Imagine Being One Spot Away From Qualifying For The CT
Cusp life with Jacob Willcox.
With two Challenger Series events left, Jacob Willcox currently sits one slot away from Championship Tour qualification.
He’d almost given up, he told me over the phone. But, nearly a decade since donning his first CT singlet as a 16-year-old wildcard at Bells, Jacob is closer than he’s ever been to untying surfing’s Gordian Knot and making the CT.
We chatted about the changes he’s made this year, the struggles of funding a Challenger Series campaign, his career highs and lows, the tour’s “Rightism,” and yes, the Zeke Lau debacle.
“I’ve never been this close leading into the last two events,” said the 25-year-old from WA. The past three years, he’s finished just a few heat wins shy of qualifying. “Looking back, 2019 stung. At Haleiwa, I was 10 seconds away from making my heat and qualifying. Kelly needed a 6.50 or something. At the buzzer he stood up in the whitewater, did one turn, got the score, and beat me — on a 5’4” boogie board-looking thing to boot. And then, at Sunset I needed a 4th to qualify and finished 5th.”
That’s weighty enough to crush a soul. “The thought ‘you’re not good enough’ has definitely entered my mind,” he said. “But my mindset was always to say ‘I’m not ready yet. I’ve gotta get better.’ Competitive surfing is the best outlet to work on yourself. I could be back on the tools in Margaret River with my dad right now, but then I wouldn’t have the same chance to better myself like I have now. I get all these life lessons along the way.”
Jacob continued, “I’m grateful I didn’t make it when I wanted to. I’ve had to develop a better mindset. I needed to get to the point where I could believe that I couldn’t be beaten. I could’ve said ‘Competition just isn’t for me, but that would’ve been a cop-out. I couldn’t quit until I felt like I did my best, and you never know what your best is until you do the work.”
Although Jacob told me his career highlight thus far was the release of his film “By Default” during Covid, this year is all about competition. “I’ve done a lot fewer filming sessions this year, I’ve just been hyperfocused on competing. I moved to the Gold Coast and have just been training every day and pouring my energy into this one pursuit. We have a good hub of Aussie surfers all living here at the moment and we push and help each other in all parts of our surfing.”
Nothing says dedication like a goofyfooter going to live on the right-rich Goldie. But as a goofy myself, Jacob and I conspired together regarding the Tour’s Rightism, “I practically haven’t gone left all year in a rashie.” Jacob said. “You wanna have a good backhand if you wanna make it on tour as a goofy. There are so few lefts that when one of the natural footers are on their backhand, you hardly recognize them.”
Money is an omnipresent concern for any twenty-something. I asked Jacob how difficult it is for him to fund his Tour campaign. He acknowledged that his sponsors make it all possible, but that on the Challenger Series, “You’re not making money. You’re operating at a loss but no one is on the Challenger to make money. It’s all about getting to the CT, and even then money can be tight.” Alas, the days of private jets, highlighter-esque Nike wetsuits, and million-dollar deals are over.
I couldn’t resist the temptation to ask him about the Zeke Lau incident, but Jacob saw it coming. “I knew you were gonna ask about that, this is the clickbait article heading,” Jacob said with a laugh. After the video went viral — complete with a drop-in and apparent near-decapitation via surfboard — Jacob said that Zeke contacted a mutual friend and they met up to discuss the incident, “We talked, shook hands, and handled it like big boys. Now when we see each other we’ll say hello and chat a bit. I didn’t want to leave it to fester. After our chat, I got to know a bit more about him. He seems like a cool guy and I think he’s a great competitor, we just had a disagreement on that day.”
With two events remaining — the Corona Saquarema Pro in Brazil and the Haleiwa Challenger — Jacob still needs some big results to get the job done. According to our math, a 3rd place or better at either event should do it. Otherwise, a pair of 5ths could get him in the door.
Saquarema starts November 1st. Let’s see how things shake up.
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