While the entire competitive surfing world trains its eyes on the gargantuan yet small wave-afflicted ASP Prime US Open of Surfing in Southern California, we’re still frothing over the performance our Rightsiders put forth in Central America last month. Particularly of interest was the ASP 4-Star Quiksilver Surf Open Acapulco, where usual jersey-clad suspect Michael Dunphy made the quarterfinals and North Carolina’s Michael Powell secured his best ASP result to date with a semifinal finish. And that came after Powell sat out of the water with a nasty leg infection for over two weeks, no less.
In fact, Powell missed out on advancing to the final in Acapulco by a measly .03 to Hawaiian Tanner Hendrickson, who went on to win the event. To us, that proves that the quiet man from Ocean Isle Beach has plenty to say when it comes to his position in the competitive realm. See below the photos for EasternSurf.com's chat with Powell about his surprising run, his summer journey through Central America, and what the future holds for him.
ESM: Between the two ASP events in El Salvador and Mexico, you spent a lot of time in Central America this summer, Michael. What was the overall experience like?
Michael Powell: I went down to Nicaragua on June 10th to do some filming with Michael Dunphy and Ian Crane, and stayed down there from then until July 24th. On June 30th, I went up to El Salvador to do that contest, where I didn’t do too well, and then I had an infection in my leg so I didn’t get to surf again until the morning of my first heat in Mexico, which was on July 17th. I stayed in the hotel room and went to the doctor for four straight days, and it’s straightened up some although there’s still a huge hole in my leg.
ESM: So you didn’t surf for two weeks and then you killed it at the Quiksilver Surf Open Acapulco. Was it a classic case of letting go?
MP: I surfed for three hours before my first heat, and then got some OK waves in that. From there on out, I just kept catching good waves in my heats and getting lucky breaks. It’s definitely the best result I’ve had and I’m excited about it; hopefully it’ll give me some confidence to take me where I’m going next, which will be Europe and then the ECSC.
ESM: Back to Mexico: in the Round of 96, you matched the first day’s highest wave score, a 8.83.
MP: Other than that wave, my first heat was bad — I fell on all of my waves except that one. Most of the good scores in that event came on my backhand. For some reason, I just couldn’t find any rhythm going left; couldn’t really come off the bottom well and time it right to project down the line and stay with the wave and do a turn. I relied on my backhand unless I was going for a tube or a finishing move. So that one good wave on my backhand in the Round of 96 allowed me to skip a day before surfing again on the third day of the contest.
ESM: That was the heat in which you advanced behind Peruvian standout Cristobal De Col, right?
MP: Yeah, that wasn’t really a great heat either. I needed a 4.0 with five minutes left and a nice right came to me and I ended up doing one good turn and two maybe not-so-great turns and got a 5.0, edging out Derek Peters.
ESM: In the next heat, you had to surf against Tanner Hendrickson, Guillermo Satt, and Tim Reyes.
MP: I thought that was my hardest heat on paper. Guillermo’s had some good results so far, but I just went into it not expecting to win or lose. I just took it one heat at a time and tried to keep all thoughts of losing or winning out of my head. So I opened up with a nice left tube and a good closeout section for a 5.0. Then midway through that heat I got a decent right that I did a few turns on and got a 6.0.
ESM: Sounds like most heats weren’t really high-scoring affairs.
MP: If you could get anywhere from a 9.5 to 11-point heat total, you were pretty solid to make it through.
ESM: Your best result prior to this contest was the Round of 64, so once you were in the Round of 16 against Gavin Gillette, Jose Trujillo, and Jeffrey Lukasik you must have been pretty stoked.
MP: I was! That day the waves were the same — pretty much beachbreak but still closing out. I got a 4.0 and a 6.0 in that heat, and then on the final day of the contest I was still going in just thinking about catching waves. Throughout the whole contest I tried to stay away from everyone because I’m not very good at battling for waves. And luckily that worked out. So that final morning, I went up against Colin Moran [in the quarterfinals], and although neither of us did very well, I did slightly less bad than he did: a little left tube for a 4.0… I even fell and somehow came out riding on my back. And Colin just couldn’t grab anything.
ESM: Then you had a rematch with Tanner Hendrickson in the semifinals.
MP: I missed some opportunities in that heat. The waves were big closeouts — not what I’m really used to surfing. I was a little hesitant deciding to try and get tubed or do maneuvers; that might have messed me up. I didn’t know what I needed at the end, and I ended up not advancing by .03, so I keep looking back and kicking myself, although I’m pretty excited no matter what about getting equal-3rd-place.
ESM: Do you think your preference for surfing backside in Mexico came from the previous event in El Salvador?
MP: Well, I didn’t get to surf that much in El Salvador, so it wasn’t anything significant. In Mexico, I didn’t see many goofyfooters going left and getting scores. The left was kind of funky — it bent away from you and closed out. Overall, the wave wasn’t anything special. Decent sized, but it didn’t have very great form. It was shutting down more often than not. The people, though, were friendly and all wanted to buy our gear and boards.
ESM: How did you travel between Nicaragua, El Salvador, and Mexico on your two-month jaunt?
MP: I ended up taking a bus between all three locations. I was supposed to fly between El Sal and Mexico, but that got scratched because Spirit Airlines is not the best. So I took a 35-hour bus ride; looking back on it, it sounds pretty hectic, but it actually wasn’t that bad.
ESM: Were you by yourself the whole time?
MP: I met up with people along the way, but I did take both bus legs by myself. It was pretty neat — the ride from Mexico City to Acapulco was definitely the standout, with mountains, rivers, canyons, and big, spanning bridges.
ESM: You said you went to the doctor a few times to have your leg checked out. How scary were those experiences?
MP: They were OK. I fainted once when I had to get an IV, but they took care of me with immediate assistance — and it was really cheap, too. The language barrier was definitely difficult.
ESM: Let’s take the long view — what motivated you to make a big ASP push this year?
MP: Last year I did a couple events, but this year I’ve spent more time surfing and just wanted to try and get some points. It might be far-fetched, but I want to get into some of the Primes to see where I stand, although that’s still a long way off. I enjoy competing and have had some success on the East Coast — until now, I just couldn’t figure out how to translate that into ASP events. Maybe this result in Mexico will allow me to find something to latch on to and make work from here on out.
ESM: Do you think it’s the international competition providing a stumbling block?
MP: I think it’s the conditions that mess with me the most. I’m so used to surfing fast, sloppy East Cost waves with a ton of short-period sets, and everywhere else I’ve surfed you have to be selective and wait for the actual good waves to come in. Maybe I’ll figure something out. We’ll see in England [at the Relentless Boardmasters] if the roll continues.
ESM: How about the 6-Star ECSC. Everybody wants to get in — are you confirmed?
MP: I’m ranked 183rd right now, but I don’t know if they’re going off that or the mid-year cut, when I was in the mid 200s. But I’m pretty confident. As of last week, only 120 people had signed up, and the event caps at 144.
ESM: How about later this fall? Will you go back to Europe for the 6-Stars in Spain, Portugal, and the Canary Islands?
MP: I think I’m going to stay around and do hurricane season, unless these first two August events in Europe go well and I’m pushing the edge of getting into Primes for 2013. But that’s a decision I’ll have to make before those contests are over.
ESM: Hopefully the leg will be healed up by then.
MP: I didn’t get a stitch in it, so it’s still a dime-sized hole. But it’s shallow now. Before it was a half-inch deep — you could stick your thumb in there. It’s getting better, though, and I think it’s going to be all right.