Words and photos by Nathan Myers
Samurai-surfer? What the hell is this guy talking about now? Too many kung fu movies? Not me. Brad Gerlach, well, maybe. And he’s the one who’s whispering in the ear of young Conner Coffin.
Is it working? Well, I guess we’ll have to wait and see. It’s kinda hard to tell if losing is helping you win until you actually start winning, and then you’re not losing so… well, now I’m confusing myself.
I ran into Conner Coffin a few hours after his third place finish at the Oakley World Pro Juniors in Bali. He’d just lost a nail-biter semifinal against eventual second-pace finisher Andrew Doheny and, like Doheny, was also one of the standout performers of the event.
Conner always gets a bit of extra air-time on the event’s webcast due to the presence of his personal coach, the charismatic XXL winner and World Tour icon Brad Gerlach. Gerlach has a unique approach to coaching, which is based on kung fu training and samurai philosophy rather than yoga balls and amp-up music. After Conner’s loss, Brad told me: “That’s some samurai shit, right there.”
“How so?” I asked.
“One of the samurai teachings is to conquer the fear of death before battle, so that you’re not scared when you go into a fight. That’s the only way you can fight your best. Conner needs to overcome his fear of losing heats, so this is a really good step along that path. This is exactly what he needed to learn here.”
Gerlach’s philosophy seems to eloquently solve the rhetorical riddle of whether surfing is a “sport” or an “art.” It is both. And neither. Surfing is a path. A practice we can apply to virtually every other aspect of our lives. Surfing is a martial art. Surfing is kung fu.
Then again, I wondered how Conner Coffin was digesting all this bushido-shit on the heels of a tough loss. He was 0.7 from making a big final. That close. What’s a young samurai to think?
I found Conner over at Brad’s villa packing his bags for the long flight home. Thought I’d find out:
SURFING: Brad mentioned that losing that last semi-final heat was actually good for you? Do you agree?
CONNER COFFIN: That’s one of the best parts of having Brad at the contest. When you lose, he always shows you something to learn from it. So that later, when you’re trying to qualify for the tour or going for a world title, you won’t make the same mistake you made when you were a junior.
Do you buy into his whole samurai/kung fu approach to surf instruction?
Totally. No one wants to lose, but if you can get over that fear you can surf just like you’re freesurfing. Everyone does their best surfing when they’re freesurfing, so that’s the idea.
Are you still working on getting over your fear of losing?
Absolutely. I don’t feel like I’ve surfed that many contests, so when you get in those bigger heats it’s so easy to think, “Oh no, I really don’t want to lose this one.” Then your body tightens up and you dig rails. That’s what I was doing in that last heat.
Do you hate losing?
No. Third place was a good result for me. If I surf like shit, that sucks. But if I have a close heat when I’m right there, it’s kind of out of my control. I don’t get pissed off about losing. I think Brad’s helped me with that a lot, with trying to take something away from every loss that will help me in the next event. Losing helps you improve as a surfer and as a person. There’s always another contest.
Before heading off to the airport, young Parker Coffin picked up his big brother’s over-sized $5,000 check and put everything into perspective. “Let’s examine what you had to do to win this check,” Parker said. “You came to Bali, ate good food, raced around on motorbikes, went surfing with Gerr, and got to compete in perfect waves with one other guy out. Not a bad week of work.”
Now that’s some samurai shit, right there.
[Forget the contest scores and watch the Coffins enjoying themselves in Bali here: http://www.surfingmagazine.com/video/conner-coffin-parker-coffin-bali-525/ ]