Brad Gerlach on his winning technique against Martin Potter in yesterday's "Heritage Heat" at Lower Trestles…
Oh, those crazy nerves! Can you imagine what it’d feel like to strap the lycra jersey back on and surf a heat after a Kelly Slater v Taj Burrow buzzer beater?
Yesterday afternoon, Martin Potter, the 1989 world champ, and Brad Gerlach, number two in 1991, faced off for the first time in quarter of a century at Lower Trestles. Both had quit the tour too young: Pottz at 24, Gerr at 25. Pottz had an eight-to-two heat-winning advantage. They hated each other on tour. The hottest rivalry in surfing. Boards were used like swords; leashes pulled. “I was so close to punching him (after a 1991 mid-heat confrontation),” Gerr says here (click!). “I knew a few people on tour would’ve been glad if I did.”
And then there they were. In front of us. Both in their late-forties. One, still dedicated to training and coaching; the other a tour commentator. And the nerves were obvious. Jittery take offs, trembling turns.
Gerr shook it off. His surfing flowed. Beautiful bottom turns with a hand grazing the water, top-turn combos, even a passable sorta air in the shore break. Pottz wasn’t so pretty. A too narrow stance, legs upright, an avoidance of the lip, a strategy of sitting too deep, too far out. On his best wave, a six, we saw a glimmer of that old magic, an open-face carve that was in the realm of Slater’s arc on the same section in the previous heat.
But that was it for Pottz. Gerr schooled him.
So what fun it was to call Gerr up afterward and ask him to relive the day and suggest a few ways Pottz might improve his technique. This interview was consumed by laughter so many times.
BeachGrit: Hello! Gerr!
Gerr: You bastard! You said Pottz was going to light it up!
BeachGrit: Well, fuck, you were riven by nerves too. I saw!
Gerr: Yeah, I surfed like fucking 65 fucking percent. It was so hard to control how fired up I was. I wanted more waves. I knew the more waves I rode the more I’d settle down. I’m happy about the first wave. I did a pretty good top turn. If I get one good turn, if the wave stands up, I get more, more with it. I start feeling it. And I was coming off the bottom but I was so fucking hyper my timing was off. It’s like music. I was ahead of the beat because I was so fucking excited. And then it just lulled out. And coming into the heat I had the worst fucking warmup surf ever. I paddled into a 20-wave set and then… nothing. And, I mean, that’s not necessary a bad thing. Sometimes it’s sketchy if you have a good warmup surf and then, if you don’t feel as good in the heat, you keep comparing it to the warmup. Say, are you going to write “fuck” in every sentence?
BeachGrit: Only if you say it. When I spoke to you the other day (read the interview here) I trimmed a few out because it read like I was putting ’em in deliberately.
Gerr: I don’t mind saying it, I mean, we say fuck, ever second word. Anyway, so let me tell you how frothed out I was coming into the heat. I’m the cruisiest person ever. People will honk at me and I’ll say, “Have a nice day! It’s your issue!” But I did this u-turn and just as I was about to pull back into the lane I had the sense that this guy in a Mustang had sped up. If I’d gone back into the lane I would’ve hit the guy. And I looked at the guy, and I’m in my car, and I say, “Fuck! You! Dick!” That was earlier in the day. And I was, just, who am I right now? What’s going on with me? Shit! That was a tell-tale sign. But what was rad, I saw Pottz get his first wave I had all these memories flashing through me. He’s got this particular way his arms are, the way he stands, the fire on his board, and I’m looking at him and there’s no one else in the world it could be but him. And I was watching him ride this wave, and as he comes off the bottom, I scream, “Fucking hit it!” I was so psyched! So excited! I told him when we were doing that gay face-off thing, I hope you kill it out there, man. I hope you get a lot of waves.
BeachGrit: Can you describe the feeling of being, suddenly, transformed back into an ASP pro? That moment, with crowd, commentary, the whole thing?
Gerr: You just have to call on your memory of how to win. I just wish there were more waves and I wish I’d stuck that air. I was in the air and I was, like, yes, I’ve got it, I’m going to stomp this thing, and then at the last second, my head was a little bit off and I slid out. I held on in the whitewater, laying back Kelly Slater style, but fuck, I couldn’t hold it. But what else was really fun was all my friends were there and they picked me up. And that’s something that’s never happened to me before. And I looked up and the camera was right there and I yelled, “Who’s next!” I couldn’t help it and I yelled, “I want Curren!”
BeachGrit: So what did Pottz do wrong?
Gerr: Well, dude, Pottz, look, listen to his commentary. He’s not technical. I’m going to give him something, something based on truth. He has a good voice. He speaks well, he doesn’t um and ah and he has a decent vocabulary. But he should not be an analyst when it comes to technique. He doesn’t know technique. And that was apparent in the way he surfed. If he knew technique he would’ve scored higher. His focus isn’t there. He’s got a family, he’s commentating, he’s passionate about surfing, and he still surfs good, but I’m better because I’m more focussed on what it takes to be a great surfer. What he did wrong was he didn’t train hard enough. He didn’t ask people, “How do I beat Gerr?” Kelly lost some money because he bet against me. Kelly was telling Pottz, you have to do this and this, but you can’t just tell someone to do a vertical off the lip like the way you order a hamburger with lettuce and tomato on it. You can’t do that in surfing. You’ve gotta train for it. You’ve gotta know what you’re doing. That’s what I do. That’s why I’m a really good coach, I think. It was interesting because I’m actually not that good at coaching myself and (Mike) Parsons helped me today. And that was why I sat where I did. I didn’t want to get too deep and you can see the waves better when you sit wide. I knew I didn’t need the sets to beat him. I just needed to surf. I’m better than he is and that’s how it is. It’s not because I’m a better athlete, it’s because I focus it on it more than he does. He’s not training like I am.
BeachGrit: What about the specifics of his technique. That stance was tight, the legs were upright, and he seemed bound with nerves. The torso wasn’t twisting.
Gerr: Yeah, he has a narrow stance and he doesn’t move his upper body so when your stance is narrow it’s hard to bend the legs. When you’re short like he is you can get away with it to a certain extent, your centre of gravity is lower, but to be explosive and have control, you’ve gotta bend your legs and drop your ass. That’s why Jordy surfs so fucking good. His ass is on the ground! John John stands tall but when he turns he drops his butt. Dane does it better than anybody. With all that being said, I don’t know if it would be great to do a rematch. Maybe if someone coached Pottz for six months.
BeachGrit: Might you help your ol pal?
Gerr: Put it this way, if I trained Pottz, I could train Pottz to beat me. But it would take a while. It would take six months or almost a year. It’s hard to assimilate the things that you’ve learned into your surfing, for one, and then to assimilate into your surfing when you’re under pressure. Mostly, you go back instantly to old habits.
BeachGrit: Tom Curren, can you take him?
Gerr: I think I’m better than Tommy in some places and Tommy’s better than me in some places. He’s beautiful to watch and he’s flexible and he’s relaxed under pressure. And he’s super duper competitive. I have a rivalry with Tom but Tom doesn’t have a rivalry with me because he beat me all the time. But, hey, the shit-talking is what got me into this heat with Pottz so I’m ready to talk some more shit! I can beat Tommy anytime in any wave. Anywhere!