Burn More Fat

Top-ranked surfer Matt ‘Wilko’ Wilkin­son shows MH around his favourite By­ron Bay surf spots

Men's Health (Australia) - - Contents - BY BEN MCKELVEY PHO­TOG­RA­PHY BY REGINA KARON

The sci­ence-backed work­out guar­an­teed to shred your core.

For a mo­ment, it looked like it was go­ing to be a short day.

An hour ear­lier Matt ‘Wilko’ Wilkin­son, By­ron Bay lo­cal and one of the world’s best surfers, ar­rived at my ho­tel in his Holden Colorado Crew Cab. With cof­fee and tow­els in the cab and surf­boards and wet­suits in the tray, the plan was to spend the day tour­ing some of Wilko’s favourite lo­cal breaks. In the wa­ter, he would teach me how to get up on a board; in the car I’d get a sense of the man.

I learn some­thing about Wilko five min­utes in, when he says he’s “psyched” to spend the day with me, a rank surf-beginner and com­plete stranger. The funny thing is that it ap­pears he means it. I don’t think Wilko has too many bad days.

“Con­di­tions don’t look great at Seven (Mile

Beach), but we have the time, we might as well hit it up,” he says.

As we drive through the hin­ter­land, I ask Wilko the bi­o­graph­i­cal sta­ples. He replies in a slow but thought­ful drawl. He grew up in Syd­ney’s West, and there he and his brother rode mo­tor­bikes com­pet­i­tively un­til their par­ents split and fi­nan­cial pres­sure meant his fa­ther couldn’t keep his boys on bikes any­more. Wilko Sr fig­ured surf­ing would be a cheaper pas­time, so he moved the boys to the cen­tral coast. Wilko Jr re­mem­bers rit­u­ally trudg­ing to Avoca Beach as the sun rose each morn­ing, his fa­ther push­ing him into the break­ing waves on a banged-up old Ziegler board that had the fins miss­ing. “The love started there,” he says with a laugh. When we ar­rive at Seven Mile Beach the swell is too choppy and un­pre­dictable to surf. As this is one of the few beaches around here where we can drive on the sand, we de­cide to get down and dirty, plough­ing through the surf in the Colorado. As we power through the shal­low wa­ter Wilko men­tions that not only does Chris Hemsworth own a house we can see on the hori­zon, but that Thor and his brothers are very stylish surfers. This praise gains some weight when the styles of a few other celebri­ties who have come to By­ron to surf with Wilko are not so gen­er­ously de­scribed.

The tide rises, the rain comes down and, from nowhere, a gi­ant wave crashes be­hind Wilko’s truck. As the swell rises up over the wheels and threat­ens the doors of the truck, on­look­ers look on in as­ton­ish­ment, >

“The tide rises, the rain comes down and, from nowhere, a gi­ant wave crashes be­hind Wilko’s truck”

prob­a­bly won­der­ing if we’re okay. As I said, it looked like it might be a short day. Thank­fully, when the wave re­cedes into the roil­ing brine, the Colorado’s sunken tyres take pur­chase and Wilko drives the ve­hi­cle to safe sand.

“Bit of fun!” Wilko says, pok­ing his head out of the driver’s win­dow, his breezy de­meanour in stark con­trast to those around him.

We drive on and I learn more about Wilko’s life. Af­ter long stints back in Syd­ney, in both the east and west of the city, and shorter so­journs in more than a dozen coun­tries Wilko, who is not even 30, says he‘s found a per­ma­nent home in By­ron. “The pace of life here suits me,” he says. On the way to the next beach we drive past the site where Wilko plans to set up a bed-and­break­fast (his fa­ther will be em­ployed as the care­taker). Then we take in the golf course where Wilko in­creas­ingly finds him­self tee­ing off in what you sus­pect could be­come a full-blown ad­dic­tion once his surf­ing ca­reer is over.

“I prob­a­bly play three or four times a week,” he says qui­etly, as though he’s de­scrib­ing an af­fec­tion for some­thing ta­boo. Later Wilko men­tions even more qui­etly that he re­cently bought a brand new buggy. “I said if I won a comp this year, I’d buy one.” Af­ter nearly drop­ping out of the tour three years ago, Wilko has had the two strong­est years of his ca­reer and comes into the cur­rent tour ranked fifth in the world and in red-hot form. I asked what changed. There’s a long pause. “Pulled my fin­ger out.” We pull up at one of the lux­ury bun­ga­lows at El­e­ments Re­sort and, with two of Wilko’s boards un­der our arms, walk over the dunes sep­a­rat­ing Be­longil Beach and the re­sort. Here the surf con­di­tions are ‘goldilocks’ – clean and big enough for Wilko to be in­ter­ested but not so big that a novice such as my­self will be blown off the beach.

As we pad­dle to­ward shore Wilko picks out waves for me. Soon I’m crest­ing them and rush­ing to­ward the beach, Wilko yelling at me to stand up. The ex­hil­a­ra­tion in the mo­ment is to­tal. I ask Wilko if he’d like a turn. It feels as though the words have barely es­caped my lips be­fore he’s de­stroy­ing a left han­der out the back. I pad­dle out a few more times but mostly just watch Wilko tear it up from the best seat in the ocean.

Back in the Colorado, with the heat on and Mi­gos play­ing I ask Wilko about that fin­ger­pulling that changed his for­tunes.

“I guess I just took ev­ery­thing more se­ri­ously,” he says. “I used to see com­pet­ing as just go­ing for a surf, but now I think about the com­pe­ti­tion and who I’m up against and where we are in the draw. I was think­ing about that last week a lot.”

Last week was an Aus­tralian In­sti­tute of Sport camp for the Aus­tralian surfers most likely to com­pete at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.

“It’s prob­a­bly go­ing to be in a wave pool, so that’s go­ing to be some­thing dif­fer­ent.”

We pull up at Wat­e­gos Beach, get a cof­fee and watch the waves roll in. I ask about the ten­sion be­tween surf­ing as a sport and as some­thing more med­i­ta­tive – a con­ver­sa­tion with an el­e­ment. I can imag­ine the ten­sion also ex­ists in Wilko him­self.

He pon­ders the ques­tion and says he reck­ons surf­ing can be both, and also that per­haps that’s unique among sports.

“When I come back from a tour­na­ment, the thing I like to do in my down­time is surf,” he says.

A large set comes in to the beach and Wilko starts to get antsy in the driver’s seat.

“I mean, I can’t imag­ine Usain Bolt re­laxes by run­ning as fast as he can.”

“I used to see com­pet­ing as go­ing for a surf, now I take it more se­ri­ously”

MAY 2018

MAY 2018

MAY 2018

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