For those outside of South Africa, it was only recently that Michael February landed on the pro-surfing radar. But this week, anyone who hasn't seen some of his impressive performances -- like his third-place finish at the Ballito Pro or his fifth at the Vans US Open QS last summer -- will get an introduction.
As the first injury alternate for the men's Championship Tour this year, not only will he be replacing Kelly Slater here at the Quiksilver Pro Gold Coast, but he'll also step in for Mick Fanning starting in April, at the Margaret River Pro. Slater, who is recovering from a foot injury, formally withdrew from the Gold Coast event Monday morning local time. Fanning, a 17-year veteran of the Tour, recently announced that he'll be retiring from the WSL Championship Tour (CT) after the Rip Curl Pro Bells Beach later this month.
While February had an inkling that he'd be stepping in for Fanning, he learned that he'll be competing here for Slater just yesterday. Still, blessed with a seemingly unshakable calm demeanor, the 24-year-old has been taking it in stride.
"It's been a weird last couple of days because I didn't know what to expect from Kelly," February said. "He messaged me yesterday and explained the situation, which I really appreciated, because I like to understand everything. He said he withdrew from the competition, so I guess I'm in. It would have been nice to be in Round 1, but I can't complain and I'm really happy to even be in the event."
Before taking its unusual turn this past month, February's ascent to the CT had a traditional trajectory. He finished last season on the Qualifying Series (QS) at No. 15 -- just a hair outside of the points cutoff for CT qualification -- after a slow and steady climb for the past seven years. In 2011, when he first started on the QS, he finished the year ranked No. 487. But he made consistent, year-over-year progress and in 2017, he was the closest he'd ever been to his goal.
That's where his competitive story, however, took its unique turn. "Basically, at the end of the year, we were at the two last events of the year. ... As soon as people were officially getting qualified, it was pretty hard to be so close, and not knowing what you could be doing by the end of the week was crazy. And then, [at Sunset] I had a couple of close heats and kept advancing. I think I needed to make one more heat to jump past maybe three guys, if nothing else changed.
"But a few heats later, Pat Gudauskas made it one heat past me, and at the end of all of this, I ended up being the one person who was out. But everything ended up working out perfectly for me. It's a weird way to get on [to the CT] -- it's cheesy, but I guess everything happens for a reason."
That reason will be apparent as soon as the second round of the Quik Pro gets going this week, and February paddles out for the first time as a new member of the men's CT. He'll be facing Australian Matt Wilkinson, a previous Gold Coast winner, in Heat 7. But even a late start in the event against a CT star hasn't ruffled February.
"Over the last couple of years, good things have happened in my life, personally and professionally," he said. "So I try to look at the positives, that's the way I go about everything because it makes me happy and makes me appreciate every little thing." As fans at the event site closed in around the perimeter, snapping photos and eying the new addition to the Tour, February was unfazed. "Some things," he said, "were just meant to be."