Episode 55: Meet Martin Dunn- Surf Coach and World-Class Surf Trainer
Would you like to be a world-class surfing champion? Or maybe, get out of your shelf once in a while and try something new? Whether you are a young, middle-aged, or advanced in years, you can be the surfer of your dreams! Talent is not everything in surfing so don’t give up! It’s never too late nor is it impossible with perseverance and motivation. You just need courage to go for it and a trainer that believes in you!
Meet Martin Dunn, a Professional Surf Coach and an International Surf Trainer. He’s been in the field for more than 3 decades now and will still be in the years to come. He has coached a variety of audiences, from moms and older ones to champions and winning teams. Martin believes that every person should be given an equal chance to experience the waves and be a better surfer. Today, he’s out to provide the wisdom, tools, and resources for surfers to find the joy and recognition they deserve.
In this episode, we talked about Martin’s own journey- his sacrifices, risks, challenges, and rewards. Martin also shares with us valuable surfing techniques on: achieving balance, gaining speed especially on smaller waves, and combining manoeuvres. He also talks about the most important thing that a surfer must do before paddling out and the biomechanics of a perfect cutback. If you are a surf coach, you may also want to hear expert advice on how to provide instructions, communicate according to your learner’s perspective, and help them face the pressure and frustrations that come with being in the professional league. Don’t trust everything on the web! Tune in and find reliable sources to take your surfing on a higher level!
Listen to the episode here:
- 05:00 The Life of a Professional Surf Coach
- 10:49 Before You Paddle Out!
- 17:41 The Biomechanics of a Perfect Cutback
- 26:55 Catching Waves Techniques
- 32:33 Be the Surfer of Your Dreams
- 39:52 Reliable Resources to Become a Better Surfer
- 46:42 The Surfer’s Real Journey
- 53:11 When and How to Give Advice
Now that housekeeping is out of the way, I’m really excited to introduce you to a worldwide legend. His name is Martin Dunn, and he is my guest today. Martin has been influencing worldwide professional surfing for the past 35 years. He’s a Professional Surf Coach who has taken his students to the summit. He is the driving force behind the success of team Australia and Team Peru’s surfing team and over 20 WCT pro surfers too, such as Julian Wilson, Carissa Moore, Sally Fitzgibbon, and his own son Ben Dunn, just to name a few. So if you grew up learning to surf in Australia, you are bound to have also come across one of his booklets on surfing drills. He started his career by writing a thesis about the perfect cutback. So in essence, Martin is the man.
“You can make the big time if you have a certain level of talent but also the work ethic to work harder. You need to learn how to lose a lot before you start winning and get to the big time. Someone who hasn’t got that package of skills hasn’t got that skill.” -Martin Dunn
So today, we get to know Martin a bit better and find out how he innovated way before the others and became a professional surf coach. Martin also lets us in on a few tips to improve our own surfing. We also get to discover Martin’s latest surfer-related project whose ambition is to make us all better surfers. So without further ado, please enjoy my conversation with Martin Dunn.
I hope you enjoy this episode.
Take care, have fun, and enjoy the waves.
Connect with Martin:
- 11:25 “If you have a chance, get out while you can.” -Martin Dunn
- 15:29 “What’s perfectly correct one day can be perfectly incorrect the next.” -Martin Dunn
- 22:19 “The act of being a coach is to bring instructions into a user-friendly model that people can understand.” -Martin Dunn
- 33:55 “You can’t create a change for better surfing overnight. There is a journey and people need to understand that.” -Martin Dunn
- 34:07 “People are fit enough to surf.” -Martin Dunn
- 47:30 “You can make the big time if you have a certain level of talent but also the work ethic to work harder. You need to learn how to lose a lot before you start winning and get to the big time. Someone who hasn’t got that package of skills hasn’t got that skill.” -Martin Dunn
- 52:17 “One bad coaching session is like going to a restaurant and having one bad meal. Just one bad meal is all it takes to destroy a reputation.” -Martin Dunn
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Now that housekeeping is out of the way, I’m really excited to introduce you to my world of worldwide legend, his name is Martin Dunn and he’s my guest today Martin has been influencing worldwide professional surfing for the past 35 years. He’s a professional surf coach who has taken his students to summits. He is the driving force behind the success of team Australia and team Peru surfing team and over 20 WCT pro surfers too such as Julian Wilson, Carissa Moore, Sally Fitzgibbon and his own son, Ben Dunn, just to name a few. So if you grew up learning to surf in Australia, you’re bound to come across also on one of his booklets on surfing drills. He started his career by writing a thesis about the perfect cutback. So in essence, Martin is the man. So today, we got to know Martin a bit better and found out how he innovated way before the others and became a professional surf coach. Martin also lets us in on a few tips to improve our surfing. He also did get to discover Martin’s latest surf project whose ambition is to make us all better surfers.
So without further ado, please enjoy my conversation with Martin Dunn.
Hello Martin, and welcome to The Oceanriders Podcast. How are you today?
Martin Dunn: Yeah, well, thanks. We’re just gone coming out of winter in Australia and things are warming up. I’m up in Queensland and so things are really good, thanks.
Imi Barneaud: Beautiful. So I guess for the very small number of surfers that don’t know who you are, do you think you could introduce yourself to the listeners?
Martin Dunn: Well, I’m not sure whether I’m that famous, but anyway, yeah, my name is Martin Dunn. I’ve been a surf coach for almost 35 years now, that’s a professional coach, just not dabbling. I committed to it a long time ago, and I’ve tried to do it as professionally as I could. I’ve worked with thousands of surfers that time, some others went on to elite professional surfers, I work with national teams. And I also work at all levels, the recreational surfer who just wants to learn how to do a bit of cut back. The surfing mums, there’s a group of surfing moms I see from time to time and they want to just be able to catch big waves. There’s a grandmother who’s got dreams of being a professional surfer, or that journey of working with them. So I’ve got a full repertoire of instruction, depending on who I’m working with. And I feel confident that I can help people, mainly, because of my experience over the years that I’ve basically made every mistake you can make as a coach, and thought long and hard about, well, how do I not make that mistake again? And the reality is everyone that comes to you is slightly different, has slightly different motivations and expectations, and you’ve got to help them get to where they want to go as fast as they want to work on it.
