"Dion went berserk at Snapper. His approach was completely original. From his stance and hand placement to the lines he drew, everything was his own. That happens when you surf a lot of large, open waves by yourself. Put Dion up against anyone in a healthy [Western Australia] ocean and this waterman is sure to be holding his own."
That was former professional surfer Shea Lopez explaining why he chose Tour rookie Dion Atkinson for his Fantasy Surfer Team for the Drug Aware Margaret River Pro, which started last week.
"It's nice to hear," Atkinson told GrindTV.com "To be honest it almost feels like a fantasy just to be surfing against these top guys in a wave like Margaret River.” Unfortunately for Atkinson (and for Shea), he was beaten in the Round 2 by a rampaging John John Florence and will now beat it to Bells Beach to try and make amends.
The 27-year-old from Adelaide, South Australia, was one of only two rookies competing in the event and is the only competitor on Tour who is studying for a college degree. "I originally started a business degree, but deferred a few times as I was competing full time," Atkinson told GrindTV.com. "This year, though, I am doing a diploma in business and sports with the support of the Sand Goanna Institute in Adelaide. I'll be studying externally on the road with their online program. I see it as a positive thing to do, and while I aim to stay on Tour for as long as possible, having tertiary qualifications will be a big bonus when I finish my career."
It is indicative of Atkinson’s work ethic and forward thinking. He has come to the elite tour the hard way, spending seven years on the World Qualifying Tour, dealing with injuries and close finishes, and competing the last few without a major sponsor. Throughout those years he was forced to find other employment to fund his dream when he wasn't competing. "The last couple of years without a sponsor have been hard, so I'll teach surfing lessons, laboring, anything I can find to make some money,” Atkinson told the ASP in December. “It's funny: At the start of the [school] year, when people ask what you do, you feel like an idiot saying you're a professional surfer when you're not actually getting paid big bucks by anyone."
Big bucks or not, through sheer hard work, dedication, the support of his fiancée, Tiegan, his parents, and damn good surfing, Dion Atkinson has made it to surfing's elite—a place he intends to stay. Following a good start on the Gold Coast, he is confident, ambitious, and competing with a simple plan: "I want to get good waves and do big turns and rip the shit out them." Having worked this hard to get here, you get the feeling the plan will be a successful one.
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