Photos: Corey Wilson
Not long ago, Lee Wilson was the poster boy of Bali surfing. The half Indo, half Aussie regularfoot was on Kuta billboards and on the podium at all the Indonesian surf events. Then, at the end of 2012, Lee’s main sponsor inexplicably dropped him and the podium appearances and billboards disappeared. When close friend Julian Wilson invited him to Lakey Peak for this issue, the two-time Indonesian champ hadn’t been on a surf trip in over a year, instead focusing on family and his art. And while he’s no longer competing or getting paid to surf, the 29-year-old’s performance alongside Julian proved that his surfing — and outlook — is better than ever. Paychecks, podiums and posters be damned. —Leo Maxam
LEE WILSON: I never made a serious run at the ‘QS. I did the Australia leg once and it was 2-foot and onshore at both contests, and I didn’t have any interest. I remember hassling for bad waves and thinking to myself, “I look like a monkey right now. I feel like a monkey.” I guess that was my ego. My ego wouldn’t let me surf like that. I don’t know if that’s a good thing or a bad thing.
Now, with the whole four-man priority system, that’s a game I would like to try. But they’re only using it in 6-Stars and Primes. I don’t think a surfer should have to battle for his turn. I think a surfer should get his turn to show what he can do, like in competitive skateboarding. They get a minute to show what they can do and it’s their minute. They don’t have some other skater cutting them off. And usually the most legit guy wins.
Ever since I was little, art has been a friend that has never left my side. As long as I had art, I could be by myself. It would make me happy, and it could frustrate me at times, but it’s loyal and it would always keep me company. And that’s what a true friend should be. As long as I have pen and paper, I’ll never be bored.
I would like to surf the way Picasso paints. Picasso would create an image, and if he didn’t like that image he would transform it into another image. He was so good at improvising. And that’s how I want to surf, improvising with lines on the wave and feeling where to try something short and quick, and where to take broader and bigger strokes. I think Andy [Irons] really understood how to improvise. He was the Picasso of surfers.
After I got dropped, I had so much pressure put on me by people telling me that I should be sponsored. And my parents were telling me, you need to move away and get a job, let go of this dream. I moved to Australia and didn’t surf for three months. I was going to try and let go and become somebody else, maybe work in the mines. But there were waves in Noosa one day and I picked up this old, waterlogged four-fin and I got the feeling again. And I realized this isn’t a dream, this is a gift. I don’t need to drink, I don’t need to smoke, I don’t need to get high. I just love surfing and I’ll surf till I die.
Ever since I got dropped, I don’t surf to try and make a living. I just surf because I love it. It was a lesson in respecting surfing and what I was gifted with. When I first started surfing, I had no money and I was happy. But as soon as money got involved, I got too much too young, and I had a huge ego and all these other problems came into the picture. I couldn’t care less if I never get paid to surf again. I’ll go work in a café somewhere and earn a paycheck. But I will not let the industry make me feel like that about surfing again.
My daughter, Eva, is six years old. She lives with her mom in another country now. I had her and I was doing stupid stuff and taking everything for granted. She lives in Melbourne now and I miss her dearly. I don’t get to see her that often. I can barely afford fuel these days, but if I save up I can go see her. When you have a child, never take it for granted because you don’t know what’s coming around the bend.
Now Jo [Lee’s girlfriend, Joanne Mckay] is pregnant and I’m going to be less selfish. And if I am going to be selfish, it’s going to be for surfing. But I won’t be out late in a club around people I shouldn’t be around.
My mindset is better than ever. You couldn’t break it if you tried. I’ve got friends inviting me to all these luxury parties, everything paid for. And I’m like, “No, dude, I’m going surfing tomorrow.” I’ve done the whole party thing. It didn’t affect my surfing, but it did affect my family life. I believe that I’ve got a second chance. And I’m going to respect that. Because if you keep repeating the same stuff, what have you learned?