Last November, a little-known surfer (at least to the surfing masses) from the Sunshine Coast of Australia named Reef Heazlewood launched into surf stardom (quite literally) with two massive frontside airs on Oahu's North Shore. Both went viral. Unfortunately, only a few days later, he came crashing back down to earth when he got word his longtime sponsor, Billabong, wouldn't be keeping him on the team for 2019.
Rather than let that news drag him down, Heazlewood kept doing what he does best: turning heads in the water in Hawaii. By the time the Triple Crown had come to a close, he was ranked 29 on the ‘QS—not bad for an unsponsored kid in only his second year competing full time.
A few months later he'd make a few more big statements competing as a wildcard in Australia, with a runner-up finish to Italo Ferreira in the Red Bull Airborne and a ‘CT win versus Julian Wilson at the Quik Pro. That momentum saw him through to another wildcard berth at the Rip Curl Pro Bells Beach. Oh, and he also had a new sticker on the nose of his board.
To get Heazlewood’s perspective on his whirlwind past 6 months, we recently gave him a ring.
As far as mainstream attention goes, you shot onto the radar in Hawaii last year with a couple of massive airs, but then lost your major sponsor shortly after. Was that a big surprise?
Yeah, it was a pretty big surprise, and it came out of the blue. It was funny how it happened: I did those couple of airs and they got posted everywhere online, and then a few days later I got the call from Billabong letting me know they were letting me go. But it was nice that I had done the airs, because they really helped me get some attention. I was in Hawaii, so I still had Haleiwa and Sunset to focus on, so I just went into those events without any pressure and just tried to blow up. And I felt like I did pretty good for my first Triple Crown.
Sometimes people can get angry or upset or sad [about losing a sponsor], but I feel like it actually gave me a bit of fire, and the awareness that I can always push things 10 percent more, whether that's at home training or when I'm away at an event. It was definitely a wake-up call, but it was really good for me. In a way I'm stoked it happened, as I think it's helped me a lot in a short period of time.
WATCH REEF HEAZLEWOOD’s VIRAL AIR FROM NOVEMBER LAST YEAR:
And you weren't down for very long. A few months later you won the trials at the Quik pro, and then beat Julian Wilson in the third round of the main event and finished runner-up in the Airborne final to Italo Ferreira. What did that all mean for you?
I got second in the trials last year and I wanted to do one better this year, but I wasn't really stressing it. And I had already gotten the invite to the Airborne, so I figured I could just focus on that, and see what happens in the trials. And then I won it [laughs.] After that I was kind of freaking out the whole week. It was pretty strange getting heaps of attention, because it felt like it happened in a week, like I went from not that big, to a lot bigger [laughs].
How did your Hurley deal come about? Bob Hurley wrote on Instagram that you guys met for the first time on April 1, and a week later you were signing a contract?
Yeah, I had got in contact with Bob last year, but it had nothing to do with Hurley, he was just encouraging me. I finally met up with him before the contest and we had a good chat, and then I went into the event not worrying too much about it. But as soon as I got knocked I got the call from Mitch, the OZ team manager for Hurley, and two days later I was sponsored by them. It took me by surprise how fast it actually happened. It was really awesome.
How about Bells? How did that wildcard come about?
I got a replacement wildcard, because Griffin [Colapinto] hurt himself, and Seabass [Sebastian Zietz] was home because he was having a baby. I think I was actually a few down on the replacement list, but a couple other people couldn't make it, so I got the call to get down there.
What was it like having a heat at 10-foot Bells against Gabriel Medina in Round 3?
It was crazy. That big day with Medina, he's such an animal in those conditions, and I knew I was gonna have to really nail it to win, and I just kind of fell off. I didn't really get into the best rhythm. He's the world champion, and he just took me down, really [laughs].
What was it like trying to perform in those conditions?
It was pretty tricky. When the waves are that big the bumps on the wave are massive too, and that was my downfall. I felt like I couldn't get to the section as early as what I should have, so I was coming down a bit late on every section. But now I've gotten a lot more experience competing out there, which was really what I was aiming for going into the event anyway. Being in those comps has helped prepare me to have a better chance to take down guys like Gabe and John when I eventually get there [qualify for the World Tour].
HIGHLIGHTS FROM THE RED BULL AIRBORNE EVENT:
You finished 29 on the ‘QS last year. You're getting close.
Yeah, I feel like I'm getting closer and closer. I'm feeling pretty confident this year, and I'm hoping to carry this momentum over and get on a roll in a couple of these big ‘QS events coming up.
I'd imagine your recent ‘CT success has done a lot for you confidence.
Definitely. Being able to perform at the highest level definitely makes you think, "alright, I can also do this on the QS." With the performance I was able to have at Snapper and Bells I'm feeling confident and ready to attack the ‘QS. I feel like I can really do it this year.
Any chance we'll see you in the ‘CT at Bali?
I'm not sure. I haven't heard anything yet. I guess it'll be last minute if it happens, so it's just wait and see.
I know you're taking part in the second stop of the Airborne series, so maybe that'll play into your favor, already being there at the event.
[Laughs] That's what I'm hoping.
What has been the hardest part about the ‘QS?
Just how much the conditions change. For me, a lot of the time, the reason I lose is because I haven't adapted fast enough, and that's kind of been my downfall. And when the waves are tricky, it doesn't matter if you feel like you're surfing really well—if you're not on the best waves you won't make a heat on the ‘QS. That's what I'm working on this year, being on the best waves in every heat, and I think that will be really helpful.
What will it mean to you to qualify for the ‘CT?
I really wanna be there. But I also know I really want to be mature in my surfing before I get there. Last year and the year before, I was thinking that if it happens, sweet. But if it doesn't it's no big deal, because I knew my surfing needed to really mature to compete at that level. I feel like that's actually happened pretty fast [laughs.] With everything that's happened since the end of last year, I actually do feel like my surfing is there and that I don't have any more excuses. Basically, now I have to make it.