If you haven't heard of Jacob Willcox (AUS), it's time to meet the wunderkind: Willcox defeated Kelly Slater (USA) at the Rip Curl Pro Portugal as a wildcard, won a gold medal at the ISA Juniors, and won two of the ASP Australasia Junior Qualifying Series events to finish second on the overall rankings. He also finished 0.04 away from eliminating Josh Kerr (AUS) as a wildcard in Round 2 of the Rip Curl Pro Bells Beach.
All that, and he's just 17. ASP caught up with this rising star to discuss his swift ascent, and what's ahead.
You've had a massive 12 months. Tell us about what's happened. I had a wildcard into the Rip Curl Pro in Portugal and I was lucky enough to make a heat against Kelly. That full on experience--learning about the media and all the hype of surfers on the World Championship Tour (WTC). I've carried that into the junior events and it's helped me to learn what's expected and how to handle those situations. I've also won a few junior comps and had some other good results, too.
You missed two Pro Junior events in French Polynesia. Do you ever think if you went you could have won the ASP Australasia Junior Championship? Yeah, I thought about that after I won in New Zealand and I thought if I made one more heat I could have won the junior series. Winning the series wasn't a goal of mine this year. I wanted to qualify for the ASP World Junior Championships and win one event--then I won two events. Next year winning the Junior Series will be a goal for sure. I've learnt so much doing events and traveling this year. I love the junior series--you see so much talent. This was my first year having a real go at it and I got second so I'm really happy with that because the talent level is really high.
Are you looking forward to competing at the ASP World Junior Championships? I've watched the ASP World Juniors every year and I can't believe I can go this year. Hopefully I can get a good result there. A good result would help get a good seed into the Qualifying Series (QS) events next year. I want to do well--for me it's a good achievement just to get there in my first real year on the junior series. I don't want to put any limits or pressure on myself though, I'll see how I go when I'm over there.
You've also decided to focus on school as well as competition. Was that your decision or your parents? I want to go to school. There's no point stopping all of the sudden after 10 years when there's only a year or two left. I enjoy it and I want to do well. My parents wanted me to stay in school, but it was my decision. A lot of guys drop out when they start doing competitions and stuff but I really wanted to finish year 12. It makes you more well rounded, you need more discipline if you're at school. There's deadlines and assignments and all that and I think it gets you ready for the real world.
What's it like growing up in Western Australia? Coming from the West is different, you have your own space and you're not always in the spotlight. We also have really good waves over here and that helps too. There's a big variety of waves from three foot to as big as you want, which has helped me a lot, it's helped me get better. I just got back from Gnaraloo and we had some really good waves with no one around. There's been a lot of swell here lately, Gnaraloo was about 6 or 8 feet, but gnarly 6 to 8 feet.
You beat Kelly Slater in Portugal last year. Did that set up with confidence to go on and win other events? I've been asked plenty of questions about this so I've spent a lot of time thinking about this. It's not the kind of thing that happens everyday, a 16-year-old beating Slater. He's the best surfer in the world and there was a lot of luck involved, but it taught me to make the most of what comes at you. Hopefully I can surf against him another time. I've been watching him at events on Fuel TV for as long as I can remember and all the Rip Curl Search event DVDs, so to now be getting wildcards and coming up against those guys is so unreal.
There's such a different atmosphere in the WCTs than in Juniors, but in the same way the Juniors is similar because everyone wants the points, the money, the win. The Junior events have been a great stepping stone with travel, media, rankings and competition pressure. I'm looking forward to doing all the Junior events next year.
Some guys like Gabriel Medina (BRA) qualified for the WCT really young at 18, but then some guys like Julian Wilson (AUS) waited until they were 22, 23. When are you going to try and qualify? I haven't really thought that far ahead. Next year when I've finished school I'll be mapping that out. I want to be on the Tour soon, but not unless I'm ready. I want to be there, but I don't want to qualify and get flogged. I'll do a few QS events next year and see how I feel about it all. There's no rush--the Tour will be there in a few years.
What are you plans for the rest of the year? It's my last year of school--I'll do ASP World Juniors and then the Aussie Titles later in the year. Finish school, hopefully with good grades, then look at trying to get into the Aussie 6-Star events early next year. In between I just want to surf some good waves and bring out some good clips.