Sitting at her Gold Coast home, a 14-year-old surfer turned an ear to her Dad as he put down the phone. World Champion surfer Joel Parkinson had called and wanted to know if she wanted to go for a surf.
The answer, for most people, most of the time, would be an emphatic yes. Not this time.
“Joel Parkinson calls Dad up and I had to say no. It was a big day [of swell].”
Jalaan Slaab pauses, there’s another reason she’s holding back on. The truth finally spills out with a laugh, “It was a day after a shark swam under my board and I was nervous to go out.”
Jalaan laughs again, embarrassed by the memory and fully aware of the significance of turning down such an offer from a World Champion.
Her father, Joel Slaab, is friends with Parkinson, and the 2012 World Champion regularly offers to take Slaab’s young surfing family out for coaching.
Jalaan lives and trains in Snapper Rocks, the home of the Quicksilver and Roxy Pro—the first stop on the annual WSL Championship Tour (CT).
The day before this year’s event, Jalaan surfed in a teams’ challenge organised by her parents’ not-for-profit entity, Juraki.
The event celebrated Indigenous surf culture and invited CT athletes to compete alongside local Indigenous kids. Several CT athletes agreed to join in, including former World Champion Carissa Moore.
Moore was paired with Jalaan in crumbly conditions at Snapper Rocks.
“I was shocked. She was super-duper nice,” Jalaan says.
Carissa had a huge impact on Jalaan, and has been one of Jalaan’s idols since she started to surf.
But Carissa appeared to be just as impacted by the day.
At the end of competition, Moore’s father Chris approached Jalaan and Mary to ask if the teenager would like to live and train with Carissa for 10 days.
Jalaan, naturally, was over the moon. Six months later and the trip is locked-in—she heads to Hawaii at the end of October.
“Jalaan is a talented surfer, she’s also polite and enjoyable to be around, as are her parents. It was an easy thing to do!” Chris told National Indigenous Times.
It has been a year of growth for Jalaan. At the end of 2017 she decided to be homeschooled to allow more time for surfing. Her mum, Mary, says the decision has paid off, as her grades are improving alongside her surfing.
Thanks to time in the water with Parkinson, hours under the guidance of fitness coach Marcos Freitas, and group surfing lessons with the likes of Mark Richardson at Snapper Rocks Surfriders Club, Jalaan achieved her goal of making the finals of every Indigenous event on the calendar this year.
Freitas believes she has the right attitude at her age to make it as far as she wants to go.
“[This year] she realised that she had to listen and is taking advice on board. Unlike some kids who listen and don’t change, Jalaan works on the pointers you give her. It’s a pleasure to teach her,” Freitas said.
“I think Carissa sees a lot of herself in Jalaan.”
Carissa’s camp was attracted to Jalaan’s willingness to learn and Carissa’s Dad, Chris, hopes the trip will help the youngster recognise, “… that she has the talent and ability to go far in the sport of surfing”.
Jalaan is the first Australian surfer to visit Carissa Moore and spend time training with her. The 14-year-old will be joined on day-trips around the island by other Hawaiian groms, but apart from that, the Aussie will get the three-time World Champ to herself.
It begs the question, why was Jalaan picked out of the thousands of Aussie groms in love with the sport? Freitas, who has coached CT surfers like Tatiana Weston-Webb, Jesse Mendez, Shane Dorrington and Caio Ibeli, thinks he knows the answer.
“Jalaan had a lucky introduction at the Quicky pro,” the Brazilian coach said.
“But more than that… it’s all about your nature. Like Kelly Slater, he is an exceptional surfer, but is loved because he has a beautiful nature. Jalaan has a great nature, so does her family. She has great discipline. She doesn’t have evil thoughts, you know what I mean, she doesn’t think she’s better than anyone. Carissa’s invitation is making Jalaan a part of the global surfing family,” Freitas said.
There is no doubting the adventure will help shape Jalaan Slaab’s future. With a big support network now extending its way into Hawaii, it’s hard not to imagine the girl who once turned down a World Champion, becoming a World Champion herself.
By Keiran Deck