Here's Why We Can't Get Enough Of Mitch Coleborn
"I'm ready for this to be done, that's for sure." Mitch Coleborn isn't referring to finally qualifying for the World Tour after years of knocking on the door, he’s talking about the renno on his Sunshine Coast pad. One of the great conundrums of pro surfing is how a guy who surfs with the fire of Coleborn hasn’t managed to find the key. As he enters the back end of the season, well placed for another shot at making the tour cut, we find Coleborn “ready for pretty much anything.” As he sands benchtops he tells SW with good humour that regardless of what fate awaits him in Hawaii – one spot in or one spot out – what don’t kill him is just gonna make him stronger.
SW: So… married life. All lawn mowing and dump runs, or you still surfing?
Mitch: Kristie and I have known each other for so long, life hasn’t really changed that much, but I’m still on a high from the wedding. It was one of the best weekends of my life. It was a banger. Everyone I’ve talked to still calls it, “Wedding of the Year.” I even went to the dentist yesterday and they were like, “Congratulations on the wedding, we saw how beautiful it looks.” Everyone’s stoked still.
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Apart from the renno on the house, has your surfing program changed at all?
I’ve been surfing more lately I reckon. Because I’m on the Sunny Coast I tend to surf when there’s waves. If there’s no swell it’s married life 100 per cent, and when there’s waves I’m surfing out the front. I’ve surfed ever since we’ve known each other, and she knows I’m a surfer and knows it’s my job, so she’s cool with it.
How has your surfing changed over the past couple of years?It’s come more full circle I think. I’m surfing like how I did when I was 14; back then I just wanted to attack the wave as hard as I could and I didn’t care so much about style. I just wanted to blow the wave up. I definitely got sidetracked there for a little while; a few movies came out and everyone started going to the air and I chased the freesurfing thing. I’ve realised if you have a whole session trying to do the biggest rotation you can on every single wave and you don’t land a single thing, you don’t really go anywhere. So I’ve kind of taken a step back now – where I don’t know if it’s the ‘QS that’s done it to me – but I actually enjoy a lot more just putting waves together, consistently, and having a fun surf that way. I’m not going to say I’ve been doing less airs… but what Filipe and John John have been throwing down, those airs in the contest, then you see a guy like Mick who can throw down a huge score with solid foundation surfing. My airs are definitely not as consistent as Felipe’s, so I’m starting to go more of a Mick Fanning approach again. I think I’ve definitely come full circle with my surfing.
Are those two worlds of foundation and progression forever going to be locked in battle?
I think so… until Mason Ho makes the tour and starts getting nines for his hand jive. It’s the two things people want to see, big turns and big airs… and big barrels when they’re there.
You’ve done a bunch of tour events now as a wildcard, and while I’m sure it’s great to surf them, does it heighten the frustration that you’re surfing them as a wildcard and not as a tour guy?
I love every tour event I’ve ever been to; they’re the pinnacle. Last year in general was a weird year for me, I had a… what’s the word... I felt like I was a zombie all last year. I was bummed from 2013 after missing out by one spot, so I didn’t really put 100 per cent into anything. I did some filming, and I did some tour events. At the start of the year they gave that spot randomly to Micro in front of me, just made up some other random rule for 2014, so I was a bit pissed about that and it was a really tough year for me all round. But those world tour events that I got into gave me the taste for it, and made me want to be there even more, and I think it’s reflecting in my surfing this year. I’ve had some good results and I want to finish strong and do it this year for sure.
It’s kinda become a “thing” now and I’m sure you get a shitload of questions about it – When do you think you’ll qualify? Does qualifying even matter to you? Do other people dwell on it more than you do?
I don’t think so. I think one of my biggest battles is with my own head. I was in Portugal last week and watching Freestone qualifying and it got me thinking, I should be there. Sometimes I can sit back and think I’m not where I should be in my life. Sometimes I think like that. But I’ve got to move forward. I’m not hung up on it a hundred percent, but it pops into my mind for sure. I get so jealous of those guys on tour. I want to be there so badly.
Is it noisy inside your head?
Yeah, I definitely am my own worst enemy for sure. Not so much what other people are doing, but I have my own battles with myself I feel like. With everything I think I over-analyse pretty much everything I do.
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Has being so close for so long though and having those disappointments along the way bred a resilience in you? What doesn’t kill you only makes you stronger, right?
I feel like, if anything, the worst has already happened, so I’m more at ease with myself now if I didn’t qualify. That wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world because that’s already happened to me, but it’s just driving me to succeed this year. I’m just more ready to know what it feels like, and hoping I get to feel the emotion of actually qualifying.
What kind of kid were you?
The older I get the more I realise how much of a dickhead I was! I was like the typical “O’Doyle Rules!” kid out of Billy Madison. I posted a photo of me as a kid on Instagram yesterday; I was wearing a shark tooth necklace and I had a Mohawk. All I wanted for my ninth birthday was a Mohawk, so my Mum took me down to the barber’s shop and she got them to shave the sides of my head bald. I had this Mohawk for a full year, wearing Doc Martens, stomping around school with my dagger earring thinking I was the toughest kid ever [cracks up]. I don’t know what I was thinking. I’m definitely not going to let my kids do that.
