Dusty Payne has spent the past six years bouncing on and off the ‘CT, battling injury throughout. Since first qualifying in 2011, he's damaged his knee twice, his ankle once, and, most recently, elected to have back surgery to repair a nerve in his lower back that was giving him such horrible pain it was literally keeping him up at night.

After six months out of the water, he was able to start surfing again in July. In October he went to Portugal to begin working on a SURFER film project, where he told us he felt as though he was basically starting from scratch in a lot of ways: he had a new outlook, a new attitude, and elevated goals and expectations for himself. He knows he's better than the results he’s earned on tour in the past, and can't wait to get back on the ‘CT to prove it, if only to himself.

Yesterday was a big step. Winning the Pipeline Invitational against a field of Pipe specialists is no easy task. We called Dusty to hear how he's feeling about (once again) putting on a ‘CT jersey at Pipeline.

Congrats on yesterday!

Thanks man. I'm super stoked.

It must've felt good to get some of that competitive momentum back.

Yeah. It's been a process, it takes time. But this feels really good.

You've had a chance to get some waves at home this past month in preparation, yeah?

It's been super fun. Just really rippable. We've had a couple Honolua days, but nothing special. It hasn't been ideal because of the swell direction and the winds have been funky, but I think the end of this month and into January is going to be really good.

In Portugal you said you were surfing at about 70 percent. How are you feeling today, six weeks later?

I'm probably about 85 percent now. My body is still getting better and I'm starting to feel more comfortable on a daily basis. It's just pain management. But it's starting to feel better than it has in a long time.

That final yesterday was tricky. The wind went onshore, and only a few waves were properly barreling. Towards the end of the final you got spit out of that inside Backdoor drainer. How did it feel kicking out of that wave and basically knowing you'd done enough to win?

It was such a tricky heat. The conditions were tough and you really had to be selective on which ones you picked out. All day I was just trying to manage my heats. To be selective and not catch a ton of waves. But in the final, I caught more waves than in all my other heats combined [laughs]. I just wanted to give myself some more opportunities when it went onshore because I really wanted to win that final. After that inside wave, I knew it was going to be tough for the other guys to find a wave like that because of the inconsistency of them. I still didn't feel too comfortable because it's Pipeline--another set can come at any minute and all the guys in the final were capable of dropping 8s and 9s easily. But I was stoked to get that one and I'm super happy to be in the main event.

Photo: WSL/Poullenot

And you got a taste of that winning feeling again.

[Laughs] Yeah, it's been awhile. Anytime you can win it gives you that positive influence that helps keep your fire lit. It's tough when you've been losing for awhile. You can lose that fire, for sure.

The WSL's website isn't showing whether you're in heat 5 or heat 6, or if you're surfing against John or Gabe. Do you know?

I don't. I've heard John, I've heard Gabe...I think I'm against John, but who knows.

Either way, there's always a wildcard that throws a wrench into a world title campaign at Pipe. Like Mason Ho did to Filipe two years back. Are you ready to be that wrench for John or Gabe?

I'm just pumped to surf Pipe with a couple other guys. That's what gets me excited. I just want to surf Pipe as many times as I can and I don't really care who I draw. Honestly, that's it. It's really you against the ocean out there and mother nature calls all the shots.

It looks like there's a lot of swell coming, but with some tricky winds. Have you looked at the forecast much?

I don't really check swell forecasts. My dad is the ultimate guru, so he'll fill me in. And everybody around here is a swell forecaster so I'll just listen to what they're all saying.

Yeah, no reason to stress it. Just wake up and check it.

That's what I do at home. I put my boards in the car and go check the waves. If it's good, I'm excited and if it's bad, I'm not disappointed because I didn't know if it was gonna be good or bad anyways [laughs].

The old school way.

Exactly. Love that. I remember driving down to the beach when I was a kid with those old school box radios to get the swell forecast. That was the best. I need to get one of those radios back. Just really freak guys out [laughs].

Well, depending on whether you have Gabe or John, I'm sure the other one, along with Jordy and Julian, will be your biggest supporter this week. Best of luck from this end!

Thanks! I can't wait.

Photo: WSL/Poullenot

[Mantle image: Sherman]