Why The Hell Is Our Olympic Surf Team Training In The Kelly Pool? Here's Why! – Nick Carroll

27 Jun 2018 10 Share

Nick Carroll

Senior Writer

"Another dreamy day at #SurfRanch with the mighty team @surfingaus @ausolympicteam with the support of @nswinstituteofsport @australian_institute_of_sport" wrote Sally Fitzgibbons on Instagram underneath this shot.

"Another dreamy day at #SurfRanch with the mighty team @surfingaus @ausolympicteam with the support of @nswinstituteofsport @australian_institute_of_sport" wrote Sally Fitzgibbons on Instagram underneath this shot.

CHIBA CAN WAIT

By Nick Carroll

What were the Aussie Olympic hopefuls up to last week in that pool?

If you’ve been social media-ing lately, you’ll know where Australia’s Olympic surfing squad has been for the past week.

In Lemoore, CA, that’s where. The team, boasting all-CT big guns from Steph Gilmore, Wilko, Sally Fitz, Wade Carmichael, Connor O’Leary and co to super-potentials like Macy Callaghan and Ethan Ewing, have been at the pool courtesy of Surfing Australia for a special training week, coaches, shapers, and filmers – not to mention MR – in tow.

I actually had the mad idea of tagging along with this crew but was politely refused by SA’s Andrew Stark, who told me no independent media this yime, but maybe next, ask Head Coach Bede Durbidge.

Perhaps it is just as well I didn’t go, because my first question would have been: Why? What’s the point?

Why go to the significant expense of flying so many elite pros and their backup to the USA, accommodating them, and hiring the Surf Ranch for six days? That’s a lot of money. What will it have to do with the Olympic Games surfing event?

There’s been a lot of talk about the proposed Olympic location in northern Chiba, Japan.

There’s also been a lot of talk about the WSL’s intention to build a KSWC pool nearby. Which they are very much gonna do, by the way. Don’t doubt that intention. Precisely where and when, nobody’s willing to say, even on the down low, but, to use the WSL’s catchphrase, it’s on.

However, there has also been a lot of very public declarations from surfing’s accredited Olympic body, the ISA, that there’ll be no changes to the Games location: currently Tsurigasaki Beach, facing the Pacific, almost directly east of Tokyo. (You can see the location in the Google satellite snap.)

ISA president Fernando Aguerre, in all his statements on the matter, has been unequivocal: the Games are in the ocean.

This means the Games’ surfing is likely to be held in small, possibly onshore beachies.

Chiba’s good when it’s good, but it is truly nothing at all like the WSL Surf Ranch.

So, yeah, why? Shouldn’t the team be in Chiba instead?

But when CW talked with Bede this morning on his return to Australia, his account of the sessions presented another picture entirely. It turns out the trip’s goals were three-fold: bond the team in a closed training environment, help them prep for the WSL CT there in September and, most fascinatingly, put the pool to the test. Could it really be used the way a lot of people have suggested, as a quick-advance technical training tool beyond anything the sport has seen?

According to Bede, the answer is a massive Yes.

“We kinda wanted this just to be about training and performance and enjoying each other’s company,” he says. “But it was beyond my expectations…you could get a year’s worth of work done in a day.”

He’s reluctant to pick favourites, but says he watched Macy Callaghan, along with coach Mick Cain, take huge steps. “The movement she had over one session was one of the best things I’ve ever seen. Mick said it was the best day he’s had in 18 years of coaching.”

One big, simple difference between this and most other training situations was its closed nature. Most pro coaching takes place in open surf environments, which are fun but distracting. At the pool, it was just the squad and their backup. “When you’re at the beach, people just keep coming up all the time, saying hi and whatever, and the process is interrupted. Most of the good spots are so crowded and there’s so much going on that it takes away from what you’re trying to achieve.

“In this case we had so much time to devote to going through things. It allowed us to make really quick gains in a very short time.”

Surfers’ rides were tracked and shot on iPads, which allowed instant review on the back of the ski between waves – a key factor in high end skill acquisition. (Some researchers think skill feedback has to be received within 90 seconds of an action to be of maximum value.)

Their efforts were tracked in other ways. Luke Egan, who coaches Connor and Ethan, reckons he was stunned to see his charges leaving the water after two-hour non-stop wave-riding sessions and immediately being examined to find out precisely what the session had done to their bodies.“Guys like Nam Baldwin, they can figure out where that effort has taxed you and where it hasn’t,” says Louie. “It tells you more about what’s working and what isn’t, and how to physically prep yourself.”

He adds: “It was accelerated learning like nothing else I’ve seen. The level in the past has been stepping off the ski in beachies, catching 50 waves a session that way. But actually standing on your feet on a wave is the thing. You need metres.”

Bede says the team was “really spurred on” by the awareness of the costs involved and by the presence of coaches and shapers. Some, like Sally Fitz had clear ideas of what they wanted to achieve (tube-riding in Sal’s case), others were pool first-timers who didn’t want to hit the September CT as newbies. “They had their network and support crew with them and they really wanted to put in.

Another SA pool trip is planned for July, when juniors and the Olympic shadow squad, including Soli Bailey, Ryan Callinan, Zahli Kelly, Caleb Tancred and others, will get a similar three day program.

Exactly how this plays out in the real world is still a near-unknown. The coaches will be watching their surfers closely in and out of competition to try to document its effects. Bede points out something that slipped by most eyes earlier this year: “Steph reckons she spent a lot of the Founders’ Cup quietly working on her backhand, then right away went down and won the Brazil CT going left, which hasn’t been considered one of her strong points.”

Meanwhile, there’s two years until Tokyo 2020, time for several more team sessions prior to the Olympic selections at the end of 2019.

I guess by then, we’ll know if Fernando’s held the line on Chiba – or if this camp will be looked back on as a masterstroke.

"Thank you to everyone in this photo for making those 6 days so incredible ???? Highlight of my working career that’s for sure. Skill Acquisition ?? Performance Gains ?? Team Culture?? Fun ?? Massive thanks to @kswaveco for the incredible hospitality @surfingaus @surfingaushpc @australian_institute_of_sport ???? @tedgrambeau" wrote Bede Durbidge on this Instagram post of the makings of an Australian Olympic Surfing Team.

"Thank you to everyone in this photo for making those 6 days so incredible ???? Highlight of my working career that’s for sure. Skill Acquisition ?? Performance Gains ?? Team Culture?? Fun ?? Massive thanks to @kswaveco for the incredible hospitality @surfingaus @surfingaushpc @australian_institute_of_sport ???? @tedgrambeau" wrote Bede Durbidge on this Instagram post of the makings of an Australian Olympic Surfing Team.

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