How To Become A Successful 28-Year-Old Surf Coach
"I prefer the term 'second opinion guy'" - Stace Galbraith
Stace Galbraith is a well-known coach amongst the insular surfing world, but due to his humble nature and lack of professional surfing background, Stace hasn't the same public profile as, say, Jake 'the Snake' Paterson.
But that might be changing.
With the help of Kiwi-bred, Gold Coast-based filmmaker Billy Lee Pope, Stace is creating a video series around his junior surf studs. It's kinda like Snaketales but with an added layer of cinematic complexity.
The first episode of the (currently untitled) series features a sprightly young crew including Tane Bowden, Kai Tandler, Kurt Murrow, Thomas Carvalho, and Micah Margieson (yes, son of the Margo!) on a recent comp strike to North Straddy.
On face value, we can see how a seven-minute flick of a Pro Jr event might seem a bit drab, but give this clip a chance and you might be surprised. It's actually quite entertaining, thanks not only to the high-level surfing but also the kids' personalities and Billy Lee's cinematic glue!
We're also using this clip as an excuse to speak with Mr. Galbraith, who since he turned 23 has been a full-time surf coach (though he hates that title) for Juniors, Qarriors, and CT surfers alike.
Stab: So Stace, how old are you and where are you from?
Stace Galbraith: I’m 28 and from Currumbin on the Gold Coast.
You're a very talented surfer yourself and clearly competition-savvy. Did you try your hand at the Pro Jrs when you were younger, and how did that go for you?
Thanks for the kind words. It’s a very good stomping ground here on the Gold Coast, plenty of great waves. I never competed growing up, from around 14 I noticed where the level was compared to my own surfing and I decided to join the dark side – the judging pathway. I was fortunate enough to be given opportunities to judge state & national titles as well as regional and international QS Events. It was something I really enjoyed doing and that’s where I sharpened my knowledge of the competition scene.
Who were your surfing peers growing up, and what did you learn from them?
Ken Reimers made my surfboards when he was based up here on the Gold Coast – he was such a great mentor in that area. As for surfing buddies, Mitch Crews, Jack Freestone & Dan Pryor were the people I spent the most time with. We were all in the same classes at school and did the Surfing Program at Palm Beach Currumbin High School. Dan & Jack have gone on to lead different lives but I'd say they have both taught me similar lessons in that they are both very down to earth, humble, and legends out of the water. The type of guys that would give you the shirt off their backs. Crewsy and I are best mates and I’ve probably never told him this but his tenacity and drive in the face of adversity have been pretty inspiring. He had a pretty big hurdle to overcome when he was about 20 and to see where he is at today is pretty awesome.
Did you have a coach growing up?
The school group was lucky enough to have Ben Falvey and Phil McNamara (Mick Fanning’s coach) look after us four times a week. We were very fortunate to have them as much as we did. We are all still pretty tight with them, they live locally and we see them in the surf a fair bit. I was actually doing a coaching session yesterday with a QS Athlete and Mr. Falvey walked down for a chin wag. I was kinda stuck on this one task we'd been working on and Falves put a new spin on it for us and away we went all fired up. I feel really fortunate to have kept such strong relationships with an old school teacher. Kinda thought when we left that might be the end of it but they are both still pretty involved with our lives which is awesome!
How did you decide to become a surf coach, and who was your first client?
I decided to become a "coach" because I thought I had a well-trained eye for good surfing and ultimately I love surfing in all forms. The word “coach” kinda freaks me out though, I don't look at surfing as football or tennis where there is a "coach". But I'm very grateful for the rise of "the second opinion" guy in surfing. It’s given me the best job in the world. Mitch Crews would have been the first person who started actively using me around 2013. At that point I'd rolled up the leads judging and started the shift over to helping my friends with their heat strategies. Mick Fanning invited him to a beach session one day. It was Mick & Phil and Mitch and me. I was super intimidated to speak my mind in that setting but both Mick and Phil encouraged Mitch and me to really talk surf and strategy from our perspectives so that we could all learn. I guess that's what makes Mick such a champion in every sense of the word. he was happy to pick the brain of a couple 23-year-olds and he more than willingly shared all of his trade secrets with us. Mitch qualified that year and Mick won the World Title which was great for the local community. After that Jack Freestone took me on the wildest ride of my life from 2014 to 2016. I went to pretty much every event with him and watched the heartbreak and success first-hand – it definitely gave me a whole new perspective on what it takes to make the top level. I have so much respect for anyone that can pull it off.
You've done some work with both CT and QS athletes. What's the main difference between CT vs. QS coaching?
I've been really fortunate to work with Mitch, Jack, Ethan, MFeb, and Joel as well as Nikki Van Dijk & Malia Manuel at CT's over the years. There is so many different things to compare with those two tours. Firstly the waves on offer, the QS can be a wave catching contest whereas the CT is a wave selection contest. The 10,000 tour is starting to get back some quality venues through the season which is awesome for the sport, of course finishing in Hawaii usually means great waves but it nice to see that complemented with Ballito & Ericeira. But the main difference would have to be that the error rate of your opponents on the CT is super low. At the top level if you make a rookie error you'll pay for it. The top guys and girls don't fuck up.
This little junior group you're working with... how often do you train with them, and what are the main things you work on? Is it more technique or strategy-driven?
It’s a bit of everything. We don't have regular training sessions, I'll just send a message a few times a month and we will catch up. I'd say predominantly we are working on technique and keeping the bigger picture in mind. Doing the juniors is great to hone your competitive skills but I'm skeptical it actually develops any technique, skills, or ocean knowledge. I'm also trying to show these guys what positive role models look like and how to run their own brands. I'm no marketing expert but I'm pretty onto all the guys about building good relationships with photographers and filmers from an early age, more than ever that is a crucial part of your surf career. Jack is an awesome example of being a good role model and very valuable to a brand, apart from being a good-looking rooster he's really hard working. The year he qualified he and his filmer put out four 8-minutes edits, which is pretty impressive.
Can anybody hire you?
Yes sure, I'm generally looking at character first over talent, but the door is always open.
Is surf coaching your full-time job? Is it lucrative?
Yes, it's been my full-time job for five years now – I feel very fortunate to say that. And I’m happy with my income but I'm sure my fiance would beg to differ!
Tell me the most notable thing about each of the kids in this video series – surfing or otherwise.
Kai Tandler: Top 1% of minds in the country, smart enough to be a doctor. He's built like a 30-year-old but he's only 17. He has an epic style and surfs like Jay Phillips. Made the cut at the World Juniors last year at 16 years old which was an awesome experience for him.
Tane Bowden: He is a Kiwi who was raised in Torquay then the Gold Coast, He is Half Maori and is a Ricardo Christie / Ethan Ewing hybrid on a surfboard. Loves gangsta rap and recently celebrated his 18th Birthday.
Micah Margieson: Nicest kid in the group, genuinely nice guy. He does all his own edits. Could be Australia's next power surfing icon. The DNA in his surfing is strong and he recently won the U/18 Australian title with Margo Sr. watching on the beach.
Thomas Carvalho: Australian who was raised in Northern Brazil. He won multiple national titles before moving back to Australia at 15. Charges hard and isn't afraid to keep his surfing on the wave face with his board on its edge!
Kurt Morrow: The darling of the group, cheeky little grommet who idolizes Creed McTaggart. He can be found drinking liters of choccy milk for breakfast and surfing Snapper all day. Recently won his first Snapper club contest, no small feat given the talent pool they breed.