Nat Young, Santa Cruz’s 22-year-old phenom, had a huge debut on Tour this year, with two second-place finishes at Bells and in Portugal and a third-place finish at Keramas. He’s headed into the Pipe event ranked ninth in the world, a wave the hard-charging goofyfoot knows well. I caught up with Nat from his home in Santa Cruz to get his thoughts on his first World Tour blitz and what winning Rookie of the Year means. He’s clearly a focused guy, and his competitiveness practically oozed through the phone.
You’ve had a very impressive rookie season. What were your personal expectations at the beginning of your first year on Tour?
You know, I expected to do well going into this year. I felt like the WCT was a place where I could do well, because I surf better when the waves are good and Tour events are almost all held in good waves. Although [success] did seem to happen pretty quickly. To get second at Bells right away (the second event of the year) was a bit shocking. I didn’t do any of the WQS at all this year, and just focused on doing well in the WCT. I was pretty confident that I’d requalify.
How did that second-place finish at Bells feel? Is that the highlight of your career to this point?
Yeah I'd say it was definitely a highlight. It felt amazing. Although I do get bummed out coming in second. You do all the hard work to make the Final, then after losing in it there's a moment where it doesn't feel very good. But then you look back at it and, you know, it’s second place. It's a pretty big accomplishment for me.
READ: Nat Young After Bells
Do you get the impression that everybody else on Tour is just as bummed to get second? Or are there guys who are just stoked to do well?
Shoot, I don’t know. I think everyone probably feels kind of similar. To put all that effort in and then lose, you're not gonna come in from your heat with the biggest smile on your face. I mean I guess some guys could. But for me, I feel like I just lost. I can't be that stoked, but then you get up on the podium, and it's like, OK [laughs contentedly], this is pretty good.
How did your confidence evolve throughout the season? Did it just build from the Bells event?
Well, the most nervous I got was before my first heat at Snapper (first event of the season). I really wanted to prove to everyone that I could do well. There are nerves before the first heat of any event, just because you don't want to lose in the first round. But mostly I was just having so much fun and was excited to be there.
Were there guys you really didn't want to face in heats?
Yeah, when you look at heat draws you'll kinda say "I'd rather surf against this guy than this guy" [refuses to name names]. But what's funny is I'd think that than I'd usually end up beating the guy that I thought would be a harder opponent and end up losing to the guy that I thought "pssh, I've got this guy for sure."
What do you see in an opponent that makes it seem like you should beat them?
Hmm, I don't know. Maybe it's that I feel like I can surf better than them, or that they're hot and cold and have good heats then bad heats, and if I can get a good wave right at the beginning they might just crumble or something. But everybody on the WCT is so talented. You don't get there by accident. Every heat really is that hard.
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What was your favorite event? What was your favorite heat?
Fiji was my favorite event. I got the best wave of my life on that trip. We were getting barreled almost every single day. I got to surf Restaurants and Cloudbreak with one other guy out. Even though I didn't do as well as I had at Bells, I had so much fun there. My second round heat at Restaurants was pretty fun. Those were the best waves I got to surf all year. I got two really good waves that just stand out, because you get like three barrels on a wave. [Nat got a 9.2 and a 9.03 on those two waves. Do yourself a favor and sidle up to the Heat Analyzer].
Do you think there could be any advantage at all to being a rookie on Tour?
No, not at all. To beat the best you can't leave it close. And you have less experience at every wave. You don't know the lineup as well as the other guys. For me I felt like that was the hardest part--the inexperience with the waves. I didn't know certain waves and I felt like that's why I lost some heats.
Anything you’d change about this year?
I'm really stoked with how the year went, but it's not over yet. I want to do well at Pipe. I've surfed out there since I was a little kid. I feel like I know that wave better than a lot of other waves on Tour. I've only done one contest there (2013 Volcom Pipe Pro), but I got a 10 on my first wave.
How big is winning Rookie of the Year for you?
Rookie of the Year is huge for me. It was a goal I've had since the beginning of the year, and it felt like an achievable goal. It was always in my head that I wanted to get that award. It's what I dedicated this whole year to.