Imi Barneaud: Hmm, absolutely. So what was it like growing up in Old Bar, New South Wales?
Martin Dunn: Well, Old Bar, New South Wales is about four hours north of Sydney. So you catch a plane in Sydney and drive north for hours. And you come to this little town Colaba, that’s the area I grew up in. I didn’t grow up all by myself, but I grew up about 15 minutes west of the Old Bar, a place called Taree. And when I first started surfing, I didn’t have access to the beach, the only way I could get to the beach was to hitchhike to the beach. So as a 12 year old boy, I convinced my mom that it was alright to hitch a ride to the beach, and then people would know would pick me up. So the journey for me was for four or five years, I hitchhiked to the beach, most occasions. And of course, when you hitchhike to the beach, whatever’s there you surf. So you’re highly motivated, you want to surf. And I think to this day, that’s a big part of the reason why I’m still in the sport, the passion of actually, the hard work of getting there. And then surfing whatever was there really made me highly motivated. My mom used to say to me, the surf won’t run away, when I was young. And I’d say, well, you could be really good today, you know? And so there was always a dream, there’s always that hope that you get out there and be pumping.
Imi Barneaud: Yeah, absolutely. I guess I had the same kind of feeling when I started, because we didn’t have it, we were landlocked as well, and have to go for long distances to actually get to surf. So yeah, I remember the motivation was enormous.
Martin Dunn: Yeah, yeah. Though it’s a journey itself, isn’t it? You can talk about stories about the trip down. In my case, the people who picked me up, and luckily, I didn’t have any trouble, and I survived. There’ll be no way a mother today would allow their child to do that, just wouldn’t happen.
Imi Barneaud: Yeah, absolutely.
Martin Dunn: It’s free and easy time back then.
Imi Barneaud: So if you are landlocked, how did you actually, who gave you the surfing bug in the first place? Or what gave you the surfing bug?
Martin Dunn: Well, in Australia, we have a thing called the Surf Life Saving movement, so if you’re near the coast as a kid, you genuinely end up being, a lot of people end up being a part of the surf club. And what the surf club for young children are, they have competitions, they have running races and they have swimming races. It’s a more competition based team environment, and then they have a barbecue at the end. It’s all good, it’s all friendly. Sometimes, it’s a real community thing. And I like the town revolves around the surf club because of all the families that go there. So my early introduction was through just swimming in the ocean and learning the ocean skills through that. And then my sister had a boyfriend who had a surfboard so I just started playing around on the board when I was 11 or 12, then my father bought me an old backyard board, I didn’t really make it. Well, I floated, it had to float, but it didn’t do much else. But I thought it was the best thing ever. Again, that was a start, and you’ve got to start somewhere. It was always very difficult to hitchhike with that boy because there’s a big log, and people wouldn’t pick you up necessarily because of the size of the board.
Imi Barneaud: I can imagine. And did you have any surfing idols at the time when you started?
Martin Dunn: Not really. In those days, the only surfers you saw were your local surfers, there’s always the better and lesser surfers in that environment. And then every year, there’d be one or two surf movies that would come through to your local cinema, that would be big events. You know, five, seven stories, a window style, you know, like, you’d live for these. You obviously know about them because they were in the surfing magazines and the surfing magazines were the window into who was around, and what was happening, and when those movies were coming. Yeah, my wall obviously was plastered with all the people who were supposed stars, and a lot of cases they were, but they also lived around the corner from the surf photographer, so that was more than likely you getting the shots and being the magazine’s.
Imi Barneaud: It’s brilliant. And what finding, or book, or encounter actually made you change fields and give up your previous jobs and embark on a Sports Science Degree?
Martin Dunn: Well, because of surfing and sport at school, I didn’t do one skill. When I left school, I didn’t really have a lot of ambition other than to go surfing. My first job was an apprenticeship, and I didn’t last in that job. But like today, I love cooking, I cook all the time. I worked as a librarian, building houses and all sorts of jobs. And I ended up in the bank, working in a bank and the bank was okay. But from a stimulation point of view, I did my head in. Nothing against bank workers, but if you get a chance, well, get out while you can. So anyway, at the end of two years of being at the bank, I decided to go to university, and that’s when I went in and became, this was seven years after I left school. I wanted to do something sport, and there was a course on sports science which had a major direction in sports coaching. So we learn about how to coach on different sports., and as a result, then you could go into the school of your choice at the end of your time. Most people wouldn’t work for clubs, or gyms or things like that. Established sports, and my thing was, I was just fascinated in how surfing was and how you could improve surfing. Having the science background, and looking at surfing, and then starting to think deep more deeply into surfing, I really found that it was a stimulating thing. Something I’ve loved all those years. At that point, I’d been a surfer for almost 20 years, and just starting to think about how that worked, why it worked, why it didn’t work really made me go into the early stages of being a surf coach, or calling myself a surf coach.
Imi Barneaud: Yeah, cuz that was quite kind of daring to become a surf coach at that time. What did your family think about that decision?
