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Mitch Crews Joins the Reef Team, Rookie Year Gets Even Better
Words by Sean Doherty
“I’m fully jetlagging right now, dude. Is that even a word? I feel stoned. It feels like I’m walking around on the moon here.”
Mitch Crews is home on the Gold Coast, fresh off a 12-hour Jo-burg flight, feeling far from fresh. He’s halfway through the wildest, most magnificent year of his young life, his rookie year in surfings major league, and his head’s spinning with more than just jet lag.
In South Africa, the 24-year-old lost in the early rounds at Jeffreys Bay, lost by less than a point, “turned eights into fours.” It’s a loss that’s still gnawing away at him. “In my J-Bay freesurfs I was just stuck to my board, but when the heat started I felt like I was riding a freakin’ zebra. I think it’s just nerves and rookie errors. He adds, laughing, “I just get a bit excited sometimes.” It’s one of the great understatements of our time.
If you’ve caught the Mitch Crews story late, here’s the file: Impeccably groomed grommet from the Gold Coast, fizzing forehand finner, one wave from becoming world junior champion, butt goes numb while driving between San Francisco and San Diego, sees specialist, diagnosed with chronic arthritis at 19, told not to surf again, takes part in experimental drug trial, surfs again, surfs a lot, surfs incredibly and makes the world tour. Sickeningly upbeat, great conversationalist, respectful, well-developed sense of style. There’s a lot to like about Crewsy.
And if life up till this point for Crewsy hadn’t been “rollercoasterish” enough (“Is that even a word?”) then his rookie year on tour has thrown everything at him. It started spectacularly enough at his home break of Snapper Rocks. His goal was to make one heat – he made four – beating Julian Wilson in the process. He finished last in the next event, but then beat Kelly Slater in Brazil. “I walked up the beach like I’d just won a normal heat, then I stopped for a second and thought, you know, I just beat the greatest surfer in the world. That was a moment when I went, holy shit, this is a big deal.” He then finished last again in the next event in Fiji. “It’s been so up and down but I’ve done a lot of growing up this year as a result. You give everything to make it here, then when you get here you find it’s another level again and you go okay, I gotta man up here and act like I belong.”
Crewsy is the kind of guy who doesn’t sit around waiting for the phone to ring, so when he joined the Reef team in May he toasted the deal by booking a solo ticket to Indo and going surfing. “I needed to surf some good waves and I needed some space and I needed some shots, so I just took off on my own. I surfed for three days straight on my own, just surfed myself into the ground, just working on my surfing, just me.” Winning heats is one thing; winning hearts is another, and Crewsy understands as a pro surfer he needs to do both.
“I want people to enjoy watching me surf and I want them to see me for who I am. That’s the coolest thing about Reef is that they really want their riders to have that freedom to go chase waves and do their thing. I’ve always been a fan of Reef and the whole ‘Just passing through,’ thing. It sums surfers up pretty well; we’re just gypsies chasing waves.”
Three times during our conversation Crewsy drops the phrase, “Not that I’m a king or anything…” His ego is in no danger of running wild, but halfway through his rookie season it’s just starting to sink in that he’s in elite company these days. “It freaks me out that Kelly even knows my name, and having guys like Joel and Mick there, guys I’ve looked up to all my life, still feels a little strange. When I snapped a board in J-Bay I looked in and here’s Mick running my back-up board down the beach for me. I thought for a second, what the fuck?! The world champ is running my board down to me? Really? I’m just so grateful to be able to call my heroes my mates now.”
Crewsy’s new life however, is taking some getting used to. “I’m super social, I love having a chat and I like meeting people, but when you make the tour your world suddenly gets so much bigger. People are noticing you and the whole fame thing is a bit weird… and I’m not even famous. I’m not a king or anything. Just this morning I was sitting down having breakfast in a café, jet lagged as hell, and this guy and two chicks just out of nowhere walk over and ask me about J-Bay, ask how I’m enjoying the tour this year, talk for 10 minutes. The bit that gets me is that I want to have a conversation back and ask about where they’re at and get their story, but you know nothing about them and it’s just this weird exchange and you’re kinda embarrassed, so it gets a bit one-sided and you end up talking all about yourself, which I hate.” He goes on to say if the whole pro surfer thing falls over one day, he’d study to become a psychologist. “I’m just a fan of people.”
For the meantime, the wildest, most magnificent year of Mitch Crews’s young life rolls on. Tahiti looms large. “My one thing for this year would be to make the finals somewhere that catches people off guard. Imagine making the quarters at Teahupoo?” He knows that result ain’t just gonna drop from the heavens, however, and after all he’s been through with his body he knows you make your own luck. “People work to get to places in their lives and things don’t just happen. You’ve got to make them happen. I’ve learned a lot so far this year. I think I’m a bit more disciplined and focused and I’ve got my head around the whole ‘young adult thing.’”
I ask him what the “young adult thing” means. I spoke with him back in March just minutes after he beat Julian at Snapper and he mentioned the same thing. “I think it’s just having a better understanding of your life. I read a lot of books about being present and being in the now. Make your own decisions, don’t believe the news, don’t believe celebrity culture, don’t feel entitled to anything and don’t blame people for things you can control. If there’s a problem tackle it head-on. Be more open-minded.”
The phone line goes silent for a second before Crewsy breaks out into hysterical laughter. “Holy shit, I really am jet lagged! How was that! But you know what I mean, right? Give people your time. Don’t sit there playing with your phone.” I tell him my phone had just auto-corrected “Crewsy” as “Creepy”.
“There ya go!” He laughs. “I told ya they’re evil!”