The Australian prodigy Julian Wilson is as poised as any of the world's best competitors for a run at the World Title. Yet still, the influx of new talent, new rules, and new waves set to debut on Tour this year have taken much of the attention and the pressure off of Julian. With the hype of a new contract, the weight of rookie expectations, and a grueling qualification schedule behind him, his road ahead is paved with potential. To call him an underdog would be foolish; but for once the glare of the spotlight has a new batch of surfers to focus on, leaving the hyper-talented Sunshine Coast native to his own devices.
What's the source of your drive for 2012? What kind of expectations do you place on yourself?
My expectations for myself have always been really high. Obviously there are always expectations from people around me as well. They might not always let me know that, but I know it's there. That's just the way it is, it's always going to be like that. I'd love to win an event this year. I obviously want to keep moving up in the ratings as well.
Can you reflect on winning the Rookie of the Year award?
It was cool to get Rookie of the Year, I mean it was only between me and Alejo so there wasn't a whole bunch of us going for it. But it actually turned out to be a really good race between us. He finished number 10 and I finished number 9, and it easily could have just been a one horse race. At the start of the year, he made quarters at Snapper and I didn't make a heat for the first three events. I wasn't sure I was even going to have a chance. It was good to turn it around, and we had a good battle, to finish only one spot apart.
Whenever you look back at your rookie year on Tour, what are going to be the defining moments?
The moments that are going to stick out are obviously making a final in France, and the waves we had in Portugal, Tahiti, and Pipe—they were all amazing. The heat I had with Kai Otton in Portugal was one that I'll remember forever, that was probably they best heat I've had with someone in my career so far. Trestles was amazing; the waves were fun, and it felt good to finally get a result there.
How's the Tour going to look different this time around?
There are some fresh faces on tour. Those kids are good because they push everyone, you know? They're fresh on tour, they're really young and don't really have anything to lose at that age. I think they're helping to push the level of surfing for the rest of us. It was my rookie year last year but now there are all these young guys, and I feel like a huge pressure has been taken off me.
What's your take on the ASP getting rid of the midyear cutoff?
I don't really think the halfway cutoff was necessary. Both years it was hard, you look at Tanner Gudauskas, you look at Bobby, you look at CJ, all those guys, I don't know one person who would say they weren't going to get a result in the second half of the year and stay on tour. Those guys were missed, I think. It was a bit of a bummer. It'll be good going back to not having that midyear cutoff, being able to schedule out your whole year without having to worry about cramming a whole bunch of events in one half to make sure you stay on tour. With the new guys coming on tour, I don't think six months is going to change anything for them. Even if they do smash it the first six months on the 'QS then have to wait six months to get on next year, I don't really think there's any harm in that. They'll just be a little more excited about getting on Tour and they'll have a guaranteed full year on Tour. It just makes more sense.
You've established yourself with a solid position in the ratings. How will this change your schedule for this year?
I'll be able to focus on the World Tour events, do a few Prime events, and then also give myself some time to film and do some other fun stuff, which I didn't really have the opportunity to do all of last year. It's going to be fun this year, to be able to do some stuff with Kai for his new film and a couple other projects I'm going to work on. I mean, for me last year, I can't even remember how many events I did. I was in an event almost every week. That builds up.
How's your equipment dialed-in for your second go on Tour?
Each event you need something a little bit different, which I learned last year. Matt Biolos and Luke Short and JS have all been making me some really good boards. I got to utilize that last year, and I'll be looking to do the same thing this year. Just to work with the shaper that suits the wave the best.
You once said you felt that you'd established yourself as a freesurfer, but you wanted to prove that you could compete. Have you proved that yet?
If you asked me that after the first three months of last year I kind of felt like I was up against the wall a bit, feeling a little bit of pressure. Now, after the first year is done, and I've had some really good events, I've kind of showed what I can do. I didn't have a win but I felt like I got in contention for a few. I'm on my way.
Where does winning a World Title rank on your to-do list?
That is definitely a priority over the next 10 years, or however long I'm on Tour. It takes time at each location to get the experience to go for the World Title—I've only had one year on Tour, so we'll see where this year takes me and see what happens.
What should we expect to see going into Snapper?
I think Snapper is one event where I've never got the result that I wanted. Last year, I felt a load of pressure. Changing to Nike, my first year on tour—I lost a really close heat in Round 3 and I think if that went the other way things might have gotten started a little earlier for me last year. Snapper is probably one of my favorite events of the year, if not the event I look forward to the most. It's as close to a hometown crowd as I can get. My family is there, and I'm just looking at this year just trying to take what I learned from last year and hopefully get a good start, get that result I've been looking for.
Watch Julian and the rest of the Tour kickoff at the Quik Pro Gold Coast from Feb. 25 – March 7.