JUMPIN' JACK FLASH
On an expansive stretch of beach where 3-4 foot peaks A-frame invitingly it’s just Jack Robinson and the photog left in the water. In a few days from now Jack will be hurling his diminutive, 16-year-old frame into Teahupoo death pits for the first time, but this morning he's content to let his focus fall above the lip rather than behind it. The other surfers on the organised shoot are up in the dunes; dusting the sand off their feet, reflecting on a fun session and thinking about where to grab their morning coffee. Jack's ever-vigilant dad, Trevor, is just off to the side, as usual keeping a close eye on his son's performance. Meanwhile Jack, who was the first one out, is not coming in till he pulls something he's happy with. When the wind flickers cross-shore he instantly registers the presence of a zephyr to aid his aerial ambitions. From the water, I watch him attempt major rotations on two consecutive waves, coming just short of riding out each time. Dutifully he turns around and paddles back out. "Gotta to get a good one before you paddle in huh?" I suggest. He nods and a smile briefly appears beneath his mop of beach-bleached, blonde hair, before his eyes narrow and his face is once again creased with a look of pure determination. When a good-looking wave wedges up Jack paddles in hard, skips across the face like a skimming stone and launches into a sky-scratching alley-oop. Conscious of his previous two failures he fights hard to hold on and ride out. As the board rights itself and carries him towards shore he turns his head briefly to confirm the photog was in position – job done.
The moment delivers a brief but telling insight into what has made Jack Robinson the most talked about young surfer in the world since Kelly Slater was a teenage prodigy. Like Slater, Jack has that rare mix of brilliance, brains and fierce determination. However, while Kelly sought mentorship from other surfers and industry figures, Jack and his dad Trevor are very much a combined force. In his desire to see his son reach his full potential Trevor has become an expert on everything from the training techniques of Olympic Gold medallist Lindford Christie to the mineral contents of what Jack has for lunch. Trev won't divulge too much about Jack's training however, and seems wary that wily competitors might poach some of his ideas. "We keep most of it under our hat," he suggests with a self-assured grin.
Amongst other things, Trev handles the negotiations in Jack's contracts, consults with sponsors on what styles Jack will be wearing and can talk about nuances in board design and performance that would baffle some shapers. He also favours a hands-on approach with Jack's video content and is planning to buy a drone soon so that he can capture his son's sessions from on high.
However, while Trevor is always on hand to help ensure Jack is eating the clean carbs, riding the right boards and listening to the right voices, he is adamant that he wants Jack to be able to fight his own battles on the fickle pro surfing playing field. "I never tell Jack what to do. I don't want him to be codependent on a second party," he insists adamantly. Trev and Jack both know that the super-grom tag has a limited lifespan and it’s only a matter of time before Jack’s performances will be measured against every other pro surfer on the planet. The aim is to make him ready for the transition.
Jack's preternatural talents came to the attention of the surfing world very early on. By the age of 12 he'd claimed three divisions of the West Australian titles (the under 12s as an eight-year-old, the under 16s aged 10 and the under 18s aged 12). Jack's junior winning spree also included the coveted King of The Groms event at Snapper Rocks and multiple victories in Taj's annual Small Fries event.
By 2014 Jack was gracing the cover of Transworld Surf who called him the "embodiment of surfing's future". SurfingWorld also ran him on the cover and labelled him the best 14-year-old surfer in the world. Around the same time the cutely titled 'Jack in The Box' clip went viral on surfing sites. It featured Jack nonchalantly backdooring twisted, eight-foot barrels at The Box in WA. Most surfing prodigies command attention with radically progressive surfing but the clip made it all too apparent that despite being little more than 40kg wringing wet, Jack was riding big barrels with as much skill and bravado than most anyone in the world. To emphasise the point, a few shots of Kelly at The Box were featured in the same clip. By then Jack had already been the subject of bidding wars between surf companies desperate to have their logos on the board of the wunderkind who seemed destined for greatness. Somehow, Jack seemed able to dismiss the hype surrounding him and preserve the outlook of a happy-golucky if not highly determined kid.
However, his meteoric career trajectory took a hit when he suffered a major injury at North Point. Jack snapped his tibia and fibula at the base along with the growth plate, which connects to the ankle. Like Icarus Jack had flown a little too close to the sun and had his wings clipped. For several months gaping barrels and mile-high rotations were off the menu.
