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