Stab Magazine | It’s Time To Talk About Australia’s (Dire) Competitive Future

Live now: How Surfers Get Paid, Season Finale


It’s Time To Talk About Australia’s (Dire) Competitive Future

“You’ve only got to look down the food chain to realise you couldn’t really say we’re leading the way.”

news // Jun 5, 2018
Words by stab
Reading Time: 6 minutes

There’s a WSL shift change taking place right now, particularly in the Australian contingent.

Taj Burrow and Mick Fanning are happily retired and Joel Parkinson is presumably close behind them.

Josh Kerr fell off tour, is enjoying life as an international man of brewery, and riding asymmetrical boards. At the Founder’s Cup he told Stab he doesn’t think he’ll ever pick up a thruster again. And, although Owen Wright, Julian Wilson and Ace Buchan remain on the roster, their expiration date will loom closer in the years to come.

Could Australia’s current representation vanish in the next handful of years? Unlikely.

But, by the way it’s looking, the Brazilians will be filling the gaps left behind as the current Aussies branch off to work on beer brands, families and live “The Search”.

So how’d it get to this? Was it complacency? Did the freesurfer kill the comp star? Who are the next Aussie hopefuls?

Stab consulted Pipe Master/competitive coach extraordinaire, Jake Paterson, and ex-pro turned surf industry mogul, Mr Nathan Webster for the answers.

Margarita Keramas

“I just don’t see anything exciting coming out of Oz, and I don’t know what’s to blame.” – Nathan Webster. (Photo: Margarita Salyak)

“I think the last two comps have been really fucking exciting, from what was a pretty boring start to the year,” says Nathan Webster reflecting on the first half of the 2018 Tour. “Then these next two events happened and I got excited again.

“One of the takeouts from the event [Keramas], which I’m kind of thrilled about, is I think the sport’s getting young again. Once upon a time Kelly encouraged people to hang around a little longer and now that Mick’s gone and Joel looks like he has one foot out the door, it’s reinvigorated the youthfulness of the tour. It’s been too old for too long.”

So who are the next round of freaks, who will be the Johns and Gabriels of 2020 and beyond? Does Australia have any rounds left in the clip?

“I can’t see anything,” says Mr Webster. “I really wish I could. I think America’s probably in the same boat. I think the future of the sport is in the hands of Brazil and Hawaii, most of the exciting kids are coming out of those areas.”

Before Mick retired, Clancy Dawson, Talent Pathways Coach at Hurley’s High Performance Centre, raised the issue with Stab one day on the sand at D’Bah, Australia’s competitive breeding ground. Looking out at a lineup of youth practically climbing over each other to impress, he had spotted the impending gap in world class talent from down under.

“We’ve churned out a tonne of good competitors, but who is going to add another layer on what John is doing now?,” Clancy asked.

“While Australians are still winning comps people think we’re killing it, but you’ve only got to look down the food chain to realise you couldn’t really say we’re leading the way with the next round.”

So how’d it come to this? With a half Brazilian QS top ten and leagues of more waiting behind, how did Oz (and the US, excluding Griff) drop their succession planning ball?

It’s certainly not lack of waves.

Ace Cestari

“For the veterans, their time to win World Titles is now, or never. It’s going to get tougher.” – Nathan Webster. Adrian Buchan might be (still) mixing it with the best, but it won’t last forever. (Photo: WSL/Cestari)

Mr Webster believes the industry has a level of responsibility, also that cushy upbringings and middle-class privilege might be draining the next generation’s die hard desire to win. While Australia and US churn out surfers from well-to-do families with real estate on the coast. Brazil is notoriously rough around the edges, for many life’s tough and this only stokes the fires of their competitive spirit.

“Fucking millenials man,” laughs Noodles. “All these kids are coming up pretty wealthy, middle class families, they’ve got some free shit and everything’s pretty gravy for them. Whereas you’ve got these kids coming out of the ghetto in Brazil, they’re not that comfortable, they get after it. That’s just where we’re at today with the sport.

“I think it may go hand in hand with the industry as well. It’s in quite a slump right now, it’s deteriorating and there’s not many things pumping people up out there.

“The way it’s all sort of set up is there’s the top and then there is nothing, just scraps. You’ve gotta be top five or no one’s really going to care much about you.

Griffin Margarita Keramas

Griff, America’s next top millennial. Photo: Margarita Salyak.

“What we don’t hear is that scene all drying up as well. Those guys aren’t getting paid what they used to be getting paid. So that pool is shrinking.

“Team managers are letting people go or quietly going about trying to get people for cheap and no one’s really pumping up anyone’s tyres or really supporting. It’s a bit of a depressed situation.

“In Australia it just seems like an easier way to go is to just get yourself a pair of fingerless gloves, cut your pants short, work on a video part for three years [laughs].

“I guess because they [Brazilians] grow up super hungry to win,” chimes Jake Paterson on the subject. “It’s also a numbers game as well. In Brazil surfing is the second biggest sport and a lot of kids are growing up wanting to be the next Gabby, Filipe, Italo.” 

