Stab Magazine | "I Actually Thought Jeremy’s Wave Was A Little Bit Higher"

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“I Actually Thought Jeremy’s Wave Was A Little Bit Higher”

Jake ‘the Snake’ Paterson, coach to dual-Keramas winners Kanoa Igarashi and Steph Gilmore, talks with Stab about judging and strategy for the Bali and West Oz events.

style // May 28, 2019
Words by Stab
Reading Time: 7 minutes

Welcome again to Coaches’ Corner, where we dissect past and future CT events with the folks who are paid (sometimes handsomely) to share their surfing opinions.

This time we’ve got Jake ‘the Snake’ Paterson—coach to the best female surfer of all time (Stephanie Gilmore) and two of our sport’s hottest young commodities (Griffin Colapinto and Kanoa Igarashi), along with being a CT winner in his own right. 

Snake is currently coming down from the greatest achievement of his post-competitive career – coaching a male and female CTer to victory in the same event.

While Steph’s win was clear-cut and punctuated by the finest ride of the event, Kanoa’s was mired in controversy, with a judging decision that set the internet ablaze. We’ll cover that below.

Following their success at Keramas, Snake and co. have hopped a quick flight to Western Australia to compete at Paterson’s home event, the Margaret River Pro.

While one might assume that local knowledge equates to an advantage for Snake, this is not necessarily the case—last year, Snake had the “worst coaching day of his life” when Kanoa, Griff, and then-disciple Zeke Lau lost in consecutive heats at Main Break. 

But let’s not give too much away in the intro. Here’s Snake! 

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A man of many talents.

(Note: this interview was conducted the day after the Corona Pro Bali)

Stab: Snake, congrats on Keramas! Was that your first double-victory?
For the Men’s and Women’s CT? Yeah, for sure. I’ve had two surfers in a QS final, but definitely nothing like this.

How did you all celebrate?
I kinda cruised [laughs]. I just went to dinner with Tommy Whits, Ronnie Blakey, and Joe Turpel, and Kanoa and Steph went to The Lawn at Canguu and had a big party.

You’ve become such a tame gent!
Yeah, too old for hangovers [laughs].

Did you talk to Kanoa and Steph in the morning? How are they feeling?
Yeah, they both sounded fine. I don’t think they went too crazy.

I guess that’s a good thing, considering the Margaret’s event could start in a couple days.
Yeah, it looks like it’s gonna start Wednesday. I had a look at the forecast, and obviously it being my hometown I was pretty excited to get there right away. I’m on my way to the airport now.

Is it difficult to have such a quick turnaround between events, especially at waves that are quite different to one another?
Nah, not really. It’s good actually. You get to keep all the confidence rolling.

So for your surfers, it’s more about their self-belief than it is getting accustomed to a certain wave?
It’s everything. Confidence is a huge thing in any professional sport, but reading the conditions and tides at Keramas is really tough – you’ve gotta be adapting in every single heat. You’ve gotta be ready for everything. Margaret’s isn’t quite the same in that regard, but it has its own unique challenges. It’s all a game of chess.

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Do you find it different to coach men versus women on Tour? Or do you just see each athlete as an individual?
It’s definitely different. I mean I’ve worked with Kanoa for… geez, maybe six years now, so we’re in such a routine that I don’t have to remind him of the basic stuff that we’ve learned along the way. He’s like a fully trained ninja-killing-machine at the moment. When he’s on point, he knows what to do and when to do it.

With Griffin, he came along a little bit later, and we call him The Sponge because he took everything on board so quickly.

And then with Steph, it’s pretty hard to coach someone who’s been so successful already, but it’s really basic stuff with her. It’s all about figuring out how she can win a heat as easily as possible. So I coach everyone completely differently. Especially with the guys, because they have those aerial maneuvers to fall back on if everything else is going to shit. The girls don’t really have that luxury as much.

When you’re coaching someone of Steph’s caliber, do you have to tell her to tone it down, or are you telling her to surf to her full capacity?
Depends where it is. At Keramas I was trying to tell her to tone it down, because the only way she loses is if she falls or doesn’t catch a wave. Keramas can be your best friend or your worst enemy with how inconsistent it gets, so you have to make the most of your opportunities. So I told her to trust in her abilities, and that she’s gonna get scores just by finishing her waves. Whereas in Brazil, where she’s gonna get a lot of opportunities, I tell her to ramp it up for sure.

