Rookie Conner Coffin enjoyed a strong start to the 2016 season. His solid results at Snapper Rocks and Bells Beach led him immediately into the Top 5, but he's hit some speed bumps since then. After early exits at Margaret River, Rio, and a costly interference call in Fiji, he'll be entering J-Bay at the more earthly ranking of No. 18. We caught up with the Californian to find out how he's dealing with the ups and downs of his rookie season.
WSL: Have you been able to identify anything that's separated your good results from your bad ones this year?
Conner Coffin: I felt like when I was doing well, at those first few events, I was just flowing with things. Nothing was affecting me mentally in a negative way. I'd say at the other stops I let a few little things in that bothered me, and that may have affected me, but they were also just really slow heats, so it's also important to just learn any lesson you can quickly and move on. The sooner you can bounce back from losses the better.
WSL: What's the post-mortem on a typical event?
CC: It depends if Gerr [coach Brad Gerlach] or somebody is there, we'll talk about it a couple hours later. Not right after. Then whether I win or lose I like to look at the heat analyzer, because you make plenty of mistakes even when you win, they just don't always cost you the heat like my interference at Cloudbreak.
WSL: What's the best way to recover emotionally from something like that?
CC: Really just reminding yourself to enjoy the whole experience. Remember where you are and what you're doing, and to have fun with it. And just giving it your best effort. If you're surfing to the best of your ability you're having fun, even if the other guy is blowing up and going crazy. Sometimes that happens.
WSL: Explain the rookie success we've seen so far this year.
CC: It's been awesome. I think we all came in really hungry to do well, and there's also a bit of this changing of the guard thing going on at the same time. I mean, John John and Gabe and Kolohe and those guys have been chipping away for a while now, but now Mick is taking some time off, Taj is retiring, and there's a good pool of talent ready to step in. We've all been surfing poo waves on the QS for years, so we get here and we're completely psyched.
WSL: Safe to say you guys have arrived battle hardened too, being that the qualifying needle is pretty hard to thread these days?
CC: Yeah. I think it's harder than it's ever been to qualify, but now that we're here, y'know, we've been competing against a lot of these CT guys for years, because they have to surf the big qualifying events in their region. In the heat I had to make at Sunset to qualify I had Mick Fanning, Dane Reynolds, and Ricardo Christie. Dane's not a CT guy, but he was, and I'm sitting there going, "damn, these guys don't need these points -- I really need them." But at the same time you're really learning from those experiences and gaining a lot of confidence with the wins you do get.
WSL: What about the adjustment to CT quality waves with your equipment?
CC: I think that part has been easier for me because I've been very fortunate to be able to travel a lot growing up and having great sponsors -- even just living near Rincon -- so that part's felt natural. I'd say the bigger adjustment there is tempering expectations of what the waves are going to be like. I've surfed perfect Cloudbreak a bunch, 6-to-8 foot and firing on the ledge, but it's not always going to be like that in your heat. Same with J-Bay. It's not always dreamy on the Dream Tour, so you just have to be ready to compete no matter what.
WSL: So if we were a fly on the wall listening to Gerlach coaching you, what would we hear? Would he be grilling you after something like your interference mistake?
CC: No. He's not that way at all. I think he's got a very unique way of leading me to discover things myself. He's into pointing out the tiny things, like, "that was cool how you approached that section there, but what if you tried this? Or what if you came out of this here with your arm a little further back so you can carry more speed here." We just bounce ideas off each other, and it's really fun.
WSL: What specific parts of your approach you're trying to refine?
CC: What I was working on before Snapper and Bells this year was trying to get my big moves in early, but ending them with a ton of speed so I'm not breaking the flow. And, well, airs are the weakest part of my surfing so I'm working on those too.