MAN ON A MIS­SION

JAMIE MITCHELL SETS HIS SITES ON WIN­NING THE NEXT BIG WAVE WORLD TOUR SE­RIES.

Tracks - - The Yarn -

Aus­tralian big wave surfer Jamie Mitchell has set him­self his big­gest chal­lenge for the year ahead.

Al­though, at the time of writ­ing, there is an­other event re­main­ing in the cur­rent Big Wave Tour, Mitchell's chances of win­ning the se­ries are neg­li­gi­ble.

So Mitchell has turned his fo­cus to the 2017/18 Big Wave Tour and set his sights on the cham­pi­onship. The 39-year-old had some good re­sults last year, but it was his vic­tory in the in­au­gu­ral Nazaré Chal­lenge in De­cem­ber that changed ev­ery­thing for the for­mer Burleigh Heads life­guard. Back at his home base in Hawaii, Mitchell has had time to re­flect on his first tour win.

"I think slowly each event I'm get­ting bet­ter, real­is­ing that I don't need to get the big­gest waves or get nines and tens ev­ery heat to ad­vance. I spent two weeks at Nazaré in 2015 and again last Oc­to­ber so I felt quite com­fort­able there. A lot of the other surfers couldn't make sense of the con­di­tions on the day and I could. That made me feel con­fi­dent and my boards felt amaz­ing [Mitchell rode a new board he de­signed with Bob Pear­son that he hadn't surfed be­fore, which ar­rived at 10pm the night be­fore the con­test]. Ev­ery­thing just came to­gether."

Nazaré is a nasty lineup to ne­go­ti­ate and Mitchel’s mon­u­men­tal vic­tory came af­ter he’d suf­fered a se­ries of heavy beat­ings.

"Most big waves you fall and get washed away from dan­ger but Nazaré you just get pounded all the way to the beach and some­times it just gets worse the closer you get to shore, un­til you get washed up the beach. It's too dangerous for the jet skis to come and get you so they waited for us to reach the beach and re­group be­fore they picked us up."

Rat­ings leader Grant Baker called the jet ski rides out to the line-up "some of the most ter­ri­fy­ing ex­pe­ri­ences" of his life. Mitchell agrees that it was one of the tough­est parts of the con­test.

"It was hard. Ev­ery­thing about that event was tough but I feel like it just adds an­other el­e­ment to our tour. Most events you just grab the ski out to the chan­nel and you don't have to punch through many waves but at this wave there is no chan­nel. A cou­ple of times I had to let go of the ski and got washed back to the beach but I think it just made for more of a spec­tac­u­lar event for ev­ery­one watch­ing."

With 29 min­utes to go in the fi­nal Mitchell still hadn't caught a wave and the rea­son for that makes his vic­tory even more re­mark­able.

"What you didn't see on the we­b­cast was that for the first 30 min­utes of the (hour-long) fi­nal I got pounded by a huge wave, caught in­side, my leash broke and had to go back into shore. I jumped back on the sled with­out a leash and then I had to jump off the sled half way out and got washed all the way back to shore again. Fi­nally I got back out and had to get a knife to cut the bro­ken leash off my board and put an­other one on." By then 30 min­utes had elapsed, but Mitchell was con­vinced he could still win.

"For the first 30 min­utes when I was try­ing to get out I had no idea what was hap­pen­ing out there. Then I got that wave and knew it was prob­a­bly the best of the heat but I needed an­other one. The sec­ond wave wasn't as good as my first but I knew I had two de­cent scores."

"With 2 min­utes to go the jet­ski came up film­ing and they said, 'We're film­ing you be­cause you're in front' so I thought 'God please let no more waves come'." The ocean obliged and vic­tory was his. It brought mixed emo­tions. "It was a re­lief in a way. Know­ing that I could do it, that I'd put in the ef­fort and I could win. The cliché of one heat at a time is true out there. And then it was just re­lief that it was over be­cause it was such a long and bru­tal day. I lit­er­ally surfed two and a half hours straight. It was a long day."

Mitchell, whose 10 back-to-back vic­to­ries in the most gru­elling pad­dling event in the world, the Molokai to Oahu Pad­dle­board Race, gave him the high­est win­ning per­cent­age of any ath­lete in any sport ever, said that there were times when he doubted if he be­longed on the Big Wave World tour.

"I'd been frus­trated. I'd had an amaz­ing heat at Puerto Es­con­dido where I got a 10 and two nines and then I only got one wave in the semi-fi­nals and missed out. I did the same at To­dos San­tos and Jaws. I knew my abil­ity was there be­cause I'd been 4th in the Ed­die and 5th at Mav­er­icks but I didn't know if I was cut out for the con­test side of things. I won­dered if I was wast­ing my time. "

"This proved that I am slowly get­ting bet­ter and can put to­gether not just one heat, but a heat, then a semi-fi­nal, then a fi­nal. That was the most re­ward­ing thing – know­ing I can be smart enough to make the de­ci­sions I need to make to keep get­ting through heats un­til the fi­nal."

Mitchell says he is look­ing for­ward to im­ple­ment­ing some big changes in 2017, that there are things he wants to im­prove and things he wants to cut out of his life.

"I don't drink a lot but I turn 40 on Jan­uary 18 and I've been work­ing to­wards that date to cut out drink­ing for the rest of my life. I've been bat­tling in­juries [Mitchell needs two shoul­der op­er­a­tions and an el­bow op­er­a­tion] so I haven't re­ally trained at all in the last year and a half so I've found a trainer to get in bet­ter shape. "

"My goal is to go for next year's Big Wave Tour ti­tle so I'm cut­ting out all the things that aren't go­ing to help me suc­ceed in that."

Mitchell's 10-year dom­i­na­tion at Molokai shows that when he sets his mind to a task, he al­most al­ways suc­ceeds. As these gla­di­a­tors of the ocean head into the 2017/18 tour, Mitchell will be the one to watch.

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