Don't feel badly if you haven't heard of Mikey February. Until last year, the South African Qualifying Series surfer wasn't even near the rankings radar, but in the double- and triple-digits beyond it. But this summer, February has made a total break from the pack and now, after his fifth-place finish at the Vans US Open of Surfing QS10,000, he's shot up to No. 2 on the QS. While that's a lofty rank, with 14,750 points he's still just under 4,500 points shy of the 19,000 mark, which has typically been the cutoff zone to qualify (Current QS No. 1, Jesse Mendes, for example, has 22,700 points).
Still, February's ascent has been the biggest surprise of 2017. He began his steady climb in April, with a win at the Nelson Mandela Bay Surf Pro, for an admirable but largely insignificant 1,000 points. But a few days later, he finished runner-up at another South African QS1,000, the Buffalo City Surf Pro, and capped it off with yet another win at the Corona Durban Surf Pro, and yes, yet another in June. Not too shabby for a few months' work. More importantly, though, those events provided the near-term springboard for February to get some competitive mojo going. In July, when it was time to hit the big stage at the Ballito Pro -- where 10,000 make-or-break points were on the line -- he was ready, and finished in third place, boosting him further up the ranks. The next month, at the US Open in Huntington Beach, February reflected on how that momentum has come into play for his summer of success.
World Surf League: You had a third-place finish in Ballito, a QS10,000 event, before your fifth-place finish at the Vans US Open. Were you carrying some confidence from Ballito? What has made the different for you this year?
Mikey February: I think this year I've surfed more heats than in my QS career. From all the contests that we had at home, in South Africa, and Ballito going so well. I felt a lot more confident with surfing heats and coming into this event. I didn't know how to take it, because I've never come into an event ranked No. 4, so I was trying to forget all that and keep it simple. Luckily it all paid off.
Obviously, when your seeding is different, it pits you against new people. Was there anything you learned from that at the Vans event? What I learned, from the last few events and heats, is that all the guys in the 10,000s are really good, it doesn't matter who you have in your heat. That's what's fun about it, you get to surf your best because everyone's so good. I'm just enjoying, trying to take the pressure off and honestly, just focus on surfing.
For people who haven't been following your career, what has been the shift for you, from grinding it out in lower-tier contests to now being at the top of the QS and really breaking through?
A lot of things -- small things here and there are all coming together. Things like getting my boards dialed. I've been riding Channel Islands for the last couple of months and it's really such a difference in my surfing. The support from them and being able to surf all those events back at home -- there's normally a big gap between Ballito and the Australia events. But this year, we got to do three or four events [at home]. That really helped getting the practice with surfing heats.
There's also a real gap in South African representation on the elite Tour. Why Do you think that is?
It's a bit strange, when I started doing the QS, I could do one year on the QS and then enter 6,000s and I'd get in. But nowadays there are so many people [competing], it's harder to get in even a 3,000. I think, for a while after I joined the QS there weren't that many events back home. That was a big struggle for some South Africans. But this year already, you've already seen some growth. There have been four, five, six events there. A lot of South Africans competed and got a lot of points. So I think slowly but surely it will start growing again.
Not everyone can afford to go all the way to Australia and do all the 1,000s and spend all the money. It's more to get the points to get into 3,000s and 6,000s. But we had [more events] so we all got more practice.