Matt Wilkinson arrived in Hossegor well before the Quiksilver Pro window. Wilko the ambitious world title contender was determined to identify any telling patterns in La Graviere’s notoriously fickle beach breaks. Of course there was the small matter of celebrating his 29th birthday in Paris with his girlfriend before travelling south to the contest. This was Wilko we’re talking about, possibly the world’s finest exponent of aligning fun with the pursuit of sporting glory.

Talking to Tracks from the driver’s seat of his new Holden Colorado, Wilko discussed being the world title underdog, his preparation, and why he thinks Jordy is being overscored.    

Tracks: So with three events left you are sitting in fourth behind Jordy, John John and Julian. Have you looked at the scenarios for what you need to do, to win the title?   

Wilko: (Chuckles) Just win as many heats as I can.

Are you happier sitting in fourth, rather than leading, as you go into the final leg of the tour? Do you prefer the underdog status? 

Definitely. I’d be pretty scared going into the last couple of events with a slight lead … I think I’d rather be fighting for it rather than fighting to keep it and being defensive.

You’ve worn the yellow jersey in 2016 and 2017 and lost it both times. Is it better to have loved and lost than never loved at all so to speak?  

Ha, for sure. Last year it started so well and slowly went backwards and this year I did well at Snapper and then had some shockers and then fought back … This year it felt way more like I’d earned it.  

What does your preparation involve?

I’m going over to France early because the tide’s so influential over there. You might be on a six foot outside bank and then the tide comes in and you’re on a little rip bowl. There’s also a bunch of banks that they can hold it on, so I’m going over to figure out all the possible banks.  

What has your training with Micro involved in the lead up?

When Crowey (Wilko’s name for Micro Hall) comes up to Byron we’ll do a bunch of heat drills just to keep you thinking. Like you’ve got ten minutes to get a seven, or every wave has to be better than the last wave. I think coming into this leg of the tour I’m fit enough to get out and the back and do everything so it’s more about the mental preparation and being ready for any scenario.

Do you think about the other surfers in the race?

Ha, I just know that that they’re really good.

But do you find yourself watching them closely?  

I think that stuffs you up pretty badly especially if you watch someone like John and he gets two nines and a barrel and does a big air reverse and you’re not surfing till three hours later and it’s gone onshore and shit, and you paddle out thinking you’ve got to try and get as much as he got. 

Who is the biggest threat?

Julian’s won Portugal and Pipe and obviously John is the last person you want to go up against going into Pipe. Anyone could win it. It doesn’t really matter I guess, because as long as you don’t lose they won’t win­ – science! If I win every heat then they have to loose at some stage.  (Loud chuckles as he takes the piss out of himself and his over-simplified summation of the situation).

Will you only pull out the big airs if they’re needed, or if you get the right section will you boost irrespective of the situation?

Kind of both. If I’m going to get a few chances in a heat and if a good section pops up then I’ll do it, but if it’s slow and you’re on a pretty good wave maybe not.

But if it’s late in the heat and you’re not going to get the score unless you do something crazy then that’s the time to go for it.

It’s pretty hard now because a standard air against John, Fil’ or even Gabs isn’t really going to score. Filipe’s airs are so fucked up and he can do them so easy…

I guess Jordy has concentrated on creating a point of difference with his power turns?

… Jordy’s got big powerful turns, but it feels like they’ve started scoring his trimming turns as if he’s ripping in but he’s not … he’s just getting so bumped… he does ‘just get there’ turns and he gets scored like he’s doing his biggest turns.

The nine in the final at Trestles was controversial.

That nine in the final at Trestles was like a six point ride. It was unbelievable.

How does it work with Micro and his coaching deal? 

He gets a base rate and then if I get to the quarters he takes ten per cent?

Is it complicated with Micro coaching you, Conner Coffin and Owen? 

He put Conner on after having a few chats with him in Hawaii, before Owen knew he was coming back, and I was all-good with it. And then Owen made his miraculous recovery and then it was three, which is fine.   

Do you ever train together or does he work with you all independently?

When Crow comes up, Owen and I will surf together and surf little mock heats. The technique and style kind of stuff is personal for each of us, but I think we all help each other out. He’ll ask me if what he’s about to say to Owen sounds right. Or if one of Conner’s boards doesn’t look right he’ll ask me. 

So it’s like you’re working together, propelling one another forward?

Yeah, and obviously you almost never end up surfing against one another…

But before the final with Owen at Snapper this year, Micro said to me – because everyone was so excited for Owen ­– he said just said picture yourself at the end of the year and if a win here would have made you win a world title and that was the difference. He was just like, ‘don’t let yourself regret this at the end of the year’…