So…I missed the Indo trip. And apparently it had been firing. We also had to catch him before it was too late. I was to profile Jack Freestone and he had but one request from the start: I just don’t want it to be all about me. Which is kind of a tall order for any writer. It’s like telling a painter to color the wall yellow, but not too yellow.

The great journalist Joan Didion once said, “It is easy to see the beginnings of things, and harder to see the ends.” But at the moment, I was fuzzy on where to even start, let alone end. At the moment I was loopy and jet-lagged behind the wheel of a rented eight-seater Hyundai hurtling into the dark, streetlamp-less African night of KwaZulu-Natal. How does one profile a guy who doesn’t want to talk about himself? ‘Cause I get it — everyone comes across as a douche going, The thing about me is… But at the moment strange figures materialize from the obscure roadside bush — women carrying loads of groceries and water on their heads, hands-free — and somehow I knew the beginning of this story was already revealing itself.

Stumbling up the stairs I knock on the hotel door and Jack and his coach Stace greet me with a hug. “You made it!” they say, warmly. It’s barely 8 p.m. and the two look like they’re on their way to bed, a common curfew inflicted by the time change. But Jack also had a heat in the 10K QS the next morning.

Yep, made it.


The competitors’ tent at a QS event has the feel of an international holding pen for prisoners. Young males with exotic surnames pace the floor nervously, or stretch, or huddle in small groups of their fellow countrymen. The combination of wave quality and travel exhaustion paint their collective faces with a look of Can we just get this over with? On the beach South African teenagers frolic in the afternoon sun, playing soccer in an inflatable Monster energy drink arena, but in the water it’s 2-foot and crumbly. The heat is a battle royale with no-names, CT-stars, QS-grinders and wildcards thrashing water to catch waves that refuse to crest. I’m still not entirely positive how priority works in a four-man heat and it seems like a few of the competitors aren’t either. The power goes out 10 minutes into a heat, thus the judges can’t judge, and a dripping wet Seth Moniz wanders back into the tent with his leash and jersey on, grinning, like, So…this thing still running? It also feels like this isn’t a totally uncommon occurrence at these events.

Jack, however, appears totally unfazed, if not at ease. He won his first heat earlier in the day in similarly shit conditions — and couldn’t care less. Which is something I noticed about him quickly: He ain’t a complainer. In fact he’s pretty much perpetually in a sunny mood. Completely comfortable in his own skin. Another thing: for being nearly 6’2” on land, he looks a lot smaller on a wave (in a good way) — springy, nimble and low on the deck.

See, Jack should be, but undeniably is not a cocky guy. I say “should,” but maybe I mean “could” because all the elements point toward that possibility. On walks to and from the comp he turns heads and I watch people’s faces register How do I know him, again? Even if they don’t. I hear a star-struck teen scold his friends for not spotting him, hissing, That’s Jack Freestone, bru, he flippin’ famous!

Let alone the comp commentators that swoon over him in the heats and his mere presence on land. Absolutely none of this appears to have gone to Jack’s head, though. Which, again, is a conundrum to me. Jack would be unnoticeable if he weren’t so imposingly handsome, so effortlessly stylish, so goddamn célébrité.

Hard to be humble when you stuntin’ on a Jumbotron.

As much as Jack’s immediate posse respects and looks up to him, Jack refuses to play the talent of the group, let alone the star. He will not sit at the head of the table, as much as that chair looks naked without him. Refuses to be more than an equal part of their pie. Refuses to make it about him. He loathes talking about himself, literally sighs at my questions that dig deep or pry at his intentions. Because his intentions, like his character, are indeed pure. Just like the tight crew he surrounds himself with.


I like Jack’s crew. Jack’s crew, on tour and at home, is small, unassuming, young and genuine. And I think that says a lot about Jack. While most guys on tour might travel with an entourage, or a seasoned, older coach turned mentor, or a parent, Jack has Stace (his coach), Mikey (his filmer) and both Mitches. Stace is a 25-year-old from the Gold Coast who looks 19 and is partially responsible for Jack qualifying last year, even if he’s too modest to admit it. Stace also has an amazing coaching style. Ostensibly more of a brotherhood than a coach/coached relationship, I asked Stace about his technique or how they prepare for a heat and he tells me there’s not much too it.

“I’d say the main thing I do would be making Jack feel at home no matter where we are. Then post-heat I can help him break down things he did well or things to improve on.”

But again, Stace, like Jack, is modest. I watch him film every single one of Jack’s heats and freesurfs over the week, diligently editing every single clip into one unending library that he revisits with or without Jack each night. After one particular session yesterday, Stace edited Jack’s footage into a mini blooper reel scored to Martin Solveig’s “Do It Right.” He and Jack watched it together in tears but I could clearly see a method here. A brilliant way of taking the pressure off Jack’s mistakes to learn and grow from.

And perhaps that’s all that Jack needs from Stace. No specific guidance, but someone on tour that he knows is in his corner.

I join Jack and Mitch Crews for a session out front, watching them trade blows on a wedgy little righthander before their next heats. The two hoot and heckle each other and I ask Jack how they got so close and he says within Crews’ earshot, “Mitch had been trying to be my friend for some time, so I had him fill out an application with a resume, and…” “Aww get f--ked, mate!” hollers Mitch.

