesn’t deter you.

If this is an indication of things to come for TAG Heuer, we’re all in.

Read more about this year’s Watches & Wonders exhibits from Rolex and JLC.


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Property of The Week: Swing Into Seclusion in Otago

Looking for the perfect marriage of seclusion and sophistication? This home’s proximity to world-class skiing and wine region makes it an irresistible asset.

By Belinda Aucott-christie 12/07/2024

Located in the charming hamlet of Arrowtown this six-bedroom country home offers plenty of room to breathe. With its proximity to pristine ski fields and world-class wine regions, the two-acre estate will appeal to active city-slickers seeking a sustainable tree change.

Just a putt away from the social life of the renowned Hills Golf Club, 214 McDonnell has private access to a world of laidback leisure.

Manicured gardens and luxurious minimal interiors makes 475 sqm of house feel even more expansive and cinematic. Adding to the dream is the property’s sunny north-facing position. Each of the main rooms has breathtaking views up to Mt Soho and Coronet Peak, then across to the stunning Crown Range. 

A grand entertaining terrace centres on a log burning fire with a layout that encourages indoor/outdoor dining.

Residents will never be lonely. They can expect to welcome children home for the ski season each winter, and to welcome friends to Otago’s excellent wine regions in summer.

The home’s interior has been kept minimal and maps perfectly to the awe-inspiring location. Modern integrated technology, heating and convenient fixtures deliver a fresh take on country style. Open-plan living invites easy contemplation of the mountain views, while interstitial spaces help to keep life uncomplicated.

The opulent master bedroom, with ensuite and walk-in wardrobe, enjoys a chilled L-shaped layout with commanding views of snow-capped mountains beyond the window frames. The master’s inviting nook not only caters to owners who are fans of 5-star hotels, but also situates the love nest in a sun trap perfect for reading.  

The three extra guest bedrooms and two bathrooms are meticulously presented; the fixtures and fittings recede from view with materials that meld flawlessly with the nature-first vibe.

The piece de résistance is the stand-alone guesthouse, featuring its own private entrance and terrace. Here the interior mimics the main home, with pleasant open-plan living, separate dining, kitchen and bathroom. And it boasts its own private, outdoor zone. 

The village itself is equally inviting. With a tree-lined main street featuring heritage row cottages and a good selection of restaurants, shops and cafés—you’ll never want for attraction beyond the front door. 

With the Alpine tourist hot spot of Queenstown just 20 minutes away by car, you can be at the airport in under half an hour: Either taking off on your next adventure, or collecting treasured guests to deliver back to your private estate.

Learn more from Sarena Glass at Sotheby’s New Zealand. Email:


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Why BMW’s First Electric Cars Are Future Classics

Many things still feel contemporary about the BMW i3 and i8.

By Raphael Orlove 11/07/2024

In 2008, BMW committed to a multi-billion euro plot. It would retool its Leipzig plant to assemble two of the most environmentally-conscious cars ever designed, with carbon fibre passenger cells holding electric, plug-in hybrid, and gas-powered range extender drivetrains. Not until 2013 did they begin production. You could say they were a decade ahead of their time, but we’re still not ready for cars as daring as the i3 and i8.

Years before cries that EVs are too heavy and that plug-in hybrids offer a better compromise for the average car buyer, BMW poured resources into making an EV without the typical downsides of a battery electric vehicle. The idea was to make an electric car that didn’t require a gigantic battery pack, one that wasn’t perilously heavy. To do so, BMW would make the i3 into the world’s first mass-produced car made out of carbon fibre. This was no small feat.

The earliest uses of carbon fibre in cars go back to British race cars from the 1960s, and the first complete chassis to be made out of carbon fiber dates to the early 1980s. It wasn’t until the ’90s that we saw a carbon fibre chassis in a production road car, and that was with the Bugatti EB110, which cost around 3.2 million and required outsourcing the carbon work to the rocket division of French aerospace company Aerospatiale. Even in 2008, BMW’s plans for what it ultimately called the i cars really were at the leading edge.

The first of these to make production was the i3, a hatchback city car that would look at home parked in front of the Guggenheim in Bilbao. Big windows gave great visibility, and while the car was too short for four full doors, BMW squeezed suicide doors behind the fronts. With both opened up, the i3 was outstandingly bright and airy. The light interior, seats finished in wool and the dash finished with eucalyptus, certainly helped. BMW also used a plant called kenaf in the interior trim; it’s a natural fibre similar to jute. Kenaf had been used as a backing material underneath a synthetic coating. With the i3, BMW put it up front, lighter and more sustainable.