Martin Dunn: Well, early on I had other jobs as well. I had part time jobs and my wife had a full time job, so there’s a team effort in how you survive that first onslaught of how you pay the bills. Without that support, obviously, I wouldn’t have survived, that’s the reality of the situation. But whenever I could, I worked on my coaching skills. Again, I had to do a lot of traveling in those days. I was living in Old Bar at that time and I said to my wife at the time, my wife Trish, I’ve got to have to do this traveling, but one day, they’ll come to me. Like one day, that sport will get to a point where people are actually wanting to come to me and I won’t have to travel. It probably took me about 8 or 10 years for that to happen. I did a lot of traveling, this was domestic traveling in Australia. And what happened was, I started going around, not many people were into coaching. There were some early adopters, people who, but also there was a guy from Hawaii, Dr. John Jones who had a family of red hot surfers, Malia Jones, Mikala Jones, Daniel Jones, they all became American junior champions at some point in the future. So there’s early adopters, they started to look at what I was doing and they decided that this is something that might help my children. And because I was coming from a science point of view besides being a surfer myself, I had the surfing understanding of what it was, and I had the science thing of how things work in other sports, and I was applying those principles and those laws to surfing. And as I said, I made a lot of mistakes. But the things that work well, I kept them. I kept using them and they got results. They were things that were fake news, some people like to use that term in the world. But you know, if you give people a direction and there’s the leader’s background to it, well, then they can get improvement in their performances, and that’s exactly what’s happened. And the other thing that happened too early on, I started producing products, books, videos, training, diaries, drill books, and that gave me an even deeper understanding of the sport. Because the thing about surfing is that, what works one day and is correct. Another day, doesn’t work and may actually be incorrect depending on the situation. That’s the variance of the sport. It’s different if you’re on a balance beam, and it’s stable, or you’re on a court where there’s no movement. But when you’re in a moving environment, what’s perfectly correct one day can be perfectly incorrect the next.
Imi Barneaud: Yeah, that’s really interesting. One of your training videos, it’s really interesting to actually set aside some extra time before you surf, to actually analyze the environment and even sort of draw out the environment and everything before you actually go in. I thought that was such good advice, nobody’s ever told me to do that in such detail before. That was really super, super helpful information for an average surfer like me.
Martin Dunn: Well, it means that you might miss one or two waves in that surf because you’ve taken the time to actually study the ocean. But the thing is when you’re getting in the ocean, if you’ve studied the ocean and looked at the things that you should look at, you’re probably going to get better quality waves. And you’re probably going to get better rides because you’re going to be taking off in a better position on the way.
Imi Barneaud: Yeah.
Martin Dunn: A big frustration for many people is that they paddle out, and they paddle for a lot of waves and they can’t catch.
Imi Barneaud: Yeah, and they get tired.
Martin Dunn: Yeah. And they get tired, but also when they paddle for [inaudible] they turn around and they start paddling out, and the way that they should [inaudible] breaks on their head, you know what I mean? And we can all relate to that, you just get smashed. A pro surfer from Peru said to me, when you’re paddling, it’s actually the paddle of shame. I thought that, yeah, that’s what it is. You’ve made that mistake and the price you gotta pay is you’re going to get smashed by the next wave behind it. So if you’d like to set a little target, you’re more likely to actually achieve that target.
Imi Barneaud: Absolutely.
Martin Dunn: It’s really that simple.
Imi Barneaud: Yeah. Yeah. I’m not saying at all that the whole thing is limited to that first introduction video because there are tons and tons of things in your website that you can actually learn about. What’s really interesting is you actually wrote a thesis about the forehand cutback, could you tell me what you discovered, or some of your findings in the thesis?
Martin Dunn: Well, again, that was my last year of university. Fundamentally what it was, there’s a subject called biomechanics, and biomechanics is the study of movement and the forces that apply to that to movement. So whenever we do something, whether we kick a ball, or we drive a car, or we run, run down to the beach, we’re actually using the forces that we produce, and then we’re trying to counteract the forces of nature that tried to stop us from doing things. So when you look at someone surfing, you’ve got all these forces happening. You’ve got the force of gravity pushing down, which takes you down a wave. You’ve got the force of the wave itself, and that varies between strong, weak and everything in between. And that depends on a number of factors, the bottom contour that the waves break on the strength of the generating storm and how far away it was, how close it is, and the light. And then as we take off, there’s a force, which is a drag force that’s working to slow us down so our board goes through the waves, so there’s a drag force. For instance, if you finish your wave, if a wave finishes it, it’s breaking and it breaks out into a deep channel. If you drive straight out of the wave into the deep channel, you’ll eventually stop, and the thing that stops you is that drag force, right? So there’s a force that you do, and then there’s nature, and then there’s the forces that the body creates. You know? There’s a thing called summation of forces where when we bend down, by the end, we straighten it. There’s a sequential contraction of the body as we straighten. And what that does that pushes against the board, the board pushes against the water, and then let’s go if you like, and then we go up the wave. Like, I’m not sure they’re explained that correctly, but you know what I mean? There’s a force of your body as well. Coming back to the cutback, early on when I was at university, there was no scientific studies on surfing, there’s really nothing on surfing.
So what I did was, I did this study of, there’s a famous cutback guy by the name of [inaudible] from Australia, used to be a famous surfer back in the 70’s and 80’s. He was one of the first guys to be shown at Nas in Indonesia. He came out and he did this beautiful cutback where he came around and he put it up on the phone, well, that was the cutback I did the biomechanical analysis. What I had to do was to actually say what forces were being applied and what he did to make the cutback smooth, seamless and controlled. So having that understanding that there is a science behind everything we do, you can actually then go and say, okay, well, there’s every single maneuver in surfing, there actually is a correct technique. Some purists might not want to hear that, but that’s the reality from a purely science point of view that there’s a correct technique. The thing that people see when they see different surfers surfing is it’s different surfers interpretation of that technique. So that’s their style, if you like, when I serve. That’s affected by their body shape, their ability, their athleticism, the ability of the muscles to produce power, the conditioning of where they grew up from. Some places produce surfers who are very good at going up and down a wave, and there’s other places that would just surf as they are very good at it. There’s lots of closeouts going fast across a wide area, and they are so up and down. They’re conditioned from where they surf mostly or where they learn the surf, and that has an effect on their style as well. So when I analyze that cutback, that was the thing that really got me to be the coach that I am today because that was the thing that I thought, wow, how good is that? How good is that? That surfing, I’d never actually seen surfing in their life ever. And for most people, they couldn’t care less. I love that stuff. I can talk about surfing in that vein about the technicalities of surfing for as long as you want to talk about.. That’s how it works. But the thing about it though, it’s because it’s such a technical sport. The art of being a coach is actually, you’ve got to bring it into a user-friendly model that people can understand.
