Nikki Van Dijk is on the rise. After battling her way through her rookie season requalifying via the QS, a year later the Phillip Island native finished the CT season at No. 9. But Van Dijk earned her stripes, suffering through the beatings, literally and figuratively, to get where she is now -- on the cusp of veteran status.
According to Nikki's sister and longtime travel partner, Nina Van Dijk, taking challenges and striving for the top is something she's done since she was a kid.
"Nikki is like the golden child. Anything she tried she would try to be really good at otherwise there was no point," said Nina. "She was the best at everything she tried and was super athletic. But also really good at school. I honestly thought she was going to go to university and become some crazy scientist or something like that (Nikki laughs in the background). But whenever she did fall, she'd do whatever she could to get back up."
Having maintained her elite status for a few years, Van Dijk has faced the trials and is preparing to earn the results and reap the rewards. Before she continues her journey, get to know a little bit about where's she been.
WSL: Where did your surf journey really begin?
Nikki: I started when I was four. We lived on the beach our whole lives on Phillip Island. I used to surf with all the guys at home and it's funny even when I surf there now, I'll try and pull in and get so smashed because the wave is kind of heavy. I'll come up and all the boys will be laughing. I think that's been a huge thing for me having all of them to surf with at home. The boys and the colder climate made me a little stronger growing up. I remember it was my dream to surf in a bikini because I never surfed in a bikini when I was younger and my mom would tell me that I'd get there one day. Now it's funny, every second surf spot I'm at is in a bikini in a different country.
I think when I was maybe 11 or 12, we used to have this one contest on Phillip Island every year and Lisa Andersen came and I was looking at her life and what she does. She's the most amazing surfer and I look up to her so much. Seeing all the pros in my backyard I was like, "Yep that's gonna be me." And I've never really stopped or looked back. I can't imagine where else my life would be going or what I'd be doing. I'm just a surfer.
WSL: You told me that you were seeing a sports psychologist at the US Open, how does that help?
Nikki: The year I qualified, I worked really hard with a new psychologist and she was amazing and last year I really worked with her in a different kind of way. It just helps you get into the best mode and mindset you can be in to compete. It's crazy how much your mind is involved in our sport because we can all surf really well. But it's about you being on point when you're competing and it's helped me grow as a surfer and feel free [when I'm competing] and not freak out.
WSL: What helps you manage the pressure?
Nikki: It's tough, but it's just about having the right people around you. I've learned so much and grown so much by having good people around me. [Traveling] with my older sister Nina and [has] been the most amazing thing, to travel with her and have a bit of home away from home with me and that support. And just being content with where you are. Sometimes you have all this pressure that you have to go and get these two waves and get this score or else you're not going to make the Tour, you're not going to make a round. There's so many crazy things that happen during a year and I think you just need to take it heat by heat and it's as simple as that.
WSL: Your rookie year was tough, but you bounced back and broke the Top 10 in your second year. Tell us about some of your challenges.
Nikki: When I first got on Tour, I didn't own my position as much as I do now. I was like, "Wow, I have Stephanie Gilmore in my heat. I've got Carissa Moore in my heat. What's going on?" She was my idol and I look up to those girls so much. I think I had a hard time accepting that I was part of that Tour. Being away from home [was tough], it's a lot of travel. I was eighteen and I think there's a big difference between being 18 and 21. My first year was crazy, I got hurt in Bells, I got hurt in Fiji. And I think that's what a rookie year is, you have to go out and learn how to lose. You learn so much from losing.
WSL: Has your life lived up to the vision you had for yourself when you were a kid?
Nikki: When I was 10 years old, I used to watch all these surf videos. I would dream of being a professional surfer and dream of being on the Championship Tour. I dreamed of going to all these countries and surfing these amazing waves. And I think I had a moment last year where I was just so content with my life. Being healthy and happy with what I'm doing right now. But I'm also so hungry to keep going. I had a lot of people congratulate me last year and that's awesome to hear, but you get hungry and eager to keep that ball rolling. I'm going for the Top 5 this year. I really just want to put on a good show again and always better myself.
WSL: What do we need to know about Nikki Van Dijk?
Nikki: I don't even know right now (laughs). That's hard.
WSL: Maybe your sister would be better to answer that.
Nina: She is literally a surfer girl through and through, but there are so many different elements to Nikki. She's interested in all aspects of life. She's into the well being of the planet and earth and she's very health conscious and open minded and adventurous. Nikki was a cute little wild girl. She was so angel like, but she had this crazy idea that she wanted to be a hairdresser and so she snuck the scissors and totally ruined her hair. She was rocking this horrendous bowl cut for like a whole year. But because she wanted to please, when she did cut all her hair off she put it in the outside bin so our parents wouldn't see the mess. But she's still adventurous and she'll have a go at anything and get involved in all kinds of things. She's a little bit crazy.
Nikki: I also love meeting people and getting to know people's personalities. I love traveling. I love having a lot of fun. I love being home in Melbourne and my friends in Phillip Island. I like experiencing different cultures and listening to other languages.