In 2014 there is but a pair of pure rookies on the ASP World Championship Tour. Two Aussies, five years apart, from totally different backgrounds. They've worked hard to earn their spot at the Dream Tour table but we want to know more about who they are and what they offer.
We gave the two recruits the opportunity to talk to their new employers (you!), and explain just what they're going to be bringing the Tour in the season ahead.
Dion Atkinson is a journeyman. The first South Australian to qualify for the 'CT since Jarrad Howse in 2006, Atkinson surfs without sponsor and has been chasing points on the Qualification Series (QS) for the last half-dozen years. Hailing from the wave-struck city of Adelaide, Atkinson has spent years hunting the raw slabs that Australia's southern deserts serve up. Dion's surfing is for the purists, his mixture of rail work and prowess in the pit well suited to the hardcore locales of Margaret River and Bells Beach that lie waiting on the Aussie leg. The Pacific lefts to follow are unknowns, the high performance theatres of Rio and California might be the make-or-break moments in Atkinson's maiden season. As a long serving 'QS warrior whose fortunes have oft come down to the year's final qualifying event at Sunset Beach, Atkinson's goal in 2014 is simple: head to Hawaii knowing the pressure is off.
Dion! Congratulations on making it this far. If you could tell us a little bit more about yourself please?
I'm Dion Atkinson, I'm 27-years-old, six-foot tall, 82 kilos, from Adelaide, South Australia. I feel like I'm a well-grounded person and I'm stoked to have finally fulfilled my dream of making it to the ASP World Championship Tour. I've been working at it for quite some time but I'm here now, and I'm hopefully here to stay.
Adelaide is one of Australia's smallest cities, it's pretty ordinary for waves, gutless and small, but if you do a bit of driving it's amazing what you'll find. We're surrounded by epic waves, but I can't tell you where. Heavy slabs, and a lot more perfect waves too. I feel pretty blessed to have that mixture in my life, it has helped me become the surfer I am today. People often use Kelly Slater coming from Florida as an example - smaller waves force you to generate your own speed and smooth out your style whereas it might be harder to adapt coming from powerful waves to small.
If a camera crew followed you around Adelaide, what will we see you getting up to?
Well, I just moved to the Gold Coast actually, to join the tour brigade there, but at home I'd be training a few times a week and you'd see a lot of footage of me behind the wheel exploring too. I just love filling my car with good mates and getting into the elements, rolling my swag out and living out of a cooler with a cooker and a fire. Fishing and spearing for food, staying dirty for days on end.
Workwise, December and January is the prime time. The last couple of years without a sponsor have been hard, so I'll teach surfing lessons, laboring, anything I can find to make some money. This year I've moved to the Gold Coast though, so I'm a lot more focused now on my health and fitness, and getting everything fine-tuned for the year ahead.
How long was your apprenticeship, and what's the closest you ever came to making the tour previously?
I started when I was about 20, and I've had six seasons on the QS since then. A couple of those were affected by injury, where by midseason I felt myself bowing out of the race, but I've also had three or four years where I came agonizingly close and ended up a heat short at Sunset. That hurts a lot but you just have to swallow it and go again the next year. I'm pretty rapt I finally got here!
...I would have quit years ago and would be down a mine paying off a mortgage like the rest of Australia...
Have you surfed in a WCT event before?
No, never. I haven't even surfed in the trials of one, so there's a lot of fresh things on my plate this year, I'm going to be learning a lot. I've obviously followed the events closely, but there's going to be a lot of new experiences.
I'm not feeling any pressure, you strive so hard to get to this point, now I've got the opportunity I'm going to embrace it and back myself.
There's nothing wrong with honesty. Speaking of, detail your strengths and weaknesses for us please.
Given the opportunity on a good wave I think I can surf as well as anybody. I want to get good waves and do big turns and rip the shit out them. The same with barrels, I've grown up hunting slabs all over the state, so I'm going into those sorts of events with the opinion that if I get the wave I can get as barreled as anyone. I just need to make sure I give myself every opportunity to succeed.
I think I'm mentally tough, I haven't had much support through my career which has been a big barrier to get across, and getting past the QS was the biggest hurdle of them all. Now that I've done that I think I can go on and make a name for myself.
A lot of people won't have heard of me. I haven't been getting paid six-figures to surf, so I'm pretty excited to showcase what I can do. There's probably going to be people at home looking to write me off and I'm looking forward to surprising them. I weigh over 80 kilos, so to be one of only two guys to qualify after surfing a year of two-foot beachbreaks, I know I've got a lot to offer.
Competing in smaller waves against guys who can do a hundred air reverses is hard, but my game plan all along is to get on to the better waves and get scores that way. I know judges find big turns a breath of fresh air, look where Kai Otton got to last year just by believing in himself, going upside-down on his backhand every wave, getting more barreled than anyone else, and finishing seventh in the world without doing an air all year long. Not saying I can't do airs, but I don't see any reason at all why I can't do what Kai has done to succeed.
Say you draw Filipe Toledo in two-foot, onshore Rio beachbreaks. What's your plan?
I can't control what he does. He could take off on a wave and do a backflip and get a 10, but I can post high scores too. As much as the judges want to see flashy airs they also want to see clean lines and big turns. I just have to make sure I'm on two waves that allow me to get eights and nines. You put guys under pressure and it changes everything, rather than just allowing them free rein to go for big moves without a care, you need to be on the front foot and putting pressure on them, and you do that with your own scores.
Let's talk dollars. What does having no major sponsor mean?
It's funny, at the start of the year when people ask what you do you feel like an idiot saying you're a professional surfer when you're not actually getting paid big bucks by anyone. But the way the ASP is structured you can get by these days. I have some sponsors helping me out, and I've set myself up so that I can enjoy the year. You're investing in yourself and in your career 'cos there's no point doing the tour if you have to eat baked beans at every event. If I was I truly worried about money, I would have quit years ago and would be down a mine paying off a mortgage like the rest of Australia, but I just want to be here on tour regardless of the money involved.
Congratulations on your recent engagement. Has your fiancée, Tiegan, been talking to the other wives and girlfriends about how to get dolled up for the webcast, where to sit in the surfers area and all that sort of stuff?
Haha! No, I don't think she'll be too fussed about any of that. The ASP Awards Night is coming up this week, which will be a nice part of the experience, but she's not superficial like that at all. This year's going to be as much of a learning experience for her as for me.
It's a two horse race for Rookie Of The Year between you and Mitch Crews. Why are you going to win it, and what's your overall aim for the season?
I'm going to win it because I'm gonna rip at every event! No, seriously I just hope that Mitch and I are in that Top 22 at the end of the year, I want us to both be on the tour for a long time to come. The Rookie Of The Year thing is nice on the side, but realistically if we finished 31st and 32nd I don't think it would count for much. This year's all about trying to make a name for myself, doing enough that I don't have to rely on the QS again, and enjoying Sunset for the first time ever!
Dion Atkinson, welcome to the tour.
Cheers! Looking forward to every minute.