A Dark Night Of The Soul With Mitch Coleborn
At thirty years old, and at a career crossroads, Mitch Coleborn sits down for an ice cold Modelo and heart to heart in Mexico.
We're unabashed fans of Mitch Coleborn. We love his powerhouse program, his remarkable spring for such a, well, big dude. We love his no fucks given approach in heavy left barrels, and have felt his heartbreak in our very own guts, as the scrappy Sunshine Coaster's fallen just short of the CT over the past five years.
On a quick getaway to Pasquales this year, our friend Tom Law, at Convicts NYC pinned Mr. Mitch Coleborn down, kept him in a chair with cold Mexican foamers, and asked the aging (but in no way over the hill) Aughties icon the hard questions.
CONVICTS: Who do you think you are?
Mitch: My name's Mitch fucking Leslie Coleborn. The Lesbot. Mitchel Leslie Coleborn, feeling it? Feeling it. Shit's about to go down.
What’s your job?
Pro surfer. Definitely not a professional athlete, but I'm a professional surfer. I have not trained in a long time, but I'm fit as fuck.
Tell me how surfing has changed for you since you started to where you are now, in the sense that you started out with it as a hobby and then it changed from a hobby to a profession adding a lot of pressure to yourself. How was that transformation?
It feels like it’s changed about five times, when you are younger obviously it's just like you have fun at kind of what you are good at I suppose, so I just did it for that reason. It was fun and I could feel myself getting better and then I started getting into a few contests and stuff and then that leads to the Junior series and leaving school, deciding I wanna become a professional surfer.
Then once I became a professional surfer, it changed again, in the fact that like, which route did I kind of want to take. There were options then, so I started working closely with Volcom and Kai Neville basically, focusing on trips and did a little more of the free surfer rather than contest surf thing. Then it kind of changed again, and I have been trying to qualify for the last five years or so, maybe six years now?
And I feel like it's changing again. I'm like in a different headspace, where it's always seemed so clear to me what I wanted to do, but now I'm kind of at a crossroad and I'm trying to figure out what I want to do next.
When did you hit that crossroads?
At the start of this year, like, trying to qualify. I’ve started off every year kind of like, 'ok, fuck, I am going to qualify this year', and it's just like this huge goal that drains my whole year. Coming close a couple of times and having to just do the same thing over and over again.
It's been probably like five years since I've really put 100% into filming for a part, or just focused on trips. So I've just been doing the contests and then coming up short. Mentally, it plays mind games with you.
So at the start of this year I was like, ok, I don't care anymore about qualifying. I don't give a fuck if I qualify or not, I am just going to go out and have fun, try and surf the best I can and see what happens. Which then led to a third off the bat in the first fucking comp, so it put me in a really good position but yeah I am still like sticking to my guns and whatever happens happens. I don't care so much, it's not the end of the world this year if I don't qualify.
"I know that it won't last forever, so I'm just thankful that I've had this opportunity, that I'm still doing what I love doing. It's the sickest thing in the world." - Mitch Coleborn
What right now gives you the most enjoyment?
Just enjoying my surfing. I feel like, Venice, where we live at the moment, you don't get to enjoy every single time you surf, so I’m trying to do trips.
At the start of the year we got really fun waves for a few of the comps and I was surfing at my best and I could feel myself really enjoying surfing. I was stoked on that. I have had a couple of shitty results the last few comps, but we went to Indo and we have been doing some really fun stuff with Volcom this year, they're like totally backing the program again, a couple of new team riders and just really really fun trips have been going down. So I think just doing trip based stuff and having fun with the boys, it's just such a good headspace to be in.
What is it about competitive surfing that draws so many people in?
In the sense that there is a lot of elation and a lot of woes that come with defeat and the magnitude of the loss or win is much more than having a bad surf or a good surf. It's amplified to the point where people are putting themselves in these positions all the time, it's almost like masochistic.
That said, I think the best surfing is going down on tour at the moment. There's all the best dudes, with a few exceptions, and the shit they're doing in contests I swear they don't even do free surfing half the time. It's like that's just where I see the best surfing going down and it's super consistent, it's like all these gnarly dudes are getting paid bank, and they are on the actual dream tour.
