Lowey at home in the juice. (Simpson)

What A Top Bloke

Mick Lowe shares wisdom from his life spent in the ocean.

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A product of the New South Wales south coast, Mick “Lowey” Lowe is your quintessential 90s power hound. Stocky and rife on rail, Lowey burst onto the world scene as a 19-year-old in 1997 after a hugely-glorified junior career, fell off Tour a year later, re-gathered and set up camp on the CT till he retired aged 30. He snatched event victories at Cloudbreak, French beachbreaks and is the only goofyfooter to win the Quiksilver Pro Snapper Rocks. On top of this he was almost a Pipe Master, finishing runner-up to Rob Machado in 2002. Now living with his wife and two kids overlooking Port Kembla Beach, Lowey’s putting his experience back into the game as an athlete manager.

GREAT EXPECTATIONS… I did really well as a junior. I won four State Tiles in a row. I won the U16 World Title in Bali and the U18 Australian Title and Billabong supported me from the age of 12. Taj [Burrow] and I competed almost straight out of high school and I qualified after my first full year on the QS. I think Taj turned it down but I was eager and took my chance. The following year I fell off. That was a hard, steep learning curve. I was coming in when a lot of the older crew like Dooma, BL, Elko and Hoyo were still there. Even though I looked up to and respected that core group of guys I still expected myself to do very well. Getting relegated back to the WQS again was a big slap in the face but it taught me a valuable lesson for the rest of my career. I knew I couldn’t take anything for granted. I had to work for everything.

THE BIG PICTURE… This is something I tell my surfers now, “Never lose sight of why you started surfing – it’s purely to have fun.” That year I fell off Tour was a massive blow to my confidence. At the time, all I wanted to do was blame other people but there really was only one person to blame… myself. Once I got back home I remember the summer down here was pumping. I learned to have fun again and the good surfing came with that.

The unmistakable smile and cactus wig of Mick Lowe. One of Australian surfing’s enduring good blokes. (Morris)

NEW-SCHOOLERS… Taj and I were like chalk and cheese. I was the power guy with the old-school style and Taj was there as the new-schooler coming in on the back of Kelly, Kalani Robb and Machado. That young generation of Americans were blowin’ doors before we were even on Tour, but it didn’t stop Occ from winning his World Title in the same era. It just goes to show good surfing doesn’t necessarily have to be above the lip. I struggled to get this body into the air. I did land one in front of Mick Fanning and he nearly fell over his feet while walking up the beach. It was a fly-away fluke. I ran up to the photographer completely frothing and said, “Did you get it? Did ya?” and he goes, “Nah, I stopped shooting, I didn’t think you were gonna make it, Lowey.”

INTIMIDATION… The Tour back then was intimidating. You had to earn your stripes with the older guys. They were machines, absolute animals. They would never take a step back. You had to prove you deserved to be there. I remember Poto [Vetea David] dropping in on me about 10 times out at G-Land. When it’s 6 foot and you’re hammering through Speedies and you get a 6-foot Tahitian burning you consistently, acting as the ultimate roadblock, that’s when you go, “Ahhh, I’m gonna struggle a bit here, this is going to take some time.” Today, there doesn’t seem to be that big gap between younger and older generations. I look back on it fondly but it would never happen now.

CONFIDENCE… In 1999 I won in France for the first time. That was when I thought, “Yeah, I belong here.” You carry that confidence with you forever, just like Kai Otton will now after his win. No one can ever take that away from you and you’ll remember it for the rest of your life. Surfing is a confidence sport, if you’re on top of your game you can always beat a guy who’s down on confidence, even if he might be more naturally gifted than you. I consider myself extremely lucky. I was never the most gifted surfer at all. But the ocean is in constant motion and sometimes the better guy can lose to a lesser opponent.

PASSING ON THE STOKE… Life with kids is fantastic. When you get an opportunity to go for a surf with your 6-year-old son, he’s paddling around by himself, I’m pushing him into waves and he’s getting stoked, that’s the magic, mate. I spend half my time now driving away from swells to find something for him to surf. My daughter surfs too and my wife has a stand-up so it’s a part of everything for us.

PLAN B… All professional sports sell a dream of being number one. When you think about it, not many people actually get there, so disappointment is inevitable. You place an expectation on yourself to get to the top level, but if you fall short it can be difficult. You have to have a Plan B. Mine was university. I got accepted into Law at Wollongong but decided to go surfing and luckily it paid off. Academically, I was pretty good but other guys are great with their hands. It’s the presence of that second skill that you need to be mindful of. The National Rugby League do it very well. For a lot of their young players, part of their salary cap is a tertiary education – so there’s something after football. It’s something the ASP might have looked at a while ago and may need to readdress. Even starting with a super fund so that when guys fall off Tour, they’re not completely starting from scratch.

HAWAII… I was very lucky to enjoy a solid relationship with Geoff Bushman, the shaper. I stayed with him every year from the age of 14 until the age of 30. I’m a big believer in Hawaii still being the proving ground. I think for young guys now, it’s underrated, but it’s so good for your surfing; for your ability level, to ride bigger boards, bigger waves, for your fitness and for surfing with power. It reveals character too. It’s a tough place. To jag a wave at Pipe, you have to spend a lot of time out there, earn the respect of some of the heaviest guys in the world and that doesn’t come easy. That shows ticker. The most valuable lesson you’ll learn in Hawaii is respect.

“SURFING IS A CONFIDENCE SPORT, IF YOU’RE ON TOP OF YOUR GAME YOU CAN ALWAYS BEAT A GUY WHO’S DOWN ON CONFIDENCE, EVEN IF HE MIGHT BE MORE NATURALLY GIFTED THAN YOU.”

Lowey gear shift. (Bosko)

2002 PIPE MASTERS… I got second to Rob Machado. It was pumping, 10 foot, the odd 12 footer and a pure west swell for three days straight. Perfect. You wanted to get through heats to surf again because it was so good. It was still man-on-man then and there’s a crowd on the beach that’s the equivalent to tennis’ Wimbledon I think. When you get spat out of a barrel the whole beach erupts about 30 metres away, there’s nothing else like it. I spent most of the final under water. I was that amped up I was trying to catch everything and got constantly smoked. Then Rob got a 10, then a 9 and it was game over for Lowey. Good times.

GOOFY’S SNAPPER DROUGHT… How’d I win that comp? One word – cyclone. It blew in before the event, washed the whole sandbar away, nearly flattened the entire site, everyone started from scratch halfway down Rainbow, off Little Marley. The bank wasn’t perfect and it was luck of the draw. I just happened to get the best waves. There’s gonna need to be another cyclone to get another goofy to win it. I think Wilko’s looked the best from my perspective, but I can’t see a backhander beating Joel and Mick and those natural footers behind the rock.

Surfing World