Brad Gerlach, teaching by example in Bali. Photo: Frieden

One of surfing’s more colorful characters, Brad Gerlach has had a career that truly spanned the spectrum. From World No. 1, to big-wave hellman, to his current role as a coach for the Coffin brothers, there’s no denying that Gerlach holds a wealth of knowledge when it comes to surfing. With that in mind, we asked Coach Gerr for a touch of insight to find out what it’s going to take for us to do some fine tuning of our own.

Study Yourself. “Looking over footage of how you’re surfing is crucial. You can slow it down and see exactly what you’re doing right, how you can add to that, or what you might be doing to lose speed, or miss an opportunity. But it doesn’t end there. Say you like the way a certain person does this or that, it can be a turn or just a nuance. Study that, figure it out, and incorporate the mechanics of what they’re doing into your surfing.”

Don't Over-Train. “Our sessions are never the same [with Parker and Conner]. It’s not like ‘OK, today we’re going to do 100 of these and 40 of those to work on our shoulders.’ We change it up all the time and have fun with it. There’s a movement now where a lot of the top guys are training really hard and packing on lots of muscle. I’m not sure how productive that is. I’m not saying that strength training isn’t important, but for surfing, I don’t believe you need to be heavily muscled. It’s important to be fit, no doubt, but one of the keys to strong, power surfing is being flexible. And I don’t just mean physically. This is how the very best surfers harness the power of the wave. Not by their own power, which isn’t really power anyway—it’s force.”

Keep it Fun. “When I’m with Parker and Conner, I think of myself as much as a mentor as I do a coach. Parker is 16 and Connor is 18—the last thing a lot of teenagers want to hear is someone telling them what to do all the time, so I make suggestions and let them come to the answers on their own. That's for both in and out of the water. When we talk about technique we're talking about how to get your head and body ready as much as how to physically surf. I’m lighthearted as a coach and let them know that when they make mistakes, it’s not a big deal. We will learn from them. I don’t want them to be too hard on themselves because everyone makes mistakes. It’s normal to be making them at the junior level—this is where one learns to be a champion.”

Change Takes Time. “It’s important to know that changing your surfing and becoming a better surfer doesn’t really happen overnight. Of course everyone is different and there are little things that can be taught to make one surf better in the moment with small adjustments and such. But overall, to really make improvements it takes a lot of time and work, which is what “kung fu” actually means. But when you’ve put in the time and work, rad things start to happen. I see that weekly with Parker and Conner. However, if we’re playing around with a new turn in the water and I can see that they’re forcing it, I’ll ask them to come in and forget about it. Usually I’ll remind them to go back out and just feel the power of the ocean. This takes them out of their head and puts their awareness back into their body. And of course you’ll have those days where they’ll paddle out and be on fire right from the first wave. When I see that—and it’s evident when that’s happening—we’ll play around with incorporating some new things. That’s when you can feel that you’re making a lot of progress, which is the basis of stoke. And that’s what it’s all about in the first place, right?”

How do you continue to improve? Leave your answers in the comments section below.