Interview by Mike Drentea
Brad Gerlach is one of the most influential professional surfers in the industry. Brad had a stellar professional career, Rated #1 in 1986 and in 1991 and finshing the 1991 ASP Tour ranked #2 in the world. He has tranformed his career now as a well-respected big wave surfer and professional surf coach. Most recently on a 68 foot wave at Todos Santos, Brad became the 2006 Billabong XXL winner. Living the dream chasing waves and seeking new spots to surf, he came up with his own idea for structuring how contest surfing should be done. Following the footsteps of other professional sporting contest, Brad became the Founder and Commissioner of “National Surf League” or often referred to as “The Game”. Gaining popularity amongst professional surfers the “X-Games” modeled their surf contest after the National Surf League. Brad continues to educate other’s on surfing including recent US Open Juniors champion Conner Coffin, through his keen sense of ocean knowledge and experience which will no doubtedly help progress any surfers skills on any level.
When in your career did you decide to offer your expertise as a professional surfing coach?
I actually started professional coaching in 1998. The reason I started coaching mainly came from knowing at an early age that I enjoyed helping my friends surf better. I felt good and worthy helping people to learn a new move or pull off a classic one. I am passionate about technical side of surfing, the unknown, the discovery, the design, the beauty of the effortless turning body etc… Great surfing excites and inspires me.
What exercises do you and your athlete’s do to train physically and mentally?
A surfing art form based in the martial arts that I have developed. This is from years of study with several mentors in different disciplines. It trains awareness in the center of the body, quiets the mind, uses visualization and creativity to do everything from learn new turns, conquer fear, win heats, flow from move to move and be playful under pressure.
What are a couple of the most common mistakes the average surfer makes that keeps he or she from catching more waves?
Having high expectations and when those aren’t met, anger and frustration have the surfer in a negative mind space. They start thinking too much and miss the infinite opportunities available. They lose focus on the rhythms of the ocean. Basically they lose the feel.
What are some basic tips you can give the everyday surf to improve their basic surfing?
Straighten your back. Good posture is mandatory for good performance. Surf without moving the arms. They should not move separate from the twisting and turning of the body/torso. Bend your legs and surf to the speed of the wave. Quick movements aren’t necessary unless your timing is off.
It seems like all the kids are doing airs these days, how would you suggest a good surfer start to take their surfing above the lip?
I am writing an advanced fundamental surfing instructional book and this tip needs a longer explanation than I can give here.
What are some things that the best surfers in the world have in common with upper body movements while surfing? What about their lower body?
As I said in the above question for tips on an everyday surfer, the arms should enhance the look of the turns and add beauty. The power with the best pros lies in their ability to access the whole body. In top performance there is no separation between upper and lower body, everything is connected. Current example is Kelly harnessing the power of mother-nature in Fiji. The cool thing about watching a surfer in this state is, it doesn’t matter if you don’t know how or why you can still feel the magic.
How important is confidence to surfing well? How do you suggest that people improve their approach in this regard?
Confidence is the ultimate feeling to have for high performance. To improve in this area one must be able to see and feel one-self doing whatever it is they want to do. Visualization is the bridge and after having the technical, using your imagination is the best way to train.
Much of your job is helping young surfers catch more waves and surf them better, what are your personal thoughts on wave etiquette for younger surfers fitting into increasingly crowded lineups?
Give waves away and be in a joyful place. There are still lots of open spaces in a crowded line up. Have lower expectations, respect people and be genuinely stoked another human being is catching a good one. This isn’t easy, however doing so increases the chances of being happy and being in a joyous state of mind and loving tends to make one attractive. I believe waves want to party. Who do you think they want to party with?
Where do you see the sport of surfing and surf coaching five years from now?
I see surfing performance going toward creative, radically subtle turns within the wave face. Upside-down type of stuff. There will always be aerial surfing especially in shit conditions. Aerial’s will be used more and more to gain speed like skateboarding does or floater’s do. You can feel the power and speed when someone does something major on the wave face. I’m talking about turning on the wave where we haven’t seen anyone turn yet. This will happen because of increased focus on flexibility, proper strength for surfing, video analysis, freedom of personality, and equipment advancement. Not to mention good coaching. Hahaha…but seriously every surfer will probably have a coach/mentor someday.