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Six-foot-three Michael February stands out.
His style on the waves isn’t cut from the contest mold—it’s free, unrestrained, and unpretentious.
And then there’s the little bit about him being a black surfer. From South Africa.
Michael February isn’t cut from the same cloth as most other professional surfers. And the 25-year-old, who just finished 2018 as no. 32 in the men’s CT (Championship Tour)—the first black South African to ever finish in the top 34—wouldn’t have it any other way.
Born in Cape Town, South Africa on May 17, 1993, Michael February’s formative years were drastically different than his father’s.
Isaac February grew up during the apartheid era in South Africa, suffering from institutionalized racial segregation. As a surfer, Isaac was routinely heckled, and he was barred from a number of the most ideal surf spots that featured the best breaks in the area.
While things didn’t heal overnight following Nelson Mandela’s election in 1994, the country began its rebirth and Michael’s experience was drastically different than his father’s. While he was initially born into the deeply unsafe Woodstock suburb of the early 90s (he hopped on his first wave with his pops at the ripe age of six), his parents soon moved 45 minutes down the cape to Kommetjie. It was here that his love for surfing would truly blossom.
Kommetjie offered a bounty of waves for Michael—not to mention a figurative safe harbor within which he would grow and learn. It was all he needed to begin to stake his claim in the surfing world.
Michael began a rapid ascent in his teens and, by 2012, he was jet setting to different countries to hit up Qualifying Series events. All the same, it took three years before he’d experience podium-placing success—he made the final in Martinique in 2015.
With Martinique in his back pocket, momentum really grew. He nabbed third place at 2016’s Azores Airline Pro, proving to himself and any doubters that he wasn’t a one-trick-pony and could repeat and build upon the success at Martinique.
And then came 2017.
2017 was a watershed year for Michael. He opened up with third- and fifth-place finishes, respectively, at Ballito Pro and the US Open of Surfing. He then followed up with three separate QS 1000 wins, resulting in a sterling finish relative to his career-to-date. However, he still finished one spot shy of qualifying.
We hit you with that extra subtitle above just to build suspense. You know that “disappointing” one-spot-shy finish we just mentioned in 2017? Well, it unlocked February’s dream in 2018.
You see, the thing about finishing one spot out is it guarantees you the first opening as an injury replacement. And so, when Mick Fanning announced Rip Curl Pro at Bells was his final event in early 2018, February was bumped up and finally became a full-time Championship Tour surfer.
While he was one of eight rookies that competed on the CT in 2018, he was the only black South African in history to qualify.
When he joined the tour, he chose the number 54—the number of countries in Africa.
“In a sport that’s been traditionally dominated by white male South Africans, Mikey’s become a pioneer and influencer for young black kids in South Africa and Africa as a whole,” Isaac February told Men’s Journal. “He’s shown that the dream of being a successful, respected black surfer is possible.”
It’s not just his heritage that makes him different. February actually surfs differently, too.
He has a long, lanky body and a unique, knock-kneed stance. But most importantly, for a guy with a laid-back attitude off the waves, when he surfs, he sizzles.
It all comes down to Michael’s style, which is pulled from freesurfing. He expresses himself out there, putting poetry into the sport—even if it’s at the expense of competition results, as judges struggle to score him against more traditional surfers.
For his part, Michael would love to see style become a bigger part of score criteria. But until then, he’s content with doing things his way, no matter the ramifications. (He missed official qualification in 2018 by three stinkin’ points.)
But it’s not just his style on the waves that’s meritorious. He recently teamed with Vans to produce the documentary Can’t Steal Our Vibe, which followed February and his buds as they donated 700 surfboards to South Africa’s Waves for Change.
No matter how many qualifying points he does or doesn’t gather in any season, that’s the kind of performance that will make Mr. February a legend in the eyes of many.