Interview by Mike Drentea. Photo by Jack English.
Chris Gallagher is a well-respected professional surfing coach who was the first ever professional surfer on the WCT from Santa Cruz, California. Retiring from professional surfing in 2000 Chris began a new life with his family and pursued his other passion, shaping. Moving to Oahu in 2002, Chris now serves as a professional surfing coach and shaper. Chris began “ghost shaping” for legendary Hawaiian shaper Eric Arakawa. In Chris’s three and a half years with Eric as his mentor, he gained priceless knowledge that he passed down to his own company CGD Surfboards. In this second part of our ‘surf coaching’ series, we continue our behind the scenes glimpse into the exclusive world of high performance shredding and surf coaching.
What is surf coaching?
For me, I like to focus on the technical side of coaching. Like a swing coach in tennis or golf.
When in your career did you decide to offer your expertise as a professional surfing coach?
Post tour I was shaping full time. I had elbow surgery and had some time to reflect and think about things. I decided to shift gears a bit and give back a bit of what I had learned over the years. I’m still shaping though.
Whom currently are you coaching professionally?
I don’t work for one company or athlete so I am able to have many clients. I have worked or am working with several WCT surfers, tons of juniors and amateurs.
What exercises do you and your athletes do to train physically and mentally?
Physically it can be different for everyone. I like for my athletes to focus on their strengths and work on their weaknesses. Like if someone is strong, be a power surfer that is trying to get little quicker rather than try to be something they are not. As far as mentally, I feel if you work hard on your fitness and surfing, the mental part is a lot easier.
How do you prepare for a contest or heat?
The four B’s: The first B is the board, then the break, then the body, and then the brain. Make sure you are in the right headspace, clear your mind and relax. You have to be in the zone and be focused before your heat.
How often do you and an athlete meet leading up to a contest?
Probably 3-4 days at the site before the event might start.
What do you say to a surfer before the contest?
This life you have is a blessing. Relax and have fun with it.
What kinds of things are you looking for in the replays during contest?
Any tension that may have crept in, technical glitches, weird board issues or anything that could have been done better strategically.
How do you distinguish what is the best board for the athlete and wave?
Take and then watch video of all the boards, get feedback from the athlete, maybe try different fins, etc. Then try to make an educated guess.
How is coaching in small surf different than big surf?
Small surf is more performance based, with lots of focus on the warm ups, the board, and the physical/technical aspects of ripping. Bigger surf is more about lineups, catching waves and wave judgment with maybe a few technical keys to focus on.
In your surf coaching career what is the hardest thing you’ve had to deal with yet?
Anytime I’ve got my guy surfing to their absolute limits of their ability on a great board…and they still lose.
Before surf coaching arrived what did guys on the ASP World Tour do to prepare for a contest?
Coffee & Weed.
What do you say to a surfer after an emotional loss?
Something that probably didn’t make them feel any better about losing.
What is the best way you like to celebrate after an athlete wins a contest?
What are a couple of the most common mistakes the average surfer makes that keeps he or she from catching more waves?
Positioning is everything. Unfortunately ocean knowledge is something that takes years of trial and error and is very hard to teach. What I do see is most surfers are paying attention more to the other surfers than a line up on the beach or some kind of landmark to find the peak. Also, a lot of average surfers ride too little foam and could benefit from upping the volume of their board to increase paddle speed and momentum.
What are some basic tips you can give the everyday surf to improve their basic surfing?
Get their foot on the tail, stay low and small and don’t lean forward.
It seems like all the kids are doing airs these days, how would you suggest a good surfer start to take their surfing above the lip?
Simple answer: For backside, starting with chop hops is a good way to get comfortable with the rotation. For frontside, learning a proper ollie on skateboard is a good start.
What are some things that the best surfers in the world have in common with upper body movements while surfing? What about their lower body?
My interpretation of this question is complex and also how I make a living. I am going to plead the fifth on this one.
How important is confidence to surfing well? How do you suggest that people improve their approach in this regard?
It’s very important but confidence comes from good surfing. It doesn’t create good surfing. Without tons of practice and proper technique, confidence alone will not take you very far.
Much of your job is helping young surfers catch more waves and surf them better, what are your personal thoughts on wave etiquette for younger surfers fitting into increasingly crowded lineups?
Make friends with the biggest, angriest local and split the peak with them. Or be patient, wait your turn, smile, show respect to the locals and give waves to groms and moms. Sounds easy enough, but surely something most of us have to work on and aspire to or it’s going to get pretty ugly out there.
Where do you see the sport of surfing and surf coaching five years from now?
We now are seeing the results of surfers upping their game, working harder, hiring coaches, etc. The level is getting pretty crazy at these events. I suspect it will be more of the same just amplified. Bidding wars for top coaches would be a nice addition as well.