“Nah, Crews and Coleborn — we’re kinda like sparring partners, but also best friends,” says Jack. “We literally do everything together — contests, get coffee, travel…”

I ask him about where he sees the film going — its theme, I mean — and we discuss direction and other subjects he doesn’t seem too interested in.

“I just don’t like the limelight being on me,” says Jack. “I think for most of my surfing career it’s been the underdog story and I got used to it being that way. Maybe it’s my upbringing or whatever, but I just wasn’t brought up to gloat and I’ve always had an urge to share what I’ve got with everyone.”


After a few identical days of Jack advancing heats and surfers dropping like flies in the competitors’ tent, Durban is supposed to be firing. Like, epic 6-foot New Pier stand-ups-firing. Jack kinda has a heat in a couple hours and I’ve kinda got a rental van and even though I’m kinda supposed to hang with Jack, Mitch Crews and Mitch Coleborn kinda twisted my arm on driving them to said barrels. I kinda oblige, plus I’m sure Jack could use a rest from me, too. It’s not like I’ve made his spacious two-man room with Stace into a three-man one.

‘Cause I kinda have.

En route to Durban Town I pry Crews and Coleborn — Jack’s best surf mates from home — about the details Jack’s too shy to express. Gimme your best Freestone tale, I beg. What is “Classic Jack” to you?

“You want Classic Jack?” says Crews from the backseat. “I got one. Last year Jack had qualified after a really, really long year so we finally get back to the Goldy and we’re all together — the whole friend group — and they’re throwing this huge qualification party for him at the North Kirra Surf Club. So it’s all our best mates, such a fun night, and it’s getting really heated. So basically, we rallied everyone back to Jack’s house for an absolute rager and everyone’s super loose and by midnight it was coincidentally one of our best mate’s birthday that next morning. And he’s just a regular guy there for a good night for Jack, and even though there were about 40 people, suddenly Jack just stops the music and goes, ‘Everyone: Hands on heads, hands on heads!’ And everyone in the party puts their hands on their heads. And then he goes, ‘Enough, enough, we’ve partied for me and that’s it and I’ve really appreciated it, but right now we’re celebrating Dan’s birthday…HAPPY BIRTHDAY, DAN!!’ And he just totally switched the vibe from him to Dan and Dan felt so stoked. The vibe just got that much better. But just the fact that he got everyone to get their hands on their heads in the middle of this rager was sooo sick. But when Jack talks, everyone respects him that much and listens. And that about sums him up; that’s him to a T.”

Coleborn nods, sitting shotty beside me and chimes in, “F--k that’s a good one. He’s just the nicest dude in the world. He’s also the biggest softy in the world [laughs]. Jack will just come up to you out of the blue and give you a cuddle on any given day [laughs]. Just going, ‘F--k I love you, c--t.’”

“Yeah, he really loves a cuddle,” laughs Crews. “He seriously is the nicest, got-your-back kinda guy in the world. You’d think because he’s got the spotlight on him a lot that he wouldn’t be like that, but he is. It’s just never really about him, ever. He’ll literally go out of his way to put you first, before himself. He’s also always surrounded himself with only good vibes and refuses to hang with people that are negative. He’s also kind of looked after himself, or should I say, been on his own program sort of thing.”

“Yeah I mean his mum and dad split up when he was pretty young, so in a way he’s raised himself a little. Like, he got a job at a surf shop at, like, 14 to make some money. He was sweeping floors in a factory shop, not getting anything handed to him.”

“He definitely took responsibility of his own future in that way. But also just surfed more than everyone though too,” says Crews. “Like, in his age bracket he wasn’t even the best in his pack but because he frothed so hard and loved surfing all day, he got so gnarly.”

New Pier isn’t quite what we expected. There’s surf, but it resembles big, washy Huntington Beach more than classic 6-foot standups. We pass on Town and head back toward Ballito, back to one of the empty wedges we’d groaned over just off the highway. We take a random exit that looks like it leads to a carpark and resign to surfing mediocre peaks…alone.

There are a few fishermen watching lines on the shore and on the way into the surf, Crews looks at one and puts two palms together over his head, gesturing to the stranger if he’s seen any sharks. The fisherman grins like, Well, that is the ocean...And he hops in anyway.

Between sets, Coleborn continues. “I remember the first time I ever saw Jack out at D’Bah. He did this huge alley-oop in front of my face and instead of being the sour old c--t that I usually am, I decided to just paddle over and say hi to him first, and he was just so cool. I went straight home and texted Kai [Neville] that he’s gotta start filming this kid. I was an instant fan.”

“He’d just inspire people somehow,” says Crews. “Especially to surf ALL day. Like, he’d ring us all the time going, ‘It’s pumping!’ and it’d be so shit, but he just wanted to surf and hang [laughs]. Jack’s the biggest f--king frother.”

And it’s true. Whether he shies away from it, loathes it or hides from the attention…he demands it by default. Is inspiring, regardless. Jack has that charismatic leader’s vibe that makes people stop and want to listen, want to watch what he does, want to get what he’s all about.

Later that evening, Jack gets back from another heat win and finds us in the hotel cafe having a drink before dinner. The head of the table winks at him beckoningly, but he pulls a chair from the one beside us and slides it in between both Mitches.