Jack was quick to bounce back, however, and announced his return to the water with a clever clip that features a theatrical twist. "Eye on the Broadside" shows Jack getting the all clear from the doctor and tossing aside his crutches, before free-falling into heaving pits in a manner that clearly demonstrates his legbones have healed just fine.
Shortly after his comeback, Jack earned a wildcard into the Oakley Pro, Bali and by his own admission the results were disappointing, Jack posting heat totals of 3.43 and 5.83 in rounds one and two respectively. In their round two matchup Slater was merciless, claiming a heat total of 18.43. The fact Kelly pushed so hard in the heat says something about how much respect he has for Jack's surfing.
Surfing in the North Shore, Surf Shop Pro at Sunset in late January of this year Jack reclaimed some major competitive credibility. Although it was only a junior event, Jack manhandled 8-10 ft Sunset to claim victory. The win took place against a backdrop of yet another bidding war for Jack's signature, with Quiksilver, Billabong and Volcom all throwing down major offers to have Jack on their team. Billabong ultimately walked away with the bragging rights and at the time of writing Jack is preparing for his next challenge – a spot in the trials of the Billabong Pro Teahupoo. Below he talks about his concept of a perfectly surfed wave, dodging sharks in WA, surfing with Kelly and whipping random chess grandmasters.
Do you spend a lot of time visualising manoeuvres and scenarios out in the surf? Always, that's mainly what I'm thinking about. I'm, always having fun and in my imagination I just keep trying to get better at it. Do you have an idea in your mind of a wave that you surf perfectly? It depends what wave I'm at. If it's a hell left barrel, it's about freefalling out of mid air, putting your ass in the wall and then coming out after the spit and then doing a big carve. Depending on what wave it is, I'll always adapt to it… I'm just thinking how I'd script another wave – probably a big straight air and into a 720 and then a big carve to finish. Do you spend much time analysing other surfers? I'm always looking on the net – John John, Julian, Taj, Slater – always picking apart what's going on. I always check them out but I don't try and copy or anything though, I try and be myself. In the past few years you have chosen not to compete in many junior events and focus on putting yourself amongst more elite company. Why is that? It definitely raises the level when you are surfing with other tour surfers. You go a bit harder for sure. I compete at a higher level because it just raises the bar and you develop quicker. It will be good to do some of the QS's soon. Just cruise into them when my weight comes on. When the final template of myself is all set, then it will be all good. What do you mean when you say, 'when your template is ready'? Just when I grow into my full strength and get all my weight on. Yeah, once everything comes into play then you are ready to go against all the bigger guys. Do you ever worry that you won't have enough competitive experience because you haven't been competing in as many contest as some of the other surfers your age? I did lots of comps when I was a kid. Just not doing as many of the small wave comps now because when I had the injury I was off the airs a bit. I'm back into them now. You have surfed with Kelly a lot and spent some time with him. Did you learn anything in particular from him? No, not really. I surf with him a little bit when he's around. Don't talk too much, just do the surfing – it's good that way. Get right down to it. I had some good sessions with him at Haleiwa last year. Just feeding off one another? Yeah, that's it. We're sitting close together but we're just sort of surfing and doing our thing. What about when you competed against Kelly at the Oakley Pro, Bali? I just wanted to get the best waves against him because I didn't have the weight he had in the calves. It's all learning and I hope I get a few more heats with him. If you are in the water with Kelly Slater or Jamie O or whichever high profile surfer it may be, it seems like you see yourself as being on par with them? When the session's on, pretty much. Yeah, if I'm in the spot I'm definitely going. At Pipe or something it's pretty crowded so it's hard to get a wave on the first reef but
“I don't really set too many goals in my head; I just sort of do it.”
