At 30, Chris Michalak is likely to be the oldest rookie on the World Surf League qualifying series this year.
But the Anna Bay natural-footer does not want to wake up one day in the not-too-distant future and wonder what might have been.
Michalak showed plenty of promise as a junior, carving up grommet events along the East Coast of Australia.
But starting an apprenticeship and partying with friends became more of a priority as he entered his 20s and, until last year, Michalak had not seriously entertained the idea of trying to qualify for the elite tour.
“It probably was about a year ago and I was going through some stuff and there were people pushing me to give it a go,” Michalak said.
“It was my decision but other people pushed me to get back into it because I always talked about it a lot but never really did anything about it. That was probably the point.”
One of his biggest supporters has been his brother and Port Stephens Surf School owner and coach Luke Michalak.
A change in lifestyle habits and a strict training program has Michalak feeling at the peak of his powers.
“I noticed in heats that I was out-paddling kids pretty much half my age ... It’s pretty much the fittest I’ve been,” he said.
He is hoping that will translate in competition and help him realise his goal of qualifying for the World Surf League championship tour.
“It’s got a lot to do with not wanting to have regrets,” he said.
“I’ve never had that self-confidence and I’ve probably got to that age where I’m a bit more mature in the mind and I don’t get nervous any more.”
Qualifying is a two-year-plan. This year is about doing as many events as possible on the qualifying series and getting consistent results. That will give him an improved world ranking which will help him get into higher-rated events, such as Surfest.
“This year is about setting me up for next year, I’m hoping, and obviously learning a lot of stuff because a lot of the guys I’m competing against have been doing it for years,” he said.
“It’s a pretty hard slog and if you’ve got experience in the field, it definitely helps for sure.”
Michalak is ranked 80th on the QS after four low-rated events this year but his ranking was not high enough to make the field of Surfest’s 6000-star rated men’s event, which starts at Merewether Beach on Monday.
He is on the wait list and his only chance of getting in will be if someone pulls out.
Michalak is disappointed not to have gained entry into Surfest as he “really wanted to be in it this year”.
Instead he will turn his focus to Friday and trying to help The Bay Area Boardriders win the Newcastle trials of the Australian Boardriders Battle.
The Australian Boardriders Battle final will be contested by 24 of the country’s strongest clubs at Newcastle Beach this weekend.
The final team will be a local one and determined by trials on Friday.
Michalak believes The Bay Area Boardriders have the five-person team to get through.
It will include Corlette teenage surfing sensations and siblings Mikey and Elle Clayton-Brown, Australian 40-years-and-over champion Mitch Dawkings and Port Stephens product Shannon Brown.
Brown grew up in the Port Stephens are and now spends half of the year in Canada coaching the national surfing team there.
Mikey and Elle are just 13 and 15 years old respectively but have been producing plenty of noteworthy performances in the past 12 months and are considered among the next generation of talented grommets coming through in Australian surfing.
Both are planning to do the Australasian Pro Junior series this year and Elle is currently 27th in the junior women’s rankings.
They competed last weekend in Surfest junior events – Mikey was third in the 14-years final and equal-fifth in the 16-years division.
Elle narrowly missed out on making the 16-years women’s final.
They both also surfed against much older rivals in the Pro Junior events of Surfest and although they didn’t get through their opening round heats both agreed “it was good experience”.
Both are coached by the Michalak brothers and are looking forward to representing their club in the ABB trial on Friday.
“I’ve been in a couple of the teams events over the past two years and we’re expecting to go well,” Mikey said.
“We’ve got a good team and it’s good having guys like Chris to watch and learn from and see how they react to every heat they surf.”
Sibling rivalry ensures the Clayton-Browns keep pushing each other to the next level and rarely a day passes where they are not in the water.
“If I see Mikey do some massive air or turn then I try to get on the next wave and match it,” Elle said.
After the ABB, the next big event for the Clayton-Browns will be the junior contests at the Australian Open of Surfing at Manly from February 25.
But all signs so far are pointing to strong futures in surfing.
“I’d love to make a career out of it,” Mikey said. “My whole lifestyle revolves around the ocean.”