Not even the rain and arrival of Hurricane Hermine could cast a gloom on Kilian Garland's first-ever Qualifying Series win on the shores of Nags Head, North Carolina. But, the victory proved to be much more vital than Garland could've thought. It boosted him to No. 1 on the North America Regional Qualifying Series Rankings and a title he now boasts for the first time in his career.
The milestone gives the Santa Barbara-native an opportunity to compete against some of the world's best for the first half of next year in the QS10,000 events as a seeded surfer. "Kil-Gar," the humble giant hailing from Santa Barbara, has put in his dues -- nearly ten years of them -- and now has the opportunity to chase his wildest dreams of qualifying for the Dream Tour.
WSL had the opportunity to sit down with the 29-year-old Central Coast surfer who still has the hunger for a shot at surfing's ultimate title and the journey that's brought him here.
WSL: Now that the dust is settling from a crazy year, how does it feel to look back and see your name as a champion for the first time? KG: It was a weight off of my shoulders for sure. I didn't have to get a win for any specific reason, but after years of trying it finally worked out. I knew my hard work was worth it at that point. It's not a 10,000 or CT win, but it's a start and another step in the right direction. I am really stoked to have this opportunity and I feel blessed to show to a bigger audience, and mix it up with the best.
WSL: Being around the competitive scene for so long, what were some obstacles you've battled to be where you are today and still competing? KG: The hardest one was losing my major sponsor. I think I was 24 and I had it good for so long. There was part of me that knew it would happen eventually and it probably put more pressure on me. It took a while to feel confidence in my career path. At that point I was working on the side to pay for my ride. I also had to become comfortable figuring out traveling plans and being aware of my own budget. Looking back now it was a tough experience but it shaped me to be what I am today.
WSL: Going back to the beginning, when did you know pro surfing was going to be it and who were some of your biggest influences? KG: I knew once I quit playing team sports that I liked surfing because it was an individual sport. I think I also wanted to prove to people I can make it. I think when I started winning Nationals and getting some shots in the magazines I really decided to go for it.
I would say Kelly Slater has been really inspiring because of the fact he continues to surf better with his age. He has accomplished so many things beyond surfing and continues to do more outside of competition. To me having longevity in a sport like surfing really is inspiring. I have also been influenced by my family, friends, and local surfers in the 805 area. I can't thank my mom and dad enough for pushing me into those first waves. My dad is a great surfer so he helped me develop my skill as a youngster.
WSL: What are some of your fondest memories since joining the pro surfer alumni? KG: Helping many people get their first wave, that's always special. There was one non profit event I helped with in New York before the Unsound Pro. We helped some underprivileged kids from the city get waves and they were so stoked, I think Volcom and Balaram Stack set it all up. I was really glad I went out with them and pushed them into waves. It was very rewarding to be at a contest and be able to do something to help out
WSL: Before passing on that knowledge, you had a stellar amateur career -- what was the hardest part becoming a pro? KG: The biggest challenge was learning how to travel. Also taking the events serious. The distractions are endless at that age and staying focused is tough. I also needed more structure outside of competition. I never really did that many events. A couple years I think I did six but that doesn't really give you a shot at qualifying or making Top 100.
The biggest challenge was learning how to travel. Also taking the events serious. The distractions are endless at that age... My priorities have changed and surfing well is one of my main goals.
WSL: What's changed since those more reckless days? KG: I think my experience in certain events has helped out a lot. It takes a while to adapt to different conditions at the venues where they are held. My priorities have changed and surfing well is one of my main goals. Another thing is I have worked on my equipment with Channel Islands. They have such an amazing group of talented shapers and employees. Getting my stuff dialed definitely gives me confidence.
WSL: Now you have a bid into the major events next year. How do you stay in the mix at that level? KG: I will be putting ample energy into doing preseason workouts and getting my surfing up a couple of levels. It will be great to know I have a real shot at making the tour instead of just trying make it into the QS6000s. I will give it everything I got. I really think my career is just getting started and I feel like I'm surfing better than I was as a teenager. I know I belong there and can get results in the big QS events.