Photo: NurPhoto

BMW even sourced its carbon fibre from Washington State, where the factory could rely 100% on local hydropower. The company was using technical solutions to make a more sustainable new car.

Its styling was daring, as was how BMW put the i3 together. BMW effectively split the car in two. All of the car’s essential systems – battery, motor, suspension, crash structures, and the optional range extender – were carried on an aluminum skateboard called the “Drive module.” The “Life module” that housed the interior and framed the body panels was what was made out of carbon. The top and bottom halves were glued together, or “chemically bonded” if you want that to sound less scary.

BMW did successfully make the car pretty light for what it was, coming in between 1200 and 1300 kilograms depending on the trim. A Nissan Leaf weighed hundreds of kilograms more, a Chevrolet Volt nearly 400 kilos more.

Sticking to low-weight principles meant that the i3 was never going to have a huge battery, and the biggest available pack was still only 42.2 kWh. The EPA rated it at 246 kilometres of range. The “REX” range extender boosted that figure to 320 kilometres, with a two-cylinder engine from BMW’s motorcycle division shoehorned under the trunk. For all of BMW’s investment in the i3, these weren’t earth-shattering numbers.

Photo: picture alliance

All of its innovation was costly, and BMW’s city car ended up relatively expensive. It started at €34,950 in Germany, $61.300 AUD. That went up to $67,000 for the Range Extender model. The most expensive versions of the i3 topped out at nearly $89,000.

(Rather curiously, all range-extended BMW i3s have 10.9 litre petrol tanks. In the U.S., however, to legally qualify as a range-extended electric vehicle, the i3 could not have more range available from its internal combustion setup than its pure battery. At that point, the government would have classified the i3 as a plug-in hybrid, not unlike the Chevy Volt. As such, all range-extended i3s initially sold in America were restricted by software alone to use just 8.6 letters of that 10.9 litre tank. Only in 2017 when BMW introduced a longer-range battery could BMW digitally unlock the full 10 litres.)

Its high price meant the i3 asked a lot of compromises of a luxury car buyer just to have the most environmentally-friendly vehicle possible. A regular 3 Series cost about the same and was much easier to live with, unless you were regularly parking on dense urban streets. Most Americans don’t.

If anything, the rather practical i3 was too good at its job. All the money that BMW had invested in its technical innovations cost it its chance to make a dent in the car market.

That would have been fine if BMW continued to roll its high development costs into future models, perpetually bringing down its own prices, but BMW wasn’t interested in keeping its i thing going. Chief executive Norbert Reithofer stepped down early in 2015 and BMW canceled the car in 2022 with no second generation. The company has gone back to completely conventional ICE, hybrid, plug-in hybrid, and EV options. All of its EVs share their platforms with gas-burning equivalents, saving costs in development and on the showroom floor. They sell better than the i3 ever did.

BMW i3 Photo : picture alliance The i3 Brought Carbon Fiber to Mass Production

The only follow-up BMW did to the i3 was the dramatic i8, with butterfly doors opening up into a low slung cabin, flying buttresses directing air around its mid-mounted three-cylinder turbo engine. A dedicated PHEV, the i3’s engine did actually drive the rear wheels, and an electric motor drove the fronts. What shattered the illusion was that the front motor only made 97.6 kilowatts and the rear engine only 131. It might have looked like a supercar, but it didn’t drive like one. Like the i3, its carbon construction set it apart from its contemporaries, but also made it much more expensive than they ever were. In the U.S., the i8 started at a hair under $136,000 (AUD 200,000), which was a big ask for a car with three cylinders.

Following the same troubles as the i3, the i8 looked like one thing but was priced like another. It went on sale in 2014, not far behind the i3, and soldiered on through 2020, dying without a successor. An open-topped Roadster came in 2018 but didn’t change the car’s fate. Americans bought a grand total of 6,776 i8s through its entire production run. We buy that many Porsche 911s in a single year. Sometimes twice as many.

Photo: picture alliance

Taken at face value, the i8 is still a remarkable machine. A Porsche might be better on track, but the i8 is a dream realized in production form. It looks like nothing else on the road, even now.

And there is something that still feels contemporary about the i3. Its focus on low weight and low-impact manufacturing remains honorable. The electric car vision does us little good if it only reproduces the same more-is-more excess of internal combustion that clogs our roads with oversized vehicles.

