Parker Coffin is an exceedingly nice young man. So nice that he politely rebuffed my original idea for this interview which would have been “5 Things I Can do Better than My Brother Conner.” He’s also got a refreshingly realistic take on pro surfing and how it fits into a life well-lived and well-surfed. I caught him on the phone while he was on the North Shore competing in the Volcom Pipe Pro, so, naturally, we talked competition. —Justin Housman
SURFER: Is 2015 the year you make a big push to qualify for the WCT?
Parker Coffin: No, not necessarily, since I’m not really even in many of the Prime WQS events. I finished somewhere around 150th last year, and if you have to be ranked in the top 100 to be in the Primes. My big push this year is just to get into the top 100.
Do you need to have a multi-year plan to try to crack the WCT?
I think you have to feel comfortable with surfing against the highest level of competitors if you’re going to be on the WCT, and you really don’t want to be there unless you actually think that you can beat them. Right now, I’m still having fun learning the ropes of competitive surfing and trying to improve my technical ability. I’m also enjoying watching and learning what it takes to win events. I need to find what works for me competitively, and learn how my mindset changes with the ups and downs of surf contests. I’ve been competing for a long time, but it’s a completely different experience to fly down to South Africa or somewhere, and then lose in the first round. That plays with your mental game a lot.
How much of your competitive preparation is heat strategy, and how much is just straight up improving your surfing?
If you really break it down, most of the time to make heats, statistically anyway, you just have to surf solidly on two waves without falling. Heat strategy is such a big part of that. That’s why you see guys make the Tour who maybe aren’t the best surfers in the world, but they’re the best competitors in the world. It’s pretty fair balance though. Competitive knowledge and experience will get you through plenty of heats, but you won’t have a ton of success if you’re not a super talented surfer.
Do you feel better about your surfing after doing well in a contest, or after surfing well in perfect waves on a trip somewhere?
They’re just different experiences. With the size of the talent pool in most events, and considering how bad everybody in an event wants to win, if you do well in a contest, that’s one of the best feelings in the world. Somebody else is trying to win, but you get to take it from them instead. I won’t deny that I’m a competitive person. But at the same time being surfed out with your friends and family on a trip is an incredible feeling too. Competitive success is satisfying because it’s something that you work for. Freesurf success is just pure happiness.
Will you be shocked if you’re not on the WCT in five years?
Not at all. There are a lot of factors that come into play with qualifying. There are so many incredible surfers coming out of so many different places in the world these days, there’s always the possibility of not getting on Tour. If it doesn’t ever happen, that’ll be fine. I will have had a great time traveling and trying my hardest to make it. I’ll always be a surfer, and whether or not I make the Tour won’t define whether I’ve had fun or not. I’m not the kind of person who gets pissed off if I don’t achieve a goal.
I’m 19 and I have a lot of energy and I’m very competitive, so I’d like to be on Tour, but who knows? When I’m 25 and I’ve been doing this for even longer, my mind could totally change. Right now, the Tour is my goal and it’s what I want from surfing at the moment.
Is attending college something you think about?
Yeah, absolutely. Even a year ago I didn’t know if I had what it took to be a pro surfer. I had to ask myself, “Do I want to do this? Or do I want to got to school like a lot of other 18 year olds?” When surfing is done, I definitely want to have an education and not be stuck in the ex-pro surfer dude thing for a long time. I’d love to go back to school, get an education, and get a great job when I’m finished with pro surfing. I want to be able to just move on with my life.
Ever feel pressure from your parents to pursue a career more stable than pro surfing?
My parents definitely lived a different life than Conner and I have. They went straight through high school and straight to college, and they have a strong belief in education. They’ve been incredibly cool about the fact that Conner and I had the opportunity to do something different through surfing, and live outside the box. But they’ve always stressed the importance of education. I should probably be working harder at it, to be honest.
Our parents never once steered us in a direction away from what we wanted to do. Basically, it was: “You want to be a pro surfer? Great, go for it. But make sure you have a backup plan.” It was: “Make sure that you’re not a derelict.” No matter how good a surfer you are it’s going to end some day, and you’ll have to be doing something else.