More than your standard learn-to-surf school, Byron Bay’s Next Level Surf Coaching employs a 2:1 surfer-to-certified-coach ratio. 50-year-old grom James decided to test it out.
My partner, Veda, calls me the 50-year-old grom. As a birthday present two years ago, she bought me a surf lesson at a local Byron Bay backpackers where we joined a bunch of hopeless, happy souls thrown into the white water on Belongil Beach for a couple of hours. I emerged beaming. “Would you like to do that again some time?” she asked me afterwards. “Bugger that,” I said. “Let’s go buy us some boards!”
A couple of years later after terrorising many a local, I’ve learnt to stand up, do some basic turns and develop an insatiable thirst to improve my surfing style. When Veda asked what I would like for a birthday present this year I didn’t hesitate: A private coaching session with Linton Fafie.
Linton is a former junior pro surfer who now runs his own business, Next Level Surf Coaching. He coaches part-time at the Hurley Surfing Australia High Performance Centre on the Gold Coast whilst developing his own idea of private coaching from high performance groms to adult recreational, or those who have lost touch with the surfing of their youth and want to iron out some age-related bad habits. For me, a novice with only a few years (in)experience, it was about gaining confidence and correcting take-offs.
It started with an email the night before I arrived – a questionnaire on what level I considered myself at, how often I surf, my level of fitness, and what I was looking to achieve. This made me more relaxed knowing that Linton would already know some of my apprehension and (lack of) ability before I turned up.
The day started with Linton driving me around a few local breaks, gaining some insight into where my knowledge of reading the surf was at and choosing somewhere to suit the session. He selected a point break just outside of Byron Shire protected from a stiff onshore breeze. We surveyed the options with Linton suggesting with a cheeky grin, “I’ll know whether you’re confident enough to go out on your own by the sound of your voice.” Sure enough a few minutes later he was putting on his wetsuit.
We jumped into a rip alongside the rocks that took us directly to the take-off spot. The selection was key, challenging enough and yet with encouragement accessible for this novice – again showing Linton’s intimate knowledge of local breaks. Whilst most of the experienced surfers were sitting inside and taking the left hand, Linton spotted a little bank that allowed me to work on my right hand take-offs without getting in the way of others.
At the end of each wave I could simply flick off and paddle back into the rip which took me straight back out with minimal effort. Clever right? We worked on positioning in the line up, wave selection, and paddling technique. It was a fun, informative session and Linton’s vibe was low key yet always positive and supportive. It felt more like going surfing with a mate who wanted to help me out than it did a ‘lesson’. Importantly he also explained a few surf etiquette hints that might help me gain less grumpy looks next time I’m in the line-up.
After three hours of solid surfing, Linton called lunch where we went to a local café for some amazing fish tacos. During this time, he pulled out his laptop and showed a variety of clips to help back-up what he was suggesting in the surf. Linton explained a few basic dynamics of surfing about weight distribution, picking a line, engaging the rail and went through, at times frame-by-frame, how the professionals were doing exactly what he was talking about. Sure I wasn’t going to be throwing the board around like Julian or Mick but just understanding the process really helped break it down into accessible bite sized chunks.
With lunch devoured we headed down to a skate park – well actually it was the car park to the skate park. I am more a beginner in skating than surfing and Linton acknowledged my apprehension and set about some absolute simple tasks of how to use the whole body to pump energy into the board and how to direct my arms and chest to point where I wanted to go. We used a SmoothStar through cones to mimic the feel of rail-to-rail on a surfboard. I got the idea of what he wanted me to do if not necessarily always carrying it off.
Finally we headed back down to the surf to utilise all that I’d been shown and put it into practice. This time Linton stayed on the beach to video the session. I didn’t quite stick to everything I learnt into one wave, however each tip when applied correctly in the right circumstance worked. I felt more confident even just by knowing what I needed to do even if I didn’t quite nail it.
At the end of the session, he loaded the footage on to his laptop and whilst we had a good laugh at some of my efforts, it was clear that I had already started to surf differently. What struck me at the end of the day was not how much fun I had, which was immense, but how I had in the course of a day started to see surfing in a new light. I had always thought of it as something innate. That people were good surfers because they had grown up with it. That they had decades of experience that I could never replicate. That surfing was in essence, intuitive. In the sense of how to read conditions and surf to them, that remains irrevocably true.
However, what a day with Next Level Surf Coaching taught me is that surfing also includes an enormous amount of technical skill and that learning and applying a few basics can absolutely turbo charge the learning curve – as in, turn my flat line into a hockey stick stick and indeed, take me to the Next Level.
Linton’s coaching notes for James:
Positives – Great choice of board for your current level of surfing; very confident in 2 to 3 ft waves and awesome awareness of the line up; great standing action and stance
Focus area – Head up, looking down the line to where you want to surf during take off; arms forward and surfing high on the wave to generate speed; continue to push your limits in a safe and controlled way become comfortable taking off on 4 to 5 ft waves.
Note – At the rate that your progressing you will be looking at fine tuning your equipment (new board) with in the next 3 to 6 months. Please feel free to contact us for any advice.
James, I hope you keep getting out in the water, to build on your experience with Next Level Surf Coaching, and enjoying the waves.
Linton Fafie / Founder/ Operator
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