Matt Banting epitomizes the blue-collar pro surfer of 2021. Without backing from a major sponsor, back on the re-qualification trail and still surfing with an impeccable style that hasn't missed a beat.
Fresh off a win at the Avoca Pro, the 26-year-old from Port Macquarie is riding high and ranked number one in the QS rankings-just as he was in 2020 before COVID threw a spanner into his campaign.
"Yeah it was a bit unexpected," he admits on the win. "It looked like a hard field going into the event with Ryan Callinan and Julian Wilson in the draw. Avoca's just been so good to me the past few years. I've had two finals and two wins. It's just amazing, it's like that Avoca beach likes me in some way."
Banting doesn't mince his words when it comes to describing the ups and downs of trying to earn his spot back on the CT that he lost five years ago. He cites his experience grinding it out on the QS as having helped him mature and muscle up when he needs to.
"There's been a few times where I've thought, ‘How many years should I be doing this or should I be doing this,' and when am I going to wrap it up. Even a few weeks ago I was saying some pretty different things to a friend on the way back from a shit surf in the car. A couple of weeks later I win an event. I rang him back and told him that exact same thing. So there are definitely doubts and all that too, it's just about being reassured and overcoming it."
His old man, Lenny, has been a driving force throughout his professional surfing career. A concreter by trade, Lenny has instilled the value of hard work and poured his heart into his son's career. As Banting's filmer, cornerman and boss when he's at home supplementing his income, it's rare an event slips by without him there by his son's side.
"I've got no shame at all saying my dad's my best mate and we're in the corner together type thing. He's always been in my corner. You see a lot of guys they get to 18, 19, 20 and they go, ‘Nick off, I'm too cool to be hanging out with my dad,' but I'm a full family man and I appreciate him wherever possible."
"The number of hours he's done for me if you were to put that into a filming rate of what they charge I'd be dead set broke. He'd do say, forty to fifty thousand dollars worth of filming for me per year at no expense. I used to pay him back a little bit like I'd go to work and work for free for a day and stuff like that but these days he's like, ‘Nah if you're coming to work you're getting paid.'"
With the changes to the CT qualification pathway now featuring a regional QS series running from January to July followed by a Challenger Series from August through to December Banting still needs to jump through a few hoops on his quest for a spot back on the CT.
The QS points Banting earned last season have been halved but count towards his regional QS ranking where he is currently ranked number one and qualifies him for the Challenger Series. The CS will run from August to September with the first event at the Vans US Open of Surfing. The top 12 ranked men from the CS will automatically qualify for the 2022 Championship Tour.
Banting had planned on using the downtime before the first Challenger Series event to chase swells, get on some bigger boards, and get some experience at some of the heavier waves in Australia an area where he was lacking experience and struggled previously on the CT.
However, a high ankle sprain injury suffered by Kolohe Andino in preparation for the Newcastle CT event has launched Banting back into the CT arena for the first time in five years. As the current highest-ranked surfer on the Australia/Oceania Series rankings, he has proved he's in form with his results this season.
"Yeah I feel very sorry for Kolohe I know how hard he trains. To get an opportunity like this right down the road it's just a great opportunity and I've had a lot of experience at Newcastle and a fair few good results there which gives me a lot of confidence."
A previous winner in Newcastle at the Surfest QS 5000 event in 2014, Banting will be leaning on his experience and aiming to channel that winning feeling when he faces the field of CT debutants and experienced professionals. If he can carry the same form from his result at Avoca his outlook for re-joining the Championship Tour next season will go up another level.
"When I was on Tour having Mick, Joel and Taj there it was a real mature, older and experienced field. Now it feels like a group of guys that have all done the QS together and who I've competed with my whole life with. I've surfed against these guys a lot so hopefully, I can put a good performance in."