Because Kanoa doesn’t have the same luxury of being able to get through heats on safe surfing, are you telling him to go full throttle?
Not really. We’ve been working on getting him to the level of the top guys for ages. We wanted to get Kanoa to the point where he was one of the guys you didn’t want to draw in a heat. He’s pretty lethal, how he’s changed his surfing in the last couple years to get to where he’s at now. Obviously now he’s gonna be in World Title contention for the rest of the year. It’s all hard work. We’ve been working on it. It’s not just something where he’s come of age and become one of the best in the world. He trains so hard and is so disciplined in his routine to be where he is now.

Did you foresee that when you started working with Kanoa as a kid? I think a lot of people had their doubts that he would get to number two in the world.
He’s surprised me for sure. Not so much in his ability, but in his big wave surfing. The kid actually charges. He’s one of the best small wave surfers in the world, and everyone says that when it gets big he’s gonna be a walk-though, but he’s made the final at Pipe, made the semis the next year to back it up, he’s charged Chopes before, he does really good in Hawaii, so he’s surprised me in that way, but not at all in his ability.

When I first started coaching Kanoa to qualify, I told him you can qualify whenever you want. You just have to believe it, and you’ll get there in the drop of a hat. And he said, “Yeah, I’m ready.” And then boom, he was on.

You gotta remember, he qualified when he was 17. He’s only 21 now. He’s been around for so long, but he’s still so young.

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Steph’s wave yesterday was so incredible, and it really couldn’t have come at a better time. Is that the moment you dream about as a coach—your surfer scoring a perfect-10 to get an easy final win?
Ah, it was unbelievable. She was ripping. She’d had like four or five waves where she couldn’t get into the sevens. Steph was pushing really hard, but she wasn’t picking waves that allowed her to get more than two turns, so it was hard to get a big score. Then that wave came and she just owned it. I’m not sure if it was a fuck-up or not to get in the barrel that deep, but holy shit. And the final turn on that wave was better than any men’s final turn all day. She’s unbelievable.

The Kanoa final was a bit more contested, and there are a lot of people online who think Jeremy got ripped off and that Kanoa’s nine wasn’t really justified. What are your thoughts on all of that?
I actually thought Jeremy’s wave was a little bit higher. That’s just old-school me, because I liked the power of Jeremy’s carves. But I thought Kanoa’s was a nine-flat and Jeremy’s was gonna be a 9.33. So, I don’t know. It happens all the time. But then again, Kanoa mixed his turns up and that’s part of the criteria. It’s all personal perception.

I pretty much sat there the whole event and was baffled by every single score that came through. It’s so weird that the coaches can’t even pick a score.

That’s interesting… do a lot of the coaches feel that way?
Yup. We sit there just baffled most of the time.

Heading into WA, how much will your personal knowledge of those waves play into your surfers’ chances of success? Will they have a distinct advantage because their coach is a local?
Not at all. Last year I had the worst coaching day of my life there. I had Griffin, Zeke, and Kanoa in consecutive heats in the loser’s round, and they all lost.

The truth is that Margie’s is a really tricky wave. You’ve gotta spend time out there and know which equipment to ride and which waves should be taken and which should be let go.

As far as emotions go, how do your wins and losses as a coach compare to your wins and losses when you were the one surfing?
I think I go through all the emotions with the athletes. They all put a lot into and so do I, so the losses are pretty disappointing. But it all depends on how the losses come about. I always tell them, the only way you want to lose is if you get out-surfed, instead of making mistakes with stuff that we’ve worked on. But if they get out-surfed, I always tell them no worries, you just got beaten [laughs]. But when they lose by making an error it’s really frustrating.

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Old boy’s still got a few nooners left in him.

What is the most common piece of advice you tell your surfers before they paddle out?
I don’t know—it’s normally about picking the right waves at the start of the heat. Because if you start on a good wave, it really sets up your whole heat, rather than starting with a “warm-up” wave or whatever. Half the job’s done if you get a strong start.

So, are you a believer that surfers should fight for the inside position at the start of the heat?
No, not at all. I’m a strong believer in not wasting any time in the lineup. If you’re fighting for that inside you’re almost always gonna be out of the lineup, probably missing good waves because of it. And because I’ve got such talented surfers, they’re way better off being in the lineup trying to ride waves rather than jockeying with their competitor. I mean, Mick Fanning never hassled for the inside. He just went, “I’m gonna out-surf you. Let’s go. I don’t wanna waste any time.” So that’s my belief as well.

Last question: what does a successful 2019 look like for you, concerning your surfers’ end of year rankings?
Well, I’m expecting Kanoa to be in a title race at the end of the year. Griffin was injured for the first few events, but he’s finally back to 100% and will be coming up against the top seeds. Expect some upsets there. As for Steph, there’s no place for her other than being World Champion. She’s had a bad start to the season, but now she’s back on top. If she can get through Margaret’s with a good result, she’ll be in a great position at the end of the year.

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