Matt McGillivray – SA’s surf world rising star

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South Africa has produced another rising star in the world of international surfing. Matt McGillivray has a dream of emulating another South African, Jordi Smith, by becoming a big international star.

McGillivray started competing as a junior for the first time in 2012, and last November, he finished third at the Hawaiian Pro and looked destined for greatness by qualifying for the elite World Surf League’s Championship.

The 23-year-old is still relatively unknown in the world of surfing. He was stuck in Australia for almost the entire year following the outbreak of COVID-19, and couldn’t return to South Africa. Like many sporting codes across the world, surfing was also affected which led to the cancellation of most events earlier in the year.

He says although he missed home quite a lot, his decision to remain in Australia was the best for his career.

“The reason why I decided to stay in Australia just because I wasn’t sure if the whole year I was going to get cancelled yet at the time it was in March. They said the first event was cancelled but like they wanted to see what was happening. There were so many questions up in the air. So I decided to stay on. I thought Australia would be the safest place where I would be able to travel from and then in April they stopped all flights going back home to South Africa. I actually e-mailed the South African Embassy to see if I could get a flight home and they told me there are no flights until September. So I ended up being forced to base myself in Australia for a year.”

With surfing competitions having resumed in September, McGillivray will have a busy December as he will be competing throughout the entire festive season with various events already lined-up.

“Now the tour is getting back under way. It’s going to be pretty full-on.  We’ve got the pipeline coming up and after that, we’ve got another event at the Sunset Beach which is really cool because that’s been one of my favourite events in the qualifying series every year. So we spending Christmas and New Year here in Hawaii, and then from there, we supposed to go to Sandton Cruise in California for the next tour. After that, the plans are still up in the air. We’re going to have to figure out how we can get over to Australia but we will cross that road when the time comes”.

Olympic Games

Surfing fans outside of South Africa do not know a lot about McGillvray, but under the mentorship of another South African – Jordi Smith – who is already a big name international surfer, that is about to change. He says his ultimate dream is to compete alongside Smith at the Olympic Games.

McGillvray says, “Absolutely that would be a huge dream for me. Yeah, I’m not sure what’s happening with the Olympics next year but if there’s an opportunity for me to compete alongside Jordi Smith that’s a huge goal of mine and I will definitely try my hardest to get there. I know this year one of the qualification events was the world games so I’m not sure if it’s going to happen next year. But if we have the opportunity to go to it then that’s gonna be a huge focus for me.”

McGillvray says Smith is his role model in the sport and he is learning quite a lot from a person he looked up to since taking up the sport of surfing.

“Jordi Smith has been leading the charge for South Africa on the surfing tour for over 10 years now. So I always looked up to him. It’s actually been amazing having his guide shaping my surfboards for the past few years and he’s been helping to mentor me and helping to show me what it takes to get up to the championship tour, to kind of step up my levels. So it’s been good learning from him.”

McGillvray grew up in Port Elizabeth, and his family moved to Jeffrey’s Bay when he was 14. He says Jeffrey’s Bay remains his favourite surfing spot in the entire world.