The New Normal: Matt Banting On Car Troubles And Being World Number One
The QS leader dishes on competition, the pandemic, and that time Creed iced him out after losing to him in the U12s.
Matt Banting has been around the block.
On tour, off tour, dropped contracts, viral web clips, the 25-year-old has seen it all. After an ideal start to his 2020 QS campaign, it finally felt like the Port Macquarie local was going to make a push and get back onto the world stage.
If you take a scroll through any one of Matt’s recent clips on Instagram you’ll see a trove of check-marked admirations coming from the world’s best. His surfing speaks for itself, but sadly his crusade has been put on pause by that damn coronavirus.
We decided to catch up with the current world #1 to see how he’s using his time off and how he feels the WSL should handle the remainder of 2020.
Stab: So, how’s it feel to be the number one surfer in the world?
Matt Banting: [Laughs] I saw your comment on my Insty the other day [acknowledging his superlative ranking] and I was pissing myself. It’s pretty funny.
I normally have a pretty good start in Oz. I had a big offseason having fun with my mates and stuff, and then it gets to New Year Eve and we’ll do a big one, then I don’t have a beer until those comps. I’m always in really good form, not partying, just giving myself the best chance. I want to do the same for this offseason but not knowing when it’s gonna come back it’s hard to get ready for.
Where are you riding this thing out?
Matt Banting: Just been in Port Macquarie cruising around home. Been training a lot actually, using the wasted time pretty wisely, and then I was just telling my coach Mick Cain that it’s been one extreme to the other, from training so hard, only having beers once a month or so, to then going way too big, knowing I do have some free time to relax. So a mixture of both, having fun but also trying to keep training so I don’t fall behind. Pretty easy to have a couple beers, I saw on the news the other day that two-thirds of Australians have increased their drinking. The liquor stores over here are going mental!
Are you still able to surf in Port Mac no?
Yeah, it’s gotten way more crowded actually. Thirty to 50-percent of people are out of work. When it’s two-foot at the breakwall in town, where there would normally be 30 guys out, there’s now 80. It’s frustrating, but I guess they’ve gotta get exercise somewhere. When it’s like that, I’ve been going to the other side of town, even if it’s big and onshore, and surfing these rip bowls by myself. I love surfing by myself in the rain and shit. I was whinging to my friend Beyrick who’s in South Africa about it being crowded, and he said, “Well you’re fucking lucky you can go for a surf!”
You started off the year very strong—second at Sydney, quarters at Newcastle, then you won the Vissla Central coast pro—how would you characterize your start?
When I lost to Leo Fioravanti in the final at Manly I was so bummed. I haven’t even watched that final back, to be honest, but I was really eggy for a couple weeks. I got over it and finally came to the conclusion that if you told me I’d be getting these results and sitting in this position to start the year I would, with that only being the first prime, I would’ve been good to go to New Zealand and continue on with a bit of momentum. I guess that’s just life.
I heard you almost missed that Vissla event due to car troubles, no?
Yeah, I’ve got the trusty old Subaru. The Central Coast is only about three and a half hours away so I was watching the comp and knew I was seeded in round 4 or something cause it’s a low rated event, so I figured I’d just head down the same day as my first heat. The waves are really similar along the east coast and I feel confident surfing in Australia.
I actually stopped at Maccas for a coffee and an egg muffin and it was in the drive-thru that I saw a bit of smoke coming out of the bottom. I’ve never really had car problems, so I took it to a mechanic and the guy was so cool. I told him I had to get to the comp and he was like “This is so fucking sick, I love time trials like this, reckon I can have it done in 30 minutes.”
Just like that, boom, full new radiator, 30 minutes. It was a sick little pit stop until I realized I didn’t even surf till the next day.
That’s so classic. So last year, you ended the QS season with 16,750 points. This year you’re already at 13,500, what changes have you made if any from your approach this year to last and what would you attribute to getting off to such a hot start?
I was in a good position all last year to qualify, and then I just fucking shit myself the back half of the year.
Just having it all propped up, it’s everything you could want, but when you try and force something to happen it tends to go the other way. This year heat management has been crucial for me. Not going on too many shit waves. Shit waves cost me last year, like in the US Open, I lost on a priority mistake. I remember in Spain I had one minute remaining and went on this waist-high wave I thought was sick for that day, and then I look out the back and Jadson Andre was on what looked like a double over-head left. To finish that heat like that with a minute to go was brutal. You can feel smart with that little wave coming to you in the last 2 minutes, it can make you feel like the smartest competitive surfer in the world, but when that luck is not there it makes you look like an idiot too.
You’ve been battling hip injuries since 2015 and have seemingly returned to form stronger than ever, how do you feel about where your surfings at?
I’m stoked. Seeing all these guys like Kanoa, the guys I grew up with on the junior series, it feels like it’s our little window now. The guys that were competing in that little group are all doing well now on the CT while your Micks and Joels have hung it up. I feel like my surfing has a bit of a way to go at Bells and J-bay and waves like that. Big, open ocean waves are somewhere I feel like I could improve, just that power rail game. But with that, there’s also a lot of places I feel really confident at.
It’d be sick if they put trestles back on tour—some nice high-performance surfing that everyone could relate to. Overall, I’ve got a few things I need to improve on, but I’m happy with where I’m at.
So you’re the guy on the QS who’s likely most affected by his pandemic, not only because you’re sitting at number one now, but also because you’ve been knocking on the door of qualification since falling off. How are you coping with the events being off?
