5 Coaches Surfing Needs

The best coaches in history don't know surfing, but they do know winning

| posted on November 19, 2013
Taj Burrow

Johnny Gannon is an imposing board caddy for Taj Burrow, but can you imagine if he had Ditka on the beach? Photo: Joli

Sure, successful ex-pro surfers know how to make heats. But do they really know how to coach? As competitive as the World Tour can be, surf coaches are still pretty new to the sports coaching landscape. While some of the most famous non-surfing coaches in history may not know the intricacies of tuberiding or air reverses, surely they’d have a lot to offer hungry, competitive surfers. Here’s a list of five past and present sports gurus from outside the surf world who we’d love to have as surf coaches:


No nonsense, no bullshit. Da coach dragged the 1985 Chicago Bears to a Super Bowl victory solely on the strength of his iron will, his mustache, and his incredible Bears sweater vest. Oh, also Walter Payton and Mike Singletary. Many people don’t remember this, but the ’85 Bears actually consisted only of Payton and Singletary playing all 11 positions with Ditka manipulating the two’s movements through sheer force of anger. It wouldn’t matter which surfer Ditka coached, they’d rip out the hearts of their heat competition right from the opening horn. Maybe literally. Are coaches allowed to be board caddies? If so, just imagine him floating around the channel at Sunset, whistle in his mouth, glaring his surfer into position. How could they lose?


Jackson was like a basketball shaman. He won 11 NBA titles using any kind of eastern religion he could wrap his consciousness around, in the process calming some of the biggest egos the sports world has ever seen. He glided around practice in a trance, imposing team rituals, dropping little nuggets of Buddhist philosophy, and organizing his players into complicated offensive formations that nobody else has ever really understood. Jackson only works with winners, so he would of course coach only Slater, Fanning, and maybe Parko, but he’d draw another three titles out of each of them, all the while murmuring about forming triangles in the lineup and trying to force them into reading Zen and Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. If there is a soul out there on this planet, or any other, who could coax Dane into claiming his birthright as world champion, it’s the Zen Master.


If Mr. Miyagi could coach Daniel LaRusso—a whip-thin mama’s boy who’d taken a week’s worth of Karate at the YMCA—to victory over the Cobra Kai boys at the All Valley Under 18 Karate Tournament, imagine what he could have done with somebody with real ability. Hell, Miyagi could probably have taken your average bow-legged Wavestorm-riding surf school student and had them in an NSSA final in just a few weeks time. All because of a grueling workout consisting of nothing but household chores. Come to think of it, any mildly compulsive neat freak surfer is already following Miyagi’s training regimen; maybe it was the fly-catching that was the secret to Daniel’s success. Miyagi would’ve had any ‘CT underdog taking down the entitled Johnny Lawrences of the Top 5 in no time.


Don’t be fooled by his disheveled appearance and the ill-fitting short-sleeved hoodie; Belichick is every bit the hard-ass Ditka was, and with massive hard drives full of technical analysis to unleash on opponents. That information has been installed directly in his brain, because he is a coaching cyborg. He was constructed by a mysterious force to coach any team to success. Belichick is the Damien Hardman of football coaches; no mistakes, not ever. Sure he’d force his surfers into tackle dummy drills they may not understand, but come finals day, he’d be there on the beach, wearing his headset, scowling away while his client ascended the podium.


An alcoholic washed-up ballplayer who cleaned pools for a living, he nevertheless guided his ragtag Little League team, the Bad News Bears, to the city championship game. Along the way he taught them all sorts of life lessons, none of them good. But that’s beside the point. He was a brilliant motivator who got the most out of his crew of rebellious Southern California adolescents—the perfect man to coach your petulant grom to a high school surf championship. Plus, it would be great to see him wandering around the contest scaffolding toting an ice chest full of Budweiser, drunkenly bickering with his own clients.

  • punker sprinkles

    does a coach teach surfing or system gaming?

  • Depp’s Angry Facial Hair

    Coaches are so good for surfing! They totally can help guys like JJ do bigger airs! Or Kelly just absolutely dominate. Look at Gerr’s performance at Reef HI Pro! “Do as I say Conner, NOT as I do” and always follow it up with a #selfie where you look like Johnny Depp

    • andrew

      Totally. If K-Hole would just dump Snips and maybe try traveling without his pops, then he might be able to get out of that fucking head of his and do some turns. And maybe even some of those airs we’re always hearing about.

