Talking Tubes with Ryan Callinan
You grew up a few streets back from Merewether Beach and have been surfing there all your life – how amazing will it be to see it host this year’s Australian CT opener?
It will be a pretty incredible experience. I have surfed in the WQS event here a lot, and the hometown crowd and just being at home is always a good feeling, but to see it jump to a world tour event is just another level above and for it to be the first event in Australia will be great for the town and the tour getting back underway.
What are your earliest memories of surfing, and how old were you when you began?
I was about five-years-old when I started surfing, and I think my first memories were actually around Rainbow Bay area on the Gold Coast, but then it moved naturally to home and just surfing the small days around here.
What was it like growing up within walking distance of some of Australia’s best beaches and amongst some of the legends of Australian surfing like Mark Richards, Luke Egan and Matt Hoy?
To be honest, when I was younger, those guys were still in their prime and travelling a lot, so I didn’t get to see very much of them, but it was always a treat when they would turn up at home I would get to watch them surf or just be in the water with them especially when the waves were good. But knowing that a lot of good surfers came out of here was always a good thing for me to see, that it was possible for elite surfers to come out of this area.
Your Dad was a keen surfer – how much of an impact did he have on your own passion for surfing?
He started everything for me; watching how much he loved being in the water and the things he would do each day to make sure he got a surf in really showed me the love he had for surfing. Which I feel, in turn, made me appreciate surfing as much as I do.
What is your favourite memory of being out on the waves with him?
Just his smile and enjoyment, every surf was a good one, and it was always just about having fun.
At what point did you decide you wanted to become a pro surfer, and what has been the biggest challenge in your career to date?
There were lots of little moments that made me think of wanting to become a pro, but I don’t think there was one singular big “this is it” moment. I was just happy surfing and competing and had strong support around me that helped push me to achieve my goals. My biggest challenge so far has been falling off tour. There was a lot going on in my personal life that weighed a lot heavier on me than I realised, so dealing with everything at once made me re-evaluate a lot of things.
How would you describe your surfing style, and who do you think has influenced you the most as a surfer?
It’s hard to talk about your own style, but I try to be as smooth as possible and aggressive at the same time. I love trying radical manoeuvres and going fast. I have had so many influences; I don’t even know where to start. Everyone from my coaches to just watching some of the best surfers when I was growing up and even the best surfers now. I draw inspiration from everywhere I can.
The past few years have been an emotional rollercoaster for you and your siblings, losing both of your parents in such a short span of time. How much did taking time away from surfing change you, and what was it that made your return?
I don’t think I realised how much I needed the time off to process everything that had happened. It really made me re-evaluate everything and see what were the most important things in my life. I never stopped surfing because that was the one thing I love doing and can always connect to, but it made me start to appreciate why I loved it again for so many different reasons.
I read in an interview that these days you feel closest to your Dad when you’re out in the surf – how much does it mean to you then to be able to surf in a CT tour event at your home break?
I definitely feel close to Dad when I’m in the water, and I know how much he, and my mum, would have loved to watch me in a World Tour event, especially here at home, so that will make it extra special. Even though they aren’t here, the community will be cheering for me - that’s just as nerve-wracking and exciting for me.
COVID has enforced such a long break from the pro tour – how keen are you to get back out there?
It’s been a great year off for me, just to spend time at home with family and friends, but definitely excited to compete again. It’s what I love to do, and to have that much time off made me miss it so much, so I can’t wait to get back into some competition.
Unlike your fellow competitors, who are having to quarantine in the lead-up to this event, you’ve had the luxury of a longer preparation than most, given you were already at home. How much of an advantage do you think this will be?
It will be interesting to see how everyone adapts. I feel like I have a bit of an advantage along with the other Aussies, being able to surf and just be outside at home the last few weeks, but these guys are the best in the world, and they will always be on when they have to be.
You’ve also obviously got the home break advantage in your favour as well, but even with all your local knowledge, what do you really think it will take to win at Merewether?
I think someone who is able to adapt and surf a variety of different conditions. It changes a lot at Merewether and always throws something new at you, so if I can be prepared for that, I’m hopeful I can go all the way.
Who do you think are the favourites for Merewether, and who do you think would be a dark horse?
The top guys are always favourites anywhere, but I think it will suit some of the more powerful surfers on tour too. Jackson Baker as a wildcard will be great to watch; he knows the wave really well and is a very underrated and amazing surfer; he could be my dark horse.
Newcastle surf fans have long had the joy of watching the QS events at Surfest, where they’ve seen some of the best surfers in the world compete or take part in exhibition sessions. How fantastic will it be for fans to be able to watch the absolute top echelon of surfers battle it out at Merewether?
It's definitely another level up from the WQS to the World Tour, and I don’t think it will be an event that everyone will forget quickly. Everyone on this tour is so good to watch, and I think there will be some incredible surfing go down.
What are your goals for this event and for the CT series as a whole in 2021?
I always want to win, especially at home; that would be the dream of mine. And this year, I’m aiming for top five in the world.
Finally, for your fellow surfers visiting Newcastle, what are your top three homegrown Newcastle experiences or places they should check out while they’re in town?
I would say if they have time, drive out to the Hunter Valley to see our beautiful vineyards, dive into the Ocean Baths, and the food and drinks scene around town is just incredible.
Top Image: Ryan Callinan, credit WSL.