Isaac February (Michael's father) wasn’t even allowed to surf many of the better breaks around South Africa growing up. Apartheid-era attitudes didn’t exactly die overnight after the election of Nelson Mandela in 1994. Being a black surfer there was tough. Taunts and heckling were a regular routine, and Isaac was even surrounded and sent in by locals for merely daring to paddle out at one particular spot. Roughly 15 years later his son Michael put on a jersey and won a surf contest at that very same break. It was a tiny little step on the path of Michael’s amateur career, but the significance of the moment wasn’t lost on Isaac, who knew it was a milestone for South African surfing. Today, Michael February’s arrival on the Championship Tour is serving as an inspiration for black surfers who are taking to the lineups in far greater numbers than ever before and being encouraged to do so. Michael was born in Cape Town in 1993, one year before the country’s rebirth. While the Woodstock suburb he grew up in is home to hipster cafes and art galleries now, in the early 90s it wasn’t even a safe place to walk outside. Fortunately, around the time he was falling in love with surfing, his parents moved 45 minutes down the Western Cape to the small town of Kommetjie, and his surfing flourished in the wave-rich zone. He was turning heads in short order with his limber, free-range style, and his rise up the South African ranks was steady. By 2012 he was hitting Qualifying Series events in select countries, but it took three years before he tasted success, making the Final in Martinique in 2015. He built more momentum in 2016 with a third at the Azores Airline Pro, before making his big 2017 push at the Ballito Pro and US Open of Surfing, where he finished third and fifth respectively. He backed those big QS 10,000 results with three QS 1000 wins at home. While he finished one spot shy of making the qualifying cut at the end of 2017 that gave him the first opening for any injury replacement spot. In early 2018, however, Mick Fanning announced that the Rip Curl Pro at Bells would be his final event. At that moment February’s status as a full-time Championship Tour surfer was secured. He’s one of eight how-powered rookies in the mix this year. He’s already charming fans and peers with his artistic flair, worldly charm and a huge smile, proudly shouldering the hopes of his community.