I noticed you never took that anger outside of surfing.
Because it wasn’t anyone else’s fault. It was all going on in my own head.
I know how hard you were trying and how tough this trip was—with conditions the way they were.
Good, ’cause I thought you must’ve been thinking, “This guy is a dick” [laughs]. It’s not like I didn’t want to be here. I wanted to nail the biggest and best thing; I wanted to get clips and photos. I didn’t feel like I had to be here or I had to get them. No one is forcing me to do anything. It’s just that I know where I need to be this year and that’s focusing on the events. And in freesurfing, injuries are a scary thing, especially when you’ve had a couple.
When did you first seriously injure yourself?
I first hurt my knee when I was 22, so it’ll be four years now [he’s had both knees operated on]. One I had cut out straight away, cartilage damage, and I had the other one fixed about a year and a half later. That was two years ago, and I’m still f—king worried about it.
Does that mentally screw you?
Yeah, subconsciously, my brain sets off this alarm and tells me not to land. Like, I’ll stick a big punt and fall off last second, and then pop up and realize, “F—k, that didn’t even hurt. Why didn’t I just hang on?” But my brain is used to it now, firing that trigger, and it’s hard to overcome.
That happened a lot on this trip.
Yeah, it would have been nice for just one little fluke landing [laughs].
How do you think you’ll handle the stress of performing in 10 WT events each year when you qualify?
I just need to be better mentally prepared. I overthink things, and there’s something I haven’t quite figured out. It’s right there; I just haven’t quite gotten it.
Like, when am I going to get that feeling where I just know I’m going to win an event, or I know I’m going to qualify, or I know I’m going to land a f—king crazy air? You know what I mean? I’m just waiting for that little mental block, that little something, to shift in a positive way.
Before the US Open in 2012, everything was peachy for Mitch. He’d overtaken Bruce Irons as Volcom’s marquee freesurfing athlete and been granted a wildcard into the Volcom Fiji Pro—where he beat Kelly Slater in the first round at eight-foot Cloudbreak. Shortly after, he’d gone on two editorial trips, one to Indonesia for this very magazine, where he told me, “Qualifying is the next step for my career. The feeling of winning in Fiji, that’s what I f—king want to chase.” He had an ASL and Surfing Magazine cover forthcoming and was in prime position to make a run at the 2013 World Tour, having already secured keeper results in Brazil and South Africa. He just needed one more big finish. With six months, three primes, and four six stars remaining, it must’ve felt a virtual certainty. Oh, how quickly things can change.
What happened in the second half of 2012?
I was totally thinking I was going to qualify last year, and then after the US Open, I f—king… I don’t know. I’m trying hard again this year too, but last year, at the US Open for instance, I’ve never tried so hard, and I got smoked. It was a buildup of everything and I just got to that point and lost. I went to England and France with nothing afterwards, my head was gone, and after I lost early at those couple I went to Virginia and lost first heat again. I was meant to go back to Europe for two more, and I was like, “Screw this.” Kristie [Mitch’s girlfriend] met me in Virginia and we went to New York for two weeks. Just cruised. Volcom was calling me going, “F—k, dude. Don’t you want to qualify?” And I’m thinking yeah, but I’m not going to force it and go back to Europe now and hate it even more. I went to the Canaries later and lost first heat there, and then I lost first heat in both Hawaii contests. I actually still had a chance to qualify going into Hawaii.
How did you mentally reset?
Last year, I was holding grudges—like seeing some people qualify almost too easy. I’m not sure what I was holding a grudge against but I was letting that get to me. At the US Open, I had Nat Young in the heat before quarters. I made a priority mistake and let him go on a wave and he extended his lead. I could have gotten the score but didn’t go waiting for a better wave, and nothing ever happened. I worked it out at the end of last year. If I would have made that heat and he [Nat] only got the 1,300 points I ended up with, he wouldn’t have qualified. Shit like that, it’s crazy. I guess I never recovered, and I can’t let that continue to happen.
Mitch isn’t whinging. Far from it. It’s easy to write his struggles off as a first-world problem. Yes, he’s a privileged individual. Yes, he gets to travel the world and surf perfect waves. And yes, he’s compensated nicely to do it all. He realizes as much. But surfing is also a job. And like Mitch said, it’s not one that lasts forever. Simply put: Mitch really f—king cares about his career, and his work ethic is refreshing. There are plenty of young pros paid well to not do much of anything. Mitch isn’t one of them.
Back in Sydney, the stress of contests and photos and movie parts disappear, at least for a night. Mitch is in town supporting his girlfriend of 10 years, Kristie Kahler, and the launch of her new clothing line, Winston Wolfe. It’s an all-leather look, loosely named after the Pulp Fiction character with the same name. The brand took off quicker than expected, and when Australian beauty queen and Miss Universe 2004 Jennifer Hawkins plugged it on Instagram recently, business skyrocketed. At the launch, life-size images of a half-naked beautiful blond sporting WW’s new gear adorned the walls. A more clothed version of the same model is in attendance. I do my best not to stare at either. At the event are some of Mitch and Kristie’s good friends, potential buyers, PR agents, and plenty of free beer. It’s a good party. For the first time in seven days, Mitch seems comfortable. At ease.
I ask Mitch how he and Kristie make their relationship work. “I met her when I was 16. We broke up for a couple of years, but we always knew we were going to get back together. It was just one of those things. I met the girl of my dreams when I was young, and for a long time that was hard to wrap my head around. Now, we just know.”
Sarcastically, Mitch’s buddy Jordy chimes in, “How do they make it work? Look how successful Krid [Kristie’s nickname] is! Mitch had better treat her good. All he’s got to do is keep her happy and ride her coattails.”
It’s an obvious joke. Mitch is in the prime of his own career. He may have a few mental hurdles to leap on the way to the WT, but he’ll get there. Of course, he’s happy to see Kristie’s endeavor paying dividends. “It’s a lot more fulfilling to see her reach her own goals. As long as it doesn’t make us spend even more time apart, then it’ll be all good.”
Screw riding his girlfriend’s coattails, anyway. And those back up plans: Epokhe, real estate investments? All that shit can wait. Mitch has a cozy spot waiting for him on the World Tour; all he has to do now is make himself at home.