He’s a social-media sensation, a life coach, a controversial critic of surf culture, and what’s known in the industry as a “bald, carefree, fearless, charging warrior”. Joel Parkinson, one of his many students, has described him as “the best thing that’s ever happened to surfing”. But who is Spike Van Der Wall, better known as Great Britain Surf Coach, and what’s his master plan to reinvigorate British surfing? We tried to find out.
Surf Europe: It’s been a good year of waves so far for the South West of England — have you been gripping and ripping much, or busy coaching? Or stuck at the building site?
Spike: Yes — but let’s not lose sight of what’s important. Too often we surf just for the sake of surfing. When there’s 49 people in the line-up, what is it that makes that 50th person go in? I’ll tell you. He goes in for the sake of going surfing. He doesn’t actually really know himself…
“Most ‘surfers’ are lost. I’m not”
Being a labourer helps me understand surfing more. Most “surfers” are lost. I’m not. As I’ve gotten older I’ve learnt so much. I’ve just discovered what’s known in the industry as “the pyramid of balance”. And it’s a project that stops guys surfing just for the sake of it, but gives each surfer three balanced pastimes that all fit into surfing. For example, my three are: surfing; coaching and life-coaching; and mind-surfing. It takes the pressure off just getting out there for the hell of it — and is proven to actually improve your surfing. Surfing is all about what’s going on in our head!
For those who aren’t familiar with your work, how would you sum up the “grip and rip” approach to surfing?
It’s very simple. “Grip” means get hold of yourself, find yourself, be you! “Rip” means… express that. Don’t express something that someone else is giving off. That’s bullshit and is what’s polluting our industry. “Grip it — and rip it.”
You recently made the top 10 of Mondy’s Euro Power Rankings. Did you agree with his choices?
I’m just pumped to be called a “power ranker” and not a “power wanker”. If I could change the rankings, I would probably have put me in the top 5 though… at least! I’m not sure there are many surfers out there in this era that would make my Power Rankings though.
“I’ve just discovered what’s known in the industry as ‘the pyramid of balance’”