Winter Olympians are perhaps not the obvious inspiration for a surfer, but the USA’s Conner Coffin, who is aiming to win one of his sport’s first-ever Olympic medals, is no ordinary competitor...
With an eye on one of the first Olympic surfing medals, Conner Coffin (USA) has been seeking Games inspiration from snow and ice rather than sandy beaches.
“My mum and dad always used to watch the Olympics when it was on and I have always loved the snowboarding, the downhill skiing and the ice skating. I thought they were kind of like surfing in a way,” the 25-year-old Coffin said.
“More recently I watched Red Gerard (USA) win the gold in slopestyle snowboarding (at the PyeongChang 2018 Olympic Winter Games) as an underdog and that was a really fun and inspiring performance. Next time that could perhaps be me.”
Hoping to qualify for the inaugural Olympic surfing competition at Tokyo 2020, Coffin has turned to another Winter Olympian: the former Alpine skier Julia Mancuso (USA). The retired four-time Olympic medallist Mancuso, who won gold in the giant slalom at Turin 2006, is married to one of his friends and has been sharing some advice on how to enter the Olympic stage.
“It’s been fun to pick her brain about the Olympics and get some insight into that, to see how she’s prepared and stuff. She’s been sharing what the Olympic experience is like and how she’s been training before the Games,” Coffin said.
Growing up in Santa Barbara, California, however, the local heroes were USA surfers such as Bobby Martinez, Dane Reynolds and three-time world champion Tom Curren.
“I’ve always loved watching him (Curren) surf and tried to study that as much as I could. My town and state has a big surfing lineage with a lot of big surfers so I’m fired-up to be carrying the torch for us (in the Olympic Games),” Coffin said.
Coffin finished seventh in the World Surf League last year and is aiming even higher in the new season.
“My goal is to be in the top five at the end of the year and hopefully be going for the world title,” he said.
“If that happens, there’s a good chance that I’ll be getting to go to the Olympics too so that’s the plan. Everyone has definitely talked about how cool of an experience it would be. Everyone’s trying to do their best this year, train harder and surf harder, and the Olympics would be the icing on the cake of a good year on the tour.”
Having competed with the world’s best on the tour since 2016, Coffin does not feel that the prospect of winning a historic medal would add to the Tokyo competition’s tension.
“From what I’ve heard from a lot of people, that might be their only chance to win in their sport every four years so they put a lot of extra pressure on themselves. For me, it’s nice, I’m very used to competing on a regular basis and mentally used to dealing with everything that goes along with the competitions and the heats,” he said.
The chase for historic medals aside, Coffin believes that surfing’s inclusion on the Olympic programme for the first time could be advantageous.
“The reality of having a shot at going to the Olympics is really recent with the sport being accepted for the Tokyo Games just in the past few years, so growing up I never aspired to become an Olympic athlete. It’s a cool thing and at the same time nice not having been building it up in my head for 20 years or whatever,” he said.
Coffin’s surfboard is not the only item guaranteed space in his luggage when he travels to competitions.
“I always travel with the guitar and play on the road. It’s a great way in between heats, like yesterday when we had five calls for the contest and between them I just come back, pick up the guitar and get to escape a bit, turn my mind off and use it as a creative outlet, so I love it.
“It is really a big passion of mine and I hope to record some of my own music someday,” said Coffin, who last year released his first covers EP, ‘Conner Coffin and friends’.
Aiming to qualify as one of the two best USA surfers in the World Surf League top ten, he will continue to train hard and perhaps further limit his post-surf activities.
“I’ve always tried to eat well and take good care of myself and maybe I’ll party a bit less this year. I don’t party much but in between events sometimes I’ll go and have a couple of nights with the boys and sometimes I get a little run-down so maybe I’ll knock that back a bit to try to stay my best throughout the whole year.”