Known throughout the surf world as a former professional surfer from Santa Cruz, Chris Gallagher now resides on Oahu and serves as shaper and coach to CJ and Damien Hobgood. With Bells Beach fast approaching, and an entire year of ASP drama ahead, we thought it a good time to catch up with the one time WCTer.
Everyone knows you as a world-class surfer, but not many know that you are and have been the coach for CJ and Damien Hobgood. How did this relationship form?
Well, they were coming onto the tour when I was coming off the tour. They were cool American kids and everyone was stoked on them. Eventually, they were looking for somebody to guide them along, and they called me, and that’s how it started.
What exactly is involved in coaching the Hobgoods? Do you look for their strengths and their weaknesses? And what do they expect from you?
I guess over the time we’ve been tighter its’ really about them getting better. I grew up in right hand points, being from Santa Cruz, and they wanted to improve their backhand approach. For a goofy-footer to contend for a world title you’ve got to do well in the right point breaks, which there are a lot of on tour. So that was the main thing, but you know we do a bit of training and find their weaknesses, we see where their quickness is at and they work with their trainers on that, and we do a lot of video work. I pretty much video every free surf I can, and we watch it and break it down. I get their boards ready and basically try to get them psyched. I want them to have that grom mentality and not lose focus on the road. You know I’m sort of that third brain out there so we don’t make any mistakes.
Not too many guys on tour have full time coach. You go with the Hobgoods to every event, right?
A spot like Bells Beach offers a lot of dilemmas as a shaper and a coach. Regarding both boards and strategy out there what sort of advice do give CJ and Damien?
Bells is a lot like Santa Cruz, where I grew up surfing. It is sort of fatter; then it stands up again. There is definitely an approach that you need to have. Even forehand there’s an approach you need to take. You can’t do too deep of a bottom turn. You need to surf the top half of the wave. If you look at a lot of guys that make mistakes it is because they tried to do these deep bottom turns and by the time they go to hit the lip it’s too late. So that’s some of the stuff that we worked on last year. With boards, it’s tricky, you want a board that obviously carries over flat spots and draws a long line so really it’s about finding a balance between rockers and outlines. Maybe put a bit more edge less tuck through the back of the board. It’s tricky because Bells has these chops in the wave, then it’s fat, then it sucks up so getting a good Bells board is hard. We get there and go through ten boards and find the right one and stick with out. It’s hard. A lot of people struggle with equipment at Bells.
As coach and shaper, you must have been quite proud of Damien Hobgood’s last second heroics during his heat against Julian Wilson at the last event – the Quiksilver Pro. Julian was on the beach being congratulated and Damo snatched the victory on an epic backhand barrel.
That was an amazing moment just because last year Damo had everything that could have went wrong go wrong, either seeding or bad luck, or last second waves against him. To see the hard work and perseverance it was very cool for Damo, because he had such a tough year last year. He surfed a great event, so it was cool to see things pay off for once.
Damien was been plagued with the injury bug. How is his health right now?
He’s really healthy. I think the injury that people don’t remember is the kneecap he broke in Chile, where his last heat he broke his knee cap. That really bothered him last year. He was strong but he lost some quickness and explosiveness. He’s got his quickness back and he’s more flexible. He is one hundred percent now.
I would suggest to you that Hobgoods are better on their backhand than on their forehand, Do you agree with that assessment, and what is their biggest weakness?
They don’t have many weaknesses. We just want to get better. We work really hard on technically getting their bodies in better positions, getting their arms and hands in good sound positions. Now it is about really letting go…getting that flare into their surfing that you need to get those big scores, those 9s and 9.5s that the top guys get. Now it is time to let everything we’ve worked on , to let it all fly. Trying not to make any mistakes in preparation and in execution and tactics. It’s all about those little percentages, if we cover ourselves it’ll all add up throughout the year.
You mentioned the concept of “flare” and of “letting go” and these speak to being relaxed with your surfing don’t they?
You can look mechanical if you are thinking about it too much and I think CJ had a little of that last year in a few events. We were working so much on getting the technique better that now the technique is there. You have to let it all happen, you can’t steer your board. You have to let your body lead your board. You lose your snap and your wow factor if your not relaxed. To compete against Joel and Taj and Mick and Kelly, those guys all have a bag of tricks, and to go up against them you have to have that spark in your surfing.
Well you mentioned Kelly Slater and his bag of tricks. As a shaper yourself, you must have been quite interested in Kelly’s equipment on the Gold coast. What was the vibe in the competitor’s tent like regarding Kelly’s equipment choice?
He’s almost handicapping himself in a way. So everyone was kind of like, “He’s not surfing his best.” But of course he is still ripping because he’s Kelly, he can rip on a barn door. But most people would say that if he were out there on a 5′ 10″ Flyer he’d be surfing better than he was. I don’t know if he is trying to challenge himself or if he is on some sort of shaper acid, because I’ve been there before, where you’re so excited about something that you made because it works, and because you made it, that you go in that direction.
So the vibe in the competitor’s tent was sort of like, “Oh good, he’s handicapping himself?”
Yeah, going into Bells I can’t imagine that they would work. But Kelly could go there and just blow everyone away. He’s the greatest surfer to ever walk the planet. I have no idea if he’ll ride those boards at Bells. He hates being proven wrong. So he is probably going to try and prove people wrong. He caught a couple of rails in wind chop and everyone sort of wrote him off. People forget, he did light up some waves.
As a shaper are you excited that Kelly is going in this direction?
He’s really just riding a fish, it’s not some crazy design revolution. It’s Kelly riding a fish trying to beat guys on shortboards. Let’s not over think it. I like to see people challenging themselves. And Kelly’s been doing the tour for so long, he’s trying to make it interesting. If that influences people to try different equipment and to have fun in the ocean then that is great.
Is this a power play between Kelly and Perry Hatchet, the head judge of the ASP? How far can Kelly tweak the way judges perceive good surfing?
Well in the past, no matter what you did, if you rode a fish, you got a three as your score. Even if you ripped; just because the board or the surfing didn’t have that projection or spray of a contemporary tri-fin. I thought Kelly got over-scored at Dbah on a wave. It was a left and his nose was under water and he received a 5.5, but it was a 3.0. He pretty much dug every rail in the book. But there were waves where he ripped and just went crazy, so the judges sort of have to be fair. I think in the end, they were fair, in that last heat against Julian.
It is going to add another dimension to the tour this year, no doubt. Gally, thanks for the chat, we’ll catch up with you soon.
Cool Scott. Thanks.