Ryan Callinan is the first to admit, when he qualified for the CT in 2016, he was just happy to be there.
But "just happy" wasn't enough. By the end of that year, he'd put together a string of ho-hum first and second round losses, and was relegated back to the Qualifying Series.
It took a year to re-set, but in 2018 things started to click again. He won a QS 6,000 in Japan to start the year, and then a QS 10,000 in Portugal in October, putting himself back in a qualifying position. He also surfed his way to the Final of the Quik Pro France as a wildcard, and beat Gabriel Medina man-on-man twice in two weeks (In the Semi's at the QS in Portugal and the Quarters of the CT in France).
We caught up with Callinan to get his thoughts heading into his second stint as a Championship Tour surfer.
The World Surf League: Having qualified before, did it make the prospect of grinding through the QS again any less daunting?
Ryan Callinan: I don't know, it's always daunting [laughs]. The first year I went back on [the QS], I felt really confident, but it didn't happen right away. To be honest, I quite enjoy the QS. I think a lot of people call it the grind, or whatever it is. But I still feel like we go to some really awesome places and get to surf some good waves. Maybe not as good as on the CT, but I've always kept an open mind to it, and this year I felt like that helped me a lot.
It's all about that perspective.
Exactly. But I really do think it's a great tour, regardless if the waves are good or not. Being on the CT for a year opened my eyes to the fact you don't always get the best waves while those events are going on either, and that perspective is important.
Can you pinpoint a turning point that really set you up for qualification?
I took the Hawaii season off the year before last, because I had some injuries and personal stuff to get through. That was a turning point for me, because I took some much needed time at home to re-focus, and resettle myself.
This year, Japan was a big one. My goal for the whole year was to win an event - I'd never won a QS. So, to get that was huge for me. After Japan, I might have started to get a little ahead of myself, but then at Ericeira [Portugal] I had a couple of really good heats, especially the Semi against Gabby [Medina] and the Final versus Kanoa [Igarashi]. Those guys are so damn good, and to get another win took a lot of the pressure off. To then get a wildcard into the CT in France and get on a little role there was great, it made me feel like I belong again. That was a big confidence booster.
What will you do different on the CT this time around?
I'm just not going to take expectations with me. I'm gonna set bigger goals, but since I've already fallen off tour once, that doesn't feel like the end of the world anymore, if you know what I mean? I just want to keep progressing my surfing, and enjoying it. I want to enjoy the whole year and not stress about doing this or that every step of the way.
Who will you travel with?
My girlfriend is going to come to about half of the events. And my coach, Dog Marsh, will come to all of them. But I haven't really planned it too much yet.
At your level, it seems like coaching makes a world of difference.
I think it's just reassurance more than anything. We know we're good enough to do what we do, so it's more just a second opinion you really trust. I've been working with Dog for about seven years now, and I've been fortunate enough to be working with him for that long, because he knows exactly what I'm looking for, and we can talk stuff through really well. If there's a board I'm unsure of he helps lots there, and then it's tons of little things - like I know I can leave the contest for lunch and have him watch the conditions for me, and when I come back I trust his opinion and plan 100 percent.
What wave on Tour are you most excited to surf again with one other guy in the water?
The last time I was on Tour I had expectations going in, where I was really looking forward to certain events and then when I got there, if the swell wasn't great, or I just didn't do well, I'd end up really disappointed. I don't want to do that again.
That said, I can't wait to get back to J-Bay, mainly because I feel like my surfing has improved lots and I didn't come near reaching my potential there last time.
The last time you were on Tour, J-Bay was pretty average. But the last two years it's been firing. I'm sure it was hard to watch that from home.
[Laughs]. Yeah, that was tough. But like I said, I'm going into it this year with the expectation that I'm going to surf QS waves. Because I really think the expectations I had for certain waves ruined me from the start last time. Like at the France CT this year, the waves weren't great but I was still in a QS comp mindset so to me it felt like the waves were absolutely pumping [laughs]. I'm hoping to take that mindset into the whole year.
Who will be the most dangerous surfer in 2019?
Oh man, good question. There's a lot. Gabriel [Medina], obviously. I feel like he's probably the most dangerous. He's so adaptable, and he's such a beast. Last year, when Filipe [Toldeo] was on, he was probably the best surfer of the year, but it wasn't for every event. I feel like Julian [Wilson] has really clicked in. I don't think he had his best year last year and he was still as close as he was in the title race. Then John [Florence] is coming back, and he's the best in the world. Also Griffin [Colapinto], Owen [Wright], Jordy [Smith]…there's so many. And me, hopefully [laughs].
Definitely you. You have to have that mindset, right?
Absolutely. Maybe I set my goals too low going into it [the CT] last time. Everyone is on that tour for a reason, and it's because we're some of the best in the world. Last time I set my expectations just at requalifying and that probably wasn't the best idea. They say if you shoot for the moon you'll land in the stars, so this year Top 5 or Top 10 is the goal, and hopefully there's a world title in there. I'll reassess things throughout the year but that's my mindset going into Snapper, for sure. I'm definitely going for wins, and I think that's the best way to push yourself to improve and to be able to compete and hold your own at this level.
Watch the first event of the 2019 Championship Tour season live April 3-13 for the Quiksilver Pro Gold Coast on Worldsurfleague.com and Facebook.