Qualifying for the ASP Tour is one of the biggest moments in a competitive surfers' life. Conversely, a career-detouring injury is one of the worst. Just imagine the emotional roller coaster that Gabe Kling, aka "Thor" has been on in the last few years.
Kling first qualified at the end of 2006, the first East Coaster in some time to scale the fence. The celebrations that year at Surf Expo in Orlando were legendary. But that season saw so many sub par waves, he told me it was like surfing "two WQS tours" at the end of 2007 and Gabe didn't have the results on either to stay in the game.
Kling put his head down in 2008, trained hard, and fought his way back on tour for the second time in three years. But following the 2009 Quiksilver Gold Coast Pro, Kling sustained a Medial Collateral Ligament tear and Medial Meniscus tear in his knee as well as a Distal Tibiofibular sprain in his ankle at the O'Neill Coldwater Classic in Tasmania. While the tour went on to a banner season of waves around the world, he was relegated to his St. Augustine couch and a physical rehab regiment. There were hiccups in recovery, and Kling wasn't back in action again until the Triple Crown. But Kling got his bearings at Sunset and even downed Kalani Chapman in his first Round at the Pipe Masters. He applied for an injury wildcard, but it wasn't granted.
Last week, he won the Lowers Nike 6.0 Pro and is in the midst of a battle to qualify for a third time. How does one athlete handle so many ups and downs? A lesser man would cave, but not the good-natured Jacksonville Jaguars honorary captain and power gouger, Thor.
How did you win at Trestles without doing 25 air-reverses?
I don't know. It seemed like you were going to have to pull something crazy to win the event. I just focused on surfing smart heats, tried to get the best waves and do my thing. I had some close heats that went my way. It was just a great event for me.
You won the final by a pretty fair margin, but the semifinal heat against Andy Irons was tight as a mosquito's butt. Can you talk us through that heat, including your 7.13?
That heat with Andy was crazy. He broke his board and didn't have a backup with him and he ended up grabbing someone's board, which he hadn't ridden before. It took him a while to get back out and right away grabbed a mid-6, and I still didn't have any good scores yet. I was stressing pretty hard at that point. The waves had shifted to rights and I grabbed a little set wave and got a medium score that ended up being my backup.
I got that 7.13 on a little bigger right. The wall held up through the inside and I got to link up a few turns. It came down to the last minutes and Andy picked up a small wave and ripped it, and he didn't need too big of a score. I was sitting out the back waiting on them to announce it for what felt like hours. After they said he didn't get it I was just losing it -- so stoked! There weren't many waves in that heat and I'd say I got pretty lucky in that one.
You were injured during the winter of 2009 at the Coldwater Classic Tasmania? I know you worked really hard to rehab. You were up for an injury wildcard this year. What was the ASP's reasoning for you not getting that?
They gave it to Neco (Padaratz) and Luke (Stedman.) Both were ranked in the Top 16 when they were injured.
Do you think the wildcard they saved for Andy Irons would have been your slot?
I don't know. It's over and done with and I'm not going to dwell on it. There were a few others going for it also, so who knows how that would have panned out. A.I. has wont three world titles. It was his spot.
I hear that the whole St Augustine crew is getting ready to bomb the Jaguars/Chargers game in San Diego this September? Are you in on that?
I think so. I'd love to go to that game! I like the Chargers. A lot of my friends are big charger fans and I watch a lot of their games. I loved when they beat Peyton Manning in the playoffs and he cried. (laughs) That was great. If I go to the game, I'll have my teal on though of course.
Of course. You guys even go crazy for the NFL draft. Where were you this year for that?
I was at home. It's just an excuse to have a party really. Zander (Morton) had one and everyone built wizard staffs and cooked out. We had never heard of (Tyson) Alualu when the Jags drafted him, but I think he's going to be a beast! (laughs) The year before I had a party at my house and I was a mess. I stayed pretty sober at this one because we were going fishing in the morning, but it was fun.
Have you been in Florida since the oil spill? What are you hearing about the effects on the shoreline?
It sucks. I can't believe it. I haven't been home since it happened. I've read about it, and been keeping up with it. It's devastating and I don't think we have seen the worst of it yet, unfortunately. It looks like the Gulf is going to be ruined for years, and it could be headed for the East Coast if it gets in the Gulf Stream. Hopefully they can figure out how to stop it from spewing oil soon. It's pretty sad.
You've done some training with Ian Cairns in the past. Are you still on that program?
No. I wasn't training with him this contest. I have worked with him quite a bit and got a lot out of it. He was training with the juniors at the event and I chatted with him between a few of my heats, though.
How will the ASP mid-season shakeup affect you personally? Do you think you're in a good position?
I don't know. I don't think they are taking any new guys. They are going off the World Tour ratings and cutting it down to 32. They said there is a possibility for a wildcard and Josh Kerr and I will be candidates for that. We will see how everything goes. I'm not going to stress over it. This result helped my chances for the end of the year if nothing else.