The awkwardness of the banquet, the physical strength of Gabriel and the absurd intensity of tour competition…
In case you missed it in the hullaballoo of the Brazilian clean sweep, Mitch Crews, the 24-year-old Gold Coast tour rookie, has relinquished his grip on a World Tour spot.
Mitch realised he was doomed as early as July in Jeffreys Bay when he made “really, really dumb decisions” in his heat and “just had a mental breakdown. I was, like, fuck, I’m on the Dream Tour and I’m not happy. I’m not even as happy as the same point as last year when I hadn’t even qualified. It was a very strange scenario. I mean, holy shit, isn’t the main thing in life to be happy?”
As far as interviews goes, Mitch is my second favourite surfer to call, just behind Mason Ho. When a surfer isn’t surrounded by expectation, when his every word isn’t headlined, he can afford the luxury of candour.
BeachGrit spoke to Mitch at roughly 10:15 am, two days before Christmas, at Duranbah Beach, where Mitch was preparing with wax a five-six single fin his brother, the shaper Alex Crews, had made him. “The waves are horrible and I haven’t surfed since I’ve been home,” he says, “and this is the best way for me to enjoy myself.”
BeachGrit: Will the ASP banquet be tinged with great sadness? Will your dance moves be a mere shuffle instead of your usual twerking/crumping?
Mitch: I’d prefer not to go. I think this could be the one year that I actually get away with not having to go. I’ve never really enjoyed myself in the past. I feel awkward at it. The surfers’ speeches address a group of people that aren’t surfers and then you look at the crowd and it’s all surfers.
BeachGrit: Why the personal awkwardness?
Mitch: Maybe how everyone dresses is a bit awkward. I feel that people aren’t comfortable in their suits and in their dresses. It’s like they think they look really suave but it doesn’t actually fit them properly. And everyone’s got makeup on and when you walk into the first brightly lit room you can see how much makeup is on. Throughout the year people are salty and sandy and looking horrible but, still, it’s funny to see how everyone looks in those suits.
BeachGrit: Dion (Atkinson, the rookie of the year, also relegated) has to make a most difficult speech at the banquet. Thanks for the trophy, see you… uh… maybe in 2016…
Mitch: I almost didn’t want to win if I got knocked off. That would be a horrible speech to make. Like, I’m stoked but I did shit. Not that Dion did shit, but I’m really, really happy I don’t have to make that speech. That’d make the banquet extra extra awkward.
BeachGrit: What will you do during the Snapper contest?
Mitch: I was thinking about going on a sabbatical somewhere else, a small town, where’s there fun waves and where I can get better at surfing. It’ll be the first time I avoid it. I’ve always been there for it. I live there but I have no reason to be around it. I’m not in the comp, I’m not in the trials. I’ll go away, practise, and come back with a backhand like Adriano De Souza and fuck everyone up!
BeachGrit: What good friends did you make on the World Tour?
Mitch: I became good friends with Kai Otton. I got deep with that guy. Kerrsy is awesome. He’s a nomad and he doesn’t give a fuck about anything. In general, everyone was very intense and very serious and it was hard for me to insert myself into conversations.
BeachGrit: Did your rookie year feel like your first year in high school?
Mitch: It was really hard to break into people’s comfort and trust zones. I feel like I had to drive a lot of the conversations with people. It’s very hard to get a laugh out of some people. I knew who to keep clear of and who I’d get a good convo out of of. I had to pick and choose my conversations.
BeachGrit: Did you fall under Kelly’s spell?
Mitch: Every time I looked at him I felt as if I didn’t get much value. I didn’t want to ask him stuff because he’s the hero and he’s the guy. I had so many questions, too, because he seems like he’d have so much cool stuff to say. I was out there when he did the 720 and I got to touch his bald head. Me and Brother (Kolohe Andino) paddled up to him and we said, you did it! I got a quick grab and that was that.
BeachGrit: How was Kelly’s demeanour afterward?
Mitch: He was very calm. He was very cool. But he did say it was the best air he’d ever done. I think that’s strange for him. He never says that was the best barrel or best turn I’ve ever done. Brother said, Fuck! after Kelly landed it. Obvious, that’s the end of the hunt for the 720 and the old mate did it.
BeachGrit: What was the best surfing you witnessed, up close?
Mitch: The heat with John John and Kelly at Teahupoo was the most stupid surfing I’ve ever seen. That first exchange, in the first two minutes, when John John got the nine-nine and we saw him ride the barrel no-hands on a 10-footer and then Kelly did a Bob Burnquist loop-the-loop and got a 10. I didn’t know what to do or say. The waves were fucking huge and they were doing this crazy barrel riding at an event I couldn’t believe I was a part of, really.
BeachGrit: What is the one misconception about the dream tour?
Mitch: It’s not as much of a dream as people make it out to be. It’s real stressful and I had a lot of trouble dealing with all the attention. And the whole competition side was very intense. I felt very awkward in the competition area because I’m really social and felt like I had to go through the charade of putting my headphones on and then staring at the camera all strong. I lost interest during the year because, straight up, I’m not ready to sacrifice all the cool things in life to go for those big competitive goals. I’ve gotta wait until that kicks in. I’m only 24. I like being 24 and a normal dude and getting to have fun and meet people and drink coffees and go out in clubs and do that sorta shit. And, truthfully, I’m not good enough at surfing yet. I need to put in a hard year of getting better.
BeachGrit: How good is Gabriel up close?
Mitch: He’s ridiculous. He’s got that full Avatar body and I think he’s really, really ridiculously strong. So strong. He muscles through any form of wave. He plays with any wave from knee-high to six foot. He’s unfathomably good.
BeachGrit: What was your high point on the tour?
Mitch: Travelling to the events in Europe, on the road, being young and being a pro surfer.