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Sunday, January 27, 2013
Updated: January 30, 5:08 PM ET
Fired Up

By Daniel Ikaika Ito

Last year was a series of hills and valleys for Dusty Payne. The 24-year-old from Lahaina, Hawaii, was sidelined for nearly half the year with an ankle injury he incurred at the 2011 Cold Water Classic in Santa Cruz. He missed possibly the best world tour event in history, the Volcom Fiji Pro, but returned to competition in Tahiti. In the second half of 2012, Dusty looked like an all-around stronger surfer, but still possessed the high-performance aerial repertoire that is one of his trademarks. When the tour returned to Santa Cruz, you could see that his air game was still on point, especially against 11-time ASP World Champ Kelly Slater. After hucking a ridiculously inverted air, the judges failed to throw Payne the necessary score to advance. The Twitterverse called foul on the arguably underscored maneuver. Then, on the penultimate day of 2012, Dusty caught one wave at Pe'ahi during a paddle-in big-wave session and blew out his eardrum.

Although the ear injury seems like it would be a reason to wallow in self-pity, Dusty is taking the high road. His "glass is half-full" attitude is inspiring and apparent when you chat with the world tour surfer. He's frothing for the upcoming year, and more currently, the Volcom Pipe Pro, whose waiting period began Sunday. We caught up with Payne on Maui as he prepared for the inter-island trip to Oahu's North Shore to talk about Pipeline, the new Hawaiian contingent and how he is fired up for 2013's travels.

Xgames: Judging by the photos and swells it seems like you guys were scoring in Maui these past couple of months.
Dusty Payne: There were lot of good west/northwest swells and it's been a good month in Maui. The swells have been kicking in to gear after the holidays, and it's been pretty fun.

Dusty Payne
Based on the Surfline forecast the contest will see a 15-foot northwest swell at the start of the Pipe Pro waiting period, which means Payne & Co. probably won't have many Backdoor options until things calm down a little.

How was Pe'ahi in the last couple of months?
I went out to Jaws on [December] 30, I caught one wave and I broke my eardrum so I've kind of been out of the water for the last three weeks just kind of cruising.

That's heavy. How do you think that will affect you going into the Volcom Pipe Pro?
It shouldn't. It's been a nice break. It's good to take some time off surfing. I jumped back into [contest surfing] pretty much after last year's injury and I haven't stopped since. So it's good to have a little break and reset. Now I'm pretty hungry to start surfing and get back into it.

How long were you out with that ankle injury last year?
It happened [in 2011] and I didn't take [the ankle injury] too seriously and I didn't think it was that bad of an injury. Over time it got worse and worse. It sidelined me for about six months, but you know, it was good just to rehab and get stronger. It's feeling good now.

What was the official diagnosis of the ankle injury and how long was your rehab?
It was a partially torn deltoid and sprained ligament. I was in a walking boot for two months, and then the rehab was probably two and a half to three months.

While you were rehabbing, the Volcom Fiji Pro scored arguably the best waves for a world tour event in the history of surfing. How difficult was it for you to be unable to compete?
It was such a bummer! I was trying my hardest to get back for that event, but I just couldn't push it. It was tough sitting at home and watching perfect waves. It's always tough, especially when your sponsor is putting on the event. The waves were that good. … It just made me work harder, and I did my best to get back for Tahiti and that was my goal. It was a bummer to miss Fiji, but I was glad I made it back for Tahiti.

When you got back on tour it seemed like your surfing didn't miss a beat, especially in that heat you had with Kelly Slater in Santa Cruz. How did it feel when the judges didn't throw you the score after you stomped that inverted air?
It's definitely frustrating when things like that happen. You feel like you deserve to move on, but you got to put that year in the past, carry on, look at the positives and move on to the next year. That's what I'm doing and I'm really excited for this upcoming year.

That's an awesome attitude. What are you most psyched about this year on tour?
I'm looking forward to starting off on the Gold Coast healthy and I'm really excited to go surf perfect waves with another guy out. I'm really going to try to enjoy myself this year. In past years I kind of put a lot of stress on myself, worrying about if I'm going to make my next heat or things like that. I'm going to minimize the stress and just go and enjoy the places I'm traveling to.

Having a few extra Hawaiians on tour makes it more comfortable wherever we go.

-- Dusty Payne

With Sebastian Zietz qualifying and Fred Patacchia requalifying for the World Tour, coupled with you and John John Florence, there is a greater Hawaii presence on tour than 2012. How does that make you feel?
It's definitely exciting having Seabass qualify and having Freddy back on tour and John is there. Having a few extra Hawaiians on tour makes it more comfortable wherever we go.

Shifting back to the Banzai Pipeline, it seems like you've always got the waves you needed out there during contests, except for that one heat with Parkinson when he got two 10s. Describe your familiarity with the world's most dangerous wave.
I try to put as much time out there as I can. It's one of those waves that you'll never feel 100 percent comfortable at. The more time you put in out there I feel like you'll give yourself more chances in a heat. You get to know the lineup a bit better. It's one of those waves that could go either way in any heat out there. One guy could be completely on out there and the other guy could be in such a bad rhythm. It's one of those waves that's it's all about rhythm out there.

Since you've earned a wild card into the Pipe Masters through the Pipe Pro in the past and you're also a world tour surfer, which event has the gnarliest competition: the Billabong Pipe Masters or the Volcom Pipe Pro?
I would have to say the Volcom Pipe Pro because it's four-man heats the whole way. It's kind of a dogfight because there is two extra guys out [in a heat]. It's kind of a scrap to get your waves, and nobody wants to lose because you want to keep surfing Pipe. I think it's a lot tougher surfing the Pipe Pro.