Tired but stoked Billy set to help make Olympics history

Securing a near-certain spot at surfing’s Olympic Games debut in Tokyo next year is a dream come true for Raglan’s Billy Stairmand, who’s “taking a breather” back home this month before heading off to compete next in Hawaii.

“I’m a little bit burnt out,” the soon-to-be 30 year old told the Chronicle of his seven-week stretch away competing overseas. But at the same time he’s “stoked” to have achieved a goal he set himself some 18 months ago after tying the knot at Whale Bay with his girlfriend of five years, Liana Parker.

“I wanted to represent New Zealand – and Raglan of course,” he says of his campaign to become an Olympian. “This is a dream come true.”

Billy contested an astonishing five heats in mid-September at the ISA World Games in Japan – where he came up against some really big-name surfers – to secure his place in the Tokyo Olympics.

He beat out fellow Kiwi Kehu Butler, and earlier his old rival Ricardo Christie, to claim the qualification spot.

Billy says he was focused at the time only on “making heats” and not worrying about the Olympics, but came away with his name on one of the 20 places available in the men’s competition at the Games which start the last week of next July.

The only other Kiwi to earn provisional qualification is Whangamata surfer Ella Williams who is set to be among the 20 women Olympians.

Competitively Billy’s had an impressive year with just being there in the ISAs a boost to his confidence, let alone doing better than expected. But it’s been “pretty crazy” too, he reckons, with two major events since he qualified.

And he’s still in competition mode as there’s another goal he set himself at the time of his wedding. “I also want to make the (World Surf League) Championship Tour … I need to get a few more good results.”

Constantly travelling and competing however takes its toll. “Obviously being away from home is the hardest thing,” Billy says, casting a glance Liana’s way with their dog Obie alongside.

And losing is hard. “In surfing you lose way more than you win,” he reveals. “You’ve got to  learn how to lose.”

That might mean feeling “gutted” for a while, maybe calling or messaging family and friends for some reassurance – pretty much whatever it takes to adjust his mindset.

Yet this year has been consistently “amazing”, he says, in terms of having body, mind and equipment aligned. He just wants to “keep it going” and to surf at international level for the next five years or so.

The kid with the long blond hair who grew up riding Raglan’s waves – encouraged first by his father Alec, then trained through the local surf academy – no longer has a coach as such. Instead, Billy says, he relies on informal sessions with a friend to ensure he’s physically and mentally in top form to do justice to a career on the pro surfer circuit.

But it’s to coaching or perhaps running surf camps he’s looking at himself when considering starting a business of his own sometime because “it’s all I’ve ever known”.

Meanwhile Billy’s amped on achieving his WSL goal, and of course on a good showing at the Olympics.

Although last month’s ISA qualifying series took place at Miyazaki in Japan, he’s unfazed at competing in Tokyo. It may be a different beach but he’s surfed it before, coming away with a third placing.

And this time round he’ll have Liana there for support.

Edith Symes