It's just like the Phil Collins song. "I've been waiting for this moment…for all my life…Oh, Lo-orrd.”
Minus something about Phil witnessing a murder when he was young and then outing the guy at a packed concert…or whatever that song's about. I'm talking about the chorus. 'Cause Santa Barbara's 22-year-old Conner Coffin has been waiting for this moment — CT qualification — for all his life…Oh, Lord. A moment that, for hundreds of other QS grinders, does not come easily. But after a little adapting to some crummy Brazilian and Portuguese beachies, Conner's excited to surf the waves we all dream [tour] about. With one or two other guys out…Oh, Lord.
It's a little like that Phil Collins song. –Beau Flemister
SURFING: What are your expectations for the 2016 season?
CONNER: I'm feeling super fired up. Doing the QS you're continually focusing on getting better in shittier waves. So now I'm really excited to switch that up, to transition out of that and focus on surfing a lot of the waves that I actually enjoy. It gives me more time to dial in my surfboards in better waves and luckily the waves have been so good lately that I've been able to practice in better surf and not feel guilty about it. Really, I'm just excited to surf against the guys on tour and see how they approach all these good spots.
And you've probably already competed against most guys on tour at the QS10000 events, right?
Yeah, I've competed with probably every guy on tour at one event or another. At the Hurley Lowers Pro a couple times and the QS at Lowers too. It's definitely super motivating and inspiring.
Back to what you said about "feeling guilty surfing good waves."
I never looked at it that way. Sure, back when I was on the QS and I was at home, it was almost a disservice to surf Rincon for two days straight, if I was going to Brazil the following week. You always had to keep up your bad-wave game.
Would you say that a lot of the waves on tour suit your style?
The first three waves are potentially great, if not longer rights. And, yeah, I love surfing those types of waves, but The Box or North Point or even Cloudbreak are my favorite waves in the world to surf regardless, so an opportunity to compete in them — that's what I've dreamed about since I was a kid. It's like, you get to surf Pipeline or Cloudbreak with one or two guys out?! That's been my motivation and drive forever.
Do you feel any pressure to stay on tour after your rookie year, or do you kind of have nothing to lose at this point?
Mmm, I don't really have any expectations for myself. I do have goals, such as being rookie of the year or to even win an event. Those are two things I'd love to do. But definitely the Dream Tour always felt a little far-fetched and I'd always put it up on a pedestal.
And why is that? Why would it feel far-fetched for you when you're one of the best kids your age in America? You didn't just plan on qualifying?
I think I had a good year in 2013 where I came fairly close to qualifying, but then the next year I could barely even make a heat, so I kind of lost that mojo. Like, going into Hawaii in 2013, I saw how it was actually attainable. But that's a pretty common problem with people on the QS. You could be trying for over five years and it can be really up and down. One year you're really close and the next you feel like you're surfing the same way but you can't make a heat. And you watch the other guys get their mojo and you wonder what you're doing wrong.
And how does one get their mojo back on the QS and make things click?
I think when it comes down to it, that's just the way surfing goes. You're dealing with Mother Nature and elements that are out of your control. So finding that rhythm can be really difficult in a 30-minute heat. But at the same time that unpredictability is what keeps us coming back for more. You can definitely lose so many heats that it can affect your attitude and the reasons why you surf in the first place.
Do you have a nemesis on tour that you competed with in the Primes?
No, not really. I guess I grew up competing against Keanu Asing, but it's not like we are nemeses. I guess I've had a lot of battles with Kolohe when we were younger, but he's definitely beat me more than I've beat him. [laughs]
Who are you just dying to go head-to-head with in a heat?
That's a hard question. Filipe Toledo, John John, Kelly, Mick, Parko, Julian, Gabriel: Those guys are pushing the level of the sport so much higher, so to have an opportunity to surf with them and compete against them…it's amazing. For me, I don't look at it like I want to beat this guy or that guy; when the waves are good it's more of a strategic game that is really fun to play.
Does anyone intimidate you on the tour?
Mick, Kelly…Adriano. They're all such solid competitors. They seem very mentally tough. So in that sense, they seem like very hard guys to beat. But the cool thing about surfing that I always remind myself is it's not always the guy who's necessarily "a better surfer" who automatically wins. You could be surfing against a world champion, and if things aren't going their way, they're beatable. It's actually a very level playing field on tour.
Why do you think so few Americans are qualifying these days?
That's a good question. I think growing up in America, we have a lot more privileges than kids growing up in, say, Brazil. We have quite a few other opportunities or outlets to be successful while their opportunities are limited and surfing might be their only way to break out. But I also think that the Brazilians are really hungry and have a lot of drive to get to the top. And maybe Americans don't have that same drive that they do.