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in Hawaii or he'd be looking at the maps and chasing a phantom swell to Teahupoo. Mick and Joel were really tuning into the World Tour which is a totally different mindset." Later there was the additional pressure of being measured against two of the most successful surfers on the planet.
"When Joel and Mick were contending for world titles he sort of became the forgotten amigo. Even though he had this beautiful style and was incredible at tube rides and unbelievable at reef breaks and was this real surfer's surfer he didn't have the same [media] push. Even in the local papers they talked about Mick and Joel and Dean wasn't mentioned. It got to the point where he was never mentioned," says Rabbit.
Professional sport is littered with Next Big Things who don't reach their expected heights but the psychological toll this can cause is rarely acknowledged. The general public tend to envy pro athlete's physical skills, pay cheques and glamorous lifestyles. It's hard to imagine they'd have much to complain about.
Australian author Christos Tsiolkas tackles these vexed issues in his latest novel, Barracuda. Researching the book (which focuses on Olympic swimmers) led him to this stark observation. "Failure is lacerating. Failure is isolating. Failure cuts you off from the world. Failure is shame. Failure is humiliation… I spoke to former athletes who all spoke about the cost of failure. The sense of shame they felt in not reaching their potential. In not achieving success. They talked about failure as the moment when their courage failed. When their faith in themselves failed. They talked about a moment when no matter how hard they worked, or practised or trained that their skills or will or talent would never be equal to their dreams. And that at that moment of failure they wished that everyone would disappear and their world would disappear."
Morrison is more circumspect about his own experiences. "When I qualified there was just a lot to handle coming into it so quick. There was definitely some pressure [around being a Coolie Kid]. After being so dedicated and focused for so long and then all of a sudden it all happens and you're like 'whoa'. I think now there were a lot of other things I needed in my life to be able to be present in the moment and just enjoy it. Coming out of the situation that I was in - leaving home when I was really young - it felt like there was something missing there. I think over time to be able to be comfortable inside yourself and to become a man you need that time to find yourself. It was like I needed to find some values for myself."
On the issue of media hype and public expectation he's realistic. "I think there are big expectations on athletes in any sport. Everyone wants to see the next generation do something really rad and take surfing to the next level. But that expectation comes with anything. It's whether or not the individual is able to get the best out of themselves. Everyone just wants to write stories about the next generation of surfers and the evolution of the sport."
As Shagga points out when things went sour for Deano he had bigger things to worry about than media hype and public expectations. His entire life had been up-ended. "He was in a pretty dark place for a fair while there. I guess he's still trying to work out what to do next. It's hard after being a paid pro surfer for so long. You've got the life and it's all good then you have a bad year and the wheels come off and everything goes pear shaped. But in saying that I think that what happened in 2010 made him deal with a lot of things that he hadn't had to up till that point. I'm sure he still loves competing but he's more driven just to improve himself. He's surfing bigger waves than he ever has, pushing himself to the next level. He's more about self-improvement rather than kicking someone's arse. He's super into his yoga. He's like a semi Yogi. Parko calls him the Zen Master. After all he's been through … it's helped him. He's definitely developed his spiritual side."
Rabbit agrees. "Dean's a strong guy. He was definitely lost for a while but he's got inner strength. He had to come through from a very dark place. His whole family rallied around him and it ended up being a healing time for them. When he moved in with me it was at the point of disintegration of the family unit but now he's close to his mum and he's close with his dad again. Like really close. And I feel really good about that. That's something that's really pleased me. I had dinner with them last night. His mum cooked dinner and his dad was organising tickets for the family to go and see the Titans and the Broncos. His sister and brother-in-law were there with their young son and Melissa is due again in July. It was great to be there and see this fractured family unit become one again."
The seed for this story was sewn in Hawaii last year. It was a big year for Australian surfing – the first time an Aussie World Champion had been succeeded by a fellow countryman since Lynch and Hardman in 1988. On December 15 when Joel Parkinson presented the big trophy to his good mate Mick Fanning it felt like a warm and fuzzy end to a pretty amazing fairy tale. But it also felt a good time to consider the plight of the third Coolie Kid. What had become of Dean Morrison? I didn't have to wait long to find out.
A week after the Pipeline Masters finished, Mick and Joel were back on the Gold Coast, and Dean Morrison was in his element. A huge west swell swallowed up the horizon and Pipeline pumped all day long. Most of the pros had vacated the beach houses but Pipe specialists were out in force: John John, Reef McIntosh, Jamie O'Brien, Damian Hobgood, Kelly Slater, the Ho dynasty and Anthony Walsh among them. Backdoor was an enormous shuddering closeout down to Rockpiles but every so often a lone surfer would see an opening and streak through a 10-foot hummer. The crowd would holler for the surfer on the logo-free board: Dean Morrison.
"He's the best Aussie to surf out there for sure. I don't think anyone would dispute that," Joel Parkinson, no slouch at Backdoor himself, says of his good mate. Morrison's relationship with Backdoor hasn't always been so tight. At the end of his rookie tour year he speared head first into the lava reef and was rushed to hospital, gushing claret. It rattled him for years but he worked at it, wave after wave, season after season, chipping away at it his fear. "It wasn't a plan or anything," he reflects. "You just get some good waves out there and you realise no other wave gives you that same feeling so you keep going back for more and you become addicted to that rush. It's the best feeling ever when you get a good one."
Hawaii has remained a constant in Morrison's turbulent life. He goes two or three times a year and
Wave-slayer in a slouch hat. Digger Atkinson
for battle on the world tour.||