05 February 2012

Surf Coaching: 8 Sessions In

Last July, I started working with a surf coach, Barry Green of Making the Drop. I began surfing late and want to get good before I'm too old, so I'd had in mind for some time that I'd like to get coaching to compress my learning curve. While there are many instructors available for beginners (heck, I could teach beginners), coaches at the intermediate level are harder to find. And I didn't mesh with a couple others I tried out with an (unsuccessful) duck-diving lesson. Finally last summer, during some late night insomniac web-surfing, I stumbled upon Barry's website and contacted him for an initial assessment.

Going in, I told Barry these were my goals:
I want to grow into a competent shortboarder. I tried shortboarding before I was much good at surfing, and ended up skunked and frustrated most of the time until a friend suggested I go longer again. Last year I got decent on an 8'3" and this year I've been riding a 7'0", intending to transition down more gradually. (I'm planning to have Ward Coffey shape me a shorter board for my birthday in November.) I want to get barreled, and be confident in bigger hollow waves that throw barrels. I want to conquer my fears (please read this post, although I've made progress since I wrote it). I want to be able to get outside with less struggle; I could semi-duck dive my shortboard but turtle-rolling has never worked well for me and I'm still sometimes denied on short-period days. I want to be more comfortable and less stressed surfing in crowds. I'm out there to have fun, but it's most enjoyable when I successfully meet a challenge, be it in conditions or maneuvers.
After the initial assessment, I've had eight rougly bi-weekly sessions with Barry, the last one following an unintentional three-month hiatus. With his help, I've made a lot of progress. Focusing on my goal of shortboarding, he's taught me to think and surf more like a shortboarder. My wave judgment has improved so I know better where I need to be, even if I don't always make it to the right spot to get the ride. He's also helped me to increase my paddling power and speed through cross-training, including swim sprints and weight exercises, so I can get into more waves, though I'm not quite as fast as I need to be just yet. I also started using an upside-down Bosu balance trainer and skateboarding (the latter derailed for a bit by an Achilles tendon strain). I'm still working on areas such as body awareness (lead the body with the hands), board sensitivity, and assertiveness.
Coach Barry, far right, during the initial assessment. My surfcam stays home when I'm training.
Aside from one time at Linda Mar on a surprisingly good day, our sessions are in eastside Santa Cruz in the vicinity of the Hook. Barry sits in the lineup with me most of the time, occasionally taking a wave, sometimes alongside me to observe my form. I'm a bit disappointed, though, that he hasn't spent much time out in front to better evaluate what I'm doing on the face. It's a hole in the coaching. A plus is that our hour-and-a-half water sessions are augmented by online support consisting of emails, written assessments, and (my favorite) pro-surfer video viewing homework.

Last week's session #8 was the first time Barry had seen me on my new shortboard although I've had it for a couple of months. In no small part due to his preparatory work, I'd made a smooth transition from my 7'0" to the 6'2" from the first time I surfed it.

I've come far in a much shorter time than if I was trying to figure it all out on my own, though I still have a way to go to reach my goals. But with Barry's help, I'm confident I'll get there.

Update: Since I moved to San Diego and had a couple group coaching sessions (via San Diego Surf Ladies) with Dan Mori of Fulcrum Surf, who is absolutely outstanding, I've come to realize that Barry's coaching was merely adequate and somewhat helpful. Dan has offered great insight from brief observation of my surfing and I wish I now had the time and funds to spend on coaching with him instead.

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