Editor's Note: Today marks what would be the Opening Ceremonies of the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo, Japan. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, surfing's Olympic debut has been postponed. The Tokyo Games are now scheduled to return in 2021.
In 2015, Brett Simpson was competing against John John Florence and Kolohe Andino on the Championship Tour. Now, five years later, and he'll be coaching them -- along with Carissa Moore and Caroline Marks -- in surfing's first Olympic bid in Japan next