Avoca’s Blue Collar Underdog Wade Carmichael
Story By: Jack Embrey – Stab Magazine
Cover Photo by: Tyler Gare
How a leadfooted Australian power surfer is throwing a wrench in competitive surfing’s progressive program.
There’s something brewing in the water off the southern end of the Central Coast, NSW, Australia.
As of 2018, three household CT names hail from the tight-knit region of Avoca and Copacabana. You already know Adrian ‘Ace’ Buchan and Matty ‘Wilko’ Wilkinson, (as well as Supercoach, Glen ‘Micro’ Hall).
But you’re probably less familiar with the newest addition to the Central Coast onslaught: 25-year-old, Wade Carmichael (who is evidently in need of a nickname).
Wade’s been digging his way through the QS since 2011, and came within a whisker of qualifying for the CT at the end of 2015, finishing the year 16th on the Q.
Last year, Wade finished his best and most consistent year on the QS, nabbing a 3rd at both the Azores Airline Pro and Vans World Cup, and dropping in at 4th place on the 2017 qualification rankings. Wade’s 2018 will be spent going head-to-head against the world’s best.
To get to know the low-key underdog every Australian surf fan will be cheering this year, we had a chat with some of Wade’s fellow Coasties, his long time filmer, Tyler Gare, as well as the Rookie himself, to learn more about his origins and his 2018 plans before he sets foot on the sand at Snapper this March.
Growing up ‘South Central’
Three dudes, all from Avoca Boardriders, and all on the CT in 2018, is “pretty crazy to think about really” as Ace Buchan puts it.
It’s not unusual for a boardriders club to push out multiple CT surfers, but the majority of the clubs that manage this feat are thoroughly supported and have an abundance of world class waves lapping up to their doorstep.
Take a look at Snapper Boardriders for example: Joel Parkinson, Steph Gilmore, and Josh Kerr all under the same roof, with one of the globe’s most prestigious points peeling just outside as their training ground.
Don’t get me wrong, Avoca’s got a point too, but fuck, it’s a far cry from the 500-metre-long runners that grace the Superbank.
So what’s the deal with the Central Coast’s southern segment.
“There’s just something in the water here” Micro told Stab.“It’s pretty insane, really, when you think about it—and that’s just when you’re talking about this coming year . In the past there’s been Powelly (Shane Powell), Dave Neilson, and Drew Courtney. There’s also a younger crew coming through with Macey, Caleb and Riley Laing.”
Avoca Boardriders took out the 2017 “Boardriders Battle”, edging the typically dominant Snapper into second spot. Photography: Surfing Australia
“Wade has had plenty of people to look up to—as I did,” Ace Buchan says of growing up around town in Avoca. “There’s been so many great surfers to come out of Avoca and it’s a pretty sporty town.”
When you’re a grommet you want to surf like the elders who immediately surround you. In the case of Wade, in addition to the old guard still holding it down, he had Ace and Matty to look up to all within his own Boardriders club.
“I grew up there my whole life and just watched those guys rip,” Wade tells Stab of his younger days. “I used to go for dawnies with Wilko before school, which was epic. There’s a lot of good surfers around there so we used to just feed off them.”
The QS “Grind”
After competing in his first QS events in 2011, Wade has spent the last seven years reaffirming his commitments to the QS, in the hope of qualifying for the big stage.
In 2015, Wade took down an in-form Filipe Toledo and Gabriel Medina at Haleiwa, (and kinda small Haleiwa, at that, which would generally suit the Brazilian acrobats better than an Australian leadfoot). Despite going on to win the 10,000 point event, Wade fell just short of qualifying for the 2016 CT.
“It was pretty hard, but it just fed the fire,” Wade tells Stab. “It made we want it even more.”
Wade will be hoping to see more visions like this on the CT, a welcomed relief from the QS grovel fest. Photography: JR Surfboards.
It’s easy to look at these missed opportunities as time wasted, since it resulted in Wade spending a further two years on the fatigue inducing, QS rotation.
Micro, however, looked at Wade’s near-qualification in a positive light.
“In hindsight it was probably a good thing that he didn’t make it in 2015,” Micro tells Stab. “It probably made him realize that he really does want to be on the tour, to give it a good shake. If he made it [sooner], it would’ve been a rush for him to get his head around the idea and digest it all before Snapper rolled around.”
