Jack in Tahiti by Brian Bielmann

Jack Robinson

This story from the latest issue of SW on sale now.

“’We’ll know in 10 years,’ laughs Trev of whether they’re doing the right thing with Jack, but it’s clear to him he’s raising a son first, and a surfer second. He doesn’t need a roll call of broken child prodigies to remind him of that.”

That was how Jack Robinson’s first Surfing World feature back in 2012 signed off. Back then nobody really knew how Trevor Robinson’s postmodern approach to raising his son as a pro surfer was going to work… including Trev himself. At just 14 the surfing prodigy had the world at his feet, but Trev was determined to raise his him free range, outside of the established system. He home schooled him. He kept him back from contests. He travelled with him, checking off a list of the world’s most challenging waves as they went. As recently as a month ago the jury was still out as to whether this was all a good idea or not. On December 2, when Jack Robinson won Sunset and qualified for the world tour with an otherworldly surfing performance, it suddenly became a very good idea indeed. Jack had arrived, a couple of years earlier than Trev had called.

The Robinsons had done everything the wrong way around… or the right way around, depending on how you looked at it. The “pathway” as they like to call it is geared to teach kids to surf shitty waves first, then work their way up to the trophy waves. But Jack was already surfing trophy waves like North Point and The Box at home in Margaret River, so why would he travel to surf something worse? That didn’t make any sense. I surfed with Jack in G-Land when he was 12, three-foot tall, four times overhead and scratching his marsupial nuts in the tube.

He’s been the Great Hope for Australian surfing for a very, very long time now. It was a lot of pressure to lump on a young guy’s shoulders but it went beyond that. Half the surfers you speak to were happy for Jack to never qualify. Nothing personal against Jack – quite the opposite, they were loony for the kid and his surfing – but Jack failing to qualify proved that the tour was broken. Jack was the meat in an ideological sandwich. Jack Robinson’s success or failure spoke directly to the relevance of pro surfing. If a rare bird like Jack Robinson failed, the system was a failure.

Then there was Trev. There’ll be people who’ll draw a line between Trev Robinson staying at home this year and Jack finally cracking the tour… and they might be partly right. I remember somebody saying the best advice anyone could offer a father who wants to chaperone their kid around on tour is, “Stay at home, pops” and Trev might have overstayed by a couple of years. With the arrival of Jack’s serious girlfriend, Julia, Trev certainly got a nudge. Jack’s almost 22, and no 22-year-old wants their old boy hanging around all the time. Trev also made life tough with sponsors. Trev knew best, which put him at odds with dozens of people whose job at the brands was to know best. Friends at the brands labelled the move “The Trev Trap” – he’d corner them arguing a point, narrowing their personal space until you couldn’t slide a cigarette paper between the two of them. The Robinsons burned through both Quiksilver and Billabong but that ultimately may not have been a bad thing. Volcom seems to be a good fit. Jack’s in with the hardcore Hawaiian crew and has a bed from which where he can roll over and check Pipe.

Trev however had the fundamentals right and deserves huge credit for that. He taught Jack to learn, independently. He put a premium on quality surf and he taught Jack to be respectful. The one thing I always know about Jack is that when you catch up with him for the first time in a while you’ll get a firm handshake, solid eye contact and a smile. That’s the currency of life right there and that all comes from good upbringing. And before you pass judgement on Trev, remember that what you saw at Sunset – not just Jack winning, but Jack winning like he was surfing a different wave to everyone else – was a result of Trev taking Jack on a thousand Hawaii trips over the years.

Jack’s success couldn’t have come soon enough for Australian surfing. It’s been a tough year where Australia’s surfing stocks have bottomed out. With the retirements of Mick, Joel and Taj and the rise of the Brazilian crew, the Great Hope of Australian Surfing couldn’t have arrived at a better time. The only problem judging by his post-victory interviews is that Jack might have left his Australian accent on the baggage carousel somewhere, but when he gets to Margies, Teahupoo and Pipe next year we’ll all be claiming him… and praying for surf.

Surfing World