For any professional surfer, the ultimate goal is to make the Championship Tour (CT). But to do that you must first make it on the Qualifying Series (QS). With more than 500 hungry surfers battling for only 10 qualification places, this isn't an easy task. It takes dedication, persistence, talent, a little luck and a whole lot of airplane food.
These six surfers have spent more time on the QS than most -- some more than a decade -- but have never given up on their ultimate dream of reaching the pinnacle of their sport.
Dion Atkinson had been surfing on the QS for seven years when he made the CT in 2014 (he was one of only two rookies). Despite flashes of brilliance, including an epic performance at massive Teahupo'o, Atkinson failed to re-qualify for 2015. With typical determination and positivity, the 31-year-old South Australian returned to the QS, ranking 37 in 2015. A win in the QS6000 Australian Open of Surfing in February, however, provided the ideal start to his quest to qualify for the CT, in his tenth year on tour.
Way back in 2008 in the final QS event of the year at Sunset, Pat Gudauskas needed 5.5 to qualify for the CT. He scored a 5.2, and missed by a single ranking place. His bottomless pool of talent and positivity meant he bounced back to qualify the very next year, and again in 2012. Since then, the smooth Californian has become surfing's nearly man, striving but just failing to get back to the top 32. Now sitting at 14th on the rankings, his CT dream is well within reach.
Now 35 years of age, Jonathan Gonzalez has been trying for more than a decade to become the first surfer from the Canary Islands to make the CT. Diminutive and soft-spoken, Gonzalez also has an inner competitive fire and great all-around talent. He reached a career-high QS ranking of 24 in 2014 and this year he's already won two QS events.
The evergreen, and now permanently mustached, Nate Yeomans is having a late-career renaissance. A recent ninth place in the Vans US Open saw the 35-year-old move into the top 30 on the QS rankings. To put that in perspective, the finalist of that event, Ethan Ewing, is half Yeomans' age. In 2015, the naturalfooter finished 20th, his best result since he qualified for the CT back in 2012. That year featured a one-off, half -year cut off and after only six months, he was unceremoniously booted off tour. Proving, however, that class is permanent, the veteran is still very much at the pointy end of the rankings, and now with 10 years-plus full-time competing on the QS, he has a great chance of making it to the big leagues.
The nimble-footed goofyfooter from Fortaleza, Brazil, first hit the QS full-time back in 2005, and has qualified three times for the CT, in 2008, 2011 and 2012. Always a threat in any conditions, but especially in fast beach breaks, the man known as Cyborg has maintained a ranking around the top 50 in the world, while mentoring the younger generation of Brazilians on tour. As his quarterfinal placing at the Australian Open of Surfing showed earlier in the year, he's still a major threat.
The Australian goofyfooter known as the Hog has experienced the highs and lows of surfing, spending five years on the CT and finishing in the top 10 twice. However, after dropping off the elite tour in 2006, he battled drug and alcohol addiction and dropped to No. 335 in the world by 2011. In a dramatic comeback Hedge returned to the sport sober, providing a positive inspiration to younger surfers on tour. In 2014 he came within reach of re-qualification and, in 2016, is still considered one of the sport's fiercest competitors. Today he spends a considerable amount of his time helping children with Cystic fibrosis through his work with the Mauli Ola Foundation.