Matt Wilkinson and lens guru, Corey Wilson, aligning their skillsets.
How To Fall Off Tour And Land On Your Feet, With Matt Wilkinson!
“If I hadn’t had this project that I’ve got going on, if I had have just fallen off, I would’ve been pretty rattled.”
Compared to previous years, for the most part of 2018 Matt Wilkinson was invisible.
He washed up 25th on the Jeep leaderboard, a whole 4100 points behind the lowest performing re-qualifier, Joan Duru. The fame and fortune that 2016 and 2017 brought him, in the form of multiple event wins and top five final rankings, had dissolved.
How does one go from top five to fired in a measly twelve months?
Was it the golf obsession? The commitments of a maturing adolescent relationship? Was he simply tiring of turning a surfboard between the horns? Or has his entrepreneurial inner child hit pubescence and stole the fire?
It’d be reasonable to assume all of the above, but according to a recent exchange, mostly the latter two. But a slow CT year doesn't spell the end, as you'll see, there's plenty to look forward to in the world of Wilko, 2019.
See those eyes, that's determination, that's the reason why we'd expect this gent to succeed at anything he puts his back(hand) into. (Photo: WSL/Sloane)
Wilko’s an entertainer, a product of the CT’s late-Aughts carefree golden era. The life of the party, you'll remember when he shouted pretty much everyone in attendance at his winning celebrations at the 2016 Rip Curl Pro at Bells, resulting in one of the most famous bar tabs in surf history.
It’s no wonder he’s taken to playing professional host with aplomb. With a property purchase not far from his digs in Byron Bay, Wilko's busied himself setting up a high end accommodation and fine dining restaurant combo.
The area’s called Possum Creek. The gorgeous building dates back to the late 1800’s; surrounding the premises is all the nature and silence one could ask for.
While Matt’s handy on the pointbreak coping, he’s admittedly not so hot behind a hotplate. He’s recruited the help of a pair of actual chefs to run the restaurant, while he and his lady manage the lux living quarters.
So far Friday Hut Dining has been open for three weeks, and Mick Fanning’s been twice; Steph Gilmore, Owen Wright, and Ronnie Blakey have all taken part in the five course set menu experience – and returned with rave reviews.
Questions arise: Has Wilko found his calling? Will we see him return to the jersey to have another swing? Here’s Wilko's Second Act interview.
Two of the warmest faces in surf! Corey Wilson and his thirsty compadre. (Photo: Sam Moody)
Stab: Give us a rundown on the year gone by.
Matt Wilkinson: It was a pretty weird, disappointing year for me on tour. I just felt like the first couple of events, I didn’t really get too much of a chance to surf. I had shitty heats without many waves. I also had a few unlucky heats with really close calls, which got frustrating.
I felt like I was starting to come on good for the Europe leg—things started going my way and I was starting to enjoy my competition surfing more. But then it was too late.
Pipe. I went into the event feeling like it was all going to work out and I’d re-qualify, but obviously that didn’t happen.
I think I kind of needed a break. My surfing felt a little bit stale. I felt like I didn’t really get any good waves last year. Whether it was my trips outside the tour, I never really scored, and on tour I never really had an event where I felt like I got to do much surfing or anything.
So you never really got to get that mojo working?
Yeah, I’d go to an event and be all psyched, then I’d have a heat where I lost needing a three or something and the waves were just so shitty. It wasn’t like I did anything terribly wrong, I was just a slow heat and nothing really happened. I’d leave the event feeling like I hadn’t really even caught a wave.
I expected everything to come together as the year went on and I slowly realised, "holy shit! It’s not happening!"
It's not goodbye, it's see you soon. (Photo: WSL)
How’s your headspace? Are you rattled by the outcome or seeing it as an opportunity with your new project?
Obviously I would’ve liked to have re-qualified. That would’ve made life easier. But if I hadn’t had this project that I’ve got going on, if I had have just fallen off, I would’ve been pretty rattled.
I’m really stoked that I have a bunch of stuff going on outside of surfing and really exciting stuff at home.
It might be a good thing to have a year off tour and be able to do a few good trips and hopefully have a good run on the QS. It might get the fire burning. It might give me enough time at home to feel like I’ve done my little home stint, had a good break and be ready to get back on tour with a fire in the belly.
So you’ll give the old mate QS a good swing?
Yeah, I’m not going to go 18 year-old grom and do every one-star, but I’ll do all the major QS’s and a bunch of the Aussie ones and maybe one in Brazil. I’m gonna give it a good swing.
I’m going to try and get as many Search trips in as I can do and try and get back to having fun surfing, rather than getting all robotic, trying to surf to what other people want to give me points for.
Have you got any training planned? Micro?
I don’t know if I’ll work with Micro this year, he’s just going to be super busy with the CT guys. But I’ve got some guys that I train with at home. I’ll be doing plenty of fitness stuff. I wouldn’t mind using the HPC (High Performance Centre) a little more this year.
Ten minutes from the dazzling shores and dreadlocked percussion circles of Byron Bay.
[The HPC] is pretty wild that place, with the skate ramps and trampolines and stuff.
I feel like I’m too old to take up skating now. I could maybe run up the ramp and jump into the pit, that’d be about it [laughs].
Let’s talk Possum Creek. How did that come about?
