Surfing: the major role played by coaches

Thursday, 8 september 2022

On the occasion of the Banque Populaire Surf Tour in La Torche, we spoke with three French professional surfers to learn more about how they work with their coaches. All three enjoy the support of Banque Populaire.

Surfing is fundamentally a discipline based on the values of freedom, where each surfer defines their own personal philosophy of surfing, searching for their own particular approach. It is also, of course, a discipline that builds on the transmission and sharing of prior experience, and this is the context that has seen the development of coaching. In the early days, the coaches were simply surfers with greater experience who advised younger surfers out of generosity. Then coaching, just like the discipline itself, gradually became more highly organized. Young talents can now hone their skills within the framework of well-structured bodies with the help of dedicated coaches. However, owing to the very nature of the discipline, the coach/trainee relationship in surfing remains something highly specific to the extent that each surfer continues to seek their own particular path, and the coach is the person who accompanies them in this quest.     

Gaspard Larsonneur – 28 years old, supported by the Banque Populaire Grand Ouest

I learned to surf by myself. And then, after one or two years of practicing this discipline, I was talent-spotted…

Without talking about my objectives regarding competitions, what changed for me with a coach is that I make progress in my technical skills.  And that enabled me to derive greater pleasure from the sessions. For some of the session, without this input, I wouldn’t even have got in the water. But thanks to the advice of the coaches, I’ve made progress, enjoyed myself more, and my results have improved… because it’s very important to benefit from another person’s point of view if you want to progress…. Each coach sees things differently. And, as in all sports, not every coach can work well with every surfer. It’s a question of affinity, a matter of similar outlook. I’m lucky enough to work with several different coaches at the surf school for young hopefuls at La Torche in southwest Finistère in Brittany. It’s a school, so we have group training sessions but the coaches tailor their work to their individual surfers. And, at the same time, I also work with Vincent Primel, a coach from Brittany who lives in Australia. We’ve been working together occasionally for the past one or two years.

I’ve learned a lot from him. I had doubts about my surfing and he analyzes things very precisely. He knew exactly how to change small details in my surfing style that released a number of my blockages and overcame certain weaknesses…  

During our training sessions, the closer we get to the competition, the more we simulate series and think about the different strategies to adopt. For example: what should you do if you’re leading or if you’re up against the wall… We also define the appropriate strategy to adopt in line with the prevailing weather conditions… We usually make our final decisions in this respect in the last half hour before going into the water. A good coach keeps a close eye on the ocean; they look at how things are likely to change at the surfing spot, notably regarding the tide.

Justin Bécret – 19 years old, supported by the Banque Populaire Aquitaine Centre Atlantique via the Performance Pact

My parents ran a surfing school, so my father and my mother taught me how to surf… In fact, when I started, I didn’t like surfing at all because, for me, owing to the family context, it was something I assimilated with working. It was only when I felt freer that I started to enjoy it… but I was the one who found my own approach. I then developed a taste for competitions and there was a change in the way I developed and improved my technique. This was because I realized that, in order to win, my technique was something I had to improve. So I started being coached. And the more I progressed in the competitions, the more I wanted to progress. I’ve now been working with a technical coach for the past six years: Richard Marsh, a former circuit surfer. He gives me a different perspective about my technique, about what the people judging the competition expect. He’s been in the business for a long time and witnessed changes in surfing. His experience counts a lot because it’s extremely important to analyze the body of water where the competitions will take place. You have to know how to approach the waves to meet the judges’ expectations. But you also have to know how to prepare the surfboards, how to choose your boards and your equipment. And the yearlong work with my ‘shaper,’ i.e. the person responsible for designing and building my surfboards, is something of fundamental importance.

But there’s also the need to watch other surfers. That’s why I try to surf with good surfers. In our discipline, everyone borrows a little from everyone else to develop their own style. The way you surf is an expression of yourself… to the effect that the coaches have to adapt to our particular style. It’s important that the coach doesn’t have a closed attitude about surfing, that he’s open-minded. At times, coaches identify with their athletes too closely and want their students to surf as they would.  My coach, however, asks me how I want to surf and then helps me to refine techniques to achieve greater verticality, for example. But I’m the one who sets the goals for the technical conditions.

I recently went to Tahiti for a training session with the coaches working with the French national team. Although they have a lot of athletes, they adapt their work to the needs of each surfer. They define a framework, the fundamentals, and then it’s up to us to find our own way within that framework.

Jade Magnien – 19 years old, supported by the Banque Populaire Aquitaine Centre Atlantique

It was my dad who got me into surfing, I learned from him. Then, when I progressed, I met a coach, Arnaud Darrigade, with whom I’m still working. He’s been with me since I was six years old. We have an incredibly trusting relationship. He’s a great teacher and, above all, he always gives you that desire to go out and surf. He loves to teach and has the ability to make me go just that little bit further. He’s been surfing for a long time, he knows the waves extremely well, and helps me to interpret them. He uses a series of key words that are easy to understand and assimilate. He also follows me in the competitions where he contributes a great deal. First of all, I find it reassuring to have him there; he helps me to understand all the elements, the tide, the waves, etc. I trust him implicitly… A look from him is enough. He’s a major support, someone I can count on.

Since January, I’ve been working in parallel 2 to 3 times a week with a physical trainer, Charlie Ducamp, who used to work at the Aviron Bayonnais rugby club. I was injured in November 2021 and I had to relearn everything all over again, how to keep my balance… He sets me the appropriate exercises and then, in the physical preparation, pushes me to my limits.

Building on its commitment to the world of sailing, Banque Populaire has been the Official Partner of the French Surfing Federation (FFSurf) since 2021. Banque Populaire has been stepping up its commitment in 2022 by teaming up with two key FFSurf events: the French Open shortboard circuit, which is now called the Banque Populaire Surf Tour, and the French Surfing Championships in Biarritz.

Photo credits: Robin Aussenac and FFSurf

“We share the same flame”