Fourteen-year-old surfer Ocean Lancaster from Merewether in the state’s Hunter region doesn’t only have the world at his nimble feet, but he also has earth’s Seven Seas at his beck and call.

The teenager, whose success on the surfboard was seemingly preordained when his parents named him ‘Ocean’ joins fellow surfer Milla Brown, a powerful natural foot ‘shredder’ from Sydney’s northern beaches, and Tyler Wright, a two-time world champion, in being among the New South Wales Institute of Sport’s inaugural scholarship holders.

When the energy-charged Lancaster attended his NSWIS induction (with his mum, Mel) at the Institute’s Narrabeen hub, Anna Longman, NSWIS’s Senior High Performance Manager; Sean Cooney, Manager, Performance Health; Simon Harries, Head of Strength and Conditioning, Tom Livsey, Advisor, Athlete Wellbeing, and Michelle Arnold, Coordinator, Sports Programs explained the world his scholarship opens.

The teenager, who is also a member of Surfing Australia’s and Surfing NSW’s programs, and has his sights set on competing for Australia at the 2032 Brisbane Olympic Games, described the three-hour induction as an ‘eye opener’.

“It was really interesting,” said Lancaster, whose list of achievements includes winning the 2022 national under 14 title and the prestigious under 16 2023 Skullcandy Oz Grom Open as well as representing Australia at last month’s 2024 ISA World Junior Surfing Championship in El Salvador, alongside Milla Brown.

“I was excited to get down here and see what this was all about.

“It definitely met my expectations, if not went above them. So, a big shout out to these guys. I’m so stoked and happy to be a part of it.

“When I heard I received a scholarship with NSWIS I knew they’d be able to help me with all the training and S&C and preparing myself within surfing. But I took a lot out of my talk [with Livsey] about education outside of the water.

“The support NSWIS can offer me outside of surfing sounds tremendous. I always look to do well outside of school. It is for me, all about time management, planning, and by the sounds of it these guys are going to be able to help me.”

Livsey said it’s important to have one thought at front of mind when dealing with an athlete who is Ocean’s age.

“You need to be context specific,” he said. “You need to understand that, ultimately, Ocean is just a kid, and he needs to enjoy his time being a kid. I think there can be a temptation to try and push them to be an adult too quickly.

“One of the conversations centred around the subjects he enjoys at school. Not just the ones he’s good at, but the subjects that energise him . . . make him look forward to going to school.

“You saw a lift in him when he spoke about those subjects. It’s important to focus on such things when an athlete is at that age – it obviously changes when they get a bit older, and they start thinking about their career and prospects.

“That’s the point when you can be more specific with skills that can help with that, but, at 14, it’s just about allowing the athlete to enjoy themselves. You’re only 14 once.”

For Lancaster, who took his first dip in the ocean a few days after he was born, and was on a surfboard after turning three, surfing was a case of love at first ride.

“I’ve loved it since day one,” he enthused. “I started taking it seriously around age seven or eight and I enjoyed it. What I love about surfing is it isn’t a sport like basketball where it’s just dependent upon your skill.

“Well, it is that, but it’s mixed with Mother Nature and reading the waves. There is a bit of luck involved and being able to become one with the ocean and just having a ‘feel’ for it.”

Despite the seemingly carefree nature of his sport, Lancaster conceded there were sessions that occasionally lead to deep soul searching.

“When something doesn’t go my way, I look at what I can do that can benefit me,” he said. “Once I do that, I can piece it together and it allows me to do that.”

And while he openly admires the skills of Queensland surfer, Ethan Ewing, Lancaster has a full-bore commitment to catching a big wave.

“I just tell myself to go big, to not hold back,” he said. “You can’t get better if you don’t go for it.”

Lancaster said his success was a result of the support his father Sean, an electrical engineer and keen surfer, and Mel, provide. Indeed, while his brother is named Tre, the names his parents gave Ocean’s sisters – Nami (Japanese for ocean wave) and Amaya (Japanese for night rain) – demonstrate their parents’ affinity with the water.

“Dad and Mum had the idea we were going to be a beach family, a surfer family,” he said. “My father loves surfing, and he surfs whenever he can – well, at least when he’s not injured.

“He’s sacrificed a lot for me to be where I am today, and Mum . . . she’s the biggest supporter I’ve got. I’m trying to get my sisters into surfing.”

Mel Lancaster said Ocean’s devotion to the call of the sea meant she always knows where he is.

“He has the natural talent, and loves the water,” she said. “He’s like his dad in that he needs to be in it.

“Ocean is incredible to watch. He’s so passionate, and he loves it. He lives and breathes it. It’s what he does.”

“He’s up 5.15am every morning surfing, [so I] know where he is.”

“Ocean has a lot of support from people who believe in him, and he’s doing it himself now. But [the NSWIS scholarship] opens doors for us.”

And while being a surfer named ‘Ocean’ captures everyone’s attention, Mel revealed her son almost had a more unassuming name, even though it was linked to the sea.

“Ocean was going to be either named Cliff after our local surf break [at Merewether],” she said. “But, in the end we thought Ocean is pretty cool.”

Words & photo: Daniel Lane, NSWIS

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