Home-grown world champion surfers bring the bling back to the Coast After another dramatic Hawaiian pro surfing season, the Gold Coast has added one more world title to its long list of surfing champions. And it was very nearly two.
Stephanie Gilmore faced an anxious wait as her nearest rival Tyler Wright lost the final of the Maui Target Pro in late November. Wright’s loss to Carissa Moore gave Gilmore her sixth world title, and edged her close to Layne Beachley’s record of seven.
Three-time world champ Mick Fanning stumbled in the fifth round of the Billabong Pipeline Masters to miss out on his chance of securing a fourth world title, relinquishing the crown to young Brasilian sensation Gabriel Medina. Even so, between them, Gilmore and Fanning have won nine world titles and are just the latest in a long line of Gold Coast surf champions, stretching back to Phyllis O’Donnell, Australia’s first world surfing champion in 1964.
There are nearly seven billions souls on the planet, at last count. Only 5,000 of them, or 0.00007% of them call the small coastal town of Coolangatta home.
And yet, since 2006, Coolangatta surfers have claimed six out of eight women’s world titles and four of the last eight men’s titles. And on three occasions home grown surf stars have scored the double, claiming both men’s and women’s crowns. Eighteen Gold Coast surfers have collected ASP (Association of Surfing Professionals) and ISA (International Surfing Association) world titles.
It’s a remarkable record that makes this little surf-mad town the hub of world surfing and the most successful surf region on earth.
The Gold Coast’s phenomenal surf goes some way to explaining the concentration of surf champions, reared on one of the world’s great elite sports training facilities, shaped largely by nature but with a little help from man.
But the waves are only part of the equation. Plenty of places in the world have incredible surf. A clue to the secret to Mick and Steph’s success, and the Gold Coast’s storied lineage of champions, might be found in their surfing pedigree.
The boardriders clubs our latest world champions hail from – Steph from Snapper Rocks and Mick from Kirra – both celebrated their 50th anniversaries recently. That’s five decades of organised competition and fierce interclub rivalries that help local surfers become battle-hardened warriors – competing in endless club rounds, regional, state and national titles – before they make it to the world tour. When they paddle into battle they may have surfed four or five times more heats over their careers than their international rivals from around the surfing world.
Mick and his immediate predecessor as men’s world champ, Joel Parkinson, both hail from the same surfing excellence program at Palm Beach Currumbin High School.
Mick still trains with the same coach that has guided his development since he was a gangly teenage schoolboy, Phil McNamara, who now accompanies him on the world tour. PBC only adopted a surfing excellence program after surfing students like Mick, Joel and their peers demanded a sporting alternative to the focus on rugby league. Local surf coaches like Eddie Valladares pioneered the development of surfing-based curriculum that has since been exported around the world. And the success of PBC’s surfing excellence program now attracts surfing students from as far afield as Japan and Indonesia, hoping to emulate Mick and Joel’s success.
The other key factor in these surfers’ success has been the finely tuned surfcraft prepared for them by local surfboard builders like Darren Handley and Jason Stevenson. Both Mick and Steph rode Handley’s designs to win their world titles – Mick has been riding Darren’s board since he was 13. Joel has worked closely on his equipment with JS for most of his pro career. Elite surfers go through dozens of boards a year and the ability to work closely with the best surfboard designers over years results in the most refined surfboard designs on the planet.
Add to this warm water, a balmy sub-tropical climate, an intense concentration of high-level surfers with fierce competition in the water on a daily basis and consistent year-round waves, and you have a recipe for rapid surfing development. Simply, the Gold Coast represents surfing’s equivalent of a disciplined dojo dedicated to wave-riding mastery.
With a peak administrative body, Surfing Australia, that boasts the world’s only elite surf-specific training facility in the word, the Hurley High Performance Centre, just down the coast at Casuarina, it could be claimed Gold Coast surfers almost have an unfair advantage.
But with Gabriel Medina igniting Brasil’s passion for surfing, expect new challengers from South America and beyond. Can the Gold Coast maintain its competitive edge? As long as the waves keep rolling, it’d take a brave surfer to bet against it.