WE TALK WORLD TITLES WITH JULIAN WILSON
Sitting third on the WSL world rankings and with only three events remaining Sunshine Coast’s Julian Wilson has laid the perfect platform to launch an end of season attack for a maiden World Title. A South African man mountain and a simmering Hawaiian volcano are the only obstacles between him and glory.
SW: Do you look at the stars much Jules?
JW: Hmmmn… Not that much. Actually, in Fiji, Hawaii and Tahiti… yeah, suppose I do spend a bit of time looking up at the stars.
The reason I ask is because there’s nothing quite like looking into the universe to ponder where you’re at with life. What do you find yourself think about when you’re looking up there?
(Laughs) I’m probably wondering what all the constellations are. Which one is which and what’s where? I’m not too good at that stuff (laughs). But you’re right, I do get reflective about life’s journey… what I’m doing, where I’ve been… what’s next. It’s a mix of feelings, you can internalise or feel pretty insignificant.
Let’s have a look at that journey over the past two years, because you signed off 2014 by winning the Pipe Masters and the Triple Crown. That was absolutely huge.
That was a massive moment for sure. To win the Pipe Masters and the Triple Crown on one wave, the last wave of the heat, of the year, it was a pretty special feeling. The Triple Crown is a mini World Title in terms of the prestige it holds within surfing and Hawaii, and that capped off an average competitive year for me with the biggest highlight of my career so far. It was something I never saw coming, I barely even dreamed something that wild could go down, so it’s nice to reflect on that moment from time to time.
Your win at the Billabong Pro Tahiti this year was your first since the Pipe victory. Two years without a victory must have been frustrating.
It was, but at the same time I’d been in six finals during that period and I’d managed to be in the World Title conversation too so it wasn’t like I was freaking out about my performances. Obviously to win a World Title a lot of things have to come together, the consistency has to be there, and I suppose there were times in the past two years I wasn’t able to keep that consistency up to the level I expect from myself. To win an event again after making all those finals though, it proved to me that I’m in a position to really go for it this year. I started the year in 13th and I’ve made up some ground to be sitting in third. There are three events left and only two people I need to beat so I feel like I’ve done the hard work to set myself up for a good run coming down the home stretch.
It’s worth acknowledging that in the past two years you’ve also had two massive life events go down, one being the shark encounter with Mick at J-Bay and the other being that you got married.
Those events helped me to take stock of what truly matters. The shark incident is something that I wish to never experience again, or wish to see anyone else go through again, and the global attention that came with it definitely became tiresome and distracting. I think I was tied for the title race at the time and that final never got surfed, they just split the points, so on top of everything else 2000 points just disappeared off the World Title race. But I couldn’t hold it together that year anyway. You can’t pretend something like that is not going to affect you. On the bright side, what’s important and how you approach the journey you’re on comes into stark light after something like that, and I think it had a profound and positive impact on me, the decisions I make and the way I choose to live now. And then getting married, to me it’s a once in a lifetime experience and something that I wanted to take the time to enjoy. And I love being married. It’s made me feel more grounded, more relaxed in my preparation and helped to strengthen my competitive goals. I know where my priorities lie, what I want to do and where I want to go and I think those pivotal moments of the past couple of years have had a lot to do with that. I also love what I do. The challenge of competing and beating the best guys in every single location all over the world, as you can see with a guy like Kelly who’s still so psyched, there’s something about it that never gets old. There’s always another swell at a particular spot that you’ve never had before or some sort of tweak to your equipment that gets you excited and it’s this constant moving puzzle that you get to tap into and try and figure out each time you go around the loop of 11 events. It’s so fun and I can see why guys want to be on tour forever.
How do see your relationship with surfing today?
Anything in life that I genuinely love guides me. Surfing falls into that place for me. I grew up with the love for it which was passed on through my family and I’ll live with it until I’m done. I definitely love where I’m at right now. Selfishly I’d love to be leading the World Tour and bringing home a title and I’ve got myself in a good position to have a crack at it. My priorities are in the right place and I’ve never enjoyed my surfing more. The competitive challenge of the tour motivates me. It’s exciting. I’m constantly finding new ways to enjoy it. I’d say I’m as hooked on surfing as I’ve ever been.
How do you absorb surfing outside of the water?
Mate, I’m a YouTube guy. I’ll lay in bed watching clips until one in the morning (laughs). I spend hours watching absolutely everything. When I’m going to events I froth out extra hard. The places we go on tour, every location has a history of epic performances from people that I’ve always looked up to. There’re archives of that stuff online that you can access and it’s the most incredible resource. You can watch the best surfing that’s ever gone down at any break, the lines and attitude of how to surf each spot, I soak it all in. And then outside of that I take notes of patterns, work ethic and demeanour of what a guy like Mick Fanning brings to competition. I have a lot of praise for that. The discipline, the way he performs under pressure and for so many years back-to-back. But my biggest motivator to push my surfing comes from Dane Reynolds. I think five years ago he was on an entirely different level to anyone on Earth. The clips he’s dropping now are still the most aggressive example of cutting edge performance you’ll see and I take them all in, but for some reason his older stuff always get me excited to go surfing and tear in.
What about a guy like Wilko? You guys have been close friends forever and he’s enjoyed amazing success these past couple of years?
Oh mate, he motivates me definitely. I feel so… proud. I’m proud to see the turnaround he’s made. The discipline and the way he’s gone from struggling to stay on tour for years to now legitimately surfing for World Titles… it’s a credit to him. We had a big heat at Bells last year where he needed a 9.57 and got it on the final exchange. Those heats, where somebody steps up to the fight, have motivated me more than anything to pick up my own game. But he’s still the same guy, so much fun, it’s just that now he’s 15kgs lighter, plays golf and he doesn’t make mistakes in heats.
Three events to go with only Jordy and John John ahead of you on the ratings. Jordy has never done well in the back half of the season whereas you and JJF have both won two of the three left. What’s the plan from here?
After a really slow start to the year I had one focus – beat the guys in front of me on the ratings at each event. I started with 13 guys to chase down and now there’s only two guys left. Two guys out of the 36 on tour – it’s a pretty simple equation. All I have to do is get a result that’s better than them and I’ll make up ground. I’m not thinking about winning the event, I’m only thinking about bettering the results of the guys in front of me. If I can do that three more times this year I’ll be where I need to be. Trestles is the only event I didn’t finish in front of those guys in the past four events which was disappointing but also a good little wake-up call. I’ve made up a lot of ground, I just need to stay focussed on what needs to be done.
Australians surf fans are a parochial and passionate bunch, are Owen and Wilko and yourself ready for the inevitable flood of support that’ll be behind you guys heading into Hawaii?
To be in a position that we’ve always looked up to and wanted to be in, and to be representing Australia means the world to all of us. The fact we get to share it this far into the season is remarkable. Owen and Wilko are two of my best friends. We grew up alongside each other, competing and surfing since we were groms and to be going for that top spot, I can tell you that if it isn’t me I’d love nothing more than for it to be one of those guys who gets it. We have each other’s back and I hope we challenge for titles against each other for a long time to come. The legacy of Australian World Champions and title contenders is huge, it means a lot to us as a nation and it’s something we want to continue. They’re big shoes to fill, but we’re ready.