02/03/2017 10:24 AM AEDT | Updated 04/03/2017 8:20 PM AEDT

The Sea Creature That Scared Julian Wilson Much More Than A Shark

Wilson is a fascinating character, whose inner struggle is between competitiveness and creativity.

Julian Wilson is the Aussie surfer who swam towards his mate Mick Fanning during the infamous shark attack at Jeffreys Bay, South Africa, two years ago. He's done with talking about that incident, which you can understand.

But there was another time when Wilson was in the water off the north shore of Hawaii when he got an even bigger fright. He heard the snort before he saw the dark shape. The beast was twice his size.

"When something that big comes up and like snorts at you in the water, it absolutely scared the life out of me," Wilson told The Huffington Post Australia.

"I was out in the water on my own, and I wasn't that close to the rocks to get in or anything, so I was in a vulnerable position."

Have you guessed yet that this was not a shark but a sea lion? Those suckers can be massive. The largest species in the world weighs up to 1,000 kilos, while an average male might be around 300 kilos. Yeah. Big.

"They're not the most attractive looking things," Wilson said. "Absolutely 100 per cent it was as scary as a shark."

Yuri Smityuk/TASS
Eeeek! Fish breath!

Sea creatures aside, Wilson is at an interesting point in his surfing career. He's been super consistent for the last seven years on tour, registering six top-ten finishes. Over that period he's won two events, but also had plenty of near misses. Julian Wilson is the nearly man. Can he now be THE man and challenge for the world title?

"I definitely think my best finish is ahead of me. It's about getting to that place where each time one of those 11 events rolls around [the WSL tour has 11 stops, three in Australia] I know that's the place I want to be, the place that I'm committed to, so that I'm able to compete against my peers and try and smash em."

Smash 'em! Did you hear that? Now that's a super interesting thing for a bloke like Wilson to say, and here's why.

Wilson was a junior world surf champ way back in 2006, so he's clearly always had a competitive streak. But he's made his name as a pioneer of the creative side of the sport. Watch the videos in this story and you'll see how aerial manoeuvres and tricks are a key part of his repertoire.

For Wilson, the trick is to balance creativity with competitiveness. In conversation with him, you can sense the internal battle. The same guy that wants to "smash" his competitors is in love with the idea of beautiful moves for their own artful sake.

"Surfing is probably one of the most creative platforms as an athlete," he said. "There's still a lot of growth to be had doing aerials in surfing. That's the most exciting part of surfing at the moment. You can't get that much deeper in a barrel and you can't put the board on a rail that much harder than what's been done. But with airs... there's still a lot of room to move."

Competitive surfing has evolved and that's why you think it might just be JW's time. There are so many guys doing so much tricky stuff out there in the surf these days. But Wilson has the edge on most of them.

"The last four years, there's been a major focus on airs and applying those to competition. When you're under the pump and the pressure's on and you need to deliver, it gets everybody excited watching and it's an exciting thing to be a part of. I really enjoy it.

"If you land a significant air under pressure at the back end of a heat when you really need to score, and your back's against the wall, that's a pretty cool feeling to have."

Red Bull

Wilson is 28 now and recently married to his long-term girlfriend Ashley Osborne. He says the wedding day was the best day of his life, and sports a very simple gold ring.

"Happiness is being happy, smiling, seizing the day," he said.

And his day, metaphorically speaking, might just be the 2017 World Surf League season.

We caught up with Julian thanks to Red Bull and the Australian Open of Surfing at Manly Beach in Sydney. It's been happening all week and goes on right through this weekend.

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