A Profile In Color: A Portrait Of Michael February
The story behind the bright, colorful smile, style, and mind of Africa’s first non-white World Tour surfer.
It’s 5:30 PM on Oahu’s North Shore. The sun is starting to slide below the horizon, convincing many of surfing’s most recognizable faces to stop staring at their iPhones, step out of their Pipeline-adjacent abodes, shuffle their way across the sand, then commence staring at their iPhone screens again, this time pointing cameras towards the color in the sky.
Another gorgeously, thoroughly documented scene in the Age of Instagram.
I’m sitting in a backyard with Michael February who, at the time, is potentially only a few heats away from being the first non-white African surfer to qualify for the CT.
I ask him how that feels.
“There are so many people who surf so well and are insane to watch,” he tells me, not a phone in sight. “Obviously, I’d love to qualify, but I think less about trying to be the best competitively and more about using surfing as a way to express myself. In the long run, my goal is to contribute something totally unique to our culture.”
“I think less about trying to be the best competitively and more about using surfing as a way to express myself,” February tells Stab.
From where I’m standing, Mikey’s off to a good start. He rides waves like nobody I’ve ever seen. He’s got a style that’s impossible to manufacture. Every turn, every movement seems expressive, artistic.
Mikey’s got enough good looks and charm to build a successful career doing disco floaters on a twin fin—which he does quite well—but he’s also got the uncanny ability to make a full-roter look like it came from an era when people didn’t refer to surfing as Sport.
“He’s cool,” says fellow South African Jordy Smith. “He surfs fast and loose, and has never changed his style or his surfing to fit into the contest mold. It’s rad to see everyone connecting with his surfing now. He’ll definitely add some steeze to the World Tour.”
See above for a visual representation of “Steeze”.
Steeze. It’s an unfortunately rare word in our world these days. And the lines he draws ain’t the only thing that makes Mikey’s surfing entirely unique.
“The surname February comes from the month my ancestors were chosen as slaves,” Mikey explains. “I haven’t done too much research on it, but that’s apparently why there are a lot of colored people in South Africa who have months for surnames.”
This particular February was born on May 17, 1993, in Cape Town, South Africa, spent the first decade of his life in an area called Woodstock.
“It wasn’t the doggiest area,” he said. “But you definitely couldn’t go outside without someone watching you. By the time I was 10, I was fully obsessed with surfing and my family moved to a town called Kommetjie. It’s about 45 minutes away from Woodstock and has super fun waves. I truly believe my parents did that for me.”
Safe to say the move to Kommetjie paid off. Last year, Mikey won three QS 1000 events, then made the Semis at a Prime in Ballito, and backed up it up with a Quarterfinal finish at the US Open.
Going into Hawaii, he needed a 13th to cement his spot on the 2018 CT. He ended up falling one heat shy of that result at Sunset.
It was close. Painfully close. Less-than-3-points close. But in surfing, as in life, most good things don’t come without a struggle.
France in emerald, gold and black.
“My dad has so many stories about growing up as a black surfer in South Africa. He flat-out wouldn’t be allowed to surf some places. He went to a wave once and the local crowd circled him and forced him to leave. I ended up winning a contest at that same beach when I was younger. I think that was a really special moment for him.”
I ask if he’s ever experienced anything like that. He answers politely. Mikey is almost overwhelmingly polite.
“It was pretty mellow for me — nothing like what it was like for my dad. There were a few weird things though. When I was 12 or 13, I won a little camera phone at a surf contest. I went to the mall one day with my friends and was playing with it. A security guard came up to me and started yelling at me, saying I must have stolen the phone. I got kicked out of the mall and they confiscated the phone.”
There’s no anger in his tone when he talks about this. No hostility. In his mind, none of it mattered. He got the phone back eventually. There would be plenty more contests to win.
“A lot of people think that you have to be real serious and have an ego in order to do well in contests. I never looked at it like that. I’ve always looked at that side of surfing and tried to have fun with it. Even in heats, I try to be as creative and expressive as possible. I want to mix it up and keep things interesting.”
To fly is everything.
Creativity runs in Mikey’s family. Both of his parents are graphic designers — they even went on to start their own agency. With creativity in his blood, Mikey’s style is nothing if not interesting. It’s chaotic, unconventional, rhythmic, retro. And in some mysterious way, it works. I ask if that’s intentional.
“I was more aware of my style when I was younger,” he says. “I’m super lanky and my arms sort of do their own thing [laughs]. I used to think I had a weird style, so it’s nice to hear people say they like it. But really, I don’t think about it. I just do whatever feels good and it looks however it looks.”
With Julian Wilson on the injury list for Snapper, and Mick Fanning’s recent announcement of his departure from the tour after Bells, Mikey will sneak in the side door for 2018. And while we’re thrilled to see him have a crack at the big leagues, we’re looking forward to the young Outlier’s approach bringing some much-needed, um, diversity to the tour’s growing homogeneity.
“You want to make your own mark in surfing,” Mikey tells me. “If I make the Tour, it’d be nice to show something a little different. Creative surfing might not always win, but maybe it’d make more of an impact.”
In the end, Mikey’s success in surfing will be a product of his color. And no, not the color of his skin. The color of his surfing. The colors of his mind, and bright personality, and his ability to paint all of that into the world with a surfboard.
“Everyone is proud of where they’re from,” Mikey says. “I’m fortunate enough to be from Africa. It’s definitely different to the rest of the whole surfing community, and I want to push that more. Africa has so much to offer to surfing, wave-wise, and culture-wise.”
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