It’s been a stormy year for Zeke Lau. As one of Hawaii’s brightest young exports, there were lofty predictions for what he’d do once he qualified for the World Tour, especially after how close he came at the end of 2013. But in 2014, things didn’t go to plan. After a disappointing season on the ‘QS, Zeke parted ways with many of his sponsors, including Volcom, whom he’d had been riding for since gromhood. While many of his counterparts would have crumbled, Zeke honed his focus and tightened his game. See above for the walk, and below for the talk:

Last year was your second full year doing the ‘QS and it didn't go as well as hoped. (Zeke finished 105th). Tell me about the year.

Last year was tough, I'm not gonna lie. But I'm trying to pull some positivity out of it and turn it into a learning experience. I had a rough year competing, but I was also able to take away a lot and learn from my losses. I've been spending a lot of time understanding my boards and dialing in what exactly works for me. But when it comes down to it, the 'QS isn't easy. They call it a grind for a reason.

Is it more difficult than you imagined?

When I first got on the ‘QS two years ago, everything seemed to go my way. I had some good results and I wasn't that far off from qualifying at the end of the Hawaiian leg of the season. I thought people overhyped the 'QS and it was going to be easy to make it on the World Tour. But the following year, it felt like I couldn't catch a break. Things got bumpy. But I've learned to be patient and that qualifying can take time. It's been a struggle, but it's made me a better surfer and a better person. I'm going to get there and I feel better than ever now.

So what's your plan moving forward?

I'm looking ahead and focused on qualifying for the World Tour. I'm chasing every single event that I can get into. I'm going to give it my all this year.

Photo: Noyle

Like having to go work with an ex the day after a breakup, Zeke Lau surfing in the Volcom Pipe Pro could’ve gotten weird. He chose for it not to be, and notched a strong semifinal finish instead. Photo: Noyle

I understand that you parted ways with your longtime sponsor, Volcom, along with a lot of your other sponsors. What happened?

Yeah, there’s been a lot of speculation about what happened. But here's the gist of it: My contract with Volcom was set to expire and we were doing our due diligence and homework to ensure that, whatever happened, I was getting a fair deal. When it came to renegotiating my contract with them, we just couldn’t make it all line up in time. They had to have their budgets finalized and we just couldn’t make it work with the timeline. So unfortunately, we parted ways, but there’s absolutely no bad blood between us. They still feel like a family and I spend most of my time at Pipe hanging out in the yard of the Volcom House. But I’m really looking forward to the next chapter and lining up with the right brand as I move forward in my career. For my other sponsors, well, that was just the result of budget cuts. But I’m looking forward, not back. I’m training hard, I’m focused, and I’m optimistic for the future.

You had a really strong showing at the Volcom Pipe Pro and barely missed out an appearance in the final. Was it weird surfing in that event having recently separated from the brand?

Nah, not at all. Like I said, I have so many close friends at Volcom. I spent most of my time at the event hanging at the house. So no, it really wasn't weird at all, despite not riding for them anymore. Hawaii is my home and I feel comfortable surfing and competing here no matter what.

We've talked about this before, but do you feel that you get stereotyped at all? I feel like a lot of people see you as this intimidating person when that's not the whole picture.

Yeah, I've been battling that idea for a while. In a heat, I want people to think that I'm a real competitor. That I'm focused, and yeah, maybe a little intimidating. But that's just in a heat. Out of a contest, I promise, I'm a pretty mellow guy.

Photo: Noyle

No stickers, still smiling. Zeke Lau with another mellow guy, Kaiborg, his board caddy at the Volcom Pipe Pro. Photo: Noyle