Your folks were down with it?
They let me do whatever I wanted. There were rules, but with my personal appearance if I wanted to look a certain way they weren’t going to stand in my way or make me look like something I wasn’t. That led me into skating and surfing and they never held me back with any of that. They took me to the beach and took me skating and let all that develop. They helped me out a lot with what I wanted to do.
You grew up in an era when the kids ruled, when the junior series was huge and there were contests every weekend and it must have filled a huge part of your life. Looking back now – and seeing how it’s changed today with younger and younger kids getting involved – do you think competition at an early age is a healthy thing for a kid?
For sure, it’s changed a lot. It’s fun to do comps when you’re a kid, but when you’re in that 14-to-16 age bracket and you’re not making heats and there’s suddenly pressure and you’ve got sponsors and people have expectations of you, then it becomes hard. Like look at Noa Deane, he’s one of the biggest names in surfing right now and he never made a heat in his junior career. I heard he got pushed into events and never did any good, but look at him now. He’s killing it. Half the kids who used to smoke him in events are chippies now, they’re the ones with the jobs. I think competition is healthy for a kid as long it stays fun. Mate, it’s a bummer about the junior series now. That was such a good stepping-stone when we were growing up… but I suppose the kids who are qualifying for the tour now are 18 anyway so it seems pretty obsolete.
Would you ever move away from the Sunshine Coast?
I lived on the Goldy for a couple of years and it was nothing like up here. It’s so much cruisier here, and I can surf every single day right out the front of my house with no one around. Do you know how awesome that is? Where I live in Wurtulla, it’s pretty quiet here. I wouldn’t say I’m a small town kind of bloke, but I do love surfing with minimal people.
Growing up on Sunny Coast who were the older surfers who you looked up to?
I think Leigh Sedley was the guy I surfed most with during my teenage years, and he helped me a lot with my surfing and pushing me with my surfing. Our crew when I was young was Dean Brady, Lee Wilson, the Noosa boys, but definitely I surfed with Leigh Sedley more than anyone, for sure.
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Surfing has been busted up into a million pieces and everyone seems to be doing their own thing… how’s that sit with you?
I think it’s good, as long as everyone knows the reason why they surf. We all love it, but we all love different variations of the same thing, but when surfers write off other surfers simply for how they’re surfing, that would be the one thing I’d like to change. We all do the same fucking thing and if you get paid to freesurf, great. If you surf heats, great. But it’s cool when we all hang out and can get along.
Do you often mix up what you’re riding?
I have been lately. I’ve just got a hold of some of those new Varial blanks, and they’re pretty gnarly. I didn’t like them at the start, but the more I surf them the more I can feel what’s happening with them. They’re really fast and they’re really good grovelers. I tend to play around with shorter epoxy boards because of the ‘QS and the need to have that magic little carpet, so I mix ‘em up for sure. I’m pretty standard in my shortboards, but I mix it up with some stuff between 5’4” and 5’8” as well.
How hands-on are you with your surfboards? Are you there in the shaping bay looking over shoulders or are you just taking delivery?
I just like to surf and feel. I don’t like to see it before it’s made or play around with it too much before I surf it. If anything, aesthetically I like to make sure it looks good, but as far as the board itself I miss stuff entirely. Bemmy [Matt Bemrose] will be at the comp with me and he’ll go, “Wow, how’s the hips on that board!” and I’ll notice for the first time my board even has hips. He did it to me in South Africa. I went, “Are you serious? I hate boards with hips!” I surfed it again and it went like shit. You know what I mean. I just like to surf and feel it under my feet, rather than get in the bay and start to mess with my own head even before I’ve stood on the board.
Who’s the one surfer in the past year who’s floated your boat?
Freestone. I feel like I’ve surfed with him more than anyone in the last year and he is so gnarly. Him winning that event last week and qualifying is no surprise to me at all. He should be on tour. That’s what I told him, “Dude, you’re one of the gnarliest surfers in the world.” He’s crazy. He’s consistent, does big airs, big turns. He’s got it all going on.
“Structures” is a bit of a buzzword in pro surfing. You see surfers planning out heats in their heads and having a formula for what they do out there. I suppose a guy like Mick personifies it. Are you a “structure” guy, or do you just paddle out and try and blow shit up?
I don’t look to Mick exactly. I know what you’re saying, but I think I’m still trying to figure things out for myself. I’m not overcomplicating things either. It’s just your two best waves and I’m confident my surfing can get me through heats. But I’m not too much of a formula guy; a good routine around an event keeps me in a good space, but I don’t have the maths and the structure down to a point like I’m sure Mick has.
Style versus shred… what wins in your world?
I feel like I don’t try to work too much on my style, and I know I’ve been crucified in the past because of it, but ever since I was a young kid I just pinpoint a spot on the lip and I want to hurt it. I just wanted to fucking annihilate it. I don’t know what it was, and when I do an air I only want to do the biggest air I can do. Sometimes I wish I had a better style, but I’ve never really worked on it. The way that I surf is that way that I surf.
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