  • Emanuel

    My family lives in a diaspora not far outside of Isreal. I surf on the weekends, seldom are we in fear of persecution from the regime. If someone would intervene with our preperation for the coming waves, they would be shot in the head.

  • jonnie austen

    why are 4 out of the 5 examples that you give coaches for ball sports? everyone knows that surfing is a real sport while ball sports are nothing more than children’s games. how many ball sports “athletes” do you think could handle jaws or waimea or pipe or, for that matter, i foot baby queens. my guess is NONE OF THEM because they’re all really just a bunch of pussies while pro surfers are experienced watermen who are able to excel in and size waves and ocean conditions. FUCK BALL SPORTS, BALL SPORTS ARE FOR FAGS!!! lol, jkjkjk 😛

    • Respect To All

      Respect to all. Kelly can’t take on a 230 pound fullback as a linebacker or defend Lebron from dunking over him. It would be interesting to see Mr. Slater hit over .300
      with his quick twitch muscles playing America’s favorite pastime. I understand jkjkjk, but using the “Other F Word” ruins you as a human. Many great surfers excelled at ball sports…

      • jonnie austen

        ball sports are stupid. especially when they involve a bunch of bloated cretins running into each other at full speed wearing pads no less. if football players are so tough then they should take off their pads and play without them like rugby players do.

        and my liberal use of the word “fuck” is as a means of expression. why do people feel the need to self- censor? are you THAT repressed? do you also spank yourself when you’ve been bad? man up, grow a fucking pair of balls!

        kelly slater is simply a way better ATHLETE than anyone in the nfl, nba or mlb. true athletic ability is measured by overall performance rather than how much someone weighs or how overdeveloped their muscles may be. any physical trainer knows that too much weight and muscle size limits mobility, flexibility and endurance. kelly slater is over 40 years old yet he is at the pinnacle of his sport and has won12 individual world championships. how many ballplayers can claim the same in THEIR sports? my guess is NONE!

  • Axel Foley

    what a dumb ass article.

  • Dean Davies

    Four out of five of the above coaches have one thing in common…..DISCIPLINE! They are also involved in sports, culturally, if an athlete wants to succeed hard work and determination are prerequisites. Structure is also another key aspect.
    In contrast surfing, could be described as a recreational past time or pursuit or even a spiritual relationship with the ocean that the powers that be have tried to turn into a professional sport. By it’s very definition surfing is professional, in other words they get paid for doing what they do. However, in the top 32 I would suspect there would be maybe five or six guys that tick all the boxes if you were to make a comparison of professionalism to an Olympic athlete. I make the comparison to the Olympic athlete, knowing they are not professional by definition but require absolute professionalism to succeed.
    It’s not really the athletes fault, it’s just the nature of the sport. Could you imagine one of the above coaches attempting to rally the athlete in the dying minutes of an elimination heat, they would most likely crumble. The real character of a surfer on any athlete for that matter can be truly measured by their behavior following a loss. As evidenced by surfers getting caught on camera behaving in a very unprofessional manner. The question is how do these very unprofessional surfers end up this way?
    Parents are very heavily involved in surfing at the grass roots, this in itself is problematic, as I would expect hardly any parents have done any level of coaching what so ever. Developing an athlete in the junior ranks is not just about execution of skill and heat strategy. It’s also about developing the athlete into a person with sound psychological faculties. It must be very hard for a parent to make the tough calls when they have a child who simply is unable to cope with there sport when, in fact they forgot to instill the necessary life skills to handle the every day complexities of life. The surfing industry itself is partly to blame for this…..a surfer demonstrates a high level of proficiency at a very young age, and next thing you know is the surfing company knocking on the door offering large amounts of money and telling them how good they are. How does that even equate to adequate self development.
    Lastly the culture of surfing appears to run with unwritten dogma that suggest that unless you have been a proficient surfer in the past then how would you know about coaching a surfer. It’s a shame that such a closed minded attitude exist, firstly as there are no doors open to begin with, so how does a expert coach in another sport even get a look in and secondly if they do, the surfer is still largely hamstrung by the above mentioned cultural attitude and fails to apply the new information 100%.
    Anyway, this was my personal experience having worked with WCT surfers both men and woman since 2009.
    Dean Davies
    Performance Consultant