Jack Freestone takes a seat next to me with bloodshot eyes and arms burned red from the contest jersey down. He confesses he’s feeling a little lightheaded, and he’s entitled to. He has just become the World Junior Champion for the second time in three years, a win he hopes will throw water on the hype and pressure that’s been coming his way since his first title in 2010. “I got hyped up and some people were writing me off after last year when I didn’t win,” he says. “I guess this one is a little bit of a statement.”
As the heir apparent to the Coolie Kid throne—now being shared by Mick Fanning and Joel Parkinson—there is no shortage of eyes watching Jack. The thing is, with John Florence, Gabriel Medina, Miguel Pupo, and Kolohe Andino all either on Tour or vying for a World Title, there’s no doubt Australia is currently playing catch up. Despite this, Jack is content to iron out the flaws and strap in for the long haul. —Jed Smith
How has Coolangatta shaped you as a surfer?
I’d be lying if I said Joel, Mick, and Dean [Morrison] hadn’t influenced me a lot. They were three standouts. Plus a lot of local guys like Brent Dorrington and the rest of the guys at D’bah have really influenced me. I live on top of D’bah hill, so everywhere I go, there’s a famous surfer.
Have you taken on elements of their surfing?
I was always just so entertained by them. I was in awe every time they stood up. I still am. I pretty much sit back when I’m with them and watch because they’re friggin’ amazing. So, when it comes to my surfing, I think my approach has more to do with the variety of waves along the coast—where I grew up, we have slabs, barrels, rippable waves, lefts and rights. It’s the ultimate place to learn.
Coolangatta can be a pretty heavy place in terms of violence and drugs. Was it hard to avoid?
It wasn’t hard to avoid at all. You just don’t become a part of that shit. I’ve got a really good bunch of friends who aren’t caught up in that stuff. They’re not into drugs or fighting. Everyone in my circle is in the surf industry, but that bad side definitely does exist. I can remember this time when it was like three weeks in a row where someone died just from getting bashed to death for no reason. Surfing always kept me focused and gave me something to do.
The first year you won the World Junior Title you actually choked pretty bad at Narrabeen and sort of won by default. Is that one of your flaws as a surfer?
Yeah, it was. I was so new to it. It was my first year doing the World Pro Juniors. It was pretty much nerves that got the better of me. It was weird. I just couldn’t handle the media and all the people hyping me up. I didn’t feel like I was as good as people were claiming. It put me under a lot of pressure that I didn’t need.
How do you overcome that?
You just don’t listen to them. What I took from it is that no matter what anyone says, you know who you are and what you’re capable of.
You’ve had a pretty hectic travel schedule over the past couple of years.
Since 2010 it’s been crazy. I’ve pretty much been living out of a suitcase for two years. I get to go to new places and meet new people, which is really cool. But I reckon I’ve only been home two or three months max in the last year. I’m adapting to it. I think it’s a stepping-stone and there are all types of stepping-stones in surfing. You have to adapt to traveling and being away from friends and family and just learning to be places you don’t want to be. Right now, I’m loving what I’ve got.
How much have you studied what it takes to make a career out of pro surfing?
It’s not just about surfing these days. There are so many technical things behind surfing. But I don’t study it that much. I just deal with things as they come and try to learn from my mistakes. It’s all you can do. I’ve been blessed with the opportunity to win the World Juniors twice and also to grow up in the place where I grew up, with the world’s best surfers. So I just feed off them and want to get to where they are.
Are you concerned you’re about to disappear down the competitive path and not get enough time to boost the other side of your profile?
I don’t worry about that stuff. Usually, when I’m home, I’m filming and shooting a bit and when I’m away and there is no comp on I will shoot and film. Image and profile-wise, I’m not too fussed. Last year I had time to do that and yeah, I just really want to get stuck into the WQS.
What improvements have you made in your surfing?
There are things that I’m trying to learn and it’s all the rail and power stuff. And it’s really cool because I have the right people around me. There is so much to being a surfer. Skill is only a part of it. It’s also knowing the different moments in heats where the worst surfer can win on bad waves, or just knowing what to do in certain situations. So I’m still learning.
Do you feel like you’re at a level now that is good enough to match up with the world’s best?
That’s a tough question. I think almost every surfer has flaws, except Kelly. To tell you the truth, I don’t think I’m up there with those guys. I’d like to think I am, but there are still so many things I need to learn before I’m able to compete with them. From what I can see, there are a lot of guys on the WQS who are qualifying who can only do airs. As much as I love airs, to be on Tour, you have to be better than just that. You have to have more in your repertoire. I want to have the best of both worlds. Look at Taj. He’s got the airs down, the hacks, the backhand, everything.
A quick scan across the best surfers in the world your age—John John, Kolohe, Medina, Pupo—doesn’t reveal a whole lot of Australians in the mix. And really, not since the Coolie kids has Australia produced a genuine World Title contender. What happened?
There are a lot of good Aussie surfers, but there are none that have gone on to do what those kids have. I guess there will be in the future. Australia is such an evolving country. It’s weird because almost every one or two years, there will be a phenomenal surfer who will come through the ranks from one of the major countries—Gabriel did it, John John did it, Kolohe did it. I think every couple of years, there will be a freakish surfer and hopefully Australia will produce the next one.