For the past couple of years, Kalani Ball has been tiling swimming pools. Working as a laborer on building sites in Sydney and on the south coast of New South Wales where he grew up has been a stark departure from the life of a well-paid pro billed as one of Australia's hottest talents.
After losing his major sponsor in 2018 Kalani then suffered a major injury in January 2020 when he broke his leg dry docking him for the longest stretch of his career. Once his leg was healed, to get by, the 24-year-old continued to work tiling swimming pools to keep him afloat still determined to make a go of qualifying for the Championship Tour -- a dream he'd had since he was a grom.
"I was just pretty much working before I left," says Kalani speaking to the WSL from Europe on the eve of the MEO Vissla Pro Ericeira.
"I did a bunch of tiling where you do all the coping and waterline tiles and basically strip back the whole pool and start again if it's a renovation or if we were doing the build fixing stuff if we were building ones."
Despite splitting himself between work and chasing regional qualifying events the Stanwell Park natural footer won the Volkswagen Cronulla Open followed by the 2020 Kiama Open in a stark turnaround to how his year started on the sidelines.
He continued his run of form on this year's regional Qualifying Series banking third-place finishes at the Port Stephens Pro presented by Mad Mex, Mad Mex Maroubra Pro, and Oakberry Tweed Coast Pro and a fifth at the Vissla Central Coast Pro cementing his spot on the Challenger Series.
The results drowned out the voices in his head that doubted if pursuing a pro career without financial support from a major sponsor was the right path to take.
"I was for sure pretty close to probably stopping competitive surfing I think … like I didn't exactly know what was going to happen with everything," says Kalani.
"I lost my main sponsor a couple of years ago then broke my leg [laughs] so it was a bit of downward spiral for a little bit there. But as soon as I did a few of those regional events, and did well in them, I was so stoked to be competing again and found the love for it again."
Fast and flashy with Mayhems under his feet-watching him surf, it's hard not to draw comparisons with a young Taj Burrow. He's got that same searing body torque in the pocket and high-speed rotations on lock.
With the wind in his sails and three events left to determine who will make the cut for the 2022 season the stakes have never been higher for the Australian.
"I'm super confident for the rest of the leg -- it's all waves that I feel like I can do some really good surfing so I'm just looking forward to competing and hopefully putting some big scores up. I'd love to qualify at the end of the year."
If Kalani succeeds in his bid to qualify he'll join an elite group of former CT veterans from the New South Wales south coast. The last surfer from the region was Tathra's Kai Otton who retired at the end of 2016. While Broulee's Phil MacDonald spent 12 years on Tour and quintessential 90s power hound Mick Lowe from Port Kembla blazed a trail that spanned a decade.
"It'd be amazing -- everyone at home would be so stoked. I'd just love to get there and do it for them."