I always spoke about opening a bar or restaurant or something, then last year I had a place down the coast that I was looking at, tht I was going to buy and maybe run weddings. I just wanted an investment property, that doubled as a business. That ended up falling through, but when I found this property in the hills behind Byron I was like ‘surely this is exactly what I’ve been looking for’.
It’s got accommodation, it’s got the restaurant on it, it also has the ability to run events there. It’s an investment property with a bunch of different income streams.
Once I got it, I kinda had no idea what I was doing, cos I can’t cook for shit [laughs]. So I had to find the right kind of people for all the working parts.
I feel like my girlfriend, Ana, and I have done a pretty awesome job; we’ve done all the renovations and gone into partnership with a couple of chefs.
The accommodation side, Ana and I are running that, and I’m a partner in the restaurant, but I’m not very hands-on. Those guys seem to have done an awesome job.
Possum Creek Estate, dreamy ain't it?
So you’ve been getting your hands dirty on tools?
I definitely wasn’t the best worker [laughs]. Nah, as much as I could be, I was giving my mate Dom a hand. One of the chef’s wives did all the styling. We have a good little group.
What’s the most popular dish?
We’re doing a tasting menu, so it’s different every week. We’re just open for Sunday lunches at the moment. It’s a five course deal—entree, main, desert, that kind of thing, all local produce. It’s "casual fine dining."
Ah I see, so what’s the best thing you’ve eaten there so far?
I had Moreton Bay Bugs yesterday, that was pretty next level. There was a spanner crab… ah, I don’t know what it’s called, but it was fucking awesome.
[laughs] Yeah, “Good Crab!”
The source of Wilko's achievements/distractions.
There’s so many courses that come out, you're just as excited by them as the last one, then you finish and you can’t remember what you’ve had.
The chefs are amazing. Between the two of them, they have that many different dishes and they reckon they can keep pumping new menus out every week, so that’s pretty awesome.
Mick came down yesterday with a bunch of friends and we were having lunch, then Steph rocked up. So there were ten World Titles in there, which was pretty cool.
Mick’s actually been twice, and it’s only been open for three weeks.
Next he’ll be moving down from the Goldie!
A pleasant space where people come to put things in mouths.
So what’s the accommodation side like?
It’s a luxury five bedroom house with a creek frontage, that you can swim in. It faces northeast into the valley, just a real beautiful spot. There’s also a one-bedroom, self-contained boathouse down on the creek.
Ooh, now that sounds romantic.
Yeah, it’s pretty perfect for a wedding party, if they stay in the house and the wedding couple stay in the boathouse. It’s big and white with high ceilings. There’s a cinema room for hungover people—dark and air conditioned, with a big projector. We’re getting a pool put in, so that’ll be exciting.
The house is fairly new and it’s big and beautiful. The restaurant was originally the Possum Creek School House, which was built in 1899. So we have the old cane list. It says stuff like ‘Johnny got whipped three times.'
Yep. It says ‘Johnny giggled, so he got whipped three times.' There’s a full list of how many times the kids got beaten! It’s pretty cool [laughs].
So we’re getting that all cleaned up and putting it on the wall. It’s cool that it has a bit of history to it. It’s a full little country town, there’s no other shops or anything, just farmland and the creek.
It’s like five minutes from Byron, ten minutes to the ocean.
Do you know where The Farm is?
"Wilko and Ana have nailed it! Byron is great but sometimes hectic and their spot out at Possum Creek is a beaut retreat from the mayhem. The accommodation at Friday Hut Estate peers out over the hills, looks like a top place to book with a group. The restaurant is really solid, a great selection of wines and a seasonal menu that changes for each Sunday service. When we visited they had pork belly on the menu. I'm a sucker for that shit and it was one of the best I've eaten. There were eight plates total and then some digestives to finish. I left the place feeling happily rotund and have been plotting my next visit. It was such a neat experience. I thought with Wilko involved the wait staff would be on rollerblades, but it was really classy. As good as dining gets." - Ronnie Blakey.
If you go across the highway inland it's kinda one road in and one road south, between Byron and Bangalow.
So you’re happy with how it’s all turning over, plenty of interest so far?
Yeah we’ve been booked out every week so far and we’ve got a pretty big waiting list, so we’re stoked that word’s getting around. Everyone seems to love it.
I noticed the Instagram account is looking pretty slick. I’m guessing you don’t run it? [Laughs]
[Laughs]. Yeah, the one for the restaurant is run by the chef’s wife, and the one for the accommodation, my girlfriend is running that.
A zone to rest weary eyes, after five courses from Wilko's handy chefs.
Any other developments or projects on the radar for Wilko Inc?
Ah, not really. I was kinda thinking about doing a luxury surf camp a couple of times a year out of there, which could be fun. Get people to stay in the house and take them surfing. I haven’t got the wheels turning for that yet. We’ll see how the year turns out with the QS and figure it out from there.
Go and get them dropped in on at The Pass or something?
Yep, exactly. Get them dropped in on by Derek Hynd.
"There's nice fine dining with all kinds of food," Mick told Stab after visit number two. "Loads of epic flavours and everything from oysters, prawns, to pork belly and chicken wrapped in bacon. The presentation is amazing, they've done an awesome job. One of my favourite places to go!" (Photo: Instagram)