The Man Behind Aman

Meet Vladislav Doronin, who currently leads one of the most premium hotel brands in the world.

By Helena Madden 08/04/2021

It’s no small thing to work with Kengo Kuma. The architect has, among other things, recently designed Japan National Stadium, one of the main venues for the now delayed 2020 Summer Olympics. Vladislav Doronin commissioned him to design a skincare bottle. It might seem too insignificant to matter, but it speaks to the Aman chairman and CEO’s ability to wave his hand and suddenly be working with one of the biggest architects in the world, even for something as mundane as the packaging of a branded body mist. But for Doronin these details—from the bottle’s curved shape to its soft, vein-like patterns—are all important.

His go-to list of architects has taken time to grow—adding names since his days developing commercial and residential real estate in Moscow in the 1990s. “I had to convince the mayor and the city planners to let me bring in foreign architects,” he says. “It was a bit controversial. They didn’t want it. I told them, ‘I’m not going to build for the moment. We can learn from the western architects’ process.’ ”

Doronin’s introduction to Aman, the five-star-hotel chain that he would helm years later, happened even earlier, as a consumer, when he checked in to the very first Aman, the Amanpuri—its name translates to “place of peace” from Sanskrit—in Phuket, Thailand. He became infatuated.

Aman resorts distinguish themselves by their limited number of rooms—at Amanpuri, for example, there are only 40 villas, and it feels like even fewer—in remote, largely untouched locales. Service offerings are impeccable and indulgent; there’s now an Aman private jet that guests can charter at their leisure. The design aesthetic leans toward serene minimalism, and immersive wellness programs can be tailored to the individual. The brand’s devotees, or “Aman junkies”, stay exclusively at Aman locations for these reasons. Some even make it a goal to visit every single location—no small feat, as today there are 32 in 20 countries.

Aman New York Residence

Doronin counted himself an Aman junkie from then on and made a concerted effort to stay at one, even if it meant travelling hours out of his way. But it wasn’t until many years later that he made a bid to acquire Aman. The time in between was spent working on Capital Group, his real-estate development firm, which oversaw the construction of more than 70 buildings and helped to create Moscow’s business district. Buying Aman would give Doronin the keys to a brand he personally revered and, perhaps even more importantly, help him expand his burgeoning real-estate portfolio into international markets. But a peaceful transfer of power it was not.

Doronin purchased Aman from its founder, Adrian Zecha, for approx. $470 million in 2014 as part of a joint venture with entrepreneur Omar Amanat. Boardroom disputes quickly broke out: Doronin accused Amanat of committing fraud when negotiating their partnership and forced him to sell his shares; Amanat claimed that Doronin illegally seized them. When Zecha subsequently stepped down—some reports say he was pushed—Doronin crowned himself CEO. That conclusion didn’t sit well with all parties involved, and it wasn’t until two years later that the high-profile lawsuit was settled. When asked about this contentious executive change, Doronin pauses—and you can almost hear the public-relations coaching in the background—then says, simply, “I am the chairman and CEO of Aman.”

Now, four years after the verdict, the smoke has largely cleared, but much has changed for Aman. (Zecha is off reimagining the ryokan concept in Japan as part of his new brand, Azumi, and Amanat was found guilty in 2017 of defrauding start-up investors.) Long-time collaborators have taken notice. “It’s mostly commercial and food and beverage changes,” says architect Jean-Michel Gathy, who has designed 12 resorts for the brand since 1989. “Adrian was a man who didn’t really believe in that. Vlad is the opposite. He wants to make money and be a bit more aggressive commercially. He believes in more rooms. The 20 or 30 that Adrian liked is not enough. He wants 40 or 50.”

Aman New York Residence

As proof, take Aman New York, which will open in autumn 2021. On paper, it seems like the antithesis to all that the typical Aman junkie values: instead of some far-flung outpost, it’s located smack in the middle of Manhattan; rather than 30 rooms, it has 83. Architecturally, it’s hardly the minimalist teak façade that the brand is commonly associated with. Doronin dropped approx. $624 million on floors four through 26 of the Crown Building, a 26-storey tower at 57th Street and Fifth Avenue that reeks of Gilded Age grandeur. Completed in 1921, it was designed by Warren and Wetmore, the same architects who built Grand Central Terminal. Over the years the building has primarily housed interior-design showrooms and corporate offices; MoMA opened its first gallery there before it moved to 53rd Street in 1939.

Aman New York was Gathy’s first assignment from the new CEO, and the drastic change of pace was immediately apparent. “Adrian would say, ‘Jean-Michel, you design. You know better than me.’ He would never make a comment,” the architect notes. “Vlad, no. He comments on everything. He’s extremely analytical. He will comment on the wood, the fabric, the number of seats, the plates. Everything. It’s an expensive building. He has to make sure he makes money.”

