Can a VAL learn to shred in under two years? Maybe yes!
The name Angelika Timanina ain’t gonna ring any bells, not unless the pretty ladies of synchronised swimming stole your eye during the 2012 London games.
Angelika won a gold medal in London, and over the course of her career has won the World Championships eight times.
A titan in synchronised swimming.
Now, Angelika, who is thirty and lives in Moscow, has turned to surfing and is backed by an unknown benefactor paying Australian former pro surfer and coach, Andy King, to whip her into something for the Russian Olympic surf team.
Yeah, the Australian WQS pro from Cronulla who lost his hearing after a street fight in 2004, a hard-charging goofy footer who grew up with an alcoholic pops (Andy kept a knife under his pillow for protection) and who shifted to surf coaching after his tour comeback was stymied by his deafness.
I heard about Angelika from the big-waver Mark Mathews who told me it was one of the most remarkable switcharoos he’d ever seen. Eighteen months on a board and sorta shredding.
When I called Andy, now forty-three, to talk about his charge, the pair were at Tallows in Byron Bay, part of their hundred days a year of personal coaching that has seen ‘em travel to Indo, to the Maldives, Australia, Portugal.
It’d been maybe three or four years since I’d spoken to Andy and his voice was sharp, clear, different to the low monotone of a man whose speech has been muddied by his cochlear implants.
Turns out he has a bluetooth connection straight from his phone and into his head.
Andy King, iPhone compatible.
“There’s no external sound. Technology is fucking incredible,” he laughs.
“Coaching is a bit of a fucking magician show,” says Andy. “I wanted to see if there’s any value in coaching, that it had any grounds, that it wasn’t a farce. Angelika is a complete, clean canvas. She’d only surfed a very short amount of time and was from such a random environment. It was a rare opportunity.”
He says he got the gig with Angelika via the Portuguese pro Tiago Pires who’d been approached to coach but told ‘em they needed someone special, someone like Andy.
And Andy, who had the feeling that coaching high-level pro’s was all smoke and mirrors (“Was I just security to make their life easier? I didn’t know,” he says), was thrilled by the chance to test his coaching theories.
“Coaching is a bit of a fucking magician show,” he says. “I wanted to see if there’s any value in coaching, that it had any grounds, that it wasn’t a farce. Angelika is a complete, clean canvas. She’d only surfed a very short amount of time and was from such a random environment. It was a rare opportunity.”
The Russian came into surf with at least one crossover ability: she can hold her breath for four minutes.
“We surfed some pretty big waves in the Maldives and when she gets into trouble she sits on the bottom and waits the set out. Fuck, it’s amazing.”
Over the course of their eighteen months working together, Angelika has gone from VAL riding the whitewater on a softie to surfing in the pocket, riding six-foot waves, finding tubes.
Andy says her body awareness is like nothing he’s ever seen.
“She explained to me that she spent fifteen years of her life in a pool, training sixteen hours a day. Said she’s like a cosmonaut, suspended in water for so much of her life. She’s so aware of her body that she’s already above-average level, doing reos and snaps.”
One downside of all that pool time.
“She’s so used to being suspended that it’s hard for her to feel pressure on a surfboard, to be able to engage and push a rail and feel the flex patterns on a board.”
It’s here that Andy comes into his own as a coach.
His big theory is trying to get his charges to “respect the shape”, to get their stance in the exact spot on the surfboard where the shaper has designed it to displace water.
“Breaking it down to respecting the shape of the board and the concave and having a neutral stance,” he says.
Andy says the Russian loves surfing so much it lifts his own spirit.
“She’s obsessed with it, like when we were groms.”
There’s a howevs.
Unless the Russians mount a successful court challenge, there’ll be no Russian team in Tokyo after the country was banned for four years for doping.
Still, Angelika and Andy are pushing hard.
“My goal is to get her into a huge one out at Cloudbreak, a nice south swell. I want to get her to a skill level to ride a ten-to-twelve-footer, a proper Cloudbreak one. She’s got the physical ability to do it and she can make a statement if she gets big Cloudbreak. It’d be an Everest for her.”
Oh, and, like many things from the former Soviet state, there’s a wonderful mystery to who’s funding Andy’s salary.
“I don’t know who pays me and I’m not allowed to ask where the money comes from,” he says. “They transfer what I ask for, deliver what I ask for and told me not to ask who’s sending it. I honestly can’t tell if it’s from a sponsor or the government.”