All I Wanted to Be was a Pro Surfer

Dean Morrison is lying facedown on a spacious double bed in room 306 of the Best Western Hotel just north of the Huntington Pier. As a cacophony of clichés and overhyped commentary drift from the U.S. Open and through the balcony doors, Deano yawns. He rolls over. Shirtless, his thick chest reveals the scars from a wakeboarding accident that sent him face-first into a bed of oysters at the beginning of last year. Eighty stitches, internal and external, were just a few of the unexpected surprises he could have done without during 2002–his rookie year on the WCT. Monolithic expectations, a string of poor results, the death of a close family member, and a head-first collision with the reef at Backdoor almost saw Deano back on the WQS at year’s end.

Ironically, it was that last disaster that led to his salvation–an injury wildcard for 2003. If questions were being asked in the lead up to the new competitive season about whether or not Dean deserved a place among the Top 44, they were quickly answered on the final day of the 2003 Quiksilver Pro at Snapper Rocks–Deano’s home break. A frightening draw–an emotional victory. Dean Morrison emerged as much a contender as Parko or Mick or any other name in the WCT press book. His performance at Snapper proved he owned his place among surfing’s elite. In fact, he was good enough to be number one. And so here he is, a few months later, a mixed but good year in hand. He sits up as the tape begins to roll. We go straight to the core …

What is good surfing to you?

I think there’re good things to be found in all kinds of surfing from Tom Curren to Christian Fletcher. The surfing I like watching is surfing that inspires me to surf better. Tom Curren and Taylor Knox have these really clean drawn-out lines on the face, and that kind of flow on a wave is something I’d like to achieve, but at the same time there’re guys taking different lines that allow them to do different things, so it’s good to be receptive to all of it.

How much time do you spend studying the aspects of surfing that inspire you? You seem to be very aware of technique and style.

I definitely enjoy checking it out. At home I watch surf videos all day every day, so I’m always thinking about what you can do on a wave and how different guys approach it. I mean, watching Kelly, he’s just amazing. Everything seems so complete when he gets into a wave. He’s straight up, straight into a bottom turn, straight out of the lip, and into his next turn. He’s always using every part of the wave. There’s nothing out of place, and that’s something that inspires me–finding a good line on a wave. It’s so hard to get that consistency, too. I mean, I tend to focus on a different aspect of surfing every couple of weeks. One week it might be going left, the next it’ll be going right, sometimes I’ll just want to do airs or work on cutties, and it seems like when you’re really on with one area you kinda start lagging in another. So to keep a whole wave together, like Kelly or Taylor or Curren, is pretty hard.

That’s comforting to hear, I reckon every surfer in the world feels like that.

Yeah well, sometimes some things feel right and other things don’t. I’ll be having a sick surf on my backhand and then go right and bog. Or, say, I’m enjoying popping the fins, and my cutbacks will feel bad, so it’s about finding consistency through all of it.

Who’s got that consistency going better than anyone else at the moment? Who’s doing the best surfing in the world?

It’s hard to pinpoint one guy, ’cause there’re always a bunch of guys doing unbelievable surfing at every place we go to on tour. Kelly would be the guy who’s standing out the most this year, then maybe Andy, Joel, Taj, and Mick.n any conditions, those guys seem to put it together better than most. Kieren Perrow is surfing really well, too. But then you know, Bruce Irons does amazing surfing in good and shitty waves, and he’s got this unbelievable style that suits any conditions. It never looks like he’s trying, but he just performs in anything. Kinda like Joel. I dunno, there’re a lot of people who are inspiring at the moment, and on any given day you can find someone who can stoke you out. Even at home, just surfing with friends I find that can be the place where I improve the most ’cause I’m relaxed and everybody surfs insane. I guess it can work against you on tour sometimes, ’cause you’re watching so much good stuff you end up thinking too much and you can get a bit clouded. In that respect getting home and relaxing can be the best inspiration to improve, because you get some clarity and focus more on riding waves rather than on who’s doing what.

Case in point being the Quiksilver Pro. Your home break, the first ’CT of the new year, and you take it out, defeating Kelly and Mick then Occy in the final? F–k, how was that?

