Caleb Cutmore was back home and out surfing as soon as possible after his Billabong Grom Series win In Piha this past weekend.
Caleb and his friends and schoolmates from the Raglan Surf Academy are out surfing most days of the year. What’s more, they get to surf in school time.
“There are 16 in our class at the surf academy at Raglan Area School, and we mix in with the rest of the school,” Caleb explains.
“But at quarter to two every day we go out surfing instead of sitting in a classroom, Surfing takes up two of our class times. We learn about surfing in the classroom and then we go out and do it!”
Caleb is just starting level 3 NCEA and is doing four subjects and has been at Raglan Area School since the start of last year after previously attending Hamilton Boys’ High School.
On Saturday, the goofy footer won the third and final leg of the Grom Series to win the U18 Boys section and defend the title he won last year.
The third event of the series at Piha was scheduled for two days, but with adverse weather forecast for Sunday it was completed in one big day of surfing.
Caleb finished with a 14.27 point heat total edging out Jack Lee who pushed him for the win posting 14.07 points out of a possible 20.
This followed wins in the first leg at Mount Maunganui and a fourth in the second leg at Whangamata over the past few weeks.
The four-surfer U18 Boys final was an all-Raglan Surf Academy final, as Caleb explained.
“There was Jack Lee and Luis Southwood, both from Whakatane, and Taylor O’Leary from Muriwai in the final. We all go to school together every day. Every Tuesday morning we have a competition amongst ourselves so it was just like another one of those,” said Caleb.
“We are all pretty close. Jack got three seconds in the Grom Series - he didn’t quite win but he got close in all three legs.”
When the wider group aren’t competing against each other they are out there surfing together for fun.
“My favourite break is Manu Bay [in Raglan]. Around the headland from Raglan there is a beach called Ruapuke. It is usually way too big, but when the swell drops off it is a good size and that is a really good wave as well.
Caleb has travelled around New Zealand and overseas on surfing trips. “Last year I went on a trip with a few other guys to Fiji, no competition, just going to get good waves.”
What is the difference between just going out for a surf and surfing competitively?
“Pretty much the main difference is when you are free surfing it doesn’t really matter if you fall off, you are just learning and trying new things. But in a competition you want to land everything and complete all your waves.”
Surfing competitions are marked by judges on the beach.
“The heats throughout the event are 15 minutes, except for the final which is 20 minutes. Each wave you catch is marked out of 10 and your top two waves count. So the idea is to get two or three good waves in there and get the highest score out of 20.”
Caleb lives with his family at Raglan, having recently moved there from Hamilton.
“My everyday break is Manu Bay. Every so often I will go somewhere else, most often Manu Bay.”
Has Caleb been in any dangerous situations?
“I have seen a shark but it wasn’t a dangerous one. There has been the odd scary situation such as when we surfing across the harbour at Raglan and we left it a bit too late and we had to paddle across the harbour in pitch black.
“Last year in Fiji I surfed at a place called Restaurants and it is a sharp reef and it gets super-shallow. Luckily I didn’t come off but I cut myself slightly and it was okay, but one of the guys I was with sliced his back on the reef.”
Has he ever been caught out in big waves? “I have never been properly hurt in big waves but I have been held under for a while. But that is all just part of it.”
Late last year he represented New Zealand at the Junior World Championships at Huntington Beach, California and finished a credible 13th in the individual Boys U18 division. The event attracted 350 Boys and Girls U16 and U18 surfers from 44 countries.
“That was exciting having the whole team backing me and making a few heats alongside people who are much more well-known than I am. in New Zealand everyone is friends and knows each other but over there it is different and more serious.”
This was Caleb’s second Junior World Championships, after finishing 49th as a year 11 surfer in 2017. He hopes to earn selection for this year’s Junior World Champs, details of which haven’t been finalised yet.
He has also competed in Australia and in Brazil at the Rip Curl competition. Back home, he won the 2017 U16 Boys title and then the 2018 U18 Boys title at the [NZSS] Scholastic Surfing Championships.
What is coming up this year? “I will be competing in Australia a couple of times this year as well as doing the Surfing New Zealand Circuit and then hopefully going to the World Juniors again.”
Caleb is open about the future. “I definitely want to take my surfing as far as I can, but I might also look to go to university next year or start getting some qualifications behind me as a back-up plan.”
Like all surfers, Caleb wants to surf around the world, including at the most famous break of them all, Pipeline in Hawaii.
“Pipeline looks amazing if no one was out there. It is quite crowded. I would definitely want to surf it but it is not like I can just rock up and take any wave I want.”
The world’s top 34 surfers compete on the elite men’s World Championship tour. How attainable is that goal?
“It is a big leap up, it is a lot of hard work and plenty of years to qualify for the world tour. There are hundreds of people who are all just as good as each other fighting it out for 30 spots.”
Plus the financial hurdles to overcome to get to travel around the world chasing the best waves and competitions.
Surfing has also been given a boost by being included on the list of proposed new sports for inclusion at the 2024 Paris Olympic Games.
For now, Caleb is happy to spend his days finishing his last year of school and surfing everyday on one of the breaks virtually on his backdoor at Raglan.
The recent 2019 Billabong Grom Series overall champions were:
Under 18 Boys – Caleb Cutmore (Rag)
Under 18 Girls – Gabrielle Paul (Piha)
Under 16 Boys – Jayden Willoughby (Rag)
Under 16 Girls – Ava Henderson (Chch)
Under 14 Boys – Bill Byers (Piha)
Under 14 Girls – Anna Brock (Mnt)
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