I feel like there was a certain point with the WSL when it was still the ASP, it kind of wasn't the pinnacle of surfing. I feel like there was so much more going on, and the internet wasn't full of videos every single week. Today, someone is dropping a new clip every week. Back then it was like people were saving up their clips, and they were dropping like hammers and all the best guys weren't on tour. So that's when the best surfing was going down, but it's all changed and I feel like the stuff that you see on the WSL is damn good.
What did it feel like to just miss the Tour? And how do you come to terms with that and then regroup to go again?
It was probably the toughest thing that has ever happened to me in my life. Up until a certain point, my life was just going up and up and up, I couldn't do anything wrong. After I won that event in Brazil, I think I started feeling like I would qualify, hands down. Looking at the end of that year, the next year I saw myself on tour. I didn't stop trying, I just thought I had already done it. But the year was only halfway done. So I'll always regret that. I should have gone twice as hard for the rest of the year, but I just thought the job was done kinda thing. I just forgot to seal the deal.
There's so many little things that came into it throughout that year. They play over and over in my head still. I actually finished 32nd which meant I’d qualified. But then the Pipe Masters rolled around and all the guys that were on tour still got that result to count towards their QS rating, and I got bumped down to 33rd.
That was one of the toughest things that has ever happened to me for sure. I still think about it. But it's not the end of the world anymore.
"It was probably the toughest thing that has ever happened to me in my life. Up until a certain point, my life was just going up and up and up, I couldn't do anything wrong." - Mitch Coleborn
Who bumped you?
Miguel Pupo. There was one heat at Pipe that was so shit. It was two Brazilians, Miguel Pupo and Alejo Muniz in the heat, and they both ended up with just super low heat totals, but Miguel got through and that's what got him back on tour basically. But even then, there was a heat I lost against Aritz Aranburu in Western Australia, where I think I lost by 0.01. If I would've made that heat, I would have qualified too.
There's so many little different dynamics but I can't dwell on those forever I suppose. But yeah it was pretty fucking tough.
What are you thankful for?
That this is my job. That surfing is a job. And I know that it won't last forever, so I'm just thankful that I've had this opportunity, that I'm still doing what I love doing. It's the sickest thing in the world.
Talk a little bit about the cultures that you've experienced, the friends that you've made and what it has given you?
I suppose where I come from there is a couple of pro surfers from there, but it's like you go on the road and you make best friends. And, like I'm from the Sunshine Coast, so I could have a best friend from home, and a best friend on the road and they might not even know each other.
It's pretty crazy, it's not like a separate life, but it's just like this whole other world where everyone is doing the same thing, travelling together and just the times that you have on the road with those people are so different to the times I have with my friends at home. It's pretty radical, it's pretty like, the complete opposite of each other.
Is it lonely?
Nah, there is always someone around. There's definitely people that you don't click with but I have a pretty tight clique on the QS that I like to travel with. I wouldn't just stay with any random dude. I have actually stayed just by myself a few times and it kind of sucks haha, it was pretty lonely. But even just driving around in Europe by yourself, just the middle of nowhere, that’s as cool alone as it is with a couple of friends.
What about in those moments where you are lugging two coffins and bags through the airport alone, about to get on a plane sitting alone to fly 24 hours to get to another contest? I mean there are pros and cons, but do you feel like surfing has given you that ticket to the whole world?
It’s part of the job, and half the time—like, I definitely pay for a lot of trips myself, especially on the QS, I pay for it all myself—but half the time surfers don't even have to pay to go anywhere, so they can't be bummed on having to sit on an airplane.
There was actually one trip, I went with Matt Bemrose, he's the coach at Volcom, and we flew to Europe. We flew from Sydney to Portugal, I was so jet lagged, I think I slept the whole first day, was up all night the first night, then we jumped in the car and went for a quick paddle first thing in the morning.
We parked on the wrong side of the road for a surf, so when we jumped back in the car he just did a u-turn and was on the wrong side of the road because there was no cars around. Going up around the corner, bang, head on collision. I was looking down at the camera, watching the footage, and I just look up and a car just smashed straight into us.
So it was like a head on collision first day in Portugal, then the next day we were heading back to that beach that picks up the most swell, we got there, the contest wasn't set up, it was back in Ericeira, so we raced back and got there just in time for my heat. I lost the first heat, I was like, fuck this, jumped on a plane that afternoon and flew back. We were in Portugal for 36 hours [laughs]. That was probably the worst ever.
