Wetake a look into the hearts and minds of our latest World Qualifying Series(WQS) Kiwi campaigners life on the road living out of a suitcase, chasing the dream to one-day challenge for a spot on the illustrious Pro Dream Tour.
For every surfer with an aspiration to make a living from the sport, there are certain pathways that must be taken to obtain not only the skills, but the experience and profile that is necessary to achieve this goal, usually by way of the competitive scene. Competition breeds success, innovation and drives performance and the boundaries that any sport currently sits. Sure, there are some exception to those rules with overly talented X-factor performers being able to make a living from simply being what we have labelled free-surfers, not constrained by the rules of competition, yet every single one of those said athletes, started their careers by way of competition. Here in NZ most young competitive surfers start out in friendlies at their local board riders or school events, move into the grom series of competitions, step up into the junior ranks, and then into the Open field. The cream always rises to the top and those who display talent, whether that be raw or refined are usually selected as part of development squads, and set their sights on competing against the best groms from across the ditch and other parts of the world in the Australian Grom comps, and then graduate into the most illustrious junior competition in the world the Australasian Pro-Junior Series, which over the last 30 years has been the factory which has pumped out many of the world’s greatest surfers. With an eye on the ultimate prize ‘The Dream Tour’ the only way to qualify for that is by way of the World Qualifying Series where six women and 10 men qualify for the following years ‘Tour’. It is a cut-throat world, where weaknesses will be exploited and hearts broken. Not only is the competition element super intense but being on the road away from the comforts of home and getting by on the smell of an oily rag, attempting to lift oneself from the pits of disappointment and build on the highs of success are some of the reasons those that partake in the WQS have for years labelled it ‘The Grind’.
"It is a cut-throat world, where weaknesses will be exploited and hearts broken."
Ella Williams Age 21 - 4 seasons WQS You’ve stepped into the gladiator pit of the WQS tour looking to one day put a run of results together to qualify for the Dream Tour, how much of a step up from the Junior series was the WQS?
Yeah, the step-up numbers wise is huge. The levels are rising so much. Now there are a good 400 girls trying to qualify. So, the goal of being in the top 6 is a tough one to crack. But nothing worth having comes easy, right?! I'm going to continue to knock on that door!
Currently there are only 6 highly rated 6000 events on the WQS, a few 3000 middle range events and many lowly rated contests which don’t allow the necessary points to gain a good seeding or have a shot at qualifying. While you now have a high enough seed to gain entry into the 6000 contests, what process did you have to take to achieve this seeding?
I had to start at the bottom and work my way up. That's the only way when you're starting out. I had no points I had nothing when I started. So, I did WHATEVER comps I could possibly get into. Eventually, I got my first break into one and I was away.
You’ve had a few epic results winning 1000-point events, but the reality of these wins at these events is they won’t go toward your points in an effort to qualify. Why do you target the lowly rated events as well?
Thank you. Yeah totally. Well, the best training for a real comp is actually doing them! So if you're somewhere in the world and there's other contests you can enter, take it, go for the opportunity. It can be a great warm-up for the next big comp you have coming up for sure.
I'm sure you’ve heard it before “you’re so lucky that you get to travel the world and surf?” What is the reality on the WQS Vs what you thought it would be like before you started your campaign?
Yes, I do get that a lot hahaha. Well, the reality is that it is your job while you're away. Some people have visions of us sitting on the beach getting tanned cruising and sometimes people paint a picture of it to be like that on social media. But the reality is, you're there to do a job and that involves a lot of hard work, dedication and commitment. A lot that people don't see.
It must be financially straining for your family and yourself to put in these campaign year after year, how do you get by?
Yes totally. Everyone has different paths of how they approach the WQS. But I would say get your logistics right. Plan before you head away. I'm lucky enough that I do have an airline sponsor, Air Tahiti Nui that sponsors me. The big chunks that it takes out will be travel, food, extra board charges, accommodation. But if you plan well enough you'll be prepared for whatever unexpected charges come up.
Obviously the tour is the dream goal, but you also dedicate your time to keeping involved in the NZ contest scene and have won back to back NZ titles, does the National Title still mean a lot to you?
