‘I’m frothing at it’: Australia’s next great surfer George Pittar is enjoying new success

<span>George Pittar at the Margaret River Pro last month.  The Australian hopes to secure a place on the WSL Championship Tour next year.</span><span>Photo: Aaron Hughes/World Surf League/Getty Images</span>” src=”https://s.yimg.com/ny/api/res/1.2/1MV459DQVqe8EjIe8_zeVQ–/YXBwaWQ9aGlnaGxhbmRlcjt3PTk2MDtoPTU3Ng–/https://media.zenfs.com/en/theguardian_763/47fa87e5648686fdb 3a492be98a534f5″ data-src= “https://s.yimg.com/ny/api/res/1.2/1MV459DQVqe8EjIe8_zeVQ–/YXBwaWQ9aGlnaGxhbmRlcjt3PTk2MDtoPTU3Ng–/https://media.zenfs.com/en/theguardian_763/47fa87e5648686fdb3a49 2be98a534f5″/></div>
<p><figcaption class=George Pittar at the Margaret River Pro last month. The Australian hopes to secure a place on the WSL Championship Tour next year.Photo: Aaron Hughes/World Surf League/Getty Images

He may be the next big thing in Australian surfing, but George Pittar first learned his craft on waves far away from the Manly beaches he now calls home. Pittar was barely a toddler when his family moved to Pacific Vanuatu, while his father set up a resort near the capital Port Vila. For the young Pittar it was an idyllic place to take his first steps as a surfer.

“The surf reef breaks off without anyone there – it was quite special when I think about it now,” he says. “This perfect right-hander, and this little lefty, just outside the front of the resort. No one really surfed there, you would almost get bored surfing alone.”

After a decade in Vanuatu, where Pittar became fluent in the local language, Bislama, he returned to Australia – where he was in for a rude shock by the quality of golf in Sydney. “Far away,” he says. “I have deteriorated like this for almost a year. I just couldn’t figure it out – these sleazy beach holidays, no electricity, so many surfers. I thought I would never get used to it.”

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But ironically for Pittar, now 21, his time battling mediocre male waves was what made him an elite surfer. “It’s actually been so crucial to my journey, knowing how to surf those small waves. If I had stayed in Vanuatu it would just be too perfect. It’s rare to see waves like this in a competition.”

It’s fitting then that after two breakout months competing on some of Australia’s best waves, Pittar has returned to his home breaks on Sydney’s northern beaches this week for the GWM Sydney Surf Pro, part of the second Challenger class of the World Surf League. Series. “It was definitely the best month of my life,” he says. “I’m foaming at it.”

After a strong debut season in the Challenger Series last year, Pittar earned a wildcard into the top-tier Bells Beach Pro at Easter. He impressed with powerful surfing and was unlucky to be knocked out halfway through the competition by fellow countryman and world number 2 Ethan Ewing. But the glimpse of Pittar’s stylish, powerful surfing got the fans chatting – and a few weeks later, at the next WSL stop at Margaret River, he delivered in spades.

Pittar won the early rounds and found himself in the quarter-finals against world number 1 Griffin Colapinto, in the best conditions in Western Australia. The Australian posted a 9.50 and a 7.33, leaving his rival in a combination situation in the final minutes – needing not one but two new scores to progress. It was a statement victory for the wildcard.

“It was crazy,” he says. “I still can’t really understand it – the fact that I got the result is just crazy to me. Sometimes things just go your way: you’re in the rhythm of the ocean, your boards feel good, you know what to do.”

In the semi-finals, Pittar was pitted against two-time event winner John John Florence, a name synonymous with the powerful waves of Margaret River. With a perfect 10 and an 8.40 for Florence, the Hawaiian advanced to the final, but Pittar went down fighting, earning 14.87 for his two best waves.

“It was incredible,” he says. “I sat out there and just watched him. Ever since I was a kid, you’d come home from school and watch Margies because it was an after-school wrap-up. He would do things there that you couldn’t even believe could be done in one go. So it was special for me to be able to sit there with him.”

At both Margaret River and last week’s first Challenger event of the year on the Gold Coast, Pittar showed a knack for finding barren sections on waves that other surfers, even some of the world’s best, don’t easily recognize. Maybe it’s nominative determinism: getting ‘pitted’ in surfing parlance means riding through the hollow core of a wave. Against Colapinto, Pittar scored a beautiful tube ride for his almost 10-point wave. The Australian attributes this barrel riding technique to his formative years in Vanuatu. “I grew up with small right barrels and had that comfort in those waves,” he says.

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Vanuatu is still close to Pittar’s heart – his father spends half the year there, and Pittar will travel there later this month for a rest and some waves before the Challenger Series continues in South Africa in July. Pittar jokes that his father only surfs in Vanuatu. “He doesn’t surf when he comes home – he says, ‘What’s the point, why take 50 people surfing the shitty Manly when we’ve got an empty reef?'”

Pittar’s childhood on empty waves in the Pacific Ocean is not the only atypical aspect of this rising Australian surfer. He recently started working with a new coach, Tim McDonald, who moonlights as a surf coach while working as a plumber on a daily basis. It’s a fitting choice for a surfer who seems to do things a little differently.

“I’ve always had a bond with Timmy,” says Pittar of McDonald, who previously coached for Surf Australia. “We are on a fairly similar wavelength. I like that he’s not caught up in coaching, he’s not following the tour, he’s a bit separated from it and just helps me out of the good of his heart.

During the broadcast of the Gold Coast event, commentators joked that McDonald was given a week off the tools to oversee his young leadership at Coolangatta. “It’s fun hanging out with him,” Pittar said. “He takes us fishing and gives us a break from the whole scene with these compositions, which can be a little overwhelming.”

Pittar’s approach reflects a particular attitude towards surfing, one seemingly fueled by genuine enthusiasm for the sport rather than ruthless competitive advantage. Although he had some success at the junior level, Pittar was not a standout competitor – and even took several years off from competing. He describes this as a formative time – “getting the foam back”.

“I think growing up and not really achieving much, I never had this crazy expectation for myself to be on tour,” he says. “For me it’s purely about the experience. I’ll put my best foot forward, I’ll do what George can do. But it’s just a great life experience. I get to travel the world with my friends and compete at this level.”

Pittar is enjoying his recent successes and trying not to get ahead of himself. “I try to stay present and enjoy the moment,” he says. But a great surfing future awaits. “I’ve worked so hard to get to this point, but it doesn’t stop here.”

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