Imi Barneaud: Yeah. Yeah.
Martin Dunn: So that’s what I tried. That’s what I’ve tried to do through my whole career, to explain complex tasks into simple explanations. And in some words, sometimes it’s just one word. You can say twist, and that has all sorts of connotations when you’re talking about someone coming off the top of a wave. So twisting off the top of the wave means putting your weight somewhere, putting your body somewhere. But if you actually talk to people about doing that in that long form, it’s all over before you get to the end of the sentence. So from an instructional point of view, you actually have to come up with teaching cues and then explain what the cue means, and then people can then go and work on a particular action with a particular focus on one word, and then they can get it and make perfect sense to them.
Imi Barneaud: Yeah. Because you’ve got lots of expressions that have been actually taken up by the surfing culture. Overall, like the chest over front, the concepts, all sorts of things like that. Could you tell us a bit more about that?
Martin Dunn: Yeah, well, there’s a few of them. Just over front knees is the perfect balance position. So if you do a final maneuver, well, if you do any maneuver, you actually get to recenter over your board to become balanced. So what happens in surfing is we lean off our board to go into maneuver, we do a maneuver, and at some point to finish them, we have to get back over the top of the board. And if we’re doing a combination maneuver, getting back out of the top of the board, it’s only for a moment, there’s just like a 10th of a second or two tenths of a second and then we lean off the board again, to go into the next maneuver. But there is a moment when we are balanced. We talk about dynamic balance. But when you get to the end of the wave, you have more what’s called a static balance where you have to actually get to do a final maneuver and then you push forward to a chest over front knee position. Fundamentally what we’re doing there is we’re putting our weight back over to the center of the board. So the board lands and is totally parallel, it’s flat, so we land flat. So at the moment of landing, we want to be flattening the board. Where that came from, years ago, I mentioned the Jones family. Years ago, I was working with Mikala Jones. Mikala Jones is a recognized free surfer these days, she’s based in Berlin. Often you’ll see deep barrels of Mikala somewhere.
But anyway, when she was about 15, we’re working on these more basic maneuvers. One of the maneuvers was finishing the flow, she was surfing this place, this little secret spot at the back of the North shore. She was performing this maneuver, this finishing flow, the finish, which was on a really sucky little end section. It was difficult to make. And what she was doing, she was going for the floater and she was landing, but she was catching the outside rail and landing so she was wiping out. She came in, I said: “Listen, why don’t you try just putting your head over your front knee when you try to land?” Just to give her a focal point, and then what he went out any other waves of similar, again, a few more times, and this time she was just catching. She was catching and almost making but it didn’t quite work. So the next time she came in I said: “Listen, that finishing, let’s try chest over front, just push that extra six inches if you like.” Every time she went out, and like every single time, that was probably 25 years ago, it was a revelation. I still use it today. It works today, like good information doesn’t get old. And that’s just one of those things that is so essential to being a successful surfer. And for a lot of people, a lot of recreational surfers, having that, understanding that, I’ve just got to get to that end point in a maneuver can just change the surfing in a big, big way.
Imi Barneaud: Yeah. I also noticed in your training courses that there’s a quiz that you have to do at the beginning. I’m not actually in the maneuver section yet, but what was really important is actually finishing that wave. I thought that was really, really interesting. The actual hole of going up, cutback bottom term, whatever. And then the actual finish is almost as important as the other maneuver in itself.
Martin Dunn: Well, yeah. When I look at the surface for the first time, the first thing I look at is what they do before they catch a wave. So they’re positioned in the ocean and then their decisions on catching waves, they take off. But when they’re actually on a wave surfing, it’s very important that they start off the wave and their end of the wave is solid. If I’m going to instruct someone, that’s where I start. Okay, I call that the bookends of the ride. The things that hold everything else up. So at the start of the wave, the good entry into the wave, you need a good, fast, up fast if you’ve got that ability and then you’ve gotta be able to create horizontal speed. Most people, probably 70% of people can’t create speed. Well, and the thing about creating horizontal speed is that, if you can create horizontal speed well, with the correct technique, you can surf small waves really well because small waves need speed, otherwise you’re catching around all the time doing turns. When you’re catching small waves, having a good entry into the wave popping out fast and then getting your speed quickly before thinking about doing a turn. So get your speed first and then use that speed to do your maneuvers, you’re going to have a much better time in small waves. So it’s essential for any surfer that they learn how to create speed. And at the start of the wave, that’s all a part of the pop up as well. So pop up into a speed creation technique is really important. And then at the end, this is doing the maneuver. A big part of it is choosing at the end, choosing what you’re being faced with. So the different sections have a different maneuver to perform. If it’s a family section at the end, well, then just a reentry is what you need to do. If it’s a longer section, then there’s a flow there. If it’s a sucky section, there’s a maneuver called the lip line finish. That’s a really simple technique to get, but it’s something that a lot of people don’t like because it’s a little bit too heavy for them, or they’re a little bit fearful of the consequences of wiping out in those sucky end sections that they all come back to the chest over front. So if you choose the right maneuver, and then do the maneuver, and then chest over front knee, normally you’re finished will be pretty right.
Imi Barneaud: Wow. Wow. You were saying about gaining speed, you see, lots of short boarders trying to pump on the wave, is that a good way of actually gaining speed, or is there a sort of more gracious way of actually gaining speed?
Martin Dunn: Well, no. I try and get people not to pop up there. Well, you call it bouncing or you call it hopping. That’s their reason for grinding speed when they haven’t got the correct technique in their repertoire.