As we now watch Tesla Cybertrucks lumber down the road at over 3,129 kilograms, GMC Hummer EVs pounding the pavement at over 4350 kilograms, BMW’s post-Recession vision is as relevant as ever.

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On the Crest

Surfing superstardom came early for Jack Robinson. Now Australia’s humble hero is chasing Olympic glory – keeping his head down.

By Horacio Silva 09/07/2024

There is a video on the internet of Jack Robinson at 15. In it, the pint-sized, towheaded Robinson, who was already considered the best young surfer on the planet, sports a cheeky gap-toothed smile and blunt bob to rival Lindy Chamberlain’s. Asked what he likes most about the sport, the shy grommet struggles for words, eventually offering, “Barrels, big hacks and airs.” 

Even at this age, Robinson prefers to let his surfing do the talking. But, as his interviewer surmises, don’t mistake reticence for unpreparedness: “When this young gun hits the surf, even the seasoned pros shake their heads in dismay.”

Aaron Hughes for WSL

Sixteen years later, Margaret River-born Robinson still beggars belief with his ability to seemingly walk on water. The bowl cut is gone (replaced by a new do that Robinson got for a recent photo shoot and that he jokingly refers to as “the full GQ”), but the difficulty in getting his point across remains, though not from a lack of effort. “Sorry, I’m trying to get my words together,” says Robinson, now 31 and based on the Gold Coast. “I didn’t sleep much last night and I’m hurting.”

He quickly explains that he was not out on the town with hard-partying surfer mates—far from it. These days, Robinson and his Brazilian wife, Julia, have a five-month-old baby boy, Zen, whose behaviour did not live up to the serenity of his name.

Beatriz Ryder

“I just woke up from a nap, actually,” Robinson adds. “At this stage, I get sleep wherever and whenever I can.”

He would do well to get some shut-eye. Robinson heads to Teahupo’o in Tahiti next month, where this year’s Olympic Games surfing competition is being held. Though he is currently ranked number three in the world, he has mastered some of the most challenging big-wave conditions, including a win with a late barrel at the Tahiti Pro in Teahupo’o last August, and is tipped as one of Australia’s best chances for gold.

With good reason, says Tom Carroll, the two-time world champion and Quiksilver ambassador. “That wave is up his alley,” says Carroll, who is now a meditation teacher on Sydney’s Northern Beaches. “He knows that break in all its various moods and forms. If the conditions are not favourable on the day, when some of his biggest rivals fall apart, he can still feel it out. He assesses the conditions in a nanosecond.”

It’s that fearless ability to be in the moment, to paddle out in anything and feel at home, that Carroll first noticed when Robinson was 11. “He has an innate sense for the water and the way it moves,” Carroll continues. “It revealed itself from the get-go and to see it expressed is quite extraordinary.”

Beatriz Ryder

These days Robinson is more focussed on the ordinary. “I’m trying to keep it simple,” he offers, “to stick to the same routines, and make sure that I am in a good headspace going into the Olympics.” Beyond countless hours in the water and gym, this means time spent on meditation, yoga and breath work. “It’s a super mental sport now,” he adds. “You have to be a smart competitor. It’s not just about surfing.”

Aside from the boards, gym equipment and yoga mats, the Robinson household is all prams, toys and nappies. “It doesn’t leave room for much of anything else,” he laments. “I love fishing and cars, and really want to get into flying planes but that will have to wait.” His role as a father has given him a different perspective on his sport and his own upbringing. Robinson, like many sporting phenoms, was coached by a domineering parent (his father Trev) and concedes it wasn’t always a swell ride.

“It was challenging growing up for sure,” he says. “But to reach this level you need people in your corner. Even if he was looked at as a little crazy by some people, he gave 100 percent and then some. I have a newfound respect for that.”

Aaron Hughes for WSL

He has the same regard for his competitors. When asked about the chances of his biggest rivals, Americans Griffin Colapinto and John John Florence, he is diplomatic to a fault. “I haven’t really thought about the other guys too much,” he demurs. “I’ve just been inspired by them. Even the last event with John John”—when Florence defeated Robinson in his native Western Australia—“I was just really inspired by his performance. It makes me want to do better.”

Perhaps if the whole modelling caper doesn’t pan out, after he retires from the sport he may want to consider a career in politics. “Nah,” he admits. “Leave that to others. Maybe that’s a path for Zen.”

The Olympic Games surfing competition begins July 27. 


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