Yeah, I mean the heat with Kelly was a hard one, ’cause I’ve always wanted to surf against him, but I didn’t want to ever think about it. I’d rather be on the beach watching him surf. I guess the attitude I adopted was to put him in the back of my head and treat him as just another guy to try and beat. I felt like I didn’t surf that good in the heat, but I got lucky ’cause he made some mistakes. He came up after and said congratulations and stuff. I was like, “Thanks, mate, I couldn’t sleep at all last night.” And he said, “What? Why?” I think he thought I’d been out all night partying or something, but I was rolling around in bed just so nervous. But I was stoked to surf against him, and to beat him was insane.

The semi with Mick Fanning must have been crazy. Did you know about his quarterfinal against Taj before you guys paddled out? It’s getting billed as one of the greatest heats in pro-surfing history, they went psycho hella nuts on each other. Taj had two nines and still got beat.

Yeah, I was surfing every heat either before or after Mick’s, so I kinda new what was going on, but I wasn’t that interested in watching him too much, ’cause we were on the same side of the draw, and there was a chance we’d end up surfing against one another. I didn’t want to psych myself out or anything, so when he was surfing I’d sit in the backseat of my car and listen to his scores, which wasn’t that much better ’cause they’d be reading out three nine-point rides a heat, and I’d be like, “F–k, he’s going mad!” But I just tried to concentrate on my own heat and what I wanted to do on the wave, and it worked out.

Did you exchange words after the semi?

Yeah, he told me he was stoked for me and he gave me a hug after it, ’cause we’re best mates and everything.

And Occy in the final. You kinda jumped out of the gates on him.

Yeah, I thought Occ would go mad, but there was a bit of a crowd on the beach, and I wanted to surf as good as I could. I got really lucky and picked off some good ones. There wasn’t really a stage in the final where I thought I had it, I knew if Occ got the right wave he could get a ten, so I fought all the way to the end, and it was amazing.

I noticed Sam Watts pulled you aside on the way to the press stage. Did you guys have like a Jerry Maguire moment, where you’re all crying, looking at one another, and saying, “You’re my ambassador of Kwan, man!”

Nah, there was no Jerry Maguire moment, but it was sick to share the win with the boys at home who have backed me up and helped me out for so long.

You’re kinda notorious for being hard to get in touch with , has having a manager contributed to making your life on tour easier?

I’ve had a manager since I was sixteen. I was never really good at organizing all that stuff. If you can do it, that’s great, but I want to be thinking about surfing and surfboards, not hotel reservations and airline bookings. So they deal with that, and it’s really good for me. Sometimes I wish I could do it, but it’s not me.

Your first year on tour was a pretty tough one, and if it wasn’t for an injury wildcard, you could have ended up back on the ’QS. Then you start 2003 with a win, and at the halfway mark of the tour are in the top ten. What did you learn in 2002, and how did it translate into this year?

We had a pretty big break at the end of last year–I think three months or something. But after Hawai‘i, it took me three or four weeks to unwind and cool down, ’cause at the time I was really pissed off and bummed at myself. I mean, I tried my best, so I was happy about that, but I was pissed ’cause I wanted to find out what I needed to do different. I took it into consideration and thought about it a lot. I spoke to a lot of different people. At that point, I was wondering if I’d ever even win an event. But I decided to just focus on my surfing and not results, and by the time the tour came back around, I was feeling pretty good about the way things were going. I never thought I’d win the first event, but that’s how it came off. But then after that, I think I got four seventeenths in a row , so I went from one extreme to another.

How has your relationship with Joel and Mick changed over past couple of years? Has the increased exposure and competitiveness of the tour put any strain on your relationship?

We’re a lot closer now, I think. We’re always traveling together, and I couldn’t ask for better friends. They’re always there for me for everything, not just surfing. At most we probably only surf together six hours a day, but the rest of the time we still hang out anyway and do other stuff.

Are there times when it’s just the three of you, and you kind of sit back and say, “F–k, look where we are. Look what we’ve done.”

Well, the other day Joel and I went surfing at this sick little point. It was three foot with these perfectly barreling little rights. You could do twelve turns on them and get little tubes, and Joel was going nuts. We surfed it all day with no one else around. It was one of the best surfs I’ve ever had. And on the way home we had a couple of beers, the sun was going down, and the sky was all orange–it was as close to being a perfect day as I’ve ever experienced. And we talked about it and were like, “That was f–king amazing.” There was no one filming, or taking photos, or judging, or scoring, but Joel was still ripping and trying all this amazing stuff. I guess we don’t really reflect on competitive stuff and say how sick this or that was, but when we have a good session together, that’s when we’re the most stoked.