Imi Barneaud: Right, okay.
Martin Dunn: The way to create speed is, if you remember at school, you probably used to do a thing called a standing broad jump where you stand behind the line and you have to jump as far as possible, that’s what you need to do on the wave. You need to actually jump to your feet and then you straighten your body and lift your arms up to shoulder level or face level. So you end up with a straight body, your hands straight in front of you like a zombie, and what you’re trying to do there is you’re trying to lift your weight up onto your toes. So you’re riding the surfboard, you’ve basically thrown yourself up, and the board in response jumps forward. And if you look in, you’ve been into my website, if you’re looking at the speaker creation area, that shows that, graphically, that technique, I was just talking to someone the other day that, as 15 year old surfers, Sally Fitzgibbon, Nikki van Dijk, Connor O’Leary who’s in the CT, [inaudible] in the CT, those surfers alone couldn’t create speed. What they used to do is they used to bounce a [inaudible]. Now, when they are actually trying to create speed, they’re always straightening their body and lifting their arms forward, and that’s one of the main techniques, as I said, it’s one of the main things I teach because I know how essential it is. And as an aside, last year the Pipe Masters in Hawaii, Kelly Slater got a 10 point ride. He got this big, deep, long forehand barrel at the backdoor pipeline, and he got that. And the only reason he made that is because he used that speaker creation four or five times inside the tube.
Imi Barneaud: Wow, okay.
Martin Dunn: I’ve actually done a, anyway, you can find that [inaudible], and you’ll see him stall and take off, and then he’ll start pumping in the tube. He can do that technique. If someone else who hasn’t got that technique was taking off in that situation, they wouldn’t have made that tube. So that’s the other extreme. This is a technique that’s used in numerous situations, I highly recommend that every surfer should learn it. It’s very, very important to us, to a surfing performance.
Imi Barneaud: Yeah. Yeah. Well, I definitely sort of check out your website because it’s all explained really, really well with videos and all sorts of techniques, diagrams and things like that. So, yeah, absolutely. So what exactly the pillars of your philosophy and training programs, have you got a certain structure to them?
Martin Dunn: Yeah, for sure. My baseline is I want to help people reach their potential, whatever that potential may be. So for some people that come to me, they can be national champions, they can go on to professional surfers and I know I’ve had over 25 who actually have gone on to being a WCT, 25 surfers. So I’ve worked with a lot of really, really strong surfers, but I’ve also worked with a lot of people who want to just enjoy their surfing more, and recreation. They realize they’re not going to be the one that they dreamed of the surfer, they dream of, but they still want to have a level of proficiency in their performance. And you know, that’s important because as surfers, we all know that if we have a good surf, it makes our day. A big part of a lot of surfers go from an early surf in the morning for work or school, and a lot of those surf dictate what the day is going to be like. Having a certain level of proficiency is important for people, whether that’s from an intrinsic point of view, I feel good about myself because I can surf, although I want to show off to their friends, or they want to have confidence when they travel around the world, they want to be able to go to other places around the world and be able to feel a part of the pack even though they don’t belong in that local pack, you know what I mean? So that’s really important from my point of view, I help people get there. There is a journey with which you can create a change or better surfing overnight. And there is a journey that people just have to understand that that’s the case. Where I go from first, I assume that people are fit enough to surf.
Earlier in my coaching, I did fitness training as well as technical and competition training, but I don’t do that now. I leave that to the experts because there’s a lot of experts out there in the world of surfing. And it might be just going to a yoga teacher, it might be just going to your local gym, unless you’ve got a really big ambition, you don’t need to be working with the number one trainer in the world unless that’s something that’s important to you. Just having a level of fitness that helps you feel stronger in the water, feel more supple, and most important these days is to reduce the incidence of injuries. That’s important, especially for those who are wanting to push their surfing. There’s definitely a higher incidence of injuries now than there ever was, but the base of everything is technique. In my work, I do a lot of work with people on developing good technique because I work with a lot of professional surfers or competition surfers. What happens is I found the pressure, when you’re under pressure, you do what feels most natural. So on a given day, if you’re out there and you’re falling on your cutback or you’re falling on your finishes, and then you compete for instance, way under pressure, you’ll do the same. Your body tightens up, and the things that feel most comfortable for you. For some people, falling off every way feels most comfortable to them. That’s just who they are, and that’s just where they are in their surfing. But if you work on your technique, and you work on and you understand when any particular maneuvers should be performed, considering what the waves doing, what you faced, the section you face, because when you’re going through a section that might be, you might have three or four choices, if you’ve got a full repertoire, you might do a re enter or you can drive out five further out and do a snap maneuver, or you might just drive out further and do a full cup bag, but that’s your choice. If you’ve got the ability to do all those maneuvers.
So choosing the right maneuver for the section is a big part of advancing a performance, but you actually have to be able to perform the maneuvers first. You’ve got to have this base of performance before you can take your surfing to another level. Again, what happens is when you’re learning how to do these maneuvers, you’re going to make big mistakes. There’s a work reality to improve that you cannot make a lot of mistakes, you’ve got to work through the frustrations of the training environment. And then when you start getting a bit of success, then you start to feel better about yourself and then you enjoy your surfing more. Like for instance, if I have a two day camp with someone, with an individual or in a group situation, what my aim is in that two days, by the afternoon of the second set of fourth session, I’m hoping that they’ve whatever skills that I’ve identified, I’m hoping that they’ve actually had some successful executions with those skills because what I’ve done is I’ve shown them how to do the skill, a cutback for instance. I’ve shown them how to do skills. We’ve done some simulations of those skills on skateboards or on the beach. They’ve gone out and tried it and they’ve been successful or they haven’t, usually they’re not very successful to start with. But we video every session and then you go back and review it, and then you go back again and you do it again. But usually by the afternoon of the second day, you’re starting to see people get a sense of what it’s like. That’s with me being there. That’s with me being there, guiding them and giving them encouragement because it’s hard. Once a skill is being developed, it’s hard to change that skill. You know what I mean? It’s really difficult to change that so there’s gotta be a want, but then you’ve got to know what that skill should look like so you need the demonstration of the skill. And then what happens is then you’ve got to go through the, if you like the experimental learning phase, so you know what you’re supposed to do, and then you go out and show it. And because the coach is not next to you, you’ve actually got to figure that out yourself as you’d paddle around and you’ve also got to make a decision about, should I do it here in this section? Or should I do a further down the line? So there’s all those, that’s why it’s incredibly hard to make these changes. And what happens is that, if you don’t have that perseverance, well then there’s a certain time when you go, I know this is just too hard, and then I’m just going to go and have fun.
