Cory Taylor Takes the Helm as Black Fins Captain

Monday, 31 July 2023

Calling Cory Taylor, undeniably one of the New Zealand’s most successful and high-profile surf lifesavers, is a little daunting.


When I told people I was interviewing him, they exclaimed, “Wow, he’s a legend”, “the top dog”, “he’s a machine”.  And after a quick flick through his surf lifesaving achievements, it was evident he’s all these things.  And now, he’s taking on the role of Black Fins Captain for the upcoming International Surf Rescue Challenge (ISRC) in Texas… hence my phone call.


When he answers, I’m at first a little taken aback by his accent – “Hello,” he says, with an unmistakable Aussie twang I couldn’t help but comment on. 


Laughing, he replied, “I’ve had a few people say I’ve picked up an Aussie accent!  I need Christmas to hurry up and come round so I can get back to New Zealand and find my Kiwi voice again.”


You see, Cory has been living in Queensland, Australia since 2013, ever since he and his mate Chris Dawson decided to head across the Tasman after high school.


His main reason for the move?  The incredible surf lifesaving opportunities Australia had to offer.


“I initially came over here to train for a short time, but once I knew what it was like, I knew I had to be here.”


But he’s still a Kiwi, and he’s still very much a Black Fin.


“I first made the team back in 2009, so I’ve been around the scene for a while.  But it never gets old hearing you made the team - It’s an awesome feeling.  Surf lifesaving athletes make a lot of sacrifices with training and competing, so getting these opportunities to race and pull on the black and white cap for New Zealand is awesome.”


It’ll be his second time as Black Fins Captain; he led the team at the 2019 ISRC in South Africa.


“It’s definitely humbling to be made captain. My idol growing up was Cory Hutchings, who was captain of the New Zealand team, so I’ve always strived to be in a leadership role.”


He advocates leading by example.  “I try and perform to my very best ability, showing my determination to win, which I hope then motivates the rest of the team.  Of course, there are times when I have to speak up, but my leadership style is from doing actions.”


And these actions require a lot of work, with Cory training five hours every day.


“The days are long – starting at 4:30am and ending at about 6:30pm after training.  But it’s all worth it because I still really enjoy the sport, and I believe you will succeed if you’re doing the things you love.’”


Surf lifesaving also runs through his family.  His dad was part of the New Zealand team in the 1990s and won the ski race at the 1992 Lifesaving World Championships in Japan.


“I also grew up in Gisborne where, to be honest, there wasn’t much to do!” he laughs.  “It was either play rugby or do something in the ocean.  I was always around the beach and dad was always there so I just gravitated towards surf lifesaving.”


He also gravitated towards accounting, completing a degree and masters in Finance.  With visions of computers, spreadsheets, and numbers racing round my head, I point out to Cory how accounting seems a world away from his ‘work’ in the ocean. 


“It gives me what I need,” he replies.  “From a sporting perspective, and especially here in Australia, you hear of so many AFL players not having that backup career, and they all become unstuck when their sporting days come to an end.  So I’ve got to make sure I’ve got something outside of surf lifesaving.  You know, we’re all just one injury away from it all falling over.”


And Cory admits trying to avoid injury gets harder as he gets older. 


“It’s definitely about looking after your body.  These days a little niggle comes along and it stays around a bit longer than it used it.  It also takes a bit longer to get up and moving in the morning, and recover at the end of the day.”


But his motivation and drive is strong, especially when an international event is around the corner.


“Texas should be exciting!  The team is a good mixture of us oldies and new people who will lead the next generation of Black Fins.”


He’s also looking forward to competing against some of his mates in the Australia team.


“The Trans-Tasman rivalry…  I enjoy it!  A few of the Aussie boys we train with every day, so everyone races hard but fair.” 


But his main rival is the unpredictable Mother Nature.


“As much as it’s racing against other people, it’s also about how you deal with the ocean. It’s about reading the waves, the wind... you’re battling the elements, and there just happens to be some other people doing exactly the same thing.  You’re just hoping to cross the line before them!”


It’s no wonder people describe Cory as a “legend”, a “top dog”, a “machine”.  His outlook on surf lifesaving is admirable and his positive demeanour is infectious.  As we laugh about terrible traffic in Auckland and reflect on the terrible weather in his hometown Gisborne, I imagine him cruising care free past the golden beaches of the sunny Gold Coast.  With that unmistakable Aussie twang, I have a feeling he’ll be staying put on that side of the Tasman for a while yet, but it’s evident he’s no doubt a Kiwi and no doubt a Black Fin.  Captain, of course.