Let’s get one thing out of the way up front: Evan Geiselman did not qualify for the 2017 World Surf League Championship Tour. He damn sure came close, though, finishing 19th in the world — just eight spots and less than 4,000 points (or one good result) short of becoming the first new East Coaster (and first New Smyrna Beach surfer ever) to make the big show.
Let’s also remember what Evan had to overcome to get there, too: a near-miss at qualification at Sunset last December, followed by a harrowing near-death experience at Pipeline. The weighty expectations of an entire coastline, a rabid fanbase, and an array of eager sponsors. The 1st-place QS curse, which was laid to rest in May in Japan when Evan nabbed the biggest win of his career at the 2016 Ichinomiya Chiba Open (followed shortly thereafter by a win at the Vans Pro ECSC in Virginia Beach).
Most importantly, Evan figured out a way to overcome the pressure he’s placed on himself ever since he was a teenage prodigy nicknamed the Golden Child. And it seems that was the difference: in 2016, at the ripe young age of 23, Evan buckled down on the grueling QS for what he considered to be the first time ever, while simultaneously taking a step back from all the self-imposed stress: “I’ve almost thought about [it] too much,” he told Surfline in October of qualifying for the CT. “This is my time to let go of all that and just feel fortunate for whatever happens… The next couple years I’m only gonna be growing into my body more and progressing. I could put a lot of pressure on myself, but looking at what’s happened so far in my life, I’m looking at everything a lot more lightheartedly. I’m so fortunate to be in the shoes I’m in and enjoying every second of it — the wins, the losses, everything… Whether it’s this year, or the following year, I believe I will qualify. I think it’s just a matter of time.”
We’ll most likely bestow this honor on him again in the future — when he does qualify, consider it a slam dunk — but for now, that freewheeling attitude mixed with his freakish natural ability and innate sense of effortlessness that makes Evan Geiselman our 2016 Surfer of the Year.