How To Refine Your Surfing

| posted on March 28, 2012

Brad Gerlach, teaching by example in Bali. Photo: Frieden

One of surfing’s more colorful characters, Brad Gerlach has had a career that truly spanned the spectrum. From World No. 1, to big-wave hellman, to his current role as a coach for the Coffin brothers, there’s no denying that Gerlach holds a wealth of knowledge when it comes to surfing. With that in mind, we asked Coach Gerr for a touch of insight to find out what it’s going to take for us to do some fine tuning of our own.

Study Yourself. “Looking over footage of how you’re surfing is crucial. You can slow it down and see exactly what you’re doing right, how you can add to that, or what you might be doing to lose speed, or miss an opportunity. But it doesn’t end there. Say you like the way a certain person does this or that, it can be a turn or just a nuance. Study that, figure it out, and incorporate the mechanics of what they’re doing into your surfing.”

Don’t Over-Train. “Our sessions are never the same [with Parker and Conner]. It’s not like ‘OK, today we’re going to do 100 of these and 40 of those to work on our shoulders.’ We change it up all the time and have fun with it. There’s a movement now where a lot of the top guys are training really hard and packing on lots of muscle. I’m not sure how productive that is. I’m not saying that strength training isn’t important, but for surfing, I don’t believe you need to be heavily muscled. It’s important to be fit, no doubt, but one of the keys to strong, power surfing is being flexible. And I don’t just mean physically. This is how the very best surfers harness the power of the wave. Not by their own power, which isn’t really power anyway—it’s force.”

Keep it Fun. “When I’m with Parker and Conner, I think of myself as much as a mentor as I do a coach. Parker is 16 and Connor is 18—the last thing a lot of teenagers want to hear is someone telling them what to do all the time, so I make suggestions and let them come to the answers on their own. That’s for both in and out of the water. When we talk about technique we’re talking about how to get your head and body ready as much as how to physically surf. I’m lighthearted as a coach and let them know that when they make mistakes, it’s not a big deal. We will learn from them. I don’t want them to be too hard on themselves because everyone makes mistakes. It’s normal to be making them at the junior level—this is where one learns to be a champion.”

Change Takes Time. “It’s important to know that changing your surfing and becoming a better surfer doesn’t really happen overnight. Of course everyone is different and there are little things that can be taught to make one surf better in the moment with small adjustments and such. But overall, to really make improvements it takes a lot of time and work, which is what “kung fu” actually means. But when you’ve put in the time and work, rad things start to happen. I see that weekly with Parker and Conner. However, if we’re playing around with a new turn in the water and I can see that they’re forcing it, I’ll ask them to come in and forget about it. Usually I’ll remind them to go back out and just feel the power of the ocean. This takes them out of their head and puts their awareness back into their body. And of course you’ll have those days where they’ll paddle out and be on fire right from the first wave. When I see that—and it’s evident when that’s happening—we’ll play around with incorporating some new things. That’s when you can feel that you’re making a lot of progress, which is the basis of stoke. And that’s what it’s all about in the first place, right?”

How do you continue to improve? Leave your answers in the comments section below.

  • Anthony

    How to do this when you’re stuck in Jersey with no waves all the time lol

  • andres

    no waves in jersey

  • orange colored people

    if you are from jersey, lift weights and get bulky so you can “roll on the shore”
    love jersey douche.

  • Isaiah

    There is way too much coaching going on in surfing today. Headed by a bunch of former pro surfers who apparently didn’t have much of a 401K during their stint on tour. Plus, it seems the under-coached surfers are much more creative, progressive, and successful–i.e Kelly Slater, John John, Dane, and all those crazy Maui kids doing flips. Drop the golf pro kids, think outside the box! Also, go to college kids, you are going to need it some day.

  • Aleksei

    Isaiah, you contradict yourself by saying that coaching would deplete a students ability to to be creative or successful while at the same time suggesting they go to college…

    Maybe you should get an education cause you’ve obviously never had a good teacher or mentor. You clearly don’t know what it’s like to triumph in anything cause no one gets to the top alone, not ever Slater, duh!

    Good luck to you.

  • alex

    Coaching can make a huge difference to how someone surfs. Many recreational surfers can unconsciously be making the same subtle mistakes in technique for years and it sometimes will take an outside observer to point it out to them so it can be corrected. Usually the better you are surfing the more you will be enjoying the sport so why not take some advice on how to “get better”

    You have coaches for every other sport so why not surfing? A bit of guidance can go a long way especially at the professional level now that there is so much money involved. The Coffins for example have a chance to make a good career out of the sport and anything that can help them must be a positive.

    And yes, I am an ex salary sponsored surfer now making a living from coaching for a living. Is that such a bad thing?

  • bruce

    Awesome article Brad!

    I wish I could take lessons from someone as bad a$$ as Brad.

  • Marcus Marais

    Man, I just discovered all these “How to guides” and read em all.
    I was looking for a tube riding(especially exits) and close out survival. Just came home with 5 head stitches. (Any comments on jumping off foward or falling back)
    I jumped foward and got speared… Unlucky or wrong technique?

  • zach

    It would be interesting to know how lucrative coaching is.
    How much can Brad Gerlach earn coaching both Coffin’s?
    Coaches in any sport have to maintain a home and all the expenses that go along with that.
    The Coffin’s sponsors must pay huge amounts to allow them the freedom to free surf and attend contests.

  • Old School

    I never saw Ger do a Clay Marzo. Contest surfing requires you to be lean with an extra dose of narcissism and a little autism on the side. The truly focused just give it up and become finalists for the pulitzer prize in litature, like Dave Eggers.