Part of the return-on-investment strategy has to do with branded residences. Doronin has been especially bullish on implementing these, and Aman New York will be the first batch in the US and in a major city. The timing, though, isn’t exactly advantageous. “It’s coming online at a particularly challenging point in the market,” says appraiser Jonathan Miller, president and CEO of real-estate consulting firm Miller Samuel. Aside from the urban flight to the Hamptons, New York real estate has other challenges at the high-net-worth level. “We’re still waking up from the Covid-19 lockdown, and most of the activity can be found below the $2 million [approx. $2.6 million] threshold.” That’s a segment that Aman New York’s 22 residences can’t touch, with prices starting at around $17.7 million.

What makes Doronin so sure they’ll sell? “One, I can replace any skyscraper. I just need to find the land or the building demolition. But I cannot replace the Crown Building. It’s unique,” he says. “Two, location. It’s an unbeatable location with a park view. I tell buyers, ‘You’re above the clouds.’ And it’s full-service. We can arrange your romantic dinner for you. We can bring hot cappuccino to your apartment. You don’t need to have a butler or chef. We have everything.”

Amanpuri, Thailand – Retail Pavilion by Kengo Kuma

He says more than half of the apartments have already been sold. And if it’s true that the Aman New York’s five-storey penthouse is under contract for approx. $236 million, as has been reported, then that would make the residence far and away the most expensive apartment ever sold in New York on a per-square-metre basis.

For further perspective, take the rival Mandarin Oriental Residences, which are located nearby at Columbus Circle and could scarcely achieve approx. $39 million or a penthouse sale in June, settling for approx. $30 million. Meanwhile, a midtown Ritz-Carlton penthouse was originally shopped for approx. $125 million eight years ago; now its price has been slashed to approx. $64 million. The residences’ sales matter, as Aman New York’s performance, will be seen as a bellwether for the brand’s Miami location, which is set to open in 2023 and will also feature branded residences.

One would think that something of Aman New York’s scale (and timing) would represent Doronin’s most complex undertaking. But of all his professional and personal projects, he counts his own Moscow home as one of the most difficult. It’s also the one he’s best known for, as it’s the only private residence designed by the late Zaha Hadid. The two were close friends and shared a love of Suprematist art, a short-lived and deeply radical movement characterised by geometric shapes on an otherwise blank canvas.

The plan was to build a house on a slope in the Barvikha forest where Doronin could wake up in the morning, open his window and see the blue sky and the tops of the trees. Hadid sketched her idea on a napkin while the two were having lunch in London. He liked it, and with that, they were on their way. “I’ll tell you the truth, it was very challenging,” says Doronin. “She does not let you cut any corners. She wants exactly want she wants. We changed construction companies three times because nobody can build what she suggests.”

The results, however, speak for themselves. Known as the Capital Hill Residence, it’s a sprawling, one-of-a-kind home that marries land and sky. Spaces such as the garage and fitness studio are underground, with the night club and pool carved into the slope of the hill. The primary bedroom floats 36 metres above it all, connected by three slender columns.

It looks part grounded starship Enterprise, part air-traffic-control centre—basically, there’s nothing else like it. “For me it’s important that there are people like Vladislav who have the means to invest in something and explore what the good life is at the highest and most refined level,” says Zaha Hadid Architects principal Patrik Schumacher, who worked on the Capital Hill Residence with Hadid herself. “These things were initially prototype solutions, and they can become more accessible, but someone has to initially explore them and help figure out what works and what doesn’t.”

But at the moment it’s Janu, Aman’s new sister brand, that Doronin seems most eager to talk about. His idea is to create a slightly larger, more affordable and more social Aman that still has the brand DNA but targets a younger audience. “Aman I want to keep very quiet, very private. We play jazz music there. I don’t want that to change,” Doronin says. “For Janu we can go more open. We can create more life, more energy, different kinds of music, sports.” He’s going big, too, launching eight Janu properties over the course of 10 years. But is it counterintuitive to be doubling down on a socialised hospitality model in a Covid-19 world? “The exclusivity and the luxury of not too many people around is still strong,” says James Bidwell, the former CEO of Visit London and the chair of Springwise, a database that analyses the potential of innovative new business ideas across multiple industries, including travel. “I think one would want to avoid being the WeWork for hotels at all costs.”

Regardless of whether it succeeds, Janu requires Doronin to recruit a fresh roster of architects and designers to originate a similar but different look for the brand. Among them is the renowned and youthful interior and product-design firm Yabu Pushelberg, which is lending its expertise to Janu Montenegro. “In the public spaces there’s more food and beverage programming and there’s more ability to stay apart or come together,” says Glenn Pushelberg, one of the two principals.

“The vibe is a little less monastic.” The firm will oversee all of Janu Montenegro’s interior elements, from finishes and wall sconces down to smaller elements like cutlery and glassware. Who’s on deck for the next one? “I don’t want to give you the name because Aman competitors will try and steal from me,” Doronin says. “Let me finish my work at least. Everybody copies and pastes now, unfortunately.” Except, it’s implied, for Doronin.


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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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