"I came to Europe for ten days and stayed for six weeks," Ryan Callinan tells the WSL. "It was epic and far, far beyond anything I could have hoped or dreamed for. I'm still pinching myself."
There is simply nothing like a European vacation - to immerse yourself in the culture, to surf the waves, to drink in the scenery. As the novelist Philip Roth said, "In America everything goes and nothing matters. In Europe nothing goes and everything matters."
Now back home in Newcastle, and getting ready to pack his quiver for the Vans Triple Crown, Callinan sits at No. 2 on the QS with his CT qualification assured for 2019. He can now head to Oahu relaxed and ready to enjoy the waves that should allow him surf to his potential.
Just two years ago in Hawaii the scenario was vastly different. Having won just three heats in his rookie CT year, he was reliant on his QS form to make the cut for 2017. For a fit, firing and focused Callinan, then ranked 9th, qualification was well within his grasp. Callinan however was none of those things. He was homesick and unmotivated. The loss of his father early in the year had been a devastating blow and one which he hadn't yet come to terms with.
"When I was on the CT that first year my Dad passed away at the start and I felt like I was running away from it," Callinan said. "I didn't deal with it and just went into comp mode. By Hawaii I'd been on the road for three months with little success and it was all getting too much."
"It was hard to watch," says Richard "Dog" Marsh, Callinan's coach, who watched the final event at Sunset unfold from the channel. "Ryan's attitude has always been so positive and his commitment had never wavered. However at Sunset I had the sense he wanted to be as far away from the whole scene as possible."
An early Sunset exit meant Callinan got his, probably subconscious, wish. He had missed the cut, but at least could return home to be with his bereaved mother, his long time partner Nina and his younger twin sisters Maddi and Billie. He regrouped and hit the QS in 2017 however the run of poor results continued. Then another tragedy rocked his world.
"In May that year my mother passed suddenly and I felt I had to take some time off," he says. "I felt in that time I really confronted many of the issues. I faced up to it, accepted it and I feel I really have grown as a person."
Callinan started 2018 taking each event on it's own merit and with little expectation. A first QS win was one of the few goals he set, which he ticked off with a victory in the 6,000 QS in Chiba in May.
"That was important as I'd never won a QS," Callinan recalls. "I went in with low expectations and just kept winning heats. We had a good environment, but in a way I was surprised as anyone with the result."
By September however he hadn't backed up that keeper. He booked his flights to Ericeira, Portugal again with low expectations but with a new mindset and maturity hard-earned over the last two years. A win, including victories over Gabriel Medina and Kanoa Igarashi, proved he was back at the apex of the sport.
That victory secured his CT qualification for 2019 and earned him an injury-replacement spot in the Quik Pro France. Another vacation, a proposed trip with his girlfriend Nina to see his uncle in the wave-starved North Queensland town of Mackay, was shelved.
Nina instead flew over and like most of the surf world cheered on the underdog as he progressed to the Final. No other surfer had a higher average heat total than Callinan in France and it took some aerial wizardry from Julian Wilson to beat him in the dying minutes.
Nina flew back home, but with another CT spot handed to him for Peniche, Ryan's trip was extended yet again. This time it took a determined Gabriel Medina to end his run in Round 3, but by that stage he'd had accomplished far more than he ever thought possible.
"Without the loss and the setbacks I might not be in this position I am right now. Obviously I would trade everything in a heartbeat to have mum and dad back, but it's all made me who I am today," he says. "It's been a whirlwind, but I feel like I am coming out the other side and on top. That time in Europe will always be special, but there's plenty more to do. Starting in Hawaii."