For most of his career on the Championship Tour, Matt Wilkinson has been known as the good-times guy. The one who roller-bladed down the street at Snapper in spandex. The one who came up with a wetsuit covered in hundred-dollar bills -- with his face in place of presidents. The one who was happy to get paid to surf, travel the world, and cruise.
And then the party nearly stopped. After almost falling off tour at the end of 2014, Wilkinson was scared enough to make some changes. Enter his longtime friend, Glenn "Micro" Hall, who stepped in as his coach and together, they turned things around. Wilko started winning. And winning again. And now, halfway through the year, he's still sitting at World No. 1. Here's a sneak peek at the world of Wilko, from an upcoming WSL video profile on everyone's favorite Aussie.
On Humble Beginnings
I was 3 when [my parents] split up and we moved around in Western Sydney to a bunch of different spots. All my brothers and sisters lived with Dad when my parents split up. We didn't have much money, and I ended up living in the surf club at Copa. He got to live there for free if he stopped people from trying to break in there so me and my Dad just lived there in that little office right on the beach.
My dad must have been working just enough to have petrol money and food. Whenever there was surf he'd just drive me to wherever the waves were gonna be good.
So I'd just go out surfing before and after school. When I was a grom I thought it was the greatest thing in the world living in there. It was a tiny little room, like in the office, and they'd come and have surf lifesaving meetings and we weren't allowed out of the room. We'd have to be really quiet and there would be neighborhood watch meetings and all sorts of stuff.
Back then he made just enough money to take me to the junior contests. My dad bought a big old van and put some beds in there and a little sink and we pretty much lived out of that doing the juniors. We'd just drive up and down the coast. He must have been working just enough to have petrol money and food. We were just hanging. Whenever there was surf he'd just drive me to wherever the waves were gonna be good. It was pretty sick.
Looking back now the places we lived in were little holes but as a grom I didn't really realize that and Dad was always -- if he had 20 bucks and we were hungry he'd spend it and then try to figure out how to get the next 20 bucks. Dad never worried about money so it just rubbed off that if he wasn't stressing why should I be stressing?
Early Years on Tour
At 16 I signed a deal with Rip Curl where I was making a bit of money and I was, like, 'Woah, this is awesome!' I was making a little bit of money and that helped out Dad a lot with all the travel and stuff. When I was just over 18 I signed a five-year deal and bought a house. When I moved out my older brother moved in.
The CT was everything I dreamed of. The waves were pumping. I didn't get too many huge results but I was making fans, having lots of fun.
My first year on the QS everything seemed really easy. I was pretty stoked to be making finals. I qualified [for the Championship Tour] with Owen [Wright] and Julian [Wilson]. I wasn't taking it as serious as I am now. It was everything I dreamed of. I got on. The waves were pumping. I didn't get too many huge results but I did a few contests with a really good showing. I was making fans, having lots of fun.
Me and my mate had a blog and just did videos with all the stupidest stuff we could think of. It was a lot of fun. We would just think of something stupid and, 'Alright let's do it!,' and it would slowly snowball into the most ridiculous stuff ever. We had a great time.
From Good-Times Guy to World No. 1
Last year I figured out how I was gonna change and not have it be too big a shock. I think if I had of gone and hired somebody who was going to be crazy straight, a really strict-on-everything kind of person, I might have struggled to make that change. I made sure I kept a good balance of fun and work. I make sure that if I eat crap food or have a night out that I work extra hard and it makes me feel better if I do something like that. If I wasn't having fun I think I would just hate it.
Winning makes everything fun. I'll do a billion sit ups if I win every comp.
I think I found a pretty good balance. To have the work show and the results come so quickly definitely inspires me to try even harder. Winning makes everything fun. I'll do a billion sit ups if I win every comp.
[Micro and I] have got a little graph with every aspect of life and surfing. Just put a percentage on how I feel in every area. If somewhere's lagging then we work on that and if everywhere feels good then keep going the same way. We have a program of not being a slob. Make sure that I get to the end of an event and not feel like I could have done anything more.
On What's Next
This year I really wanted to win my first tour event. And to win the first one at Snapper I was like 'Woah I've done it!' That felt amazing and then to back it up at Bells... . I went down there kind of scared that I would get last. To win in big pumping surf makes it even more special. I didn't expect it but I'll take it.
My plan for the rest of the year is to get to the end of every event and know that I've prepared as best as I could. And hopefully at the end I'll have a big cup.
My plan for the rest of the year is to get to the end of every event and know that I've prepared as best as I could; to do as much as I can to not regret anything and hopefully at the end of the year I'll have a big cup.
Watch Wilko next at the Billabong Pro Tahiti August 19 - 30, live on the WSL website and app.