Since the ECSC regained ASP Star status in 2011, the East Coast’s usual stranglehold on this iconic event has loosened. New Smyrna Beach’s Jeremy Johnston was the last Rightsider to win the marquee Men’s Pro division in 2010; in 2013, Aaron Cormican won the Tautog/Doc Taylor’s Open Pro, but Pat Gudauskas emerged victorious in the Vans Pro. Even more amazing, it’s been 33 years since a Virginia Beach native won the event — Wes Laine won back-to-back titles in 1980-81, his pro surfing heyday.
Which makes Michael Dunphy’s win yesterday so historic. Not only did the Virginia Beach native bring things home to the Old Dominion for the first time in three and a half decades, and win $15,000 — but the 1,000 points he earned catapulted him to #14 on the ASP WQS ratings, pointing him well within striking distance of a 2015 spot on the World Championship Tour.
Even more impressive is how dominant Dunphy was throughout the event: after exiting last year in his first heat due to an interference call, Dunphy won all five of the heats he surfed on Saturday, August 23rd and Sunday, August 24th outright. In his last four heats, he posted the highest wave score of each heat; in three of those heats he posted the second-highest wave score as well. Dunphy earned two of the top 10 heat scores of the entire event, along with three of the top 10 wave scores, the second-highest average wave score, and the second-highest average heat total. And his 8.93 with only minutes left in the heat catapulted him from 3rd-place to 1st, adding extra flair to his victory.
But enough with the stats: we wanted to know what Dunphy himself had to say about his impressive event and even more impressive year.
ESM: Congratulations on the victory, Michael. How does it feel?
Michael Dunphy: Winning this event means a lot. It’s the biggest ‘QS result of my career, but after coming here and surfing here my whole life, to win this tournament at home in front of everybody, it really means a lot. If I was to make a list of the top five events I’d like to win before I die, this one is at the top.
ESM: What was different in 2014 compared to past ECSCs you’ve surfed in?
MD: I think I just didn’t put as much pressure on myself to do well in the contest. Every year I would come in and put so much pressure on myself because it’s at home. Sometimes I’d think so much I couldn’t even surf by the time I got in the water. This year, I said, “Whatever happens, happens — I just want to surf.” I knew if I could just get some waves at 1st Street Jetty, I’d do fine.
ESM: You’ve been surfing ASP 6-Stars and Primes for a couple of years now. Did you feel like because the contest was a 4-Star, things were easier for you?
MD: There were definitely still a lot of good guys surfing in it, like the Gudauskas brothers. I looked at it like less pressure on myself since the points aren’t as high and I didn’t think it would factor into my year on the ‘QS so much. That helped me be more relaxed. But there were still definitely some really good guys surfing in the contest.
ESM: Did the small waves of the first few days matter?
MD: I got seeded directly into the Round of 64, so I actually didn’t even surf until Saturday, when we finally got waves. We were stoked we got something.
ESM: As you made it through the Quarterfinals and Semifinals, were you thinking about the fact that no VB surfer had won the ECSC’s marquee division since 1981?
MD: Honestly, no, I wasn’t. I just figured I had to maintain that same mindset of being relaxed and just trying to get a few good waves. In the past, I used to overthink contests and heats. At the end of the day, you just have to go out there and get two decent waves and surf them well. I’ve been trying to simplify things to that level.
ESM: You must have been fired up to get the 8.93 that you needed right before the end of the heat, though.
MD: For sure. I’ve never claimed a wave before, and I claimed that one. I was fired up. That was a pretty special moment that I’ll remember for the rest of my life.
ESM: How impressed were you by the local support you’ve received? You were even on the front page of The Virginian-Pilot.
MD: Crazy. I didn’t even realize until I won how behind me everyone was. People are just freaking out like we won the Super Bowl or something. Wes Laine was down there to sort of pass the torch over to me, which was cool.
ESM: Let’s talk about your year on the ‘QS. You’re ranked #14 and within reach of a spot on the 2015 World Tour. Are you surprised by how well you’ve done so far?
MD: I wouldn’t say I’m surprised because I know I can do it. It’s just one of those things where you have to believe in yourself, and this year I finally do. I’m finally putting it all to work. But to be honest, I’m not even really thinking about qualifying too much. I have five or six more contests left and I need to do well in two of them — at least make the semis in some Primes to be right there. If I make it, cool, if not, there’s next year. I’m not going to make it the end all be all of my life. I’m stoked to be where I am, and I have to make a lot more heats still.
ESM: Has the relaxed approach helped you all year?
MD: Yep. Being relaxed, actually surfing, and not thinking, which I’ve done too much of in the past. Like I said, just simplifying it and surfing. A lot of other things have gone into it though. I’ve put on 12 pounds this year — I’m working hard at training. Seeing what Nat Young and all those guys are doing on the World Tour has motivated me. I’ve also had some sick Al Merrick epoxies that have helped me out the last couple of contests.
ESM: So what’s next contest wise?
MD: One in the Azores next week, then a Prime in Portugal the first week of October, then two in Brazil and two in Hawaii.
ESM: All right, enough about you — who else impressed you at ECSC this year?
MD: I noticed Luke Gordon is coming along well. He made the finals in the Vans Junior Pro. But Asher [Nolan] and Benny [Bourgeois]… I feel like they’ll be in the mix for a long time. Those are the guys I’ve always looked up to. It’s cool to see them still doing well. And cool to do well with them.