Imi Barneaud: It is all in the kind of mindsets sort of thing, there’s a lot.
Martin Dunn: Yeah. And then what happens is that, if you like, you’re there on the prefaces of actually having more fun because they’re going to be doing the skill more successfully and consistently, if they can just persevere a little bit more. The big thing though that people have to understand is there’s a lot of information out there on the web right now about how to do things in the sport of surfing? Not all of it’s correct. Some of it is out there to build an audience for their business, right? What people have to understand is there is a correct technique. And then if you are looking to revise, you need to sort through the chaff if you like to find the goal that will give you the information.
Imi Barneaud: Right, right. That’s really interesting. And actually to also have a place online, which is your website, where you have all this information, that sort of goldmine. How long did it take you to actually compile all this information, all the videos and everything that’s on your website?
Martin Dunn: My current website now is it took me, I’ve been about 18 months working on the website so there’s over four videos, there’s all the texts, there’s images. I’m doing webinars, I’m doing interviews with people, and everything’s to do with being a better surfer or talking to people who have worked with people who have become better surfers, or sports scientists who have got information about the background of surfing and how it can be done better. My website’s not about surf trips or who won the contest, even though that can be touched upon. My website’s all about, well, how do people actually become a better surfer? But before that, I get a website called surfcoach.com. So back in 2008, I did a massive website, which is another big project I did. And surfcoach.com went pretty well. I had a couple of hundred videos on there, and a lot of technical staff, and very similar to what my new sites got, but what I’ve done on my new site under my own name is that I’ve put not only how to do a maneuvers, but I’ve added the training drills that people can do. So that ran simulation, the Skype simulations, the surf [inaudible] that they can go, the background information on the decision making skills I have to have, because sometimes as I said, sometimes it works on one day, sometimes it doesn’t on another day so you actually have to consider all those things if you want a good outcome from the training. So having an understanding of how to do the maneuver is only the first step. The next step is actually, how do I go about creating it in my performance? And that’s the big step I’ve taken with my website this time. My aim is to build, if you like the encyclopedia of surfing development, that’s a big call. But yeah, with 35 years of understanding and working with surfers of every level, I feel confident that I’m going to go a long way towards that over the next four to five years.
Imi Barneaud: Beautiful. What was it like working with your students that have become sort of world famous elite surfers? What was your experience from that time with them?
Martin Dunn: Well, the good thing about it is they’re all really, really good people, they’re all really nice people, and I’m fortunate to call them all friends. It all started with a girl when I’m [inaudible] who was on the tour for about eight years. She was the same time as Layne Beachley and Pam Berridge. Those early motivated surfers, I probably learned more from them than they learned from me. You know what I mean? Like going through the process and what worked, what didn’t work, traveling with understanding the emotional roller coaster, the highs and the lows, there’s a lot that goes into it. Then there’s also the support around them, the family, the mom and the dad, the siblings, they all factor into the development of a surfer. Fundamentally though, the champions have all got an intrinsic motivation more than any than those around them. So doing or too hard because I know that, like for instance in those days, I was working with her and there was a big flood and she couldn’t go to the gym, I was always providing her fitness programs for her at that time. She couldn’t go to the gym, her normal route, which was only a 15 minute drive. So what she did, she drove 60 to 80 minutes, the long way around, to go to the gym, to do the training. And I said to her, you didn’t need to do that. And she said, well, it’s in my program, I’m going to do it. Nikki van Dijk, when she was about 16, her and her sister, they live 15 hours drive from me. So I saw Nikki four or five times a year, we do what I call block training together. But this particular time, her and her sister drive up from Phillip Island to Old Bar, which is a 15 hour drive. Nikki trained for three days, they got back in the car and they drove back to Phillip Island, a 15 hour drive. And yeah, why didn’t they fly? Well, they couldn’t afford to fly, it was cheaper to drive. Most people would say, I wouldn’t do that. There’s just no way I do that. You know what I mean? But this is what champions do. They do things that are useful and helpful to them. That’s one of the characteristics of those champions. The other thing about them is the tremendous parental support that they received from their parents. Most of those parents were what I call passive parents, and the fact that they provided the support, the money, the transport, the love to get the way they need to go.
On the other side of that, there’s a number of people that don’t make it. They have proactive parents, and proactive parents are people who push work hard. If there’s a result against them, they argue the point. Everything that I do, they push rather than allow the child to grow and display their true ability as a surfer. I’ve seen a lot of those people who desperately want to be successful. They were conditioned about it by their parents. There’s some stories there that probably aren’t worth repeating, but that’s just the reality. But genuinely, the journeys are really good. I think the big part about it is I have a big learning curve as a professional surfer because it’s not a normal existence. They’re on the road, they’re living out of suitcases, and professional surfing is a hell of a lot traveling and a little bit of competing. They’ve got to adjust to airports, transport, miss flights, different cultures, different languages. My son for instance, when he was a professional, he was on the WCT for four years. His first time to France, he got lost. He was driving from the airport down to Bordeaux and [inaudible]. and he got lost on the freeway. He took the wrong turn and he rang up home in Australia and he said: “I don’t know where I am. We’re in Australia with a match on the advising.” We say: “Why don’t you go to ask?” And he said: “Well, I tried to, but they won’t speak to me in English.”
