Few of us get a second shot at glory, but after battling his way onto the 2007 World Championship Tour and then failing to requalify, St. Augustine native Gabe Kling has fought his way back into the limelight. I sat down Tuesday afternoon with the guy who will start the year ranked 32nd in the world, to ask him about the lessons he learned in 2007 and how he plans on achieving his goal…a top 15 finish.
Joel: What are your feelings about being back on the Tour after a year requalifying on the WQS?
Gabe: I’ve been frothing. [Laughs.] By the time I got to Hawaii last November, I was safely qualified, so ever since then I’ve been looking forward to the first contest.
What did it feel like in 2007 when you failed to requalify? You had got close, right?
[In 2007] I had a bad year on the WCT, but I won my first big contest on the WQS in Japan, so coming into Hawaii, I was pretty sure I’d requalify. I was looking to get a result at Pipe, but I didn’t, and after I lost, I couldn’t even watch the rest of the contest. I flew to Maui to surf and that’s where I found out I was off. It was tough. It took me a while to get over that.
Were you crushed, or did it just seem like a momentary blip?
It was crushing at the time. I knew I could do it again, but the WQS is such a long, hard road.
Are you approaching the Tour differently this year, after having had the experience you did in 2007?
I want to be a lot more prepared, and I want to know my boards and the waves [on Tour] better. My first year on Tour, I hadn’t surfed a lot of the spots, and because I was doing the WQS and the WCT, I never really had time to show up early and prepare properly. I feel like the second time around, at least I’ll have had experience with all the spots.
I hear you’re training with Ian Cairns for the upcoming year. What have you guys been working on?
We work a lot on strategy, and he videos my sessions, so I’ve been watching myself surf a lot. Sometimes it comes with some harsh critiques, but it really helps.
How are you with criticism?
At first we didn’t know each other that well, and he told me, “I’m not gonna candy coat what I think at all.” And he doesn’t. I’m a pretty harsh critic of myself anway.
What has his biggest criticism of your surfing been?
Well, we’re working on being a lot more active in the lineup. A lot of events are at beachbreaks, so it’s about going out with a plan and trying to catch eight or ten waves.
What else are you guys working on?
Trying to get more vertical frontside, and being more exciting to watch. I mean, everybody can work on that, but [Ian] knows his stuff, and the things we’re working on are helping me get better, for sure.
I’ve heard a lot of guys say they’re going to work hard to deny Kelly a tenth title.
Well sure, they’ve tried that about nine times now.
Is that type of thing you care about, or are you more focused on your own goals?
I’d like to beat Kelly, but there are 44 other guys to worry about. It’s not just about him.
What are Kelly’s weakness? Does he have one?
Last year it didn’t seem like he did. All the things that should be his weaknesses he’s turned into strengths. It seems like everytime he’s combo’d, you almost know he’s gonna paddle back out and get two “10”s. It’s like the classic approach of going out and getting two “9”s just doesn’t work against Kelly. The few times he has lost, it’s been the opposite: he has a really strong early heat and loses in the dying seconds. He likes the dramatic finish, the comeback. I don’t know if he does it on purpose or what.
Which waves on Tour play to your strengths?
Snapper is tailor-made for any surfer, and I’m looking forward to it a lot. France is a beachbreak, and I’m really comfortable in beachbreaks. Lowers, too.
What kind of finish are you predicting for yourself in 2009?
My goal is to be in the Top 15.
Will you hedge your year by doing WQS events too?
In years past, you reevaluate your situation halfway through the year and jump onto the WQS if you weren’t doing well, but it seems like several QS events have been canceled or they conflict with World Tour events. I’ve decided I can do eleven WQS contests without really going out of my way.
So, Gabe, here’s the real question: What does Jacksonville have to do to win a Superbowl?
[Laughs.] I’m a big Jacksonville fan, and it was a disappointing year for us. Everybody got hurt, so I think if the team is healthy and we bring in some playmakers, we might be alright.