a contest or something I'm definitely looking for the best waves but in a free surf I don't want to sit in there because there's so many people and there's boards and it's all happening. But I've learnt the wave at Pipe and when a contest comes it will be all sweet because there's no one else there. At Gnaraloo you are as deep, if not deeper, than anyone. Yeah, it's no worries there. It's a home spot so no one's going to burn you like Pipe. Do you get scared? Ohh … Not scared. You get a bit … you know "that's pretty solid but it's all good". I don't really freak out or anything. Do you have any defined or specific goals that you want to accomplish? I just take it as it comes. I'm not really too worried about that. I don't really set too many goals in my head; I just sort of do it. I think about all that kind of stuff but I just sort of do it naturally. How influential has your upbringing in West Australia been? There's a lot of chargers back home so you've got to pick up the pace a bit when it's heavy and stuff. It's definitely one of the best training grounds in the world – there are just a lot of sharks. Have you had many encounters with the sharks in Western Australia? I've had encounters with about five white pointers. One that spooked me was one that went under me. A really big one at Injinup car park that people could see from inside me. The light was shining through and they could see the silhouette of how big it was. I was peaking out … I couldn't really control myself. Then one other time I had one charge me … coming at me.
It was pushing a foam ball a metre high and a metre wide – just coming at me. Then it did a full U-turn on itself and I caught the wave and went in. I've had a few others that I've seen cruising too. I try to keep calm but when they go under you or right next to you, it's a bit hard. Do you like the idea of representing Australia and West Australia or are you just representing Jack Robinson? Representing all of them I suppose. I don't think about it too much. I suppose it's how I represent myself that's the main thing. It seems like you have a pretty specific training program out of the water? I'm always stretching and doing that sort of stuff. That's the main thing to keep on your game I suppose. Always keep the circulation going. You don't feel right without it. So you always have the Swiss Ball with you? Yep. So long as I do all that stuff and eat well it's all no worries. In professional surfing there are often a lot of voices telling what you should be doing. How important is it having your dad in your corner? Is it good to have an opinion you can trust? Yeah, for sure. I don't really like having anyone else in my ear. He's not really in my ear but he's there and if I need anything I'll ask him. He doesn't push me to do anything … it's all my choice but I'll ask him things and we'll work it out together… I mean, I get a few other tips from other people around the world at all different spots but basically it's all-good. Outside of surfing you are into your spearfishing? Yeah I'm always into my diving and going fishing and it's good for the lungs as well. I'm a bit scared of spearing in WA though because you spear a mackerel or something and you've got a shark on you straight away. Have you got a good breath-holding capacity? Yeah, I try to but I've got to get back into it before I go and surf some heavier waves, but it's usually pretty good. It's fun aswell. Apparently you are a pretty mean chess player? I started playing when I was pretty young and when I get into it I really like it. It's really good for the brain. Can you beat the old man? Once he gets going it's quite hard but I usually can get him. You said you had a battle in Spain with a guy who claimed to be a professional? He was staying at our hotel and he was a professional. He was really good. We had a two-hour game and he beat me and then we had a second one and I got him from like six sides … I left it at that. Although you left mainstream school early there are certain academic challenges that you like also – mechanical stuff and particular books? I like doing all that stuff. Probably makes me surf better too – not bored, just always busy… some sort of challenge. What's your favourite book? That's hard, there's so many of them. Probably one about the colloidal minerals and trace elements. All that side of things is really interesting. It really starts making you try and work stuff out about the way your body and the blood processes colloidal trace elements and minerals – just all about the body and what organs they travel through and how they make you perform. So you're like your own sport scientist finding out about things that relate directly to improving your performance? Yeah … I'm always trying to learn about the body. It seems like you also put a lot of time and energy into your boards. Yeah, I'm riding Erik Arakawas at the moment and they're going great … just the way he foils them off, he's a master at it. He knows what he's doing and he's always keen to keep bettering it. Tell us about the moon tail design you use. Yeah the moon tail, it's a bit like a pin but I like them a little bit more and it's got good bite off the bottom. It's nice and fast. I get them on pretty much all my boards. I get a few square tails here and there on my little boards. And then on my much bigger boards I'll get a pintail. Anything from 5'10 to 6'1" is a moontail though. What's your standard shortboard? Usually 5'8" or 5'9" and 18 or a bit wider now. Do pay attention to literage? Yeah, just tinkering around with that at the moment because I'm coming to the next stage of my growth. Finally. What would you like people reading magazines and watching clips to think when they look at Jack Robinson? Probably just a happy kid with no ego I suppose. Just having fun with what he's doing … just keep humble and happy.
JACK ROBINSON IS READY TO TAKE ON THE WORLD.
INTERVIEW BY LUKE KENNEDY
The hooded grommet has much ahead of him.||