Rejuvenated Banting on a mission
HE was hailed as surfing's next big thing as a precociously talented teen but five years on Matt Banting would love nothing better than to be known as the comeback kid.
The Port Macquarie surfer, competing in this week's Vissla Sydney Pro, sprang to world attention when pitted against Kelly Slater and then Mick Fanning in his first world tour event heats as a teenage wildcard in 2014.
A year on, Banting made the world tour for the first time, before serious knee and pelvic injuries sent him to the sidelines for parts of 2016 and much of 2017.
Now Banting, 23, who easily won his second round heat at the Sydney Surf Pro at Manly on Wednesday, is on a mission to requalify for the world tour.
"After losing my sponsor at the end of 2016 and having to sit out for so long I have the fire and the passion back," Banting said.
"I remember in my first heat on the world tour in 2015 at Snapper Rocks, I had Mick (Fanning) and Jack (Freestone) and beat them both.
"I though this is a great start. I can do this. I got a couple more wins but a lot more losses and my confidence took a real hit because I was so young.
"Then the injuries came and the next thing I was off the world tour."
Banting said he "sat on the coach and got depressive" after losing sponsor Quiksilver, who had backed him for 10 years, and waiting for his pelvic injury to rehabilitate.
"I was pretty down and out early in 2017," he said.
Now Banting acknowledges his hard times have made him both a better man and hopefully a tougher and smarter surfer.
"It made me realise what I wanted to do and that's be on the world tour again," he said.
The Sydney Surf Pro, which finishes on Sunday, is a step on the road to redemption for Banting who is bidding to accrue enough qualifying points to make it back onto the world tour in 2019.
While Banting has advanced into the third round at the Sydney Pro, Cronulla star Connor O'Leary is out of his final lead-up event to the men's world tour opener, the Quiksilver Pro, on the Gold Coast, from March 11-22.
Mikey Wright, the younger brother of Owen and Tyler Wright, has also advanced into the next round three along with Mitch Crews, Reef Heazelwood, Solly Bailey, Freestone, Dion Atkinson and Mitch Parkinson.