This fall, 16 of the world’s hardest-charging underground surfers will get the opportunity of a lifetime. From November 6th-10th, amid the world-class waves at Santa Cruz’s famed Steamer Lane, carefully chosen competitors will vie for a one-year, $50,000 O’Neill sponsorship that would offer them the resources to make a full run at qualifying for the World Tour. It’s the sort of big-time chance that could really launch a career. And North Florida nice-guy Jeremy Johnston, the surprised recipient of a wildcard into the event, now finds himself staring down that very opportunity alongside the likes of Andrew Jacobson, Noi Kaulukukui, Billy Hopkins, Quinn McCrystal, Shaun Burns, Stu Kennedy, Granger Larsen, Wade Carmichael, Torrey Meister, Hank Gaskell, Dion Atkinson, Shaun Joubert, Ricardo Christie, Chris Waring, and Cory Arrambide. But things are a bit complicated for Jeremy.
As a dedicated Flomotion clothing, Xcel Wetsuits, Dakine, and Orion Surfboards teamrider who's hoping for a chance to re-sign next year, he risks stepping on toes by accepting the Coldwater Classic’s invitation to compete for a bigger contract. But $50,000 in funding for the 'QS could be the best shot he’ll ever have at his World Tour dreams. And the contest itself is guaranteed to be a world-class event. So, thanks to a bit of understanding from his current sponsors, Jeremy won’t be missing out. This November, he’ll be representing the East Coast well and chasing down the opportunity of a lifetime while also staying grateful and loyal to his current list of backers. It’s a juggling act, to be sure, but if anyone can pull it off, it’s our man Jeremy. So we sat him down for a quick chat to get his thoughts on the whole situation. Here’s what he had to say…
ESM: So, there were only 16 coveted slots in the O’Neill Coldwater Classic up for grabs, and you landed one. How’d that come about?
JJ: Well, I had never talked to O’Neill in my life, but somehow my name got thrown into the mix, and they thought it would be a good idea to give me an opportunity. So I got one of O’Neill’s wildcards. I don’t know what exactly that means. I don’t know why they picked me. That’s kind of a mystery. But I’m the only East Coaster doing the event. I have no clue whatsoever what this whole thing is going to be about.
ESM: Well, from what we’ve heard, sounds like it’ll be about more than just the standard few ratings points and a cash handout. There’s a full-on sponsorship at stake, right?
JJ: Yeah, if you win, you get $50,000 to do a year of 'QS events. I did seven events this year with less than half of that. It’s so gnarly how much money you spend doing these events, but with 50 grand, you could do like 12 or 15 events. And it’s pure numbers on the 'QS. If you do enough events, you’re going to do good in at least seven of them. So it’s just about getting up the money to go there so you can actually do 15 events in a year. It’s about consistency and getting in the right mind space, and once you have all that, you can get on a roll and do really well. I’m 27 now, so I’m 2-and-a-half years from 30, and I still feel like I haven’t peaked on my highest level of surfing yet.
ESM: Definitely sounds like this could be a real game-changer for you. But I’m sure it’s hard to be fully stoked when this also puts you in a weird position with your current sponsors.
JJ: It’s really hard to explain how I’m feeling right now. This is an opportunity for me as a surfer, so it’s a great feeling, but at the same time, I had to call all the companies I ride for and tell them I got this opportunity and ask them what I should do about it. The companies I ride for are not real stoked, but they do understand that this is an opportunity. And if I did end up winning an O’Neill sponsorship, it would be for 2014, so I’m just looking at this as an opportunity for next year. Right now, I’m still riding for all my current sponsors 100%, no matter what. The other guys in this event all have sponsors right now as well, so they’re going for the same reason I’m going: they don’t have definite contracts going into 2014 and the future. All our contracts are year-to-year.
ESM: So what do you see as being the best possible outcome from this?
JJ: Well, I love every company I ride for, and I don’t want to leave anybody, so if I did win this, it would be a totally life-changing event, but if I don’t win it, then I hope I’m still on the same program as last year. Sponsors like Flomotion have helped me so much this year. They really invested in me and put me back on this level, so I can only thank them for these opportunities. We’ve done a lot of great things together, and if I do stay with them, I only see better things to come. And in the bigger scheme of things, I’m hoping that doing this event will benefit all the companies I’m currently riding for, because O’Neill has been putting a lot of hype around this event. So I’m also looking at this as trying to help out around here in Florida and on the East Coast and do as much as I can to market. I’m never going to stop what I’m doing here on the East Coast for all the companies I ride for.
ESM: So how are you preparing yourself to represent the East Coast well?
JJ: I’ve actually never surfed Steamer Lane, so I’m going to go out there about a week early. I’m also training and doing a lot of running and cardio and paddle-boarding and everything that gives you core and leg strength. That sort of thing is going to have the biggest benefit out there. And we’re going to be wearing wetsuits, so being out there early will help me get the feel for that. It’s going to be cold. I’ve been watching a lot of video on this wave, too. I’ve watched old events like the 'CT contest to see how the wave breaks at this time of year. This is basically going to be like a little mini, invitational version of the 'CT event last year. It’s 30-minute heats man-on-man, so its just completely comes down to your surfing to beat everyone. It’s just like you’re surfing a WCT event at one of the best waves in the world. That’s what sold me and made me want to do this event. I’m just trying to look at this as a surf event. I want to surf in this event and be a part of that. This is a tough time in the surfing industry, so I just think that if you don’t try to go after things now, you’re going to regret it.