That was when you sit on a plane on the way home going what the hell did we just do, that was pointless. But now I can laugh about it.
"I think about what's next a little bit, it's pretty daunting, but I just feel like I'm still young and I've still got a lot in me." - Mitch Coleborn
Do you get scared of the career of a surfer, there is always somebody new, there is always people popping into the limelight, what are your feelings towards where you are at right now. Do you ever stop and think, Fuck, what's next?
Yeah I think about what's next a little bit, it's pretty daunting but I just feel like I'm still young and I've still got a lot in me but then I dunno if age is like actually a thing. You're like, “Fuck, kid is only 21 and, damn." Or he just qualified and he's like 18. I'm like 30 years old. You feel pretty old. There's definitely gotta be something down the track for me, but I don't let that get to me.
Do you ever stop and just go, Well, I just want to do something for me? Or do you feel that a lot of the stuff that you think about doing is actually for somebody else?
I've done a lot of stuff around home, bought some property and did some renovations. I do spend a lot of time on the coast, where I haven't been on the road the whole time. I know when there's my time and I know when I have to go and work or go on a trip, which is not a bad thing at all. We get to go on boat trips with Volcom, or a Kai Neville trip, it's usually stuff that I want to go on, not stuff that I have to go on.
How was Mexico?
It was different. The waves didn't quite get as good as what we thought, well for the time that we were there. I saw some photos from two days after left. But we knew that, we had to book in advance and we had to get back for the US Open, so I could get annihilated first heat [laughs]. Yeah I think the waves got really good after we left but yeah that always happens too.
What's a favourite memory of yours, from when you were young or even when you were older?
There's a million memories, I dunno. I've seen photos of my first wave, but I can't remember it. But it's funny, my dad, he's never surfed in his life, but he would push me into waves. We started going to the beach at a pretty young age and I think he got me this ginormous, for me at the time, this fun zip yellow and blue wet suit. This spring suit like from the dump and a board from the dump, and he just started pushing me on waves, out in Mooloolaba. He just had no idea what he was doing, and I was just standing there like a little starfish.
I can't remember this one but I think my parents were saying that when I was like two or three and I used to stand up on my older sister’s Barbie car, and skate it down the driveway, and they were like, Ah we should probably get him a skateboard.
I remember my first barrel and my first air reverse, but not my first wave.
What interests you outside of surfing? What do you pay attention to?
Definitely not the news, there's just so much bad shit going on right now I just can't even deal with it. A couple of little hobbies. I like traveling. I like going to New York. I don't mind getting tattooed. I like artists.
What's changed in your life this year?
Well, I'm in a new place, I live in America now, I'm in Venice. Which is a lot different from where I am from, but it was definitely time for a change. That's been a huge change for me this year.
Did that reinvigorate you for surfing? Can things that don't even matter to surfing kind of reignite something?
Yeah I feel like the steps that I have had to make in the last 6 to 12 months are like... this is the rest of my life kind of thing. So, yeah, definitely starting fresh, getting away to a new place and just trying some new things out. You know, I've lived in the same spot my whole life, It was definitely time for a change and I am just excited for the next chapter of my life for sure.
What impact did Kai have on your career?
Kai has had a huge impact on my career. Without filming with him, I don't know where things would be at the moment. Maybe I would be on tour, because I wouldn't have been filming so much kinda thing [laughs]. I know I missed a lot of QS events because I was like, "Well, fuck that, I'll just go and film with Kai." But what he's accomplished and the group of surfers he’s taken with him over the last decade is like, I can't thank him enough, it's been so sick.
But yeah, right place right time for sure, and that was just that era. It was kinda like the Taylor Steele-era back in the ‘90s, I feel like. It feels rad to be a part of it. That's never going to go anywhere. It's kind of like a cool milestone, personally.
What do you feel is more intrinsically appealing, watching your section for the first time in a Kai Neville film or winning a prime contest?
They're completely different feelings. I know, winning a contest is like such an achievement over other people, you go and you have to beat everyone else in the field. But a video part is just your own self -- you just working on something and trying to better yourself throughout the section. They are both self-accomplishments, but that's a tricky question. With sections, it’s something that you have worked on for like 6 months or a year, so it takes a lot longer to build a section than it does to win a contest in one day. They are completely different dynamics.
