Surfers from Northern California are never coddled. They're roughed up by harsher environments from the time they're grommets. These forces, both physical and sociological, breed a workmanlike toughness into the surfers from this cold region - a blue-collar grittiness.
Nat Young has grit.
But the towheaded screwfoot from Santa Cruz has endured tough times recently. His fall off the CT in 2016 after a long, challenging season was particularly bitter considering the circumstances. He was essentially knocked off Tour by Kanoa Igarashi's improbable runner up finish at the Pipe Masters. Igarashi, a rookie, hadn't advanced past, nor lost prior to, Round Three the entire season.
And yet there Young was, standing at the crossroads of a career too young to be second-guessed. The WSL Qualifying Series grind loomed. "Nat is really confident, so you always felt that he could keep his spot in the top 22," said fellow Santa Cruz local and WSL commentator, Peter Mel. "It came as a surprise to me when it came down to the last two events and he was in danger of not qualifying."
"To fall out by one spot could be very demoralizing, but Nat knows how to pick himself up and get to work," Mel added. "That's what he's been doing through the off-season. Training and surfing more than ever."
Young's not much of a talker, nor is he the guy standing at his locker lining up pressers for anyone who'll listen. While there were whispers of emotional struggles back home last year, if true, he never used them as an excuse.
I feel really comfortable here, I've been coming here since I was 16 years old and these waves are always kind of similar to what I surf at home.
Bells, meanwhile, has always been cold comfort -- the frigid water, the bigger waves, the limestone and sandstone bluffs of Victoria are all familiar. If you squint hard enough, the Bells headland could be Steamer Lane or any number of reefy, right points north of Santa Cruz.
"I feel really comfortable here, I've been coming here since I was 16 years old and these waves are always kind of similar to what I surf at home," Young said, speaking of the waves and conditions surrounding the West Oz and Victoria stops of the Tour's Australian leg.
His results at Bells speak for themselves: 2nd, 3rd, 5th and 13th in the four years he's competed at the Rip Curl Pro. "I like his chances," said Mel. "The wave is perfect for his style of surfing and the cold makes it feel like home."
But with the Injury Wildcard comes tough heat draws. "The biggest challenge will be his seeding," Mel added. "Being an injury replacement, he gets the #34 seed, so he'll be facing someone from the Top 5 in the early rounds."
That he's been able to compete at all three stops on the Australian leg could be a sign that things are looking up for Young. By virtue of his win at the Quiksilver Pro Trials, his surfing merited his way into the kick-off event. But happenstance was on his side for the Drug Aware Margaret River Pro and the Rip Curl Pro Bells Beach.
After losing in Round Two at the Quik Pro to a re-energized Kelly Slater, Young stuck around the Gold Coast afterward, hoping for good news from the commissioner's desk and a slot in the Margaret River Pro. But that call never came.
Nat flew home to Santa Cruz only to receive the news that Italo Ferreira had injured his ankle surfing Duranbah and had withdrawn from Margaret's and Bells. He never bothered to unpack. He turned around and jumped the next available flight to Perth.
Young now has a massive opportunity to earn valuable ratings points and make a positive impression on the commissioner's office, which in turn could lead to more wildcard starts later in the season. "Mentally he's as tough as they come," Mel said. "His performances so far have been good, he just needs to tap into that Bells magic for a few good waves during his heats. He's done it in the past and I believe he can do it again."