By Andrew Lewis
Team USA’s new Head Coach Ian Cairns
Ian Cairns needs no introduction. The man has done more for competitive surfing than Tony Robbins has done for middle-aged housewives. Case in point: co-founder of the ASP and APSA (Australian Professional Surfing Association); former coach of the NSSA National team; member of the Western Australia Surfing Hall of Fame; organizer of the U.S. Open; and lifelong ambassador of the surf industry. Had enough? Well, he surfs good, too — he was ranked Number 2 in the world in 1976. So it’s only natural that the often-faltering Team USA came to him when Joey Buran stepped down as head coach after two years of service. Cairns obliged. And now its up to him to save the world — or at least get Team USA a gold medal one day. Is that still possible?
SURFING: WHY DID YOU GET INVOLVED WITH COACHING TEAM USA?
IAN CAIRNS: I just started getting back into coaching recently and I’ve found out I really like it. I find it really satisfying to see kids do well after I’ve helped them out. Before I knew about Joey leaving, I was thinking that I should continue to ramp up coaching and when he left, I got that opportunity.
WHERE DO YOU THINK WE’VE FALLEN SHORT IN THE PAST?
I’d rather be positive and say there’s a lot of untapped talent in the United State’s young surfers. Personally, I am more of a surf teacher than a coach; I teach good surfing. I want to figure out each kid’s strengths and weaknesses. But I also want to teach wave skills — good contest surfing is about finding the best waves in every break you go to.
HOW IS YOUR PROGRAM DIFFERENT FROM OTHER COACHES?
Honestly, I don’t know. I don’t ask other coaches exactly what they teach. I just know what worked for me as a competitor and what didn’t. I base my program on that and, so far, it’s been really successful with both the NSSA team and all the pros I’ve been working with. I think differently and thinking differently is a real asset.
DO YOU HAVE THE BEST POSSIBLE TEAM RIGHT NOW?
I think so. Kids like Conner Coffin, Kolohe Andino and Evan Geiselman — they’re fundamentally good surfers. With a little bit of mentoring and teaching, I’m sure we’ll have an extremely competitive team.
WE NOTICED YOU SPENT A LOT OF TIME A NATIONALS LAST WEEK. ARE YOU STILL SCOUTING?
No. I’ve just worked with a lot of the kids down there, so I was helping them. The fundamental level of competition down there was good, in my opinion. I’m a traditionalist: good positioning, good carves, good power. When you couple that with spectacular tricks, you’ve got Dane and Jordy. Those guys are the benchmark; they’re what I want my kids to become.
WHERE DO FREESURFERS LIKE, SAY, MITCH COLEBORN FIT INTO YOUR IDEA OF A BENCHMARK SURFER?
Again, Dane and Jordy are fundamentally strong surfers: carving, positioning, wave selection and spectacular moves…not just finishing maneuvers. I’m more of an advocate of guys that are competing on the ’QS and ’CT than I am of freesurfers.
SO YOU WOULD SAY DANE AND JORDY ARE ACCOMPLISHING BOTH?
Yes, but I would say Owen Wright is the prime example. The way he won at Bells was by doing big carving and flowing turns and the way he won the Maldives was by doing tricks and power maneuvers combined. He’s an example of the kind of surfer that I’d like to be producing from this young American group.
IN YOUR OPINION THEN, WE NEED SOME OWEN WRIGHTS TO WIN GOLD?
I just think that both Jordy and Owen have carving surfing, huge moves and sound competitive strategy and a passion to win. That last part — passion to win — is an essential ingredient to being the best surfer in the world. That’s what I’m trying to achieve with Team USA. My three things are skill, strategy and attitude. You have that, and you’re the best.