In the last two years, Wade has worked tirelessly refining his surfing, and judging from his improved competitive results, he’s also enjoyed the fruits of some competitive strategy sessions.
“In the last 2 years I have noticed a lot of change in his turns and the way he reads a wave,” Wade’s longtime filmer Tyler Gare notes. “He has such a low centre of gravity and a heavy foot that allows him to hammer down powerful turns.”
Hassle Filled Heats and Strategic Snaking
Competitors like Gabby Medina and Kelly Slater are the kings of strategic surfing. They know how to hold priority, count down the clock or sneak one under their opponents priority in the dying seconds.
Of course, you need to be able to surf too, but dialed heat techniques offer a lethal advantage in the competitive format.
Wade isn’t exactly the cut-throat strategic type surfer. The guy who gravitates towards his opponent to snake and hassle. According to Ace, Wade “let’s his surfing do the talking.” An approach which has thus far served him well, especially against formidable CT dudes during those 10,000 point Triple Crown events.
“He has carves and power turns that are better than most surfer’s on tour,” Micro gushes. “His radical surfing is cool, but it’s just hard to out progressively surf the guys on tour who are doing backflips.”
A “Niggling” Hip Injury
An injury just a few months from what’s looking like your first full year on the CT is unfortunately exactly where Wade found himself over his summer break.
“I got caught in a weird position in Hawaii and got smoked on a little shorey actually.” Wade tells Stab. “It wasn’t a major injury, it was more of just a niggling one that I had to take care of.”
Time on land ain’t too bad if it involves a couple of beers around town. Photography: Tyler Gare.
This “niggling injury” resulted in Wade spending a full month out of the water and halted his training schedule in the summer leading up to Snapper.
Fortunately for Wade, he didn’t miss many waves over the Xmas stretch. “There was like a three week period where we didn’t see the whole east coast break,” Wade tells Stab.
Which anyone who lives on the East Coast would agree with; to be honest, three weeks is probably on the understated side.
“It’s going good now though, I’m surfing again and getting back into it,” Wade says. “That was just a little speed bump. Now I’m just frothing out.”
The Return of the “Air-Dude”?
Wade Carmichael, a progressive air guy?
Well as it turns out—thanks to some 2011 archives—the heavy-set hackfoot hasn’t been scared of letting the fins fly free for years. In fact, the clip focuses on the Avoca boys above the lip antics.
Unfortunately for those who dig the progressive side of modern competition, your desires are unlikely to be quenched by Wade’s more recent approach to competitive sliding.
These days Wade keep his fins to the face and back-foot to the tail, but he still throws in the occasional flight every now and again. Photography: Tyler Gare.
“I tried to do a couple of hops [back in the day],” Wade says. “It’ll be a rare sighting. I like sticking to the face, and staying in the water. [His air period] was when I was a few KG’s lighter, not anymore.”
Micro also points out the benefits to Wade’s power-driven approach. “Everyone can do a blow tail, but not everyone can do turns like he can,” Micro says. “If you’re trying to beat Filipe, John, and Gabby with airs—then you’re pushing shit up a hill.”
A Rookie’s Look at the World Stage
It’s never easy to tell who’s going to thrive and who’s going to dive when it comes to CT newborns. Rookies like Leonardo Fioravanti were expected to yield big results and solidify themselves as future top-10 guys, yet, we saw Leo fall well outside the top 22 in 2017.
Conversely, surfers such as Connor O’Leary made the tour while being relatively unknown, and end up taking home the Rookie of the Year crown.
We don’t want to place any jinxes on Wade and regardless of the evident difficulties in picking a winner, both Stab and Wade’s coastal companions agree that he is well-suited to the big stage.
“The QS does not suit Wade’s surfing, and the hardest thing for him was qualifying,” Tyler Gare told Stab. “Once he is on the CT he is staying.”
“Wade is similar to Connor as one of those surfers who is power-based, aggressive, and go about their work in a quiet way, if he keeps it simple he’ll do really well” said Ace. Here’s Wade pictured doing exactly that on his way to a 3rd place. Sunset, 2017.
“I see his surfing suiting so many of the waves—the majority of waves on tour are rights, he has a big forehand hack and he’ll be able to post big scores at most spots,” Micro told Stab about Wade’s power focussed approach. “He has carves and power turns that are better than most people on there (the CT).”
