Travel takes its toll
By BRAD GREENSHIELDS
COFFS Harbour's most successful surfer, Lee Winkler, is ready to put down his competitive board and return to the simpler life that he has missed during his years on the pro-surfing World Championship Tour.
Tired of the constant international travel and yearning for the swells and breaks of home, Winkler has decided that this weekend's Pipeline Masters in Hawaii will be his swan song as a professional.
"This Pipeline Masters event in Hawaii will be my last professional event and I have a great feeling it will be everything I believe it will be," he predicted.
"Pipeline is where every professional surfer confronts his fears and everything about you is exposed. I couldn't possibly imagine a more fitting event to close my competitive curtain."
It was at Pipeline in 1997 that a serious accident nearly claimed Winkler's life.
Despite travelling the world for well over 10 years, Winkler has always had a strong sense of family and it is his love for those closest to him that has helped him to reach this decision.
"If all the competitions were around Australia, there's a chance I would've kept going," the 28 year-old said.
"What weighed it up for me is that there are now other priorities in my life that I feel I have to attend to and enjoy with the excitement of the arrival of a baby expected this May with my partner.
"There is an opportunity to watch our baby develop every day and this is a gift that I can't miss."
A lot of Winkler's energies are now being channelled towards continuing his promotional work for sponsors as well as opening Lee Winkler's Surf School at the end of the month.
"Surfing is such a big thing now," he said with unbridled enthusiasm.
"I did a course on the weekend and they said that last year their were 1.5 million lessons in Australia.
"For a long time now I have been asked by many to teach them how to surf but with my lifestyle the way it was I was unable to do this.
"Now I have the opportunity to fulfil this experience as I have opened my own Learn to Surf School."
Winkler believes that the surfing talent that is currently in the area is similar to the gun surfers that flowed out of Newcastle about a decade ago.
"Back then Luke Egan came on the scene and Mark Richards had already been world champion," he said.
"In five years' time, I think we'll be just like Newcastle was because Coffs has become a breeding ground in recent years for young surfers and I intend on being a huge influence on these kids. Already next year a new Coffs youngster, Shaun Cansdell, will be making his long-awaited debut on the World Professional Championship Tour."