The Poison City surfer talks us through his various hustles
Words: Dylan Muhlenberg | Photographs: Justin McGee
As a former professional surfer Warwick ‘Wok’ Wright wasn’t really prepared for real life. But what even is real life when you’ve been on the Billabong payroll since 8-years old and the closest thing you’ve come to work is working on your bottom turn? However, since hanging up his competitors vest the once-upon a time world champion has been getting his kicks from hustling as hard as possible.
When we meet up Wok’s riding the high of a string of successful client meetings, but before we can talk about what he’s doing we need to first discuss where he’s been.
“Durban is a bomb city. I live on the beachfront, the ghetto, been there my whole life. It’s all I know. My mom will go tan on the wall, she loves to tan, and I’ll surf in front of her, then we’ll go have a lunch afterwards. My mom and I are super close. I’m a lot like her where I’ll never settle. She’s quite content with her life where she just hangs with the same crew of chicks, doesn’t really work, those massage parlours run themselves, and so she just tans every day.”
The most endearing thing about Wok is that he doesn’t have any sort of filter and it’s this calling it like it is that has worked both for and against him. Like when he stopped surfing the tour, with three years left on his contract, and pitched a blog to his sponsors where he promised to shake up the industry.
“They said, ‘Bro, if it works and we’re stoked we’ll push it.’ and I went in hard, you know? I was pushing the limits. Burning everyone I could. Like, I cut off my toenails and put them together so they made a Hurley sign and they phoned Billabong and tuned, ‘Guys you got to get this guy to relax’, and they said, ‘We can’t, this is what we pay him to do.’"
Between Wok’s videos with hobos, gangsters, rappers, blowup dolls, the Protea who stole his girlfriend and attacks on the surf industry and everything it held sacred, Wok quickly became infamous, something he reveled in. Then he flew a bit too close to the sun and was promptly fired.
“That was literally a month before my 20th anniversary with Billabong and they were going to do this whole roll out and, whatever… I don’t have regrets. They needed an excuse to cut ous and I was going to get burned a year later anyway. Even if I didn’t I would’ve been sitting on the same fifteen grand a month and not really pushing myself. Getting fired made me want to achieve more. Hustle. I needed to get away from being this cheeky f**king lightie and make some money. It was time to grow up.”
Testament to the old adage that it’s not what you know, Wok got a job with Travis Logie’s younger brother’s marketing company, which decided to take a chance on the high school dropout. At the same time Wok used his learnings from the internet to start a social media business where he now services clients that include Skullcandy, Red Bull and some of the country’s top athletes.
It’s Wok’s latest venture, Forget Tomorrow, a brick-and-mortar that sells an inhouse brand and has a chop shop in the back, which he’s most excited about. This is where our shoot takes place and Wok reckons it has the most potential for growth.
“When I did the whole IamWok thing I was selling a bit of clothing, but wasn’t ever putting any money back into it. I cashed that shit – bank! – and went travelling!”
Now Wok will be the first to admit that he’s not really business inclined, that he doesn’t know numbers or logistics or anything like that, which is why it’s crucial that he has business partner Quwen Ramsay in his corner.
“Quwen’s super sharp and runs a steel company that makes, like, trains for government amongst other things. I know what material I want, how something must fit, what needs to go on a T… fashion stuff and brand stuff. The rest I’m just figuring out as we go. ”
Wok’s role is to take all the ideas and inspiration he’s curated over a lifetime spent travelling and fetishizing fashion and then apply this to a local business model that has Quwen at the helm. And it’s nice when a board meeting means that you and your business partner can brainstorm over some barrels down at the local. Wok will be the first to tell you that he needs to try and squeeze in surfs wherever he can these days.
“When I wake up there are three different jobs that I have to do and if I get a gap I’ll try and do something else. Full on Durban hustler. Any opportunity for a quick buck. The other day I was trying to sell f**king makeup after this ou phoned me with 10 000 units and needed a seller. So I thought to myself, 30 grand? Sweet! It’s just stock. It doesn’t matter what it is.”
Okay, but I have to ask, why wouldn’t you just take over the family business? You'd make a great pimp.
“Well that’s the next move, buying and running my own massage parlour. It’s pretty shady but it’s money. And good money. My mom owns two and her best friend owns two and they just sit at the pool and tan.”
And that will all happen when the time is right, because while he’s big on this new found work ethic, Wok still has a lot to learn and admits that there’s a bunch of areas where he’s “f**king useless”.
“I still live with my old lady. I could move out, but f**k, why? She cooks for me every night, my maid makes me breakfast every morning and I have everything set up. The only thing that’s f**king me up is having to sneak chicks into my spot. That and not having a driver’s license. They locked me up the other day because my car had been unlicensed for, like, eight months, and someone had scratched out the 4 in 2014 and put a 5 in there. So I get pulled over in a roadblock, but I’m cool, I know that they’re just going to ask me for my license, and I’m going to tell them that I don’t have it and there’ll be a quick spot fine. Well they look at the license disc and hit me up for fraud on a Friday afternoon! The day before I leave for the States! The metro charge me two and a half grand for all the fines I’ve racked up, and then they hand me over to the SAP who rushed me ten grand so that I could go to America the next day. It’s my fault though, and I’m slowly working at sorting out my shit.“
Maybe Wok is growing up after all? Sure in a lot of ways the guy still has the same mentality he had when he was a grom and thought that professional surfing’s teat would never run dry. Like if he wants to party in Cape Town for the weekend he’ll fly down and do it; or if he finds a pair of sneakers he likes he’ll drop two grand and add them to the 120 pairs that he already owns, even if he ends up never wearing them. Right now the money gets spent as easily as it comes in. And what could be easier than taking one’s passions, which in Wok’s case are jolling, surfing, social media, being social, tattoos and fashion and then turning these into ways to earn some bucks. And if for some reason these don't work out, well, then there’s always those massage parlours...