I remember when Matt Banting was about to make his debut at the first event of the 2015 season at the Quiksilver Pro at Snapper Rocks. He’d won the QS and been heralded as a future world beater. A tonne of pressure to have heaped upon you especially when you’re about to compete in front of your major sponsor.

He blitzed his Round 1 heat against Mick Fanning and Jack Freestone, posting the highest heat total of the day, but was bulldozed out of the event by Jordy Smith in Round 3. However, the signs were good for a country kid from Port Macquarie who possessed a slashing rail game, a dynamic aerial attack and plenty of self-belief.   

Matt is determined to get his WCT jersey back. Photo: WSL

However, the next two years would be his greatest test. Matt injured his knee at J-Bay while performing a huge alley-oop, forcing him out of the remainder of the season. He was awarded one of the 2016 Injury Wildcard spots, but succumbed to injury once again mid-way through the season.  

“In July and August of 2016 I got this hip flexor pain that started to get worse and worse,” says Matt. “It came to ahead at Trestles and I was diagnosed on the beach that I had sports hernia. It got really bad by the time I got to Hawaii before the first event (of the Triple Crown). I tried to see what I could do but it got pretty bad for Pipe and I couldn’t do a burpee or even lock my core in properly so I was like, ‘Fuck I don’t want to get smoked at Pipe’ being incapable of my full capacity.”

After pulling out from the final event of the season and failing to requalify for the CT, Matt was dropped by his major sponsor Quiksilver. Realising that perhaps the injury was worse than first thought he opted to seek a second opinion.

“I ended up getting an MRI and they said it was osteitis pubis instead of it being a sports hernia. I had three more MRI’s over the course of 2017 and by the time September 2017 came around the inflammation had finally gone down. I was taking these 1000mg anti-inflammatories for about six to eight months and finally started doing rehab towards the end of that time.”

Matt has tried to put the past behind him, but it still stings that Quiksilver dropped him once they realised the full extent of his injury and the amount of time it would place him on the sidelines.

Matt blasting the tail at a time when he was on better terms with Quiksilver. Photo: Bosko

“When I found out what I had with the injury, they (Quiksilver) caught on and thought, ‘Well after his knee and with this osteitis pubis thing coming…’ Knowing that I’d spend eight to nine months out of the water or a year off they weren’t really wanting to buy into it,” he says.

“I would have been stoked with anything really. Even if they kept me on the books with no money that year and then helped do the QS the year after but they full shafted me. But that’s their decision anyway.”

The pressure of pleasing his major sponsor or mending his rig in order to extend the longevity of his career was something that Matt wrestled with during his last season on tour.

“I was wanting to pull up stumps by Trestles when I felt it pretty bad. I thought if I keep pushing it and try and requalify for the tour and try and do flips for Quiksilver because I knew they weren’t stoked on me,” says Matt trailing off. “It was like I was pushing shit up hill for that back half of 2016.”

The recovery was slow. In total, Matt spent nine months out of the water and questioned it was a battle for both his body and mind.

“For the first six months, I didn’t even know if I was ever going to surf again or the pain was going to go away. I thought that it could have been a hereditary problem with my body structure. Getting confidence in my body and after those first few surfs back in the water was great. I got it back pretty quickly.”   

Matt reappeared in the surfing cosmos with a third place finish at the QS6000 Sydney Vissla Open in Manly earlier this year. His surfing was sharp and it appeared he had lost none of his competitive drive.

“I feel like I’m back better than ever,” he says of the result.

“It was good to see everyone too— (suddenly Mick Campbell pulls up beside Matt and steals his attention). “It was great to get some points and start the season. Going into it I thought it would be good to get in the top 30 or top 40 by the July cut off. But after doing Surfest (Matt posted a 17th place finish), I thought I could have a good chance of qualifying. Now I’ve reset my goals and by the end of the year I’d love to be in the Top 10 and qualifying for the World Tour.”

Port Macquarie on the Mid-North-Coast of New South Wales has produced no shortage of raw surfing talent in the past few decades. Names like, Marcus Brabant, Darren O’Rafferty and Mick Campbell. Matt indicates his peers are his biggest inspiration and takes solace in being an underdog like those before him on a quest for CT qualification against all odds.

“I know I’ve got a select number of years and I’ve got to achieve my goal from here on in so I just want to put in as much effort in the next few years and see what I can achieve.” 

It’s been a wild ride for Matt who’s experienced all the trimmings of the pro surfing lifestyle and then fallen totally out of love with the sport after dropping off tour. At one point he admits he couldn’t even bring himself to watch a contest webcast because it was like psychological torture.   He’s also endured a string of injuries and lost all his financial backing. At just 23 Matt’s already worn a lot of life lessons, but ultimately surfing has been his salvation.  

“I’ve fallen in love with surfing way more,” he admits. “Having that 8-10 months off made me realise what I want. Now I’m walking around the house doing turns off imaginary sections like I’m 12 years-old-again. I’m watching surf clips every day and I can’t stop thinking about surfing.”