Screen Shot 2018 06 05 at 11.27.05 am

Is the younger Wright brother Australia’s future World Tour saviour? (Photo: WSL/Cestari)

Mr Paterson is on the ground at every contest studying every ride, he believes the situation isn’t so bad and he’s backing the return of a few heads who fell off the CT shortly after showing up.

“I think we will have a super strong representation on the CT in 2019. I’m calling we will have about one third of the tour, 11 or 12 guys at worst.

“I believe Ethan [Ewing], Ryan [Callinan] and Jack [Freestone] will all make it back onto the CT at the end of this year. We have Mikey Wright steamrolling his way onto the CT, I also think Matt Banting will get on again this year and Reef Heazlewood and Davey Cathels have an outside chance of making it as well.”

“I’m a huge fan of Ryan, he’s a great surfer,” Mr Webster tells us. “He’s already been there, he knows it’s tough. The mental game it takes to play at that level is a whole other gear which he’ll need to find.

“Mikey’s been really entertaining to watch. He gives zero fucks about anyone else and at least takes it to them and gives it a real 110 percent a go.

Jordy Gabs Cestari

Stab hearts paddle battles. (Photo: WSL/Cestari)

“We’ve just come out of a time with great surfers, unbelievable icons, still being on tour and everyone’s being really nice and respectful to each other – which kind of got a little bit boring. I’m happy to see that chapter close and see a bit of animal get back into it.

“Look at that paddle battle the other day, it’s just an everyday thing for Gabs, but it’s good to see Jordy get involved with that too, that’s kind of what it takes. I love that those guys are getting under people’s skin, it’s making it exciting.

“The years of the old guys being around with all the respect and being nice to each other is coming to an end, now that they’re clearing out the gloves can come off!”

Kaelwalsh bosko

“I’m working with Kael [Walsh] to try and get him turned into getting onto tour, he has a freaky talent just not all-rounded enough yet. I have been watching Jacob [Wilcox] for the past few years and he doesn’t have any weakness in his surfing, so all he needs is to believe he can make the CT and he will make it.” – Jake Paterson. (Photo: Bosko)


Comments are a Stab Premium feature. Gotta join to talk shop.

Already a member? Sign In

Want to join? Sign Up


Most Recent

Sun Room: The Overnight Success Of A Young Surf Band

What's it like touring the world and living off of McDonald's?

Mar 25, 2023

How Surfers Get Paid, Episode 6

An instructional manual for the modern professional surfer

Mar 23, 2023


Caity Simmers — Extreme Competitive Surf Vlogger

Cool is chemical.

Mar 23, 2023

Globe Pulls Out Of The Apparel Game

…and, Taj Burrow and Dion Agius are now looking for new main sponsors.

Mar 22, 2023

Owen Wright Announces Retirement From Competitive And Heavy-Water Surfing

But will surf final CT event at Bells.

Mar 22, 2023


Fancy An Ale, Some Good Music, And A Bunch Of Tubes?

Ballet's minimalist full-length will satiate your needs.

Mar 22, 2023

João Chianca Spent Seven Years On The QS Without A Sponsor

And look where he is now.

Mar 22, 2023

Take Stab’s 2023 Audience Survey, Win A 3-Board Quiver

Stab towels and Premium subscriptions also up or grabs.

Mar 21, 2023

Jessi Miley Dyer On The New Challenger Series Schedule And More

Did you know that you could miss the mid-year cut and still theoretically win the…

Mar 20, 2023


Don’t Miss The Last Wave Of The First 2023 SEOTY Entry

Jacob Willcox's ‘Into Dust’ just set the bar.

Mar 20, 2023

Warren Smith on New Welcome Rivers Range and Buying Jaguars on Facebook Marketplace  

Now available in the Antipodes...

Mar 20, 2023


Wavegarden Spills How The Sausage Is Made

BTS of their global air wave rollout ft. Yago Dora, Dion Agius, Reef Heazlewood and…

Mar 18, 2023

Minds, Machines, And The Magic Of Hands

How modern shapers split their time between designing files and hand-finishing boards.

Mar 18, 2023


Are Hectic Lefts The Final Finless Frontier?

William Aliotti is on the right-foot-forward fringes.

Mar 17, 2023

Watch: Luke + Eddie

A mostly unknown, on-duty lifeguard won the most prestigious big-wave event in history. How Luke…

Mar 17, 2023


A Pipe Master, Ryan Burch, And Some Pickle Forks On The Eastern Seaboard

This one ticks a lot of boxes

Mar 16, 2023

Brazil Has A Talent Problem

And three other things we learned from the Rip Curl Pro Portugal.

Mar 16, 2023


Mick Fanning On A Unicorn, Bags Of Dicks, And A Shocking Script Read By Surfing’s Biggest Stars

Vaughan Blakey and Nick Pollet on their outrageous film, 'The Greatest Surf Movie In The…

Mar 15, 2023