“Bells, Margs and J-Bay are three spots I think Wade will do really well” says Tyler—big, powerful, right-hand walls similar to waves where Wade has previously thrived on the QS, such as Sunset and Haleiwa.
It’s not just the quality of waves which improve on the CT either. It’s no four-man heats against those desperately chasing a dream. It’s head-to-heads, three-man superheats, and many of the surfers already have multiple CT wins under their belt, if not a World Title. These blokes are no issue for Wade, as Tyler reminded us “[Wade’s] already taken down big names like Toledo and Reynolds”.
And as for Wade’s personal plan of attack, “I’m just going to go in there and try and be solid,” he tells Stab. “I surfed in the Pipe and Snapper events as a wildcard but sort of put too much thought into it. I’m just going to let it happen and do some surfing.”
Cenny Coast Superheat?
Forget the foregone superheats of Kelly, John, and Gabs in Round 4. The Superheat of 2018 leaves behind these glory-soaked World Champs, instead comprising three boys from the “South Cenny.”
Matty, Ace, and Wade took out the Boardriders Battle for Avoca in 2017, which Ace described as “a career highlight.” Other than that, the three gents haven’t spent much time revolving around one another in the competitive format.
“That would be awesome, but hopefully in Round 4, I definitely wouldn’t be holding back any punches in that heat” said Ace when we asked him about the prospects of the Superheat.
Wade, the youngest of the bunch, certainly isn’t shy of the idea either.
“Hopefully its at J-Bay,” Wade says. “The goofy footers vs.Wadeo. I’ll give em hell.”
The Kelly Slater Wavepool: once a childhood fantasy, then a novelty for a lucky few, and now a solid fixture on the WSL World Tour.
Wade hasn’t been one of the lucky surfers who have received an invite to Kelly’s Pool of Dreams. Regardless of his lack of experience though, the young rookie ain’t worried, “hopefully it’s similar to Greeny, you can just pump the tube and do a couple of turns.”
Micro has visited the Lemoore wave machine, and provided some positive reinforcement for Wade’s approach. “It’s not like its one foot, it’s probably closer to three foot,” Micro says. “Ace was getting big scores and Wilko had clean, strong surfing, so maybe that’s a sign that Wade can also go well there.”
And while it seems like the progressive dream of an automated and replicable water canvas, Micro insists the future looks more like the past than we’re probably willing to admit: “I was at one of the practice events and Filipe hardly did an air all day, when people were expecting him to pull out all stops.”
“He seems like the sort of guy who does his best surfing in a jersey, I think for Wade, he will naturally lift his game because that’s what the tour does to you with the adrenaline and the big stage.” Ace Buchan. Photography: WSL
Wade Carmichael will be the only new Aussie face on tour for 2018, with a rookie contingent including a number of Brazillians, as well as Kolohe’s new SoCal rival, Griffin Colapinto.
Wade may not be a Title Contender just yet, but if he gets his ‘three to the beach’ on speed dial, we’re betting that he’ll be a familiar face in years to come. They doubted Matty Wilko, they doubted DeSouza, but if their results taught us anything, never count out the underdog.
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Wade Carmichael has been flying under the radar for years now, and it’s easy to see why. The stocky Australian with his thick beard and barrel chest looks like he belongs on a barstool in an outback pub watching rugby, not in the water. He also grew up in Avoca Beach, a small New South Wales town that’s perfectly isolated from the M1 highway and largely immune to media fuss as a result. But it’s most likely due to the fact that Carmichael is just a humble, soft-spoken guy who’s usually head down and hard working. He’s the polar opposite of glossy surf celebrity. He’s a blue-collar guy who grinds hard to represent home. And for its small size his home zone sure has been spitting out its share surfing talents. Wade grew up admiring local heroes Matt Wilkinson and Ace Buchan, who grew up watching guys like Shane Powell, Drew Courtney, Bryce Ellis and the late Mark Sainsbury, all of whom made impacts on the global stage. Compared to that bunch he took a bit longer to get out of the blocks, mostly because his low profile didn’t help him attract sponsors. To get his dream started he did everything from ditch digging and pounding nails to surf instructor and lifesaver. His big breakthrough finally came in 2015, when he won the Reef Hawiian Pro at Haleiwa in perfect surf. His authoritative rail game won the day, and nearly earned him qualification for the Championship Tour that year, but alas, he didn’t get that job done until 2017. Wade is now a Fantasy Surf picker’s dream. 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