Matt Bevilacqua is Tasmania’s first professional ironman to compete in the Nutri-Grain series, but the Clifton Beach native is not content with merely making up the numbers.
The 24-year-old, who now trains at Gold Coast club Kurrawa, has stunned the surf lifesaving fraternity with his rapid rise up the ranks and is now a genuine contender for the overall title in his fourth season in the sport’s showcase event.
Bevilacqua sat down with Commentary Box Sports reporter Dave McLenaghan to discuss his success and his goals this summer.
DM: Has your recent victory at the Molokai to Oahu World Paddleboard Championships set you up for a big season?
MB: Win, lose or draw, I knew that race would set me up to get a good fitness base for the season ahead and mentally as well. It put me in a good frame of mind to attack the rest of the season. A win was just a bonus in the end.
DM: It was your second straight title at the prestigious race. Will you return next year to defend your crown?
MB: I think I am going to have to. You cannot know right away with this race as it is a huge mountain to climb. To go three in a row is something I would love to chase next year. I would really like to defend it, that would be awesome, but there are other projects I want to work on too.
DM: It DM: How much more improvement do you need to make to win the Coolangatta Gold (41.8km race) after finishing with a silver medal in October?
MB: I think with the level I am at now it is only tiny improvements which will make the biggest difference. For me, it is the swim leg. If I can stick with (2016 winner) Ali Day for 30 to 40 minutes in that swim instead of just 10 minutes, that will help. If I can improve my swimming just five to 10 percent, just enough to stay on his feet in the swim, then it blows the race wide open and makes it a different sort of race. I am pretty optimistic.
DM: You opened your Summer Of Surf campaign with a round one victory at Alexandra Headland. Is this your best chance to win the overall title?
MB: I would love to win the title but I am using the S.O.S series as a launch-pad for the Nutri-Grain series in February as that is the main thing on my mind. Of course I want to win as many races as I can, but enjoying the racing as well is really important. I want to have a really good mindset through summer as I do not want to burn out in February.
DM: You’re clearly in red-hot form. Did you do anything differently this pre-season compared to years gone by?
MB: Not really. Molokai was my base fitness and instead of shortening it up for the (Nutri-Grain) series I had the (Coolangatta) Gold. I think (coach) Dennis Cottrell’s swimming the last 12 months has been awesome and a continual improvement for me.
DM: So your move from Mooloolaba Surf Club to Kurrawa Surf Club has improved you as an ironman?
MB: I took plenty from ‘Kingy’ (former Mooloolaba coach Michael King) during my time on the Sunshine Coast in his program. I am a lot harder and I know what has to be done after training with those elite guys for so long. Now at Kurrawa, training with Dennis Cottrell and his swim squad, it is a lot more suited to where I am at in my career now. I am so lucky I had ‘Kingy’ in those foundation years, four to five years, getting fit, grinding away. Now at Kurrawa with Barry Newman, it caters for me perfectly at this point in my career.
DM: The Kellogg’s Nutri-Grain series has undergone a huge overhaul and will be raced over just one weekend. Is this a positive or negative move for the sport?
MB: It is obviously a step back from six rounds over three weekends. Now we have three rounds over one weekend at one beach with a live telecast. It is going to be massive. It is one big hit instead of six delayed hits. Overall, I think it is positive.
DM: You won a round last season and finished third overall on the points table. What’s your goal this time around?
DM: The goal is definitely to win the Nutri-Grain series. It will be hard but in this sport, if you have the right mental approach you are halfway there. Now that it is held over one weekend, who knows what can happen? I think everyone will be going into it thinking they can win, believing they can win. I would like to go at least two spots better!
DM: Is nine-times series winner Shannon Eckstein your biggest rival for the title?
MB: You would have to say so. Over one weekend, it is such a mentally draining weekend. You have put it all on the line for just one weekend. Lots of rookies will spin themselves out mentally before they put their foot on the line. This will be a weekend of racing for the experienced guys. He has been around long enough and knows how to handle that pressure. I think Ali Day, Kendrick Louis and Matt Poole will be right behind him.
DM: Who’s a dark horse for a round win or overall podium finish?
James Lacy from Mermaid Beach Surf Club. He pretty much just qualified as a wildcard and will now compete. He is swimming the house down and is an absolute animal. He does all the little things right and he could definitely get a podium result in his first year in the series. Luke Cuff (Mermaid Beach) is always dangerous, too, so don’t rule him out. He will be up there I think.