Seems ironic that an Australian holds the best coaching record for US Surf Teams. But Peter “PT” Townend has been there from the days when the world thought all Floridians were flappers and Californians were cruisers. That all changed in 1984, when he convinced a team of primarily So Cal underdogs that they could be a stacked Aussie squad featuring guys like Kong Elkerton and Damien Hardman. America’s gold in the 1984 world games remains the event to which all other US teams are compared, and when Surfing America took over as the Governing Body in 2004, it only seemed logical that Coach PT return back to the trenches and lead our lost flock back to glory. It almost happened overnight. The US Team’s 2004 silver medal in Tahiti was a glimpse of what was possible with a little motivation and pride, and since then Team USA continues to try to find its identity. The recent Quiksilver ISA World Games was a perfect example. At first glance, the results are a bit alarming: we finished fifth behind New Zealand, Hawaii, Brazil and the ever-dominant Australia. But on closer inspection, just a couple bumps in the individual final placings and America would have been walking home with the Silver medal. But the scoreboard is the scoreboard, and someone was to be held accountable for their sub-par finish in Portugal. Last week, that fall guy proved to be Coach PT, one of the sport’s chief motivators and most successful pit bosses, as he was voted out of the coaching position moving forward. Ever the optimist, Coach PT has nothing but the best hopes for Team USA. In fact, he convinced they’ll finish what he started in just a couple short years. – Evan Slater
SURFING MAGAZINE: THE US GOT FIFTH, BUT YOU WARNED US AHEAD OF TIME THAT A MEDAL WAS NOT GUARANTEED. PETER “PT” TOWNEND: About eight nations can do some damage. I mean, New Zealand came from seventh to fourth this time, you know. But I think when you look at our program, we’ve gone out five times and we’ve got a record of three and two. So we’re on the positive side of the equation. We may not be winning the gold but we are back to elite nation status, and that alone is a huge step from where we were three years ago.
GOING INTO PORTUGAL, YOU OBVIOUSLY HAD HOPES OF GETTING ON THE PODIUM AND FINISHING TOP THREE.The t-shirt says it: Podium in Portugal. And we got on the podium individually because in Brazil we went back to our lowest point; we didn’t get on the podium at all. So our goal was to get back on the podium and even though we didn’t get back on as a team, two of the kids: Cory Arrambide and Sage Erickson got back on the podium. There’s only twelve medals and we got two of them.
THERE’S DEFINITELY SOME GOOD KIDS COMING UP FROM THE MAINLAND, BUT HAS THERE BEEN SOME FALLOFF IN CERTAIN AREAS? We’re just going through a phase I think where there’s still a lot of confusion. If you’re in Australia and Brazil, there’s only one national championship, there’s not Lowers and Huntington and all the other stuff in between. And so it’s diluted the real champions.
BUT THE CHANGES THAT HAVE OCCURRED FROM 2004 UNTIL NOW ARE CERTAINLY GOING IN THE DIRECTION THAT YOU ENVISIONED, RIGHT?Absolutely. I mean, the press release that came out; you just have to read between the lines. You know, there’s a difference in philosophy about what I want the team to achieve and what the administration wants the team to achieve. When it comes down to it, you have to look at it like other sports. If I was disappointed with the team, I should be able to be vocal about that. Just like Phil Jackson would, or Bill Parcels, or Pat Reilly. They don’t hold back; it’s sports you have to be honest. I held the team accountable, and to be honest, the administration didn’t like the fact that I held them accountable publicly.