This time last year rookie Conner Coffin thought his dream of making the Championship Tour was over. After suffering a couple stinging QS losses he considered throwing in the towel. After all, he'd been knocking on the qualification door for years, but it seemed locked. Fortunately, his brother Parker talked him out of it.
One year later, Coffin is already in the Quarterfinals at Bells, having defeated Joel Parkinso, Mick Fanning and Jordy Smith just to get there. After earning a ninth place finish on the Gold Coast, the rookie could easily be leaving the Rip Curl Pro ranked within the Top 5.
We caught up with Conner to get a glimpse of the mindset that's contributing to his recent success.
WSL: How are you looking at yourself a couple events in? Do you feel more pressure having gotten a solid result at Snapper?
Conner Coffin: I definitely look at myself as an underdog, but I don't really get any pressure because I got 9th at Snapper. In reality I don't think a lot of people count that as a good result. But there is a big point jump from the third round to 9th. I guess going into a rookie year and getting a couple results under your belt that will help keep you on Tour is good. I think if you're going for a World Title, 9th place isn't very cool. I'm just trying to do my best in each event. Round 3 is a tough round because you come up against the best guys, so if you can bust through that it's a good hurdle to get over. Especially with a lower seed.
WSL: You took down former World Champ and event winner Parko in Round 3, is that something you look at as a big accomplishment?
Coffin: I mean Joel's an amazing surfer and somebody I've watched since I was a little kid, and a really experienced competitor. So for those reasons I think those are challenging people to beat because they're such strong competitors and they get big scores a lot. To take down one of those guys you have to get big scores. At the same time they're kind of equal to anyone because everyone can post big scores. Coming up against the top guys, you can't beat them unless you think you can beat them. So it's about believing in yourself and focusing on your game-plan in the heat so that you can surf well enough to get big scores. You can't control anything they do, they could get two 9.5's and you could get two 8's, I'm always trying to my own thing and put up the best scores that I can.
WSL: You've won some high-profile heats already this season. How's that experience changed you?
Coffin: I think I'm feeling more relaxed in my heats. Especially against Joel I didn't feel any nerves. It's easy for someone who's younger to get nervous against those top guys and put undue pressure on yourself. I think that's why guys like Gabriel and Filipe had such success, they're just surfing. They don't put that on themselves, they trust their talent and stick to their game-plan. It's worked really well for them. It's trippy because you have a lot of respect for the older guys and you don't want to be disrespectful, but when you get out in a heat against them you can't be starstruck. You have to think you're on their level. Getting used to that and getting comfortable in your heats is a big part of being able to surf well for me. With each heat I've felt more and more comfortable. My heat against Adriano (at Snapper) was good to see what they do. Each guy has their game-plan and in surfing you don't know what's going to work. Do I stay busy or be more patient? And against Adriano it didn't work and against Parko it did. You hope that you pick the right one.
WSL: What aspects of your approach are you still working on?
Coffin: I think trying to feel super loose and not limiting myself in the heats. Sometimes you get in a heat and surf a little more tense than you do when you're freesurfing. Getting in that same mindset when you're in a heat--not thinking about anything and just focusing on the wave--that's the best spot to surf from for me. Strategy--knowing at certain points in certain heats how to look at priority, where to be, what waves to ride--those little things. That's a big part of a heat, you have to adapt. With guys like Kelly and Gabriel, they don't let mistakes affect them they bounce right back. It's easy to be critical on yourself and if you let that get to you mentally, you might get another good one in two minutes and if you're still dwelling on the past you're not going to surf that wave as well.
WSL: Next stop in Western Australia is definitely a different type of surf than we've seen so far. Have you been out there are you prepared if things go to the slab at the Box?
Coffin: I loved West Oz the one time I went, the waves out there are super powerful. It kind of feels like Sunset or something, different, but a lot of power. If it goes to the box it's a slab and I've never surfer it but it looks super fun, I love those kinds of waves. I'm looking forward to it, I hope we get to go there.