Yes! Totally!! That NZ Nation Title is HUGE to me! It's always been a dream of mine to win a NZ National title, it actually took me a lot of years to get it too! It's not an easy feat. So many amazing talented NZ Women have achieved that. So, to be alongside by all of those names and to be a part of it is so special to me :)
So, after several years doing these contests, you’ve no doubt seen and experienced and also learnt a lot, what does it take to get a roll on and get the necessary points to qualify with so little events to do so in?
I have. For me, I say it's like going back to school. Why do I say that?... Because every comp I have gone in for sure I have learnt something new. Go into it with an open mind, willing to take from it and learn from it. People often say to me "so when are you going to get on the tour?' I say when I'm ready the time will be right. It's not a race. I think you can't put a time limit on these sorts of things. I know I'm not. I know that I have so much more to learn. So much more room to grow. That when the time is right I will be ready for the world tour.
"It is definitely one of the hungriest lineups especially when its pumping everyone wants that bomb."
Korbin Hutchings You were one of NZ’s top juniors, winning the U16 National Title in 2013, as well as a host of other junior comps and representing NZ at the ISA World Junior Champs, at age 13 you moved to Australia to live with your mum, while you came back to NZ for the Nationals each year, what level of surfing were you involved in based in the Gold Coast?
It was a little daunting moving over at first but mum was amazing with helping me find my feet and enrolled me in Palm Beach Currumbin State High School (PBC) which I was super stoked on, the few people I knew from competing and travelling that lived on the Goldy went to PBC. It’s the don of all schools over here and has an academic and sporting excellence program that’s where I trialled for a spot in the Surfing Excellence Program and ended up getting accepted. So, my whole high schooling involved surfing as a subject, the class was four days a week and we had our two main coaches/teachers and number of different coaches who would often come and shed a different perspective on things. This is the same school that Mick, Joel, Mitch, Jack and heaps more went to, so I felt extremely privileged to be a part of it myself, this is where I felt took me up a level. I was surrounded by the best kids on the Gold Coast and a couple internationals who would do exchanges. Then there’s just living here in general, like you pretty much see a Pro or ex Pro every time you go surfing. When I was a grommet I would trip out and be losing it but it just becomes so standard that now you're hungry to be amongst it rather than sitting there in awe. To just be out there and seeing so much good surfing around you, you’re nonstop taking all that in, and it motivates you so much, especially surfing with my mates! If they are ripping all you want to do is be matching them or going bigger. The crowd factor plays a big part too, like if you’re out there surfing good, people see that and know not to drop in or if your paddling you kind of get right of way, vice versa to if you’re having bit of a shocker you’ll be getting faded.
You’ve dabbled in the WQS events in Australia, which events have you targeted and why? And what does 2018 have in store?
Yeah, I have dabbled in it, the events I have targeted are ones that are close and easy to get to. It's a pretty tricky one to navigate, I have basically just done the events as set up work, the Aus leg is ridiculous, people chase it from all over the joint, every comp’s around 124 at least and the main rounds are filled with Pro guys. The reserve list is just as big as the comp! People are trying to break into the bracket but because of no prior points and seedings they can’t even get a start which is super hectic because where do you start? I’ve
Age 20 - 2 seasons WQS
been pondering on what I want to do in 2018 and am still a little undecided, I’m going to do the Aus leg and reassess the situation after. Comp surfing is a whole different kettle of fish especially in the bigger leagues, I’m using the back end of this year to get my surfing to a point where I’m content and confident, that's when I have found the most success.
WQS events are renowned for being held in some pretty average conditions, while Australia has some epic surf have you ever scored smoking waves for a comp?
Hahaha damn straight, I still don’t get why though but that's just how the cookie crumbles, same for everyone! The best waves I have scored in a comp would probably be a Snapper Surfriders Open Club Champs, she was on the pump!
Living on the Gold Coast you’ve been lucky to witness and rub shoulders with some of the best surfers in the world in some of the hungriest lineups, does this prep you well for competition in the big league?
Yeah most definitely! Like I said before, you’re constantly surrounded by Pros, ex Pros and just straight up shredders, obviously heaps of kooks too but it’s a surfing Mecca. I’ve been fortunate enough to meet a lot of the best and even become friends. It is definitely one of the hungriest lineups especially when its pumping everyone wants that bomb, and it’s got so much coverage too, filmers and photographers all over it, to be surrounded by that for sure drives you to be surfing at your best.
