Around September of 2008, surf team managers began handing out pink slips to their "B" and "C" team riders. Slumping surf industry sales could no longer support the large teams most brands had become accustomed to, and the hard calls became more and more frequent. Specialty surfers (guys who've made careers out of mastering one spot, like Pipeline, for instance), local rippers, and the young competitive pros were cut loose in significant numbers. Many were told that they could remain on their former brand's "program," meaning free T-shirts and gear, but that the checks would stop coming. For WQS (World Qualifying Series) contendersmostly younger surfers with dreams of scratching into the big-timethe layoffs presented a gargantuan obstacle. A serious go at cracking the upper ranks of the WQS requires a $30 to 50K travel budget, and even successful Dream Tour pros, like Chris Ward, spend years toiling on the 'QS circuit. Selling a brand on forking over that kind of doe for what is usually a low profile stint, was never easy. By 2009, it'd become nearly impossible.
This is when 23-year-old Luke Dorrington, son of Gold Coast shaper Gary Dorrington and brother of up-and-comer Brent, did what most surfers avoid doing their entire lives, he went to work. During the European leg of the 'QS last year, "Dozza" realized that his budget was dwindling and he hadn't dragged down the kind of major results his sponsor required.
"I rode for Billabong for eight years, but with the financial crisis and my lack or results, I knew it was coming," Dorrington said of the lay-off.
His former deal only paid $20,000 to start withnot enough to finance a full 'QS tour, and not enough to live on as a "photo pro" eithe, so, Dorrington was already used to the idea of supplementing his goals with work. But even before leaving Europe for his home on the Goldie, Dorrington lined up a gig driving a massive truck for West Kimberly Cement in Western Australia.
"It was an easy decision to make," Dorrington said. "I didn't want to sit around in Coolangatta and just wait for something to come to me, like a lot of people do. I knew what I wanted, so I wasn't going to wait around."
There were other pressures, however. In an attempt to shore up their futures in Coolangatta, Dorrington and two of his brothers had recently purchased a five-bedroom house. So there was a mortgage at stake as well. Still, Dorrington discovered that his work site in Western Australia was 12 hours from the nearest surf, and his one day off every two weeks was not enough time to get there and back. Working out of a factory full of two-ton cement bags, Dorrington said, his career and his surfing was "all I could think about." He went to the gym after work. He watched videos, and he focused on this previous competitive history.
"I knew I was good enough to be getting results," he said, "but I guess I just didn't commit to myself. I found a new drive in the desert, and in a way, I've grown up and matured."
In April, Dorrington left the mines with five days to practice and make the trip to California for the Nike 6.0 Pro at Lower Trestles. He made a pit stop on the Goldie to pick up four new boards his father shaped for him, met up with friends also making the trip, and landed in time for just a couple of pre-comp surfs. The draw of surfing Trestles combined with the 6-star rating, makes the Nike Pro one of the premiere comps on the WQS calendar. And Dorrington felt the significance
"You do feel a bit weird without that time to practice. You start to question yourself. But it's all in your head, when I'm at work that's all I think about is surfing. The mental game is what I've relied on."
Dorrington arrived at the competitors' tent wearing his West Kimberly Mines cap, but he was focused on this new work site. He pulled down the highest score of his first heat. In day one coverage, Surfing magazine wrote that Dorrington's surfing was "explosive." And the next day went on to take down Hawaii's Hank Gaskell and the Dream Tour's Nathaniel Curran. By all accounts, he looked like he'd caught a spark. But in the third round, Dorrington met up with Nate Yeomans, C.J. Hobgood, and wave starved heat. And that was it, Dorrington never made it to his goal, the quarter finals.
This Coolie kid didn't register the kind of disappointment you might expect. He pointed out that the WQS is all about experience, and that experience doesn't always come as quickly as you'd like. After Trestles, Dorrington returned to Australia to work and plan his rise in the ratings "event by event."
His goal for the year was to finance at least ten events, and to break into the top fifty. Next year, who knowsmaybe a sponsor, more events, maybe a shot at the WCT.
"I'm not the only guy that doesn't have a sponsor. The recession has affected a lot of people. But I don't enjoy going over to Western Australia and working in the desert for nothing. If I'm gonna do it, I want to get something back out of it," he said. "It's an investment in myself."