"I was holding on tight to that trophy on the plane from Portugal to France," Ezekiel Lau told the WSL. "I had time to feel and think about what it means to me. And it is huge. That was a big, big win for me. "

Lau is referring to his victory at the MEO Vissla Pro Ericeira, the second event on the Challenger Series. The Hawaiian's win catapulted him to the top of the Challenger Series Rankings, and puts him in prime spot for the CT qualification in 2021.

"I think the fact that it's been almost two years without competing made it even more special," continued Lau. "In all that time off, all the training and work was for this Europe leg. To see that dedication and discipline pay off with a win was massive."

ERICEIRA, PORTUGAL - OCTOBER 9 : Ezekiel Lau of Hawaii winner of the Meo Vissla Ericeira Pro on October 9, 2021 in Ericeira, Portugal. (Photo by Damien Poullenot/World Surf League) Ezekiel Lau atop the podium in Portugal. - WSL / Damien Poullenot

It was Lau's fifth event win, but arguably his most important. He started competing way back in 2011, and a lot of those wins came early in his career, often at home in Hawaii. Yet he never reached his lifelong ambition of making surfing's top tier, the Championship Tour, until 2017. The 27-year-old had three consecutive years surfing against the world's best, before being relegated back to the Qualifying Series at the end of 2019.

The pandemic then postponed his attempt at bouncing straight back. He spent the years away from competition increasing his already extensive knowledge of the ancient Hawaiian traditions, while also working harder than ever on his explosive surfing talent.

He also signed up for the Ultimate Surfer, going on to win the show at the Surf Ranch. That guaranteed him at least three CT event wildcards for 2022, but also had other knock-on effects.

ERICEIRA, PORTUGAL - OCTOBER 8 : Ezekiel Lau of Hawaii surfing in Round of 16 at the Meo Vissla Ericeira Pro on October 8, 2021 in Ericeira, Portugal. (Photo by Damien Poullenot/World Surf League) Lau flaring in Portugal. - WSL / Damien Poullenot

"Apart from the three wildcards and the prize money, I learned a lot by myself during the filming process," Lau said. "I found a zone within the show and I've been able to carry that on into these events and it's been working."

Now though Lau's steely focus turns towards the Quiksilver Pro France, whose waiting period starts on Saturday, October 16. Not only does that provide an opportunity to cement his CT status, but also the chance to tick off a few career goals as well.

"Coming into Europe, the whole plan was to top the Challenger Series ratings to qualify for the CT on my own steam," said Zeke. "I knew I needed to win an event to do that and right now as we speak I'm looking at the trophy sitting on my dining table. That's my motivation. I want to do it again here in France."

HOSSEGOR, FRANCE - OCTOBER 11: Ezekiel Lau of Hawaii is eliminated from the 2019 Quiksilver Pro France with an equal 9th finish after placing second in Heat 2 of Round 4 at Le Graviere on October 11, 2019 in Hossegor, France.  (Photo by Laurent Masurel/WS Lau in the jersey in France pre-pandemic times. - WSL / Laurent Masurel
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