"Everyone loves this kid, he's got no ego whatsoever," said WSL commentator Ronnie Blakey, as Connor O'Leary blazed through yet another heat at the Quiksilver Pro Gold Coast. "He spent last year working in a surf shop, he's a very grounded human."
The Cronulla rookie has continued to work at his local surf shop, Member of the Board (MOB). O'Leary uses his time in the shop to help out his mate and owner Blake Johnston and to connect with his local surf community. That investment was paid back in spades at the Quik Pro, when hundreds of locals made the journey up to the Gold Coast to support their boy.
"It was sick, most of the Cronulla community came up for the comp," O'Leary told the WSL. "It was amazing just to see so many friendly faces on the beach and the support after each heat was phenomenal. I can't thank them enough."
In a modern era where pro surfers tend to be identified from an early age and travel the world as mini-pros, O'Leary's work ethic and humble approach is a refreshing change. It's also made him appreciative of his current position.
"In 2015 in between the QS comps I was working with Surfing NSW at their Junior events," he says. "The money was okay and all I had to do was set up tents and then pack them down at the end of each day. I'd just go surfing in between."
Suffice it to say not many of O'Leary's fellow quarterfinalists have tent-peg puller-upper on their work CVs.
"If you told me when I was packing those tents that I was going to qualify and then surf at Snapper in heats against Owen, Jordy and Julian, who are my idols, I would have told you that you were dreaming," he laughs. "It was a blessing."
Despite the lack of ego and down-to-earth attitude, O'Leary possesses a maturity and competitive composure. It was these traits, plus his natural talent, which earned him his fifth place at Snapper. In many of those heats he maintained priority at crucial stages, forced his competitors into errors, and waited until the final moments for the right wave to appear.
"I've always had a calm personality, that calm mentality to just say myself, ‘Alright, if a wave comes through I'll surf it to the best of my ability, and if it doesn't, it doesn't,'" he said. "And my Mum always drummed it into me that I should never, ever, give up. That's a big part of my surfing and has worked for me throughout my whole career."
For his first year on the CT, O'Leary has also added to his team, realizing a rookie needs added support to cope with the jump from. "I've got the luxury of having Luke Egan in my corner at every event now, and his experience has been invaluable," he says. "I'm still working with Martin Dunn on a coaching and analysis level too, so I have a great little team behind me that is clicking."
With immense community support, experience in his corner and that backhand, it seems O'Leary has the whole act that can play a big part in professional surfing. And that part will done in the water, not putting up the tents on the beach.