Dissecting The WSL’s “Other” Dream Tour (A Dirty Little Secret)
Or, how to build a professional career out of getting tubed in competition.
What if we told you there was another Dream Tour in surfing – one with less money, points, and talent, but better surf than the Championship Tour?
…in the form of low-level QS events between Indo, Chile, the Philippines and beyond.
And on this Dream Tour, a crew of middling surf professionals have dedicated their careers to small payouts and perfect tubes. Chris Zaffis, Mitch James, Elliot Paerata-Reid, Nicholas Squiers, and Skip McCullough are a few of the men who follow this well-barreled path.
And Mr. McCullough, the 22-year-old La Jolla, CA local, just took his maiden victory at the Cloud 9 WSL event, earning himself $12,000 USD and 75th spot on the QS rankings.
Earlier this year Skip had maxed out his credit card on a trip to mainland Mexico. Now, through simply chasing tubes around the globe (and making a few heats in the process), he’s got money in his pocket and a legitimate shot at qualifying for the Championship Tour.
We gave Skip a call to find out how this recent success was treating him.
Skip’s first QS victory, a dozen gees in pocket, and a quick shot into the QS top-100. Not bad for a week full of tubes.
Stab: First of all, congrats on your win. We watched the final day and it looked insane. That said, we don’t typically cover mid-to-low tier QS events, so what we really want to know about is your experience on the Other Dream Tour, which is basically small-scale QS events at the world’s best waves. You’ve been following that path for a few years now…what’s your take?
Thanks man! And yeah, you know, I never really had too many good results at beach breaks, and then there’s all these events in Indo, Chile, and then this one in the Philippines, and most of them are 1,000’s but you can still make good money and get good points. I just did three events in Indo and hardly anybody signed up for them, and they’re all in world class waves. I started in the round of 32. I could go to some other event that starts in the round of 144 and it’s a 1,000 and you gotta make seven heats to get some points. So this is definitely more up my alley.
Tell me a little bit about the Other Dream Tour.
I feel like it’s a pretty core thing. It’s pretty much the same surfers and WSL staff at all of these events, and we’ve become really close. The first time I went to Indo was for the Lance’s Right contest in 2016, and they rented this giant ferry with all the surfers and staff on it, and it just pulled into the channel at Lance’s. Everybody stayed at the same hotel, everybody ate together, partied together, and of course surfed together. It was like we were having our own G-Land event from back in the day, and they were literally the best waves I’d ever surfed. A lot of the events are like that. It really is a Dream Tour.
Lance’s event winner Chris Zaffis dropped a 9.5 in the dying seconds to surpass Indonesia’s Dede Suryana, who on top of putting up 18 points in the final, dropped two 10s (a perfect heat!) in his semi. So yeah, the waves were proper cooking.
Is this something you’re doing with professional aspirations in mind – whether it’s qualifying for the CT, gaining further sponsorship, living off prize winnings etc. – or is it more about surfing world class waves with just a couple guys out?
I set goals for myself every year. Last year I wanted to make the top-200 and be able to do the Volcom contest, and I achieved that. Then this year I told myself I wanted to make a final. I got two semis and then I finally made a final here at Cloud 9, but once I was in the final it was like I’m already here, so I should probably just try to win [laughs]. And now that I got all these points, I can do the Triple Crown, which was another one of my goals.
But at the end of the day, I do this to surf perfect waves.
The two Chile events had pumping surf. At the Nias event I scored waves before, during and after the contest. The next one was at Simelue, where there’s an abundance of barreling waves. Then in Sumbawa, we scored Scar Reef with no one out. It was double-overhead and we were getting barreled all the way down the reef. Then after that we went to Desert Point for two weeks and scored three swells. So it just makes more sense for me. If I’m gonna invest all this money to go to an event, I might as well have two weeks at Desert Point when it’s all said and done.
And what are you doing to pay for these trips?
I used to just work for my dad doing landscaping, but the last year-and-a-half I’ve started my own gig building fences. I really like doing that. It’s not as strenuous as what my dad has me doing – shoveling and lifting all day long – and we’ve been pretty busy lately, which is cool.
So you just work for a few months at a time and then bail when the comps are on?
Yeah, but I’ve got a crew who can keep up the work when I’m away. My sister also helps me out running the business side of things, so that I can make some passive income while I’m at the comps. And then when I’m home I just jump back in with the crew. It’s good – keeps me strong.
Tell us this couldn’t replace Bells Beach.
And it’s paid off in an unexpected way. Now you’re sitting number 75 on the QS, which means you’ll get into this year’s Triple Crown and have a legitimate shot at qualifying. How does that feel?
It just sank in that, whoa, I might be in a heat with like… Jordy Smith in the next few weeks. Like… what the hell? It’s just weird. I don’t really picture myself on that level, but now I get the opportunity to surf with those guys. And I love surfing Sunset. I’ve had a few results out there in the past, so I’m just curious with myself about how I’ll compare to those guys on that level.
I’m just glad it happened like this. I got to this position by earning results in really, really good waves, which I think is how it should be.
Does your ability in these types of waves come from growing up at the La Jolla reefs?
Yeah you know, it’s not always good here, but when it is good there’s tons of slabs and stuff to surf. So I just started getting barreled and I don’t know, that’s just the funnest thing for me. So I definitely seek out those types of waves in competition. Like those slabs in Chile, or Cloud 9.
Remember when this beast of a wave, “El Gringo”, terrified all the Championship Tour, except of course for Andy Irons who surfed (and won) the whole event high on Chilean marching powder?
Now here’s the question… let’s say that next year you’re still high enough in the rankings to chase these bigger events. Does that mean you’re gonna abandon the Other Dream Tour for events that offer higher payouts and points but a lower wave quality?
Yeah, I thought about that too. My first reaction was like “Oh, I’m still gonna do all the comps in Indo,” but then when I though about it I realized that I probably won’t be able to. I’ll be doing the U.S. Open and the one in South Africa. Which, you know, that’s super sick too. I have this sick opportunity to go to places I’ve never been before, and I need to take advantage of that. The Indo events will always be there if I fall off [laughs].”
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