Small waves reveal everything says master coach Brad Gerlach…
Recently, the surf coach and former world number one (or two, depending on how you call such things), Brad Gerlach, attended a WQS event in Japan with Parker Coffin.
We’d been back and forthing on a few things (Gerlach appears in an upcoming episode of Like Bitchin!) and he mentioned that he was in Japan, with Parker Coffin, for the Ichinomiya Chiba Open. It was an enlightening experience, watching talented surfers forced to ride one foot waves, he said. It played into his hands, somewhat, since he will soon be releasing a book that reveals the surf coaching method he calls Wave Ki.
I can’t wait to inhale its mysterious perfume.
Gerlach is even lovelier now than when he was at his professional surfing peak in the eighties and nineties. He wears fiery little hats in bottle green, spectacles that shave years off his biological age and his lean body betrays a carnal fluency.
Now let’s curl at his feet and listen…
BeachGrit: You’re there, right there in Japan, watching a zillion surfers trash away at tiny waves in a WQS event. What do you see?
Gerlach: The ASP tour came to Japan twice a year when I was on it and a lot of the events the waves were just like this one. I sucked in little waves and aside from Tommy (Curren) we all tried to figure out how to go fast, do big turns and look good. Well, maybe not all of us cared about looking good and that may be what I see here in Japan. Some of the guys who do the best small-wave surfing aren’t the most stylish.
The question is, does it matter?
I say yes it does and it’s impressive because it’s rarely seen! But that’s another conversation. I believe surfing well in small waves is the hardest thing to do in surfing. Often, it’s where even the best can struggle. I believe a surfer who rips in little waves could surf Mavs if he/she wants and with a lot of courage could surf it quite well. Not necessarily the other way around because little waves require perfect timing by generating speed from torque, twist and drive.
What I see here that impresses me is the… improvement. I have been watching a lot of these guys since they were juniors. Daveid Silva looked stronger with better timing, flare and confidence. I hadn’t seen that before with him. He impressed me, especially with his backside off the tops. I like seeing surfers improve. However, many haven’t improved noticeably and some are slower than before. Maybe they rode the wrong board or ate a bad bowl of ramen?
A lot of individual styles. Not everyone surfs the same. I think it’s cool and refreshing to watch. Some guys have a lot of drive and lift in their surfing. The South American guys are very impressive. They use up what the wave has to offer. Sometimes getting a bigger turn that I expect. I imagine it’s because quite often the waves are quick and small where they live and those are the conditions they have to compete in?
What do small waves amplify in a surfer?
Technique and timing or lack thereof and how much time they have spent surfing them. Are they riding the right board and fins for them and the conditions? Some surfers use a lot of aggression and movement and build speed quickly if their timing is good. I like to see this. It makes it fun for the spectators because we don’t know what is coming. Super hard to do when the waves are small and gutless. When this is done without good timing it looks ugly and forced. It tells me the the surfer has the drive to want to surf good but doesn’t have the talent, technique or time in the conditions to do it. Some people will just stand there and wait for the wave to steepen up but that may never happen, too.
You coach little Parker Coffin. How can he improve his play in small-waves?
This might be extra info but “coach” isn’t how I would label what I do. I don’t stand there with a whistle, yell and wave my hands around. Ha! However, we have thought of a few skits that we might just have to do one day. That’s just how people are defining it.
I’d say I am a teacher/mentor, but whatever. Anyway, I have been helping Parker since he was 13 so I know him well. He was little then, not so much anymore. What I did with him this week was show him how to go fast, using Wave ki, watching others that were ripping and talking with him on wave positioning and finishing turns. We did a lot of Wave Ki that was custom-made for him and the conditions. Then he would go surfing and I watched. I would call him in when I saw something I liked or if I saw something that could help him be more fluid, more vertical or not lose any speed. Sometimes, I saw that he was thinking too much and or trying too hard, so I called him in and helped him by talking about getting back into a rhythmic state. Sounds cosmic? Well, it is man! But who cares if you are flying around in gutless surf?
Parker’s timing improved a ton because he started using his whole body, not just body parts. His confidence improved with the timing, which makes me think he improved 25-30 percent in little waves this week. He looked to me like he had the goods to win.
Alejo Muniz’s brother Santiago has the best hair of any the other guys. It all goes forward, like he jumps on one of those taxi bikes and rides around the block backwards to style it.
Those WQS events are so…jock! Is that what you see too?
No, I don’t see the jock thing as much now that I went to the event. I feel like a lot of these guys have different styles and approach it uniquely. I was happy about that. We stayed with a group of South Americans and they were really cool guys. Seemed like they were enjoying themselves, open to sharing about boards, waves, conditions…There was a large range of ages on tour, some guys in their thirties, some teenagers. Sponsors are pretty scarce these days too. Hardcore group of surfers. Still a rad job nevertheless.
Tell me about Wiggolly and Alejo’s bro’s!
Wesley Dantas is a big kid and he was going super fast on nothing waves. He had a lot of energy from the moment he stood up. He doesn’t exactly have the greatest style but he is still young. It seems like he doesn’t give a shit, which I think is cool too. What he has is flare, power and control. I loved watching him in the gutless waves and down the beach from the comp when it got a little bigger. Huge turns. Impressive.
I have only watched Santiago a bit and liked what I saw. Just the energy and his drivey approach. This week was the most I got to see him surf and I really like it. He kind of over surfs a lot of waves and falls because he tries too hard but… man… he has a lot of potential. His raw approach makes him spontaneous and I dig that. I have only seen him surf in two-to-three-foot waves. He has the best hair of any the other guys. It all goes forward, like he jumps on one of those taxi bikes and rides around the block backwards to style it.
You’re excited about the Australian Conner O’Leary. Why does he excite you so? Because he’s a Eurasian stud?
Ha! Take it easy sailor! No… he surfs really good and looked like he was riding the right board. He was aggressive, smooth, has a ton of power. He goes for it. He looks like he will qualify for sure. His back knee sticks out a bit and that isn’t my favorite but other than that he looks great. And yeah, his Mom was on the tour back in the day and I think that is rad. I can’t imagine how cool or annoying that would be to have my mom paddle out and surf better than me when I was a kid.
Position of hips, tell me how that relates to small-wave surfing.
They have to move, that is how you get “squirt”… you should know that by now I trust. It’s how they move that is the trick. The surfers that rip in small waves are moving them back and forth to create drive and keep control. It is quite complex. I teach this with Wave Ki. I call it pendulum glide.
For most of us, the semi-competents, what are the three things we could that would improve our relationship with small waves… now?
Mmmmm… get a wider board that is an inch to two inches smaller than your everyday board. I like to ride one with a wider tail block too. In beachbreaks I mostly ride a three-fin with a smaller back fin. Play around with a quad if the waves are running or you are on a point. Quads do great cutbacks, carves, floaters, straight airs. Three fins are good for wind-swell, if you go left then right then left again. Also good for vertical surfing.
Wave positioning is key: Most intermediates surf/pump in the middle of the wave. All the power and speed is in the very top of the wave, the steepest part. I know the wave might be one-and-a-half foot but still try to pump up there and only go down to the flatter part of the wave when you want to come back up. This was huge for me when I learned to grovel.
Take off and get your feet in the right spot so your body is positioned to turn up to the top of the wave. This is shown in my up coming Wave Ki book.
Play around with changing your stance. If your stance is too narrow it will be hard to get speed.
If your stance is too wide it will be hard to turn. I run a little narrower stance backside in little waves.
I am always talking with my students about their stance for the conditions.