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Richard "Dog" Marsh on The Art of Coaching

Richard "Dog" Marsh was a successful professional surfer who finished the 1992 Championship Tour season with a career-high ranking of 8th. After retiring at just 28 in 1994, Marsh ran his own surf shop in Cronulla, Australia, before relocating to France with his family in 2005. Six years ago Billabong appointed him as their International Junior Development Coach, and he has worked closely with Europe's most talented groms, as well as elite athletes like Australia's Ryan Callinan and Portugal's Frederico Morais. Marsh was in the channel at Sunset as coach when the Portuguese surfer made his dramatic surge to the Samsung Galaxy Championship Tour, and we caught up with him to chat about that, including what it takes to be an elite surfing coach in 2017.

WSL: We'll start with Frederico. How long have you been working with him?
Richard Marsh: I first started working with Fred about six years ago. I saw the potential and I saw a lot of work too [laughs]. However with Fred it was apparent that there was an eye contact and intensity that was really easy to tap into. It still is.

Frederico Morais at the Hawaiian Pro. Never short on words, Dog gives his charge some advice backstage at the Hawaiian Pro. WSL / Steve Sherman

How was it being in the channel at Sunset and watching him secure his CT spot?
It was amazing. Sunset is one of the few places where you are right in the mix. You feel like a football or rugby coach right on the sidelines. I was ripping into Fred, just yelling at him between waves. I mean Fred's from Portugal, that's how they talk [laughs]. It was a great experience.

How did he handle the whole experience?
Between the last events we had a 12- or 13-day wait, which was awful, but he stayed so composed, it was really impressive. Then at Sunset he only had one wobble early when he undersurfed a few waves. That ended up being a blessing because I took him aside and said, "You can't do that, you have to go all-out. This is either fall or win. It's that simple, you cannot pull back." And from then on, that was the rule.

Frederico Morais during his Semi Final heat. Morais, going all out at Sunset. WSL / Ed Sloane

Were you happy with the way he surfed?
Well obviously, he made back-to-back Finals in Hawaii and his surfing was incredible. But one of my main philosophies of coaching is that it's not about coaching the surfing I want to see. It's really about them surfing how they want to. So for me that means a lot of filming, so they can look at the footage and make their own minds up. They decide if they like what they are seeing, it's not how I perceive it.

How important is the role of a coach in the modern era?
Well, it's not my world, it's not about me. I'm just here to support the surfers. I've had my moment in the sun, so it's purely a support position. You don't want to over exaggerate that role. It's simply about trying to find a way to be of the most assistance and taking it from there.

Ryan Callinan, having a moment in the sun.
0:35
The Australian rookie pulled out all the stops against John John, taking their Round Three match to the wire.

If you had to give a single piece of advice to your surfers what would it be?
My advice is always just to enjoy it. You have to stay in the space where you keep learning, but you also have to appreciate it. Appreciation is a currency, and it's not used enough. The kids today can have issues with expectation, and that can be a negative thing. So you have to remember that you do it because you love surfing, and just because you happen to be good at it, amazing opportunities can come. That's a real gift.

What other aspects of coaching and surfing has changed recently?
I think we'll see a lot more injuries in the younger kids as the sport progresses. The height of the airs and the amount of speed they are holding through the turns, well, we just didn't do that back in the day. So that is a massive part of what we do now, incorporating injury prevention as a fundamental part of our strength and conditioning training.

Ethan Ewing placed second in Heat 13 of Round Three at the Hawaiian Pro at Haleiwa, Hawaii today. Ethan Ewing has already suffered a broken leg. Injury prevention is now a coach's big responsibility. WSL / Kelly Cestari

What have you most enjoyed about your coaching?
Well Billabong Europe gave me the opportunity to build a Bloodlines program with a pathway from the juniors through to the Qualifying Series and then to the CT. So for me that's the ultimate opportunity as a coach. To work with completely unknown surfers and raw talent and play a small part in seeing it develop over time. It's been a real privilege.

Frederico Morais placed second in Heat 3 of Round Four at the VANS World Cup of Surfing at Sunst Beach, Hawaii today. Morais and Marsh take a breather after six years of hard work, and good times. WSL / Kelly Cestari
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