Imi Barneaud: Oh, no.
Martin Dunn: Just simple little things like that, difficult as skills.
Imi Barneaud: What did you feel like when your son actually qualified for the WCT? What was that feeling like?
Martin Dunn: Well, I thought it had to happen because he was a very good surfer. He used to be world U-16 champion, he was three times Australian champion, he was world U18 champion, it was really only a matter of time before he qualified. A big part of qualifying for a lot of people who are dominant in their age group, their junior pedigree suggests how far they’re going to go. So if they’re outstanding and they win everything, my son was one of those. Julian Wilson, Sally Fitzgibbon, Stephanie Gilmore, they’re the top of people, Mick Fanning, they’re the people who win early. and will often. They end up WCT, normally it takes them two years. You can make the big time if you’ve got a certain level of talent, but also you’ve got the work ethic to work hard at it. And that’s normally a three to five year journey. So a lot of people who go out to try and qualify, if they haven’t got a pedigree, they need to be counseled that fact that this is a journey, this is going to be tough for you. I know I’ve had that conversation with a number of people over the years, knowing that it is going to be a journey and there’s going to be a lot of, they’ve got to learn how to lose a lot before they start winning to get to the big time. But it’s an achievement, everyone around them, everyone around those surfers over the moon, those people who are moderately talented, if they qualify too early, say a two year qualification, they usually don’t last there because there’s this package of skills that they need more than just surfing. They need to be able to have the pressure of surfing instruments.
Mick fanning, Kelly Slater, they have to handle the pressure of being interviewed everyday. I have to handle the pressure of people coming up and wanting their autographs. In the WQS, that doesn’t happen. When they get to the big time, there’s all those different pressures. And there’s also the pressure in the WCT that you might surf, you might compete on day one and then not compete until day 10 so you’ve got seven or eight days off, where you don’t compete, you just sit around. You gotta be like a Ferrari in a garage, you’ve gotta be ready to go. And someone who hasn’t got their package of skills hasn’t got that skill. I haven’t learned those other intangible skills that a top-line pro has. Besides, learning the difference as well around the world, [inaudible], they’re all learning curves themselves. So it’s a big world for those people. But it’s exciting as well as good rewards to be had. Hopefully, it comes back in a positive way after COVID. It really is a great achievement when you think about these people. There’s top 30 in the world in the men, and top 16 in the women, out of what? 30 million people who surf, maybe 40 million people who surf, whatever the numbers are. This is a real achievement in anyone’s language.
Imi Barneaud: Yeah.
Martin Dunn: When you think about it, aside Kelly Slater, Kelly Slater in my view is the best athlete of any sport ever. He is just our phenomenon. If he hadn’t been in some other sport, he would have been a superstar of the highest order. It’s just unbelievable what that guy has done in his career and he’s still doing it. Anyway, that was just an aside. I just wanted to mention that, my feelings on it.
Imi Barneaud: Yeah, absolutely. But no, it is incredible what Kelly Slater’s have achieved and all that. All the people on the WCT are a real phenomenon. I guess we’re almost ready to pop the bus and finish this lovely conversation. I was just wondering, what’s the best memory or surfing memory out of all the places that you visited?
Martin Dunn: Well, the thing I really like, I’ve been very, very fortunate because I’ve been in the game, because when you produce books and videos, you become known as an expert in the field. As a result of that, I also was an Australian coach for four or five years so that gives you credibility around the world as well. I’ve been very fortunate to have traveled the world extensively, the surfing world extensively. I’ve worked for other countries and other organizations as well. I really like working in other cultures. You’re delivering the same information, but you actually, every different culture you go to, you have to modify it depending on the culture. I worked closely with [inaudible] in Japan, he’s one of the main guys in Japan. I was proving for a couple of years, working with Japanese, I’ve worked with the Americans, they speak the same language as us but they’re not the same people. There’s the Peruvians or South Americans, I’ve worked with some French surfers as well. My son-in-law is a French guy from Brittany actually so I’ve got to know some really nice things. So there’s some really nice people, but every different culture is stimulating and interesting. That’s the thing I really enjoy doing, working in those environments. They’re stressful because you’re always trying to do the best job. I’ve always thought that if you, one bad coaching session is like going to a restaurant and having one bad meal, just one bad meal is all it takes to destroy your reputation. You know what I mean? So I always try and prepare, and do the best job I can with whoever I’m working with. But working with a different culture, I walk in really neutral and I try to be not opinionated. But when my expertise is required, well, then I’m top of that, I provide my advice without fear or favor. That’s the stimulating thing for me, that’s the big thing. I’ve had wonderful experiences. I’ve surfed all over the world as well. I’ve surfed some great surfs in the time. But as a coach, I’ve been on the beach and I’ve seen some outstanding surfing in my time, too many to mention really.
Imi Barneaud: Yeah. But you were saying at the beginning that you traveled a lot when you started out, now, everybody’s traveling to you, how does that make you feel?
Martin Dunn: There’s a validation that what you’re saying is correct. It’s a validation that people feel that you’ve got what they’re after. They’re looking for answers, then you’ve got that. I’m a lot more certain in my opinion now, like the thing is, I don’t provide an opinion to someone unless I’m sure of that opinion. Because as soon as you actually say something about the performance, say that you need to work on your turn or you need to, your wave is not good, or as soon as you say that to someone, in that student’s brain, it’s in their mind and they start dwelling on it.So when I’ve talked to people, I don’t give advice unless I’m sure of my opinion about what’s the surfers requirements are. I don’t give advice unless I’ve got a solution. It’s one thing to say, listen now, your cutback is no good. Go and work on your cutback. What that’s done if I say that is, I’ve given you a double negative, really, because you don’t know how to work on your cutback. And the coach thinks I’ve got a terrible cutback. But around the world, there’s so much instruction going on from what I see. The big thing about the validation is that all the work that I’ve done, all the groundwork I’ve done, if someone was going to be a coach, you mentioned that before we started, someone’s going to be a coach. The more they can read, the more they can understand the sport, the more thorough they can be, and the more that too, you don’t always have to give an opinion when someone says, what do you think? Especially the higher up the surfer is, often I’ll say, Oh, go and get a few more waves. I’m not sure. Because as I said, you don’t want to play and think of someone who may sleep on it and toss and turn on whatever you said. So yeah, that validation comes from people like what I do, obviously. I don’t advertise for my coaching because I’ve got my website that I’m promoting. But you know, I’m not out there doing a lot, I just walk around and I do my thing. And then if people like what I do.