Talk about being part of the culture in the sense that you have been part of surfing for a long time and there has always been this ratbag culture, the party culture, and it's moved now into a very job-oriented and serious career. What was that culture like and is it still there or is it slowly disappearing? Is it still wild?
It can be wild at times, but it was a lot wilder I think when I was younger. Like you said, it's a really, really professional sport now and I still like to have fun with things, but I'm not exactly in that headspace right now. But I am still a part of the culture and I can get down, bro-down with any of the guys on tour, or free surfing or whatever. It's still like a big, big community.
Who do you look up to?
Dane Reynolds. I think that has been the answer to that question ever since I can remember. Just as a human, as a surfer, everything he has done. He is definitely who I have looked up to for sure.
Have you kept humility throughout your career?
Haha, what's humility mean? There are times where I thought I was the absolute man, just killing it and nothing could bring me down. Then something does and it humbles you.
Do you feel like your career has made you into a person that's, outside of surfing, patient? Or has it instilled good qualities in you?
For sure. I don't know what they are, but… [laughs]. I don't know what my good qualities are, you'd have to ask someone else...
What are your bad qualities?
I have a lot of bad qualities too. Good and bad. I think that's a question for other people to answer, not yourself.
Have your parents always been supportive?
They're super supportive but, you know, they're not surfers, they don't really know what I'm doing, but yeah my parents are always supportive of what I do. My parents have given me and my two sisters everything in the world. They're our number one supporters with everything.
What are you looking to get from surfing? Or if the tour never happens, what are you after?
Just being at peace with everything, but still stoked on what I’m doing, stoked on surfing and having fun with it. I never wanna be battling myself or bummed on my surfing or anything. Whether its for a job or for fun, I just wanna be able to do it well, and do it for as long as possible.
What does a good session do for you mentally?
It gives you time to think. Sometimes it's hard to clear your mind. If I'm thinking something negative, I wanna take it out on a wave. If something's going wrong, I might wanna punch a punching bag, but instead I’ll fucking hit the lip as hard as I can with my surfboard [laughs].
Do you still find yourself thinking about land issues when you're out on the water?
Yeah, for sure. I can't channel it all into thinking about absolutely nothing. My personal life, and things that are going on, they factor into the way that I wanna surf. I feel like I show a fair bit of emotion when I surf. Good and bad. That's what I mean, I feel like people can tell when you're on or off cause like you can see it. It's written all over my face.
Do you think that's when you're not surfing good?
Yeah, but also when I'm surfing good too. People will be like "Holy Fuck, Mitch is on" and it pumps me up even more.
Do you like to surf by yourself?
Yeah. I like to go out and surf and just do my own thing, catch as many waves as I can. Like when you go surfing and someone is trying to talk to you the whole time and you could miss a wave or whatever it is...like even bumping into an old friend that you have seen for ages and they wanna catch up, I just find myself drifting away and trying to surf by myself again.
"I just find myself drifting away and trying to surf by myself again." - Mitch Coleborn
Are big barrels some of your favorite memories in surfing?
For sure. They feel so much more rewarding than airs for me for some reason.
Is there something pure about a barrel, that's different than big maneuvers?
Yeah, the wave is presenting you with only one kind of opportunity and you have to take that opportunity. I suppose you could put it like that. A wave like Cloudbreak, it's very daunting, it's powerful, it's perfect. Just the raw power, and how long it is. Cloudbreak's just so long.
What are you actually thinking about when you're in the barrel?
Just going as fast, fast, fast as you can go. When they bend in on themselves so that they actually look like closeouts, that's when you kinda get excited like you could get the longest, best, barrel of your life. It's such a special place. It's fucking amazing. But you gotta get in and get going.
What do you love about life?
Laughing. At myself. Having fun. Having a good time. Being around good people, just the good times.
What are you looking forward to?
I'm just taking everything as it comes right now. I'm just trying to live in the now as much as I can.
What's the first thing you do when you knock off?
Crack a Modelo.
That's the sweetest sound in the world?
Wanna hear it? Ready? Ready for the sweetest sound of an afternoon? This is a big day on the tools for me. This is a job. This is my job.
Do you like interviews?
No. [Crack. Cursplashhhh.]