Ian 'Kanga' Cairns Drives Sport as Coach & Mentor

SURFER: Ian, first off, the ASP presidency…of course Rabbit Bartholomew stepped down last month as president of the ASP. I’ve thrown some names onto a short list: Martin Potter, Shaun Tomson, Joey Buran, Jake Patterson, Luke Egan…which of these do you think would make a good ASP president?
IAN CAIRNS: Look, the presidency role is not really an executive position, it’s more like a diplomatic role. Therefore you would need someone who is going to have a lot of clout around the surfing world, say someone like Potter for instance. I’ve been listening to him on webcasts, he has a good grasp of what is going on in surfing. He’s got the credentials of a world champion, so he could be a good call. But you know, I don’t know whether they are going to replace Rabbit.

SURFER: Well the word on the street is that they will not, probably a cost cutting move as well as they probably feel that they don’t need to rush into anything. But with the economy the way it is, it would be smart to have an ambassador in that role, and Martin Potter would be great.
IAN CAIRNS: Yeah, I’ve been pretty impressed with him, you know, listening to Martin on the webcasts, he seems to have a really good overview of what is going on with pro surfing. I’m pretty sure Shaun (Tomson) wouldn’t want to do it.

SURFER: We spoke with Shaun few weeks ago and he expressed an interest but only on a part time basis.
IAN CAIRNS: Well you mentioned the economy, and I think that surfing and the ASP is at a juncture where it could really grow and it would need someone on a fulltime basis, and someone who would go out and promote it world wide. I think there are great opportunities, particularly with new media, to get the message out world wide. It needs to be someone that has a real love for professional surfing as opposed to just general surfing.

SURFER: Well, Ian, you meet all of those credentials. Do you have an interest in the ASP presidency?
IAN CAIRNS: Not really. I’ve done my thing with the growth of pro surfing. Quite frankly right now it is more important for me to see my boys go surfing than to help pro surfing grow. I’m certainly there as far as a huge supporter of the ASP and of pro surfing. I wish them all the best.

SURFER: Anytime we talk with you or see you we reflect back on the whole beginnings of pro surfing. Rabbit, Shaun, MR and of course you and PT. In a very short period of time, from say ’75 to ’82, you and PT really moved things in the pro surfing world. You kicked off pro surfing as we know it, you started the NSSA, you brought the OP Pro to Huntington Beach and basically started the ASP– all in about seven years.
IAN CAIRNS: In my mind it was really something that had to be done. You know, you can stand on the sidelines and hope that things happen or you can role up your sleeves and get in there and do it yourself. We initially gave the responsibility to Randy Rarick and Fred Hemmings with the IPS. And they just didn’t really make the thing grow. It was sort of the same old same old. We really pushed hard to market surfing particularly in Australia. And you can see the result. Surfing in Australia is a big sport. The same thing needs to happen here in America, you need people to get behind the sport. Shaun, PT, Rabbit and I, we are all sort of promotional types, you know. When I came to America I needed a job, and working with the NSSA was really a labor of love… when you can pass on what you know to the next generation. I look at the (surf) industry now, and see so many young men who all came through that program. It’s not just the great surfers, but also the people who have gone into the industry. Kelly Gibson runs Rip Curl USA and of course Richard Wolcott at Volcom. Some fantastically successful businessmen have come through the NSSA program. So I feel really honored and blessed to have been put into a situation where there was so much to be done and to have a crack at it, you know. You really just had to get up and go to work and you have to have some vision. You have to ask yourself, ‘where can pro surfing be ten years from now?’ I imagined a real global tour. I launched the first event in Brazil, the first event in Europe. Have a look at the success of surfing from both of those tow areas now. When you sow the seed of incentive and goals and kids respond to that stuff. Did you see Jihad Kohder rip at sSuper Bank yesterday? I’m a fan of pro surfing and it is very satisfying to see some of our hard work paying off for these young men.

SURFER: Well your thumbprint is certainly all over pro surfing today. You are mentoring young surfers still. You have a coaching career now. You are helping out WQS surfers such as Austin Ware and others. These guys all bring talent. Lots of young surfers rip. How much of what you coach is about technique and how much is about the mental approach?
IAN CAIRNS: Well there really is a lot to it. But at the high level WCT & WQS level guys, for them it basically boils down to the three things, skills, strategy and attitude. Skills, that of course involves how well do you ride a surfboard. And as you said, there are a lot of people who can rip a wave. But there is a certain way you have to do it. There are some fundamental techniques that you absolutely have to have. You have to put the board on edge. You have to use power. You’ve got to use tons of energy. You have to look excited. Fitness plays a huge part in that. Most of the people I work with and dare I say most of the surfers on the WCT are nowhere near fit enough to run four back-to-back heats, which often they will do on a final day. So fitness is a huge part. Strategy is being able to work a lineup and figure out where the best waves are, and how to find them, and how to put them into a strategy so that in 20 or 25 minutes you are able to ride those three to five best waves. People call it the luck factor, but I think that is absolute BS. It is total and absolute skill to be able to figure out the patterns in a break and find the best waves. Look everyone out there knows that every time you go surfing one guy will be out that gets the best set waves. That’s a skill. Attitude is the final element. You have to be passionate. The bottom line is that I was willingly to die to win.

SURFER: You almost did a few times in Hawaii!
IAN CAIRNS: laughter Absolutely. But that’s that level of commitment that I expect form people. You can’t be just a dreamer. You have to be a dreamer and a worker.