My friend Quinn is a photographer and keen surfer. He was excited to be doing a photo shoot with Matt Hewitt, a Mt Maunganui local with his eyes on the big surf titles. Keen to learn more about kiwis and their love of the ocean, I jumped at the opportunity to interview him. You can follow his success on the Matt Hewitt Facebook page and see the whole photo shoot on the Quinn O'Connell Photography Facebook page. Of course there's also the Jenny Rudd Facebook page. OK, enough of the Facebook page links.
Just eighteen months after wobbling to a stand on a surf board for the first time, Matt Hewitt came 3rd in the 2005 ISA World Junior Championships. All at the age of 15. Jenny Rudd meets this bright light of New Zealand surfing.
When Matt Hewitt and his family moved to Mt Maunganui, the closest connection he had to surfing was owning a Quiksilver t shirt. Living in Mt Maunganui changed all that. Surfing is ingrained into the psyche of New Zealanders and in particular in this small coastal town whose population swells in the summer months to accommodate tousled, blonde surf bums and the trail of sun kissed honeys drifting around after them.
Upon arrival Matt did what any self respecting 14 year old living at the beach in New Zealand would do: he tucked a surfboard under his arm and dashed to the beach after school to go surfing. Most of the other teenagers had grown up in the waves so Matt had quite a bit of ground to make up which merely serves to make his achievements all the more extraordinary. In a country famed for its laid back approach Matt is an unusual character. On representing New Zealand at the 2005 ISA World Junior Champs he said ‘I went there to win. Some thought that was laughable as I had only been surfing for a year or two and was just 15 years old but that was my attitude. And I came third. I was very happy with the result.’ In 2009 he won the New Zealand Open Men’s Championship. This year he has won not one but two Pro Junior Championships in Australia.
Determination to succeed is a common thread through conversation. ‘I only started surfing when my family moved to the Mount and before that was playing rugby, water polo and surf lifesaving. I still love to go jet skiing, fishing, ride mountain bikes, and would love to race cars. I have been studying the art and science of boxing as cross training. Surfing takes up most of my time and it’s a challenge that I am dedicating my life to at the moment but I know I could apply the skill set and desire I have for success in surfing to many other fields. I've got a few other things in life I would like to do, but surfing is definitely my focus right now. You have to set goals and then focus energy and desire towards them. It helps to have family and community support, a will to win and never quit.’
The winning instinct has been nurtured from a young age. Matt’s mother is his manager. A career in marketing has primed Michelle to take care of the ultimate brand: her son. ‘The home environment has a huge impact on the way children grow up. We have always recognised that there is a point where life skills overtake the need for educational skills. Since our children were young we have encouraged them to have a voice, to strive for what they want and believe that anything is possible. I believe it is a privilege, not a right, to be a parent and equally it is a privilege to have good parents.’
Articulate and earnest, Matt has an understanding of the consequences of his behaviour on the marketability of his brand. Sponsors must rub their hands in giddy glee when they meet him. ‘I have a great team at home and abroad keeping an eye on the whole brand issue. I spend my time training hard and surfing hard to get great photos, movies or results. You can't micro manage everything in your career, it’s best to step back and let people you believe in take over. I still keep a close eye on it, I just try to be a guiding influence rather than direct it.’
As impressive as team Hewitt’s awareness is of the commercial nature of his opportunities in surfing, it’s not the only motivator. Michelle says about bringing up her son and daughter ‘It’s important to understand that everything you do has a consequence. We aren’t perfect but I have taught them to try and make decisions with forethought. And have fun. That’s key.’
Photographs Quinn O’Connell www.qophotography.com
Words Jenny Rudd www.jennyrudd.co.nz