Great Britain Surf Coach: The Interview
Instagram's favourite surf coach on self-expression, 'Improvised Trouble Shooting', and the state of British surfing
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'"
Besides, I’m an elite, HP surf doyen / surf coach / life coach and I tend to not have the time to practise such lists. At GB HQ, we are looking at what’s known in the industry as “the bigger picture"!
Not everyone’s been won over by your coaching methods though. Adriano de Souza, Alan Stokes… have any other pro surfers blocked you on Instagram?
Many… including Joe Turpel, for making my top 6 “most slappable faces in surfing" alongside Fletch, Tyler Wright, Kanye West (why not), Filipe Toledo’s dad (for that annoying whistle) and Tim Boydel for being so smug. The irony is that in the post, I suggested he didn’t get a slap, just a light rub because of his baby face.
"I suggested he didn’t get a slap, just a light rub because of his baby face"
What’s interesting is that the international top pros are a lot more receptive to criticism and tend to play along, where the English “pros" take offence.
Who else has blocked you?
Dean “Dingo" Morrison’s another, because I pulled him up on an incident involving a jet ski in Australia on the Gold Coast… It all got swept under the carpet to protect their images. Some of the things I said about Parko at the beginning of our coaching relationship could have got me blocked by him, but he’s sensible and saw the benefits and stuck with me. I have a lot of respect for the guy.
"Parko's sensible and saw the benefits and stuck with me. I have a lot of respect for the guy"
There are a tonne of others who have blocked me. Mainly English guys that don’t like being exposed. And some international guys that just can’t be assed with elite coaching and photo analysis.
Which was the Dean Morrison post?
Wasn’t a post bru. It was messages.
It was about a year ago on Facebook by a local, and the only report that I saw was swiftly deleted! When I mentioned it to Dingo he blocked me, then I got heaps of messages from his friends. I was gonna fly over there as I had some business to attend to and when they heard about this, they piped down #idojujitsu.
Let’s talk about British surfing. One of your posts was about how the way someone surfs is determined largely by the county they’re from — you gave a kind of geopolitical analysis of Mick Fanning’s and Tom Curren’s surfing styles. How does being from Britain influence the way British surfers surf?
In many ways! It’s true. We are only products of our surroundings. Not only do our elements limit our surfing pedigree but so does the Ora [sic] of the British mind set. When I tell people in South Africa I’m an elite Surf coach or Surf Doyen or pro wave rider, you can say it with pride and the respect will be reciprocated. Not in the UK. People will laugh. The British are more about business and salary rather than lifestyle. They don’t embrace nature as much as other countries.
Of course this effects the kids. They are paranoid that their parents think they are down and out bums, just because they surf. The words "beach bum", "surf dude" and "stoners" are still signs that surfing hasn’t been fully accepted. The profession gets abused. Abused by the public but also abused by the athletes themselves. They know they're faking it. Milking brands, holding onto their egos, thinking people actually really care what they're doing with their self-absorbed lives. Blogs, social media, marketing. This is all the kids are being fed and it’s not right for the “sport".
You’re trained in social media yourself though, aren’t you?
Very much so bru. A Surf Doyen needs to know as much about the industry as possible, whether he believes in it or not. In this case, not so much the product, but how it gets used.
What should UK pros be doing differently then?
Put their phones down bru… Lol. I’ve been training with a bunch of pro juniors and the first thing I teach them, is how to deal with shit, outside their comfort zone. Ei. [sic] After a contest in Newquay once, I pulled over because one of our boys needed a wee. When he jumped out, I left him there so he had to find his own way back to North Devon. He was only 11 so this still was very beneficial. Sessions like this are what’s known in the industry as “ITS" — stands for “Improvised trouble shooting"
How did your student respond?
Not gonna lie, he found it tough! Curled up in a ball and cried. Why? Because he had been spoilt his whole life. Taken out of school to surf. Never done any work, never had to rely on himself for anything. All traits you NEED to be a success. Start them young bru! His dad gave me an earful but he thanked me weeks later.
What advice would you give to parents hoping to raise a pro surfer?
Great question and that comes up hella often bru… More focus needs to be attended to the child’s behaviour. Don’t just buy them all the best gear if they haven’t deserved it. Don’t take them out of school and think the more surfing they do, the better.
"Not gonna lie, he found it tough! Curled up in a ball and cried."
The surf industry is breeding spoiled brats. We need to keep the kids hungry, stop telling them they rip and give them a grounded understanding.
How long do you think we’ll have to wait for a British surfer to emulate Russell Winter and make the CT?
It’s out of the question bru. Never… We are way too far behind. Unless of course, we have another Martin Potter, who was born here but not actually brought up here. Until then, our home grown guys will scrape by, doing their thing to make ends meet.
That’s pretty bleak!
Bleak but true bru. But don’t lose heart. There’s a new coach in town — me.
A lot of people think of you as a spiritual adviser as much as a surf coach. Was there an “under-the-bodhi-tree" moment in your life, when the truth about surfing and life was suddenly revealed to you?
My ancestry goes way back to the ancient Polynesian “High coach / super Doyen / life coach ring". So it’s in my blood.
Can you tell us about your problems with the law in Bali?
Some local men were dragging a western girl out from a club called The Bounty (against her will). She had been drugged. I stepped in — they got hurt and I got in trouble with some of the wrong people. The other incident in Bali is something I don’t talk about. It cost me a stretch in the Hotel K (Kerobocan prison) and that’s all I’ll say....
What’s the question you get asked most frequently in your DMs?
That’s a good one bru. I get a few that are currently trending. Backside tube riding aka “pig dogging" comes up quite often — been helping Dion Agius out. I also get a bunch of guys from the “grip n rip" era, asking for tips and motivation. That’s my most frequent one.
Much hate mail?
I don’t look at it as “hate mail". I prefer to use the term “love mail".
Follow Great Britain Surf Coach / send him some love mail at @gbsurfcoach.