So who’d win a fight out of you three?

I dunno, Mick’s got some venom in him . Joel and I were meant to have a fight for charity earlier in the year, a full-on in-the-ring bout. I was gonna do it, I wasn’t gonna back out, but then Sam rang Joel and said I’d pulled out, so Joel pulled out as well. I didn’t know Sam had taken me out, so I rang Joel and called him a pussy. He called me a pussy for pulling out first, so it’s on again–this Christmas in a mate’s backyard.

Talk about surfing places like have backed me up and helped me out for so long.

You’re kinda notorious for being hard to get in touch with , has having a manager contributed to making your life on tour easier?

I’ve had a manager since I was sixteen. I was never really good at organizing all that stuff. If you can do it, that’s great, but I want to be thinking about surfing and surfboards, not hotel reservations and airline bookings. So they deal with that, and it’s really good for me. Sometimes I wish I could do it, but it’s not me.

Your first year on tour was a pretty tough one, and if it wasn’t for an injury wildcard, you could have ended up back on the ’QS. Then you start 2003 with a win, and at the halfway mark of the tour are in the top ten. What did you learn in 2002, and how did it translate into this year?

We had a pretty big break at the end of last year–I think three months or something. But after Hawai‘i, it took me three or four weeks to unwind and cool down, ’cause at the time I was really pissed off and bummed at myself. I mean, I tried my best, so I was happy about that, but I was pissed ’cause I wanted to find out what I needed to do different. I took it into consideration and thought about it a lot. I spoke to a lot of different people. At that point, I was wondering if I’d ever even win an event. But I decided to just focus on my surfing and not results, and by the time the tour came back around, I was feeling pretty good about the way things were going. I never thought I’d win the first event, but that’s how it came off. But then after that, I think I got four seventeenths in a row , so I went from one extreme to another.

How has your relationship with Joel and Mick changed over past couple of years? Has the increased exposure and competitiveness of the tour put any strain on your relationship?

We’re a lot closer now, I think. We’re always traveling together, and I couldn’t ask for better friends. They’re always there for me for everything, not just surfing. At most we probably only surf together six hours a day, but the rest of the time we still hang out anyway and do other stuff.

Are there times when it’s just the three of you, and you kind of sit back and say, “F–k, look where we are. Look what we’ve done.”

Well, the other day Joel and I went surfing at this sick little point. It was three foot with these perfectly barreling little rights. You could do twelve turns on them and get little tubes, and Joel was going nuts. We surfed it all day with no one else around. It was one of the best surfs I’ve ever had. And on the way home we had a couple of beers, the sun was going down, and the sky was all orange–it was as close to being a perfect day as I’ve ever experienced. And we talked about it and were like, “That was f–king amazing.” There was no one filming, or taking photos, or judging, or scoring, but Joel was still ripping and trying all this amazing stuff. I guess we don’t really reflect on competitive stuff and say how sick this or that was, but when we have a good session together, that’s when we’re the most stoked.

So who’d win a fight out of you three?

I dunno, Mick’s got some venom in him . Joel and I were meant to have a fight for charity earlier in the year, a full-on in-the-ring bout. I was gonna do it, I wasn’t gonna back out, but then Sam rang Joel and said I’d pulled out, so Joel pulled out as well. I didn’t know Sam had taken me out, so I rang Joel and called him a pussy. He called me a pussy for pulling out first, so it’s on again–this Christmas in a mate’s backyard.

Talk about surfing places like Hawai‘i and Tahiti.

Surfing those places is so humbling–I really feel like a kook every time I paddle out there, which is good because it keeps me learning. When you get a good one you get so stoked. Surfing those places is one of the major reasons I love it so much.

Is that mentality to charge giant waves a by-product of growing up with Rabbit Bartholomew and the legend he created of pushing performance in places like Hawai‘i?

Yeah definitely, but hanging out with Koby and Bruce and those guys contribute to it as well. I remember my first trip to Tahiti I saw Koby get a wave. I think it was like an eight-foot wave, and I was screaming. And he was all, “F–k, what are you screaming for? You scared the shit out of me.” It was just me and him and two other guys, but he was so at home. Koby and Andy King and a few of the other guys push me to learn in those sort of waves.

Any experience really scare you?

