It was quite a few years ago on the North Shore, and I was hanging in a crowded house, as you do, with a bunch of QS hopefuls getting ready for the Sunset event. There was this young talented surfer, from the southern hemisphere, who had started making a real name for himself in a few QS events. He had dropped out of school, and had pursued his surfing dreams with everything he had, eventually making a few finals, getting a sponsor, and looking like he might have it in him to make the big league. A likeable chap, he had been pretty quiet in Hawaii, heading out to surf Rocky Point mainly, Leftovers and a bit of Backyards.    

The Sunset event was poised to go, and along with it was a swell warning that would make many a good surfer nervous. These guys in this house were ready for it though, and the day before the start they were getting their bigger boards out and putting stickers on, screwing fins in, applying fresh wax, leaking testosterone. This young guy was doing the same, but with less intent than the others.

Late that night, as the surf started moving in and the ocean started it’s new-swell booming, I asked him if he was amped for the day to come, if he was ready to give it a go in the big stuff.

“There’s not a chance I’m paddling out tomorrow,” he said to me, before heading to his room. In retrospect his results had all come in small waves, in beachbreaks. When the reality of Sunset dawned on him in that crowded house full of pumped up surfers in Hawaii with their 7’2 blades, he was found to be wanting.

Needless to say, nice guy that he was, he never cut it as a pro surfer despite all his talent, because he had no inclination to get out of his comfort zone in big surf. All those years of surfing, not going to school, and aiming for a career in the waves actually proved to be the biggest mistake of his life. Imagine rather spending all that time forging a career that you were fully passionate about.

If you want to make a successful career out of surfing, you need to be able to surf Hawaii. You need to suck it in, to use the fear, to harness your nervous energy, and to push the limits, which are all very real reasons why so few people in the world actually deserve to be Championship Tour surfers.

In a 2016 article by Matt Pruett on the 1977 World Champion Shaun Tomson broke it down into a simple, succinct take-away on how to use Hawaii to make your pro career. 

“Surf stoked, every day, at one of these three breaks: Pipeline, Sunset and Haleiwa,” said Tomson. “Nowhere else matters. Cop the hammerings, survive the smashings, paddle back out, and get blown out of deep barrels — and you will become a man who has the confidence to take on any wave and any surfer, anywhere. Build your rep and your mojo, and show your talent and your courage.”

So if you’re dead set on a surfing career, and you want to do it properly and with all aspects of the sport as part of your repertoire, then understand that surfing small waves over a sand bottom is the easiest, and one of the smallest parts of you career. The biggest tests will always be in Hawaii, and if you’re not into it, then you’re in the wrong game.

The final Qualifying Series event of the year, the Vans World Cup, is in its waiting period right now. Defending champion is Jordy Smith