Falling Off

Missing the WSL cut has Nat Young recharged and ready for what’s next.

By Neal Kearney
August 3, 2023
Nat Young paddling out

After dedicating his entire life to competitive surfing, West Side’s favorite son Nat Young is at a pivotal crossroads in his already highly decorated career. As an amateur, he ticked all the boxes: multiple national championships, Pro Junior titles, yearly boat trips to Indonesia, all with the financial backing of some of the biggest brands in surfing. Once he qualified for the World Surf League’s Championship Tour in 2013, he continued to meet with incredible success, namely his coveted Rookie of the Year nomination, multiple finals showings, and two top-10 finishes. 

Today, Nat finds himself in unfamiliar and understandingly uncomfortable waters. His personal life has already gone through dramatic changes in the past few years with the untimely death of his mother the start of a new family. Along with these big changes in his personal life, in April he failed to requalify for the Tour during the newly minted “Mid-Year cut”—a brutal culling of the Tour’s bottom twelve competitors halfway through the season. Suddenly he faced an important question: Do I really want this?

Nat Young surfing Pipeline
Never count Nat out, especially at Pipeline.

“What it comes down to, ultimately, is that you’ve got to be willing to get your hands dirty and play the game. To do what it takes to get the job done. This season my head just wasn’t in the game and I ended up basically letting my opponents get the jump on me.”

The new reality of life on Tour means that–in addition to requiring superstar talent–the will to win has to be all-consuming. With blistering performances of young and hungry athletes such as Jaoa Chianca and Griffin Colapinto even longtime WSL stalwarts such as Kolohe Andino and Zeke Lau failed to make the cut. Both are now struggling to keep up with the ultra high-level of the Challenger Series. Then, you have former tour standouts like Conner Coffin and Owen Wright who also missed the cut and have both expressed interest in walking away from competition altogether.

One man who knows a thing about the reality of competing on the world stage is Matt Myers, a former professional surfer from Santa Cruz. A few years ago he founded Myers Surf Mentorship, a program that offers coaching support to up-and-coming professional surfers. Together they work on all levels of their game, from the mental to the physical and everything in between. Like Young, Myers is well aware of the kind of fierce attitude you need to win heats in the current environment.

Nat Young surfing at Jeffrey's Bay
Nat Young and Jeffrey’s Bay…a match made in Heaven.

“There are so many good surfers these days. You need to have that hunger and that dog eat dog mentality in these heats. Is that something I still have in me? Is it life or death to me?”

Nat Young

You honestly need that extra fire to face these competitive juggernauts,” explains Myers.

“Part manifestation, part ego, you’ve gotta always be saying to yourself, ‘I’m going to go out there and win. I’m gnarly! ‘Cause if you are second guessing or doubting yourself, you’re already kinda behind. It’s that really deep desire to put in all the work, all the time. To really grind it out and love every part of it—it’s not always the sexiest thing.”

Nat Young carrying a couple surfboards
Don’t let the smile fool ya, this young man is the definition of a steely competitor!

As he prepares for the upcoming events on the Challenger Series, Young feels like he’s in a good groove. He’s using his time back home in Santa Cruz to inspire him to jump back on the horse.

“It’s a tricky balance but I’ve taken some time to reflect on it,” explains the stocky blond 32 year-old.

“I still wanna be on tour and feel like I have five more years to do the best surfing I can do. I still want to compete with the best. And then whatever happens, happens. I just want to look back at and know that I maximized my potential”.

Knowing Nat, I wouldn’t want to bet against him.