For instance, people like Jessi Miley-Dyer who’s the commissioner for the WSL, I was her coach for five or six years before she became a professional surfer. Her and her best friend Rebecca Woods who are great students, great to work with great girls, they’re people who recommend people to me. I’ve worked a number of times with Bethany Hamilton. She sends me videos for review. For me, that’s the greatest validation ever. Somebody like her who I think is up there with Kelly Slater, she’s a Kelly Slater in my mind. With what she’s done, I’m more stoked for her to do that. She would get the videos that I sent her. So yeah. I don’t want people to think I’m name dropping there. I think that you asked me about what I think about, I’m stoked that people find what I’ve done in my work of such value. Like, I want to send my video, I want his opinion. It’s a really good acolyte on 35 years of hard work.
Imi Barneaud: Absolutely, yeah. Wonderful. It’s a really lovely way to actually sort of conclude this conversation. Do you think you could give the listeners all the details of your website so that we can come and check it out.
Martin Dunn: Yeah. Yeah. My website is under my name so it’s martindunn.com.au. So it’s an Australian address, obviously on the web, it’s accessible from anywhere in the world. I’ve got over 400 videos. I’ve actually just started putting up how to fix specific errors so people who’ve got errors in their surfing, I’m going to have about 50 of those. If you can’t reach the phone when you do your cup and run out of speed, well then that’s it. So anyway, those sorts of things, and I’m wanting to, as I said to you before, I’m wanting my website to become known in time as the authority on how you become a better surfer, that’s my aim, that’s what I’m working towards. And at the moment, I’ve got three or 400, over 300 people who are members of my site. Right now, anyone can come in seven days free just like you, Imi, seven days free. You don’t have to put your credit card in. I’m hoping at the end of the seven days, some of those people will come and say, yeah, I’d like to be a part of it. I’d like to know more and have a journey with me. I’m really comfortable with those people who don’t stay, because what I’m actually showing them, there is a way you can become a better surfer.
Imi Barneaud: Yeah.
Martin Dunn: You can take all those nuggets of information that I’ve got and you can use them to you better. Even if you pick out one thing about, because a lot of new surfers for instance, they have trouble catching waves. So if you just learn about preparing for your paddle out, and knowing where the sit in the ocean, and you get that from my website, on a seven day free trial and never come back, I’m stoked, I’ll be really happy.
Imi Barneaud: That’s fantastic. Are you on Facebook, or Instagram or anything?
Martin Dunn: Just under my name. You just type my name in and I’ll come up.
Imi Barneaud: Okay. So what are your plans for the next month?
Martin Dunn: Well, in Australia because of the COVID, we’ve been more fortunate than a lot of places around the world. We haven’t had drastic lockdowns, even though Melbourne is in lockdown right now. We’re relatively free to travel around and live a semi-normal life. It’s changed, but it’s semi-normal. What I’m doing next few months is continuing to work on my website. That’s pretty well my full time job now. I’ve got people who want me to do half days, full days with them so I’ll go. I come up with new content when I’m working with people. I think, okay, I can make a movie on that, or other people will be interested in that. And also, a lot of people send me videos. I mentioned Bethany, well, there’s a lot of recreational surfers who send me videos and I do reviews on their videos and send them training from that. So individualized to their needs. A lot of people do that and that’s all available through my website. So if you’ve got, yeah, really anyone who wants to be a bit, if they’ve got a video of themselves, really, it doesn’t matter what level they are, I can pinpoint exactly what they need to take that next step. So that’s what I’ll be doing. I’ll be reviewing videos, working with surfers. And then as soon as they open the border, the Australian’s can travel, I’ll be flying somewhere.
Imi Barneaud: Fantastic. It was an absolute delight to speak to you and to learn more about your career and your programs, and how to become a better surfer. And I really thank you for your time. How do you feel?
Martin Dunn: I feel great. Thanks. Yeah, really good. It’s a real pleasure to share my understanding of what surfing is. And I’m really looking forward to, hopefully getting some of your listeners coming in and seeing what I’m offering and building the knowledge for the future.
Imi Barneaud: Brilliant. Well, thank you very much and hope to speak to you soon. Take care. Bye.
Martin Dunn: Thanks Imi.
Imi Barneaud: I hope you enjoyed this conversation. I don’t know about you, but I could just picture Martin growing up in Australia, hitchhiking to the beach with a surfboard. In fact, at the moment, I’m reading Bob McTavish book and there’s a lot of resemblance. Martin also so modest about his achievements, but it was such a great privilege to talk to him. It was amazing. I love the way Martin is still also innovating and sharing his encyclopedic knowledge by his websites and with travel being on the hold for a while. Maybe the best way is to log onto his website, subscribe to the free trial and perhaps improve some area in your surfing. So head over to martindunn.com.au and check it out. Martin is also is on Instagram and Facebook, all the links to his socials are in the show notes that are in your app or on theoceanriderspodcast.com. Head over to theoceanriderspodcast.com also to find extra photos of Martin, some of his students and his epic track record. Until next episode, take care, thank you for listening. Thank you Martin for being my awesome guest, and thank you Leng for being my awesome editor. Until next episode, take care, have fun and enjoy the waves. Ciao.