By Phil Jarratt
When world number 17 Julian Wilson called time out on a decade-long and highly lucrative career on the World Surf League last weekend, the only real surprise was the timing of the announcement.
The former Noosa champion, who these days calls Merewether Beach in Newcastle home, was about to fly from the Australian Olympic training camp in Cairns to Tokyo where he is the number eight seed in a field of 20 as surfing makes its Olympic debut this week. Possibly Julian felt that taking the WSL weight off his mind might focus him on going for gold in Chiba, which on recent competitive form, would be one of the great surfing comebacks, but what a great way to exit stage left!
The truth is that those close to him have seen this coming for months, since Covid made travelling to the events with a young family an impossibility. Then the loss of long-time major sponsor Hurley added a financial element to the equation. And when he was one of several tour surfers who pulled out of last month’s Surf Ranch Pro in California, friends knew the writing was on the wall.
Not that Jules himself is calling it stumps. He posted on Instagram: “I would like to take this time to let you all know I’m taking a break indefinitely from the WSL world tour for my own wellbeing and that of my family. By no means am I calling it a retirement from professional surfing and the decision I have made is in line with what I value most in my life and that is my family. The inability to travel internationally with them now and for the foreseeable future is enough for me to take a step back and be there for my wife and children.”
Wife Ash posted: “We’re so excited for what’s to come as a family and so grateful for everyone’s support. I have loved sharing so much of Julian’s career, from the people, the places and the countries travelled, they will always be held dear to my heart.”
Although Julian’s statement seemed to be leaving the door open to a return to the tour in a post-Covid world, it’s hard to see how that could happen, particularly in light of WSL chief executive Erik Logan’s official statement: “Julian Wilson has had a fantastic decade-long career surfing against the world’s best on the WSL Championship Tour. He’s a five-time CT winner, a Pipe Master, a Triple Crown winner and has been a perennial World Title threat his entire career. We support his decision to spend time with his family and hope to see him ripping again soon, whether that’s in or out of a jersey.”
Logan continued: “After the Games, he will not be joining the Championship Tour in either Mexico or Tahiti, and will not seek a WSL wildcard for 2022.”
So, unless he was given a sponsor wildcard or two next year – highly unlikely – one of Australia’s greatest surfers of the past two decades would have to spend the fading years of his career on the gruelling qualifying tour, and given Julian’s huge commitment to wife Ash and their two young children, that ain’t gonna happen.
The youngest of three sons of pioneer Noosa surfers Nola and Mick Wilson, Julian learnt to surf on a longboard soon after he could walk, and at the age of nine, by which time he was the cutest grommet competing at the Noosa Festival of Surfing, he jagged a major sponsorship with the O’Neill surfwear brand, and became the poster child for its children’s lines around the world. After signing with Quiksilver in 2002, he became one of the Young Guns in a highly successful video series that created his name as a shortboarder.
In 2006 Julian won his only world title to date, the ISA World Juniors, and went on to a successful pro junior career before qualifying for the World Championship Tour in 2011, just weeks after inking a rumoured $5 million, five-year deal with Nike. In 2012 he had his first tour victory, defeating the young Brazilian Gabriel Medina at Peniche, Portugal, followed by his most significant tour triumph, in the Pipe Masters in 2014.
But it was his equal second placing at the J-Bay Open in South Africa in 2015 that cemented his place in surfing history. During the two-man final Mick Fanning was attacked by a Great White shark, and seeing his friend and rival in trouble, Julian fearlessly paddled towards him to help. It was a moment for the ages.
In 2018, Julian came closest to a WCT title when he won events in Australia and France, and finished second, with form that he hasn’t been able to replicate since, at least not while competing.
Julian has given us many great moments in a stellar career, and whatever path in surfing he chooses to take next, I’m sure we’ll see many more.
At last Thursday’s Council meeting, Cr Amelia Lorentson asked Noosa Council to investigate options for surfboard storage racks and lockers at designated beachside locations, to provide secure storage and a meeting place for locals. The intention is to reduce reliance on car transport and get people on free buses, bikes, scooters or walking and running.
Amelia, a keen surfer and Council observer on the Noosa World Surfing Reserve stewardship committee, presented ideas and a design by local architect and surfer Andrew Bock. Great idea, Amelia. Gets my vote.