Free For All: DC Surf Team Trip To Sumbawa
Lakey Peak, the dreamy fringe reef here in Sumbawa, Indonesia, looks anything but utopian at the moment. The late afternoon has brought an increase in swell and a shrieking sideshore wind--whipping the peak into a mess of chop and spray. We stand on the exposed low-tide atoll, taking shelter beside the cement tower in lieu of the furious gusts. Mitch Coleborn, Ry Craike, and Craig Anderson have just arrived. Dillon Perillo (along with us media folk) has been here two days.
Four weeks ago, Mitch tasted the exhilaration of competitive success at the Volcom Fiji Pro, where he scalped Slater in the first round. That high soon ebbed though, with him spending much of the last month nursing injury. The first blow was a stitched up back during a Mentawaii's trip following Fiji, and then staph infection in his foot shortly thereafter. After a few frustrating weeks out of the water preceding two days of travel to arrive here, he decided to head out despite the less-than-appealing conditions.
We watch as he scampers into position to paddle out, jumps in, and takes the set of the day--a solid six-footer--straight on the head. The wave sends him directly into the reef, opening up a five-inch gash on his forearm and re-grating his previously injured back. He comes in a bloody, dejected mess. At first glance it's obvious his wounds will require another trip to the hospital and more time out of the water. "I can't buy a f--king break right now," he fumes.
"Hey Mitchy, watch out for the sharks," Craig jokes as Mitch jumps back in the ocean to paddle his wounds 200 yards to the beach. Mitch isn't amused, as the timing of another injury couldn't be worse. He's competing in the ASP Prime US Open Of Surfing in Huntington Beach next week, and his goal for the foreseeable future is to qualify for the World Tour. Fortunately, the injury requires only five stitches and he'll be back in the water in 24 hours. As he tells me later: "I'm not going out and trying to do the biggest full rotation airs out into the flats every single time and falling off anymore. For me, qualifying is the next step for my career. The feeling of winning in Fiji, that's what I f--king want to chase."
Craig Anderson's frame of mind couldn't be more opposite. He's been traversing the globe in search of anything but ASP points. Filming for his movie. Shooting photos for magazines. He is the current poster boy for professional "free" surfing. When I ask him at dinner that evening how he arrived to this point in his career, he says simply: "I got lucky, I suppose. I always thought I was going to have a normal job." After some more thought, he adds, "And then Dion [Agius] got hurt, I got called up for a Modern Collective trip, and I guess it was then that everything changed."
All four guys on this trip--Craig, Mitch, Ry, and Dillon--have broken into the elite group of professional free surfers. The ones paid to represent surfing and the lifestyle it entails--to travel the world in search of perfect waves, and to have those trips documented via film and photos. We see them in starring movie roles and gracing the cover of magazines, and yet none are forced to compete.
For Craig and Ry, a career spent outside a colored jersey suits them just fine. They are self-admittedly "uncompetitive" and neither have the burning desire to win heats. Even when Kelly Slater touted Ry as "the best goofy-foot in the world at Macaroni's" on a 2005 Quiksilver Young Guns trip, he never wavered, never found the motivation to put Slater's words to the test by qualifying and proving his mettle on the ASP's world stage.
And then there's Dillon, dabbling in a bit of everything. Before Sumbawa, he'd been on a magazine excursion to another locale in Indonesia and then over to South Africa for the 6-star WQS at J-Bay where he lost his first heat. With his freesurfing career at an all time high and having lost in every contest he's entered the last two years, why bother to compete? "At the moment, I look at ASP events as another opportunity to travel, and if I do well in a couple, it might open up a contest life for me."
These days, the blueprint to a successful career is more muddled than ever. As the term "professional surfer" broadens to include more and more "athletes" paid not to compete but to chase photos, clips, and women instead, will up-and-coming talented young surfers eventually give up on competition and world title aspirations all together? It only seems logical that if the best surfer in the world today (see: Dane Reynolds) dropped off tour and opted to go that route, plenty of others will follow. Or will they?
In the following interviews conducted on this "free" surf trip in Indonesia, Dillon, Ry, Mitch, and Craig give us some insight into the current state of their own careers, professional freesurfing, and what's in store next…--Zander Morton
*To read the full interviews pick up the December 2012 issue of TransWorld SURF, on newsstands now!