It’s a bummer. I was talking to my dad the other day about the job seeker payments here in Australia. They’re doing stimulus packages at the moment and I was like fuck, my contracts have been put on hold and I don’t really have any sponsorship money coming in, I was getting a bit bummed just complaining and stuff, then my old man put it in perspective for me.
I could’ve gone to Morocco and lost first round, could’ve gone to China and wasted a bunch of money, and even lost first round in all those Australian comps. It went really well for me and now I’m 40-grand in front from prize money and have started the year in first place—there’s a lot of guys in worse positions than me for sure. I’m thankfully in a good financial position, but when this all kicks back off it’ll be interesting to see how my friends from overseas will fare and how many drop off due to the financial struggle.
You’ve been without a major sponsor on the QS for a couple years now but have been on with Peak wetsuits as well as a local credit union. What’s your take on the state of the industry?
The timing on all of this for me couldn’t have been worse. For some reason my contracts with Peak Wetsuits and Coastline Credit Union ran from April to April, just random timing. They’ve all been so supportive of me and I’m still with them. They’ve just said that through these financial struggles they’ve gotta take care to not let themselves down, which is fully understandable.
You hear the NRL guys and the big sports stars are all copping massive pay reductions, so it makes sense. Then you’ve got your Hurleys and stuff, you’ve heard of it all lately, so we’re all in the same position.
Luckily I’ve got a little rental property that I can get a bit of a wave out of. I’m super grateful that when I was with Quiky back in the day I was smart with my money and didn’t go out and buy all the flashy cars and that sort of stuff. My dad told me that wouldn’t be the best decision, so super lucky to have a bit of guidance along the way.
For sure. Not like Hiroto, going out and buying cars with that first big check!
That thing will be eternally viral I reckon. We’ll be watching that clip in 20 years. Such a legend.
[Ed note: Hiroto didn’t actually buy any cars with his $100k check.]
Stab will seize any opportunity to run this clip.
So say in a perfect world that all of this craziness comes to an end in June/July…how would you like to see the WSL handle the remainder of the season?
You know it’s pretty hard. I was thinking of the guys in their rookie year. It’d be so heavy if you were to qualify and then you got half your rookie season or something, so I don’t think they could give them half of what they deserved. That said, it’d be sick if they could get something underway soon.
All the NRL and major sports over here in Oz are like, “Fuck let’s kick this thing off as soon as possible.” I was thinking if you could just start where we left off this year from a QS perspective, just start at Piha (the Corona Piha Pro in New Zealand) and then start the CT at Snapper it’d be a lot easier.
I was playing it out in my head, like if they took away my points from the start of this year or something, and my mates were like “Na, there’s no way they could do that” but you never know as well.
You’ve been on the LSDs for a long time but have since been trying some new sticks, riding a CI to 2nd at Manly—how’s that going and what’s the thinking behind changing things up?
Yeah, the new little Spine Tek. Cainy (Mick Cain) just wanted to see if a different rocker and different outline would help my surfing. My sponsor Shapers Manufacturers—who actually manufacture a lot of the shaping tools for guys around the world—supply the carbon wraps for the Spine Teks. They offered to buy me three boards as a Christmas present and I wasn’t gonna say no.
I was like, “Far out you guys are the best, little Crissy present.” I was riding LSD’s in the comps for 2-3 weeks, but Manly was pretty small and gutless and was getting even smaller. I was free surfing on the first day, and I was like, “Fuck, I’m just gonna give this thing ago,” and it started going mental.
I had talked to Britt and told him what waves I wanted the boards for, and he got me a little Happy groveler model. Sometimes you get that little extra 10% confidence and it just spices things up. In saying that, my first surf when I jumped back on a PU, I was like, “Fuck, these PUs are so much better than any EPS construction and anything.” You can get all this technology and people trying too hard to better our boards, but you kind of always get back to those PUs—they’re the best.
You battled with Noa Deane a lot throughout your junior career. He said about competing as a junior “at that age it was pretty much Matt Banting fucking smoking everyone for 5 years straight.” What was it like growing up competing against Noa as a junior?
Noa, Creed, and I would always link up in the finals and stuff. I had their number for sure, but they got me a few times as well. We were a competitive little bunch.
I remember the old Billabong days, I was staying at Creeds house for Taj’s Small Fries and I beat Creed in the U12s and he wouldn’t talk to me the whole next day. Wouldn’t even verse me in ping pong, was just over me.
When we were mid-15/16s, Noa signed a deal with Rusty, and they wanted him to do a few comps but also give him that kind of Dane approach and freedom, and he fell into his niche—it suited him perfectly. I fully understand how nerves can restrict you from reaching your potential in the comps. Give those guys a bit of time and you can see how naturally talented they are.
Ok, four quick ones to send it off. One place you wanna go when this is all over?
South Africa, go film with my mate Beyrick (De Vries).
Last person you’d want to be quarantined with?
Probably Beyrick as well, I reckon—we’d probably rip each other’s heads off after four weeks.
Your three quarantine food essentials?
Eggs—I’m the best boiled-egg cook in the world, I’d say. I also need some sweets and some munchies, and I eat shit loads of bread. So bread, eggs, and munchies.
Average Daily screen time?
Four-and-a-half hours. Definitely gone up since quarantine, but I remember last week I surfed three or four hours in the morning and then had a workout and didn’t touch my phone until one or something, and I was like, “Fuck, that’s how you want to keep it.”
Sick Matt, thank you! Keep trucking.
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