Glenn “Micro” Hall is surfing’s Vince Lombardi — just shorter, thirstier, and so far this season, winninger. The 34-year-old Irishman’s only a few months removed from competing professionally, himself, yet he's already led the World Tour's improbable favorite, Matt Wilkinson, to wins at both Snapper and Bells Beach, as well as pushing current Women’s World Tour #2, Tyler Wright, to a win at Snapper and a quarterfinal appearance at Bells. Below, Micro outlines his path to coaching a tight group of Tour stars, how he's become the their best-kept secret weapon, and why Wilko still needs the occasional night on the town.
Surfer: You and Wilko; walk us through your history.
Micro: I'm close to nine years older than him, so when Ace [Buchan] and I were growing up on the Central Coast, Wilko was this fat little kid with a Gath helmet on. But even back then, there was something special about his surfing. Those wild lines he takes now and those strange turns he does were all there back then. He caught your eye when he was 10. He was unique back then and it's cool to see that his natural way of surfing has survived.
Has this success always been there, just waiting to happen?
One hundred percent. He's a natural, freakish talent, and if he'd learned how to work with it a while ago, this might have happened earlier. But it's happened now and it's the right time. He's found a balance. He's still the character he always was, and that's what's got me the most stoked. He's still a full lunatic, but he's just going to bed earlier and changing a few little things around the edges.
Did it do your head in watching him struggle to requalify year after year?
For sure. It pissed me off watching him underachieve and knowing how close he came to falling off Tour and it all being over, when deep down you knew what he could do. I was a struggling surfer who had a tenth of his talent, put in 10 times the effort, and I was thinking, f*ck, if we could just combine my work ethic with his talent, it'd be sick. And here we are.
When did you hatch the plan?
At the end of last year we talked, but I assume he's not getting paid what all those top guys are getting paid, and he didn't want to pay my wage and all my expenses, but then Owen came along and wanted to do something as well…and then Tyler, and also Laura. Suddenly there was a little team, and everyone was stoked. I think I saw it with guys like John John who take an entourage around for one guy, and it can create a bit of pressure. Not to say those guys are blowing it, but my crew liked the fact it was more relaxed and there was less pressure, and it worked because those four were already tight.
You're a one-man entourage. You had talks with John John about working with him this year. How close were you to coaching him and not Wilko?
I don't know. I spoke with his people and John John himself a few times in Portugal last year. It was funny, we were meant to do a bit of work at that event and start on a plan, but then we ended up in the same heat so it never happened.
Did his interest in you as a coach come from you beating him at Trestles last year?
I can't say if it did or didn't, but when we sat down and talked, he referred to that heat a lot. He was just talking about priority and positioning and things like that. I was never going to beat a guy like that off of raw talent, so he knew there was something else I was doing out there.
Why didn't you just coach yourself when you were on Tour? You seem to be going okay coaching everybody else.
[Laughs] I just don't have the surfing ability. I worked that out last year. I honestly got back from every event and I knew I'd had two waves good enough to win each heat I'd just lost. But I just never surfed good enough on them.
I suppose in coaching Tyler this year, there's also been an emotional component to work with?
Tyler was a very different challenge from Wilko. The shit she's going through, doing her best for Owen and being all-in with helping him, that had to come first before anything. I figured to get the best out of her in the water, she'd have to believe Owen would be okay without her. We talk about it, and every time she's flying to an event, I try and help make sure Owen is okay and that she feels he is being taken care of, so she can just go surf. At Snapper, she had so much on her plate, but she is one of the strongest people I've ever met. She's learned how to switch it off while she is in the water. I've never been prouder of someone in my life than I was of Tyler when she won Snapper.
Wilko was just at Bells in 10-foot surf, surfing three times in a day, which is physically a pretty tough assignment. In years past, he'd get tired looking at surf that big. How big a part has his physical transformation been?
It's been a massive part. He clearly wasn't in the best shape at the start of last year, and it was a slow process to get him to where he is now. It wasn't like he'd just let his conditioning slide; he'd never set foot in a gym at that point. So knowing his character I made sure his training was fun and that he was laughing while he did it. He was jumping around on balance balls doing all this crazy stuff without realizing he was actually getting fit by doing it. The thing I've learned about Wilko is that if it's not fun, he doesn't do it.
Wilko also just surfed one of the most tactically intelligent Tour finals we've seen in a long time. If you'd been told that a year ago, you would've laughed.
Those little plays he was making against Jordy were word-for-word what we talked about. But it's also more an attitude. Those two heats he won on the bell [against Julian Wilson and Wiggolly Dantas], for me, that showed how much confidence he's got right now. When you're hot and you've got some confidence and a wave like that comes through, you're not shitting your pants, you feel like you can fight your way out of anything. Tactically, he's made some improvements, sure, but it's more the self-belief that has won him those heats.
There have been plenty of challenges turning Wilko's act around during daylight hours, but the biggest challenges, I presume, would present themselves once the sun went down?
If you can manage his nocturnal fun, you're sweet. The night before the Bells final we went to a gig on a property behind Bells and had a beer and a burger and I was stoked. He was in the yellow jersey and I could've freaked him out by telling him to stay home and not letting him be himself, so we went out and I sat there with him and thought, this is sick. The hard part of my job is when it tips over the edge and I have to drag him home, but that's easier now because he's got a little more on the line. The problem now is if he tries to be too serious. If he starts staying home too much, I'll be the first one dragging him out for a beer. I just want him to be him.
Speaking of nights out, there's a vicious rumor that you were the guy on Wilko's bar tab drinking the mid-strength beers the night he won Bells.
I wished that was me. The next day I felt like I had 140 of those vodka shots myself.
The problem now is if he tries to be too serious. If he starts staying home too much, I'll be the first one dragging him out for a beer. I just want him to be him.
What's going to happen this year when Wilko finally goes left?
He's got a couple of crazy lines that he hasn't used yet, and they'll be interesting to show the world. He's proven he can get barreled, and this year he'll have more reason to throw himself over the ledge in Tahiti and Fiji. If both events are big, that'll be a challenge for him, but it's a challenge for everybody. He'll be shit-scared just like everyone else, the only difference being he'll be the only one admitting it. But he knows he's gotta go if he's going to win, and he's surfed sizey heats at both in the past and paddled over the ledge. Once he's over the ledge, that freak talent kicks in. Wilko has those cat-like reflexes that will kick in once he's in the barrel. I remember someone said to me a few years ago when Gabriel was coming through, that when guys have a freak talent, they just find a way to make it happen. I really believe Wilko is in that category.
What's going to happen when Wilko finally loses?
I reckon he'll have a couple of events where he won't do well. We know that. But he's suddenly realized that winning is way more fun than losing.
Do you get a sense that Wilko's two wins have turned the Tour on its head?
For sure. It's opened up everyone's eyes. There's a changing of the guard – now Mick and Kelly have given everyone a chance – and it's not top-heavy anymore. As a friend and as a surfer, and for the Tour in general, Wilko winning is great.
What happens if Wilko is leading going into Pipe?
He's going to get barrelled and he's going to win. I don't want to even know what the bar tab will be that night. That would be some party. He'd have to pull out of Snapper three months in advance. But they say three wins in a season and the title is yours to lose, so we'll see how we go. That's a while off though. I had to wake him up the day after Bells and remind him we were going to Margaret River that day.