Julian Wilson is a competitor. A cutthroat, passionate, damn serious World Title contender, Pipeline Master and Triple Crown winner competitor. Like you, when you play ping-pong. I’ve long considered his technique to be the modern perfect. From style to power to flair to that bottom turn, hell, right down to his goddamn pearly white smile. He’s beautiful to watch. And look at. But when you combine that with his ability to carve out windows like the one you’re about to witness — a quick vacation to Bali with his best friends and brothers — an opportunity to sink a few beers without the threat of a post-heat interview or a jersey in sight — you start to realize he’s got this whole existence thing figured out. It can be calculated, but there’s an innovator in there. The productivity that accompanies these “vacations” is pretty crazy. And since his early days as a Young Gun with Quik to his modern commitment to progression inside the competitive arena with a throwback to the classics embedded in his DNA, his heats are one of the few worthy of the bandwidth these days. It was a big year for him too: he nearly had to pry Mick Fanning from the jaws of a shark, he cried on camera (and we cried along with him). He got engaged. He posed for GQ Australia with his lady and he’s currently participating in a World Title race. And took this holiday.
The moment these photos accompanied Nate Lawrence to our office, we knew we had to show them to you. We called Julian right when he landed in Hawaii for his 2015 stint, his first time surfing there since his last-second victory against Gabriel Medina at Pipe Masters one year ago.—Travis
WHAT YOUTH: Hey dude, long time no see! Just land on the island?
JULIAN WILSON: Yeah, I got in two days ago.
Does it feel any different landing as a reigning Pipeline Master?
Yeah, for sure. Yesterday was the first surf since last year when I was in the final at Pipe. It was really nice to get in the water and surf at Backdoor. It definitely brought on some pretty special feelings.
It’s one of those places everyone dreams of being respected and comfortable in, and a Triple Crown and a Pipe Master title must help.
Well, I don’t necessarily feel like I’ve achieved that kind of comfort here — and that’s sort of the beauty of this place. I’ve had some competitive results for sure in Hawaii, but that’s why it’s special. Nobody is that comfortable and everybody is fighting for anything they can get and it creates that nervous and exciting energy. And the ocean keeps you pretty honest.
So there’s no ceremony when you land in Honolulu as a Pipe Master?
No, not even, and I love that.
What’s your program like in Hawaii?
I’ve stayed at Conner Coffin’s parents’ house the last few years over here and that’s right in front of Backdoor. You can keep an eye on the waves all the time and you get those sneaky sessions when it’s breaking and windy and maybe 10-foot. You sneak a couple with the boogie boarders or something. Those are the cool sessions you get when you stay right here that you wouldn’t be able to get without being right out front and keeping your eye on things. But when I’m here I mainly hang with Michel [Bourez]. We feed off each other and he’s really awesome to surf with because he’s fearless and always fired up to surf whatever’s out there.
Does he stay nearby?
Yeah, and he embraces the whole deal over here, really sinks his teeth into it all. So that’s good for me to be around.
I’ve actually stayed at that spot. It’s nestled nicely in between some good spots. Right in the mix, but quiet too.
Yeah, the neighbors aren’t super intimidating and you can concentrate on the waves and you don’t have to worry about who’s on the other side of the fence. It’s a good little spot.
So tell me a bit about this trip from these photos we’re looking at. Just your brothers and some friends from home?
Yeah, I was able to plan that window from pretty far out and Indo is pretty much a sure bet at that time of the year. I invited some mates from home — I don’t get much time at home and it was so rad to invite them and my brothers and spend some time in Bali. We got really fun waves, got to relax, have a few beers and enjoy a two-week window where there was a break. Ended up having really fun trip. We scored some good swell and aside from the crowd we got some pretty amazing waves.
Nate [Lawrence] was saying you guys were killing it.
Ripping and having fun. There’s really nothing better than a surf trip with your best pals. It’s what it’s all about, really. It’s what we’re most comfortable doing. And I feel like I spend most of my time on the road trying to find and recreate that. You have your friends and all the people you can to support you and surround you that make you as comfortable as you can, but to go on a trip like that, and really go back to the roots and how you grew up surfing, is a really cool feeling. And it usually leads to your best surfing.
Yeah, it’s nearly impossible to emulate it unless you actually do it.
And your friends are just genuinely that stoked to be away from home and getting good waves. And that’s infectious.
You probably get a kick out of watching them rip too, I’m sure.
So good, they’re just grinning from ear to ear.
Jimmy [Julian’s filmer] and Nate were talking about skate vids recently. Do you get a chance to skate much during the year?
It’s very sporadic. Skateboarding is such a love-hate thing for me. Maybe if I weren’t as competitive with myself, I could probably skate more. But it’s one of those things where I start skating a bit and I’ll pick up a few tricks I used to know and start to push it a little bit and then one good stack and I put the skateboard away for another six months. So I’m always toying with that. Concrete is just not forgiving in any way and you mess with that line of going just hard enough to enjoy it to crossing over to eating shit and getting super over it and super hurt. But skateboarding is definitely something I love. I’ve always done it but it’s just hard to only cruise. I get too into it.
Are there aspects that you think apply to your surfing?
There are definitely benefits, for sure. It’s probably the best cross-training you can do for surfing. But there’s so much risk in it. I’ve never really skated vert with pads and that, but I think injuring yourself is a lot less likely if you’re padded up and learn to fall on your knees — maybe that’s a cool way to get better at airs on a surfboard. But mini ramps and that: small enough to get super comfortable and big enough to eat shit and get hurt.
Do you psych on skate videos? What gets you excited to surf?
I actually watch quite a bit of skating. That new Vans movie Propellor has gotten me pretty pumped to surf this year. I actually mainly watch skate vids. I also enjoy watching older surf films and trying to blend the two. I definitely watch quite a bit of skate stuff though. Jimmy is always tuned into the latest clips so we’ll watch those together and get psyched.
Skating is so raw it’s easy to apply it to surfing, really get you out into the flats.
A lot of the time if you’re just surfing and just watching surfing I don’t think you see just how gnarly some of the stuff is that you could land. You have to look elsewhere. Like the skateboarders do. Like doing massive stair sets and gaps and landing in the flats and doing big airs and bailing and landing in transition from 10-foot onto concrete. I find that it’s a bit of a confidence boost to go harder in the water.
You mentioned older surf vids. Any in particular?
The main two are anything Andy and Kelly. Raw Irons and Kelly Slater in Kolor.
Whoa, haven’t heard anyone mention Kelly Slater in Kolor in a long time. That was a sick one.
Those kind of movies. Loved seeing who they were and seeing them skate or seeing Kalani [Robb] ride a dirt bike — that lifestyle stuff they included in those allowed me to connect to those dudes as a grom. And I think that creates those more long-term memories and it gets embedded deep. If it’s just surf porn, it gets repetitive and you can’t connect to it after a while. But watching those older films where it’s sections and parts, with a mix of ripping and being one of the best guys, but also showing what they do when they’re not surfing — that’s my favorite.
Read our entire interview with Julian Wilson including exclusive photography by Nate Lawrence inside What Youth Issue 13. Buy your copy here.