The formula for becoming the ASP World Tour Rookie of the Year is simple: Finish the season as the highest ranked rookie on tour. For World Tour newcomer Nat Young of Santa Cruz, a stellar start to the 2013 World Tour has made taking home Rookie of the Year honors a very real possibility.
After two events, Young, 21, is tied for fifth place alongside last year's World Champion, Joel Parkinson, and solidly ahead of the rest of the 2013 rookies. Brazilian Filipe Toledo is the next closest to the title, sitting in a four-way tie for ninth place, 2,800 points behind Young.
Young's success in the first two events of the season, both held in Australia, aught the attention of the surfing world. He finished 13th at the Quiksilver Pro Gold Coast at Snapper Rocks and turned on the power for a phenomenal second-place finish at the Rip Curl Pro at Bells Beach.
"It was an amazing week," Young said of the event at Bells. "It was a goal of mine to do well in Australia so I wouldn't have to do every 'QS. It can be a pretty hectic schedule if you're doing every six-star and prime event, it's just nonstop. Now I can pick and choose the contests I want to do, besides the World Tour events."
Further down the roster of the ASP Top 34 are Young's fellow World Tour rookies Toledo, Sebastian Zietz of Hawaii (tied for 23rd) and Glenn Hall of Ireland (tied for 31st).
"The pressure is off now and Nat can just go out and try to perform," said former World Tour surfer Adam Replogle of Santa Cruz.
He added, "Nat is definitely sticking out as far as the four rookies and being ranked in the top five in the world right now. Getting Rookie of the Year is a total possibility, but realistically, there's still eight more events to go."
Replogle, who's highest World Tour finish was fifth at Jeffrey's Bay, South Africa, said Young appeared to be ahead of the curve when it came to adapting to competing on the tour among the world's top 34 surfers.
"The biggest thing that separates (Young) from the other rookies is that he's really mature in how he structures his heats," Replogle said. "Nat's confidence is high and it looks like he's going to carry that momentum through the year He's also really strong right now; his performance on tour is a testament to his fitness."
Former World Tour surfer, Chris Gallagher, also of Santa Cruz, agreed.
"Nat has already equaled my best event on tour, and he's definitely on track to achieve way beyond that," said Gallagher, speaking during a break from shaping boards in his Hawaii studio. "He's been out there grinding. It's pretty cool to see all that hard work paying off right out of the gates. Nat is poised to do really well, and he's a fearless competitor. "
Gallagher's highest finish was second place at the 1997 Quik Pro at G-Land, a renowned surf spot at Plengkung Beach on the Grajagan Bay in East Java. He remembered his performance on tour being "hot and cold," and that adapting to the tour's man-on-man heat format was difficult.
"Nat is definitely way more prepared than I ever was," Gallagher said, adding, "Whereas Adam [Replogle] and I were just happy to be on tour, stoked to get results, Nat is ready to crush people. I was just hoping to not have to get a job, but Nat is out there chasing a world title."
Gallagher said he hopes Nat's success on the World Tour and dedication to a healthy lifestyle will inspire other young Santa Cruz surfers to follow the same path.
In the last 10 years, the Rookie of the Year award has been won three times by an Australian (Julian Wilson, Owen Wright and Luke Stedman), four times by a Hawaiian (John John Florence, Kekoa Bacalso, Freddy Patacchia and Bruce Irons), two times by a mainland U.S. surfer (Dane Reynolds and Bobby Martinez) and once by a Frenchman (Jeremy Flores).
The number of rookies on tour varies each year. Last year, the 2012 tour rookies were Florence, Kolohe Andino, Gabriel Medina and Miguel Pupo. In the end, it came down to Florence and Medina, who finished the season ranked fourth and seventh, respectively.
"Rookie of the Year was definitely a goal of mine starting the year, and it's still a goal of mine," Young said. "The rookies this year are all good surfers. All of them in their own way are a threat. Felipe Toledo is one of the best aerial surfers there is. He's amazing. And Seabass (Zietz) is an all-around great surfer. He won the Triple Crown last year and surfs amazing in barrels. And then Glen Hall, he's a bit older but he's got a lot of experience and he's really smart. Everyone has their strengths."
Achieving Rookie of the Year, Young said, requires consistency and the ability to adapt to different types of waves.
"Each wave is different," Young said of the different stops on tour. "There's not one of us that has an advantage over the other rookies. For me, achieving Rookie of the Year is going to mean getting used to surfing in a variety of waves."
In the meantime, Young said his focus is on relaxing and enjoying the break before the Billabong Rio Pro, which begins May 8. During the break, Young said he plans to travel to Tahiti to prepare for the Billabong Pro Teahupo'o.
"When I'm at home, I train a lot, usually four days a week," Young said. "It helps me mentally to know that I'm dedicating a lot of time to training."
Young credits the support of his mom, Rosie Young, for helping him stay focused during the first two events of the World Tour season.
"All of the support from back home has been amazing," Young said. "It makes me want to do even better."
Gretchen Wegrich's surf column appears every other Sunday in the Sentinel. Send her story ideas and feedback at firstname.lastname@example.org
ASP Rookies of the Year
John John Florence (HAW)
Julian Wilson (AUS)
Owen Wright (AUS)
Kekoa Bacalso (HAW)
Dane Reynolds (USA)
Jeremy Flores (FRANCE)
Bobby Martinez (USA)
Fred Patacchia (HAW)
Bruce Irons (HAW)
Luke Stedman (AUS)
NAME COUNTRY PTS
1. Kelly Slater USA 11750
2t. Mick Fanning AUS 11700
2t. Taj Burrow AUS 11700
4. Adriano De Souza BRA 10500
5t. Joel Parkinson AUS 9750
5t. Nat Young USA 9750
7. Jordy Smith ZAF 8250
8. Michel Bourez PYF 7000
9t. Julian Wilson AUS 6950
9t. Bede Durbidge AUS 6950
9t. Kai Otton AUS 6950
9t. Filipe Toledo BRA 6950