Not really. I guess when I hurt my head at the end of last year, there were a few freaky moments. I’d been sitting out at Backdoor all day and hadn’t really had a good one, so I was getting kind of agitated. But Dorian had been getting some sick ones. When he surfs out there he kind of sits a little bit further out, almost at Pipe, but he goes right and gets those sick ones. Anyway I think he’d gone in, and I saw this set coming through and ’cause he wasn’t on his spot I thought I might try to get one. But I kind of got there really late and took off, and well, I probably could have made it, but I didn’t . I got sucked over, and I knew I was gonna get worked I just wasn’t sure how bad. Then for about a second I thought I wouldn’t hit at all and that’s when I bounced on my head. It didn’t feel like a huge blow, but when I came up I knew I’d done something bad. I don’t bleed that much but I had like an oil slick of blood coming out of my head. When I got to the beach I didn’t let anyone look at it ’cause I didn’t want to hear how bad it was. I waited for the ambulance, and they ended up putting twelve staples in it.

We mentioned before you lived with Rabbit for a while. How did that come to be?

Well, I grew up close to the beach, and my family never had that much money. My dad got me into surfing, and my family always encouraged me to do what I wanted, and they supported me as well as they knew how. But I moved out when I was thirteen ’cause my parents were splitting up, and they had some issues with each other. Parents fight a lot when that kind of thing is happening, and so that year I moved in with Rab. My parents were still right there, and I stayed in contact with them a lot, but Rab pretty much let me live with him right on the point at Kirra until I was nineteen. Then he had his own kid, and I had to move out into my own house . But he used to drop me off at school, and if the surf was pumping, he’d pick me up at lunchtime and we’d go surf all day. He’d make me go to school if the waves were bad, but sometimes I’d just wag it. He’d be pretty bummed if I missed school for shitty waves. If the waves were good, he didn’t mind. As long as I had a book when we traveled he was usually happy. I was pretty lucky, ’cause I put all my eggs in one basket and it sort of worked out.

So leaving school wasn’t too hard?

It was scary, but all I wanted to be was a pro surfer. An opportunity came up for me to go to Europe, and I went for it. It was strange to leave that life behind, but I wasn’t bummed about it.

Does it stoke you out to be recognized and admired by surfers the world over?

For sure, I think it’s really cool. When people are into how you surf, it’s a good feeling. Sometimes, it can be a little over the top. You get the odd male groupie in your face, and I guess they’re only trying to be funny, but it can be a bit annoying when they don’t leave you alone. Most of the time it’s mellow. People are really cool, and they just want to chat about surfing, and I love that. It’s just once in a blue moon the odd person will go a bit overboard.

Maybe you could use your fame to launch another career, like acting or singing. You know how Keanu Reeves uses his movie-star fame to push his band Dogstar? Maybe you could join Dogstar with Keanu.

Um, yeah, I’ll get my résumé together. Especially after doing Doped Youth, I’ll have a shot at big-time acting or in a big-time band.

So do you train much, or does your rig sort itself out?

I do a lot stretching. That’s mainly it. Surfing that bank at Snapper is like circuit training anyway, but stretching is pretty much it. If I didn’t have the Snapper bank I’d probably go to the gym. I also swim a lot. When I’m training I’ll swim a kilometer a day.

Well, ccheers, Deano, it’s been nice catching up. You gonna come and watch our band play tonight?

F–k yeah. I’ll come and laugh at you guys.

Sick.

Sick, mate.

wai‘i and Tahiti.

Surfing those places is so humbling–I really feel like a kook every time I paddle out there, which is good because it keeps me learning. When you get a good one you get so stoked. Surfing those places is one of the major reasons I love it so much.

Is that mentality to charge giant waves a by-product of growing up with Rabbit Bartholomew and the legend he created of pushing performance in places like Hawai‘i?

Yeah definitely, but hanging out with Koby and Bruce and those guys contribute to it as well. I remember my first trip to Tahiti I saw Koby get a wave. I think it was like an eight-foot wave, and I was screaming. And he was all, “F–k, what are you screaming for? You scared the shit out of me.” It was just me and him and two other guys, but he was so at home. Koby and Andy King and a few of the other guys push me to learn in those sort of waves.

Any experience really scare you?