Becoming a pro-surfer is every grom surfers dream but it comes with huge financial cost and life sacrifices must be made, on the flip side you just did a trip to G-Land scoring pumping waves, would you rather surf competitively or free surf. Considering you could buy 10 trips to G-land a year for what it costs to do part of the WQS.
G-Land was epic! The last time I was there I was 12 and wasn’t really able to take it in for what it is, so I was pumped to get back there and score waves. This is a question that gets thrown around a lot and I find I’m asking myself that a lot as well, it’s tough losing and even tougher losing when it’s miserable surf, scoring pumping waves is the pinnacle of surfing. Everyone wants to be getting pumping waves, but the travelling aspect of it all is what I love, going somewhere you haven’t been and experiencing things you have never experienced and a lot of the time you’re doing that on the QS too, I'm still unsure of the path I would rather, but at the moment I’m just finding my way and taking things as they come! Winning is a pretty special feeling though.
Daniel Farr You've been steadily chipping away at the ProJunior Series, this year you turned your focus toward some WQS events, tell us more.
At the beginning of the year my priority was the Australasian Pro-Junior Series and I did a few QS events that dove tailed with those events as I was at the location already. (EG Avoca). After the Pro-Junior Series finished I turned my attention to the QS and gaining a good ranking to prepare for next year. South Africa had a good QS and Pro-Junior leg and with family connections and a strong exchange rate it seemed to be a good call. SA was a great trip and I managed to get some good results that enabled me to qualify for the QS 3000 at Cloud 9, Siargao Island, Philippines.
You’ve competed against the best in the NZ Open events, the World ISA Champs and the top junior series in the world, how much different is the WQS in competitiveness?
It's another world entirely, everybody rips and you are competing against guys who have so much older and have a lot more experience and knowledge. It's just crazy being surrounded by all these big names and guys from around the world I grew up hearing about and watching.
You hear quite often that it’s a learning process doing your first few years on tour, what is there to learn?
Smart ways to travel and how to connect with people from around the world are just a few things but the biggest thing I have learned is that you cannot predict the outcome of the heat. You just have to choose the best waves and do your best surfing - the rest is out of your control. Every second is one big learning opportunity just by watching and talking to guys who have been around for a long time I have already learnt so much.
Ranking is key, how do you plan on getting enough points to gain entry into the higher rated events such as the 6000 and 10,000’s?
Get good results, that's the only plan that works! My current ranking will
Age 18 - 2 seasons WQS
get me into the QS 3000’s next year and I need to convert that seeding into results to push me into the top 200 and entry into the 6000’s – that is my goal for 2018. I'll do the 1000’s and 1500’s but the 3000’s is where you make the real jump up the rankings and make money to get to the next event.
Surfers around the world don't have the same industry support of years gone by, with big money contracts, team managers and houses at every stop on tour, how do you get by financially?
I am grateful for the support of my loyal sponsors, (O’Neill, Seasons Surfboards, Globe, Sticky Johnson, Future Fins, Creatures of Leisure, Leus) I have a great team and I believe they are doing their best to support me in tough economic times and a small surf industry. My parents however have been my ‘major sponsors’ all my life and continue to make sacrifices to get me to where I need to be, I am also working two part time jobs in between my schooling to contribute as much as I can. We try to reduce costs by staying with friends, not renting a vehicle, travelling with other competitors and splitting the costs helps. Also choosing a leg with back to back multiple events reduces costs so you only pay for one flight which is the bulk of the expense. Each event costs roughly $2000 on average. Less for Australia but more for Europe. I have done 16 events in 2017 so you do the maths. Not to mention WSL Insurance ($1500), WSL Membership ($1000) and event entry fees ($200-$300 US)
There's a lot of sitting around at tour events waiting on standby and for heats, do you get to score any other surfing at quality waves nearby during these events?
Not really to be honest. The comps and free surfing have been pretty average almost everywhere I have travelled to this year, it's often better back home. But no matter what the conditions, sharing waves and making memories with good mates makes it worthwhile.
"It's another world entirely, everybody rips and you are competing against guys who have so much older and have a lot more experience and knowledge."
With a couple of WQS wins and full time chasing the tour domestic comps back home still sit high on the agenda for the current National Champion Ella Williams. Photo: Cory