Not really. I guess when I hurt my head at the end of last year, there were a few freaky moments. I’d been sitting out at Backdoor all day and hadn’t really had a good one, so I was getting kind of agitated. But Dorian had been getting some sick ones. When he surfs out there he kind of sits a little bit further out, almost at Pipe, but he goes right and gets those sick ones. Anyway I think he’d gone in, and I saw this set coming through and ’cause he wasn’t on his spot I thought I might try to get one. But I kind of got there really late and took off, and well, I probably could have made it, but I didn’t . I got sucked over, and I knew I was gonna get worked I just wasn’t sure how bad. Then for about a second I thought I wouldn’t hit at all and that’s when I bounced on my head. It didn’t feel like a huge blow, but when I came up I knew I’d done something bad. I don’t bleed that much but I had like an oil slick of blood coming out of my head. When I got to the beach I didn’t let anyone look at it ’cause I didn’t want to hear how bad it was. I waited for the ambulance, and they ended up putting twelve staples in it.

We mentioned before you lived with Rabbit for a while. How did that come to be?

Well, I grew up close to the beach, and my family never had that much money. My dad got me into surfing, and my family always encouraged me to do what I wanted, and they supported me as well as they knew how. But I moved out when I was thirteen ’cause my parents were splitting up, and they had some issues with each other. Parents fight a lot when that kind of thing is happening, and so that year I moved in with Rab. My parents were still right there, and I stayed in contact with them a lot, but Rab pretty much let me live with him right on the point at Kirra until I was nineteen. Then he had his own kid, and I had to move out into my own house . But he used to drop me off at school, and if the surf was pumping, he’d pick me up at lunchtime and we’d go surf all day. He’d make me go to school if the waves were bad, but sometimes I’d just wag it. He’d be pretty bummed if I missed school for shitty waves. If the waves were good, he didn’t mind. As long as I had a book when we traveled he was usually happy. I was pretty lucky, ’cause I put all my eggs in one basket and it sort of worked out.

So leaving school wasn’t too hard?

It was scary, but all I wanted to be was a pro surfer. An opportunity came up for me to go to Europe, and I went for it. It was strange to leave that life behind, but I wasn’t bummed about it.

Does it stoke you out to be recognized and admired by surfers the world over?

For sure, I think it’s really cool. When people are into how you surf, it’s a good feeling. Sometimes, it can be a little over the top. You get the odd male groupie in your face, and I guess they’re only trying to be funny, but it can be a bit annoying when they don’t leave you alone. Most of the time it’s mellow. People are really cool, and they just want to chat about surfing, and I love that. It’s just once in a blue moon the odd person will go a bit overboard.

Maybe you could use your fame to launch another career, like acting or singing. You know how Keanu Reeves uses his movie-star fame to push his band Dogstar? Maybe you could join Dogstar with Keanu.

Um, yeah, I’ll get my résumé together. Especially after doing Doped Youth, I’ll have a shot at big-time acting or in a big-time band.

So do you train much, or does your rig sort itself out?

I do a lot stretching. That’s mainly it. Surfing that bank at Snapper is like circuit training anyway, but stretching is pretty much it. If I didn’t have the Snapper bank I’d probably go to the gym. I also swim a lot. When I’m training I’ll swim a kilometer a day.

Well, cheers, Deano, it’s been nice catching up. You gonna come and watch our band play tonight?

F–k yeah. I’ll come and laugh at you guys.

Sick.

Sick, mate.

e top. You get the odd male groupie in your face, and I guess they’re only trying to be funny, but it can be a bit annoying when they don’t leave you alone. Most of the time it’s mellow. People are really cool, and they just want to chat about surfing, and I love that. It’s just once in a blue moon the odd person will go a bit overboard.

Maybe you could use your fame to launch another career, like acting or singing. You know how Keanu Reeves uses his movie-star fame to push his band Dogstar? Maybe you could join Dogstar with Keanu.

Um, yeah, I’ll get my résumé together. Especially after doing Doped Youth, I’ll have a shot at big-time acting or in a big-time band.

So do you train much, or does your rig sort itself out?

I do a lot stretching. That’s mainly it. Surfing that bank at Snapper is like circuit training anyway, but stretching is pretty much it. If I didn’t have the Snapper bank I’d probably go to the gym. I also swim a lot. When I’m training I’ll swim a kilometer a day.

Well, cheers, Deano, it’s been nice catching up. You gonna come and watch our band play tonight?

F–k yeah. I’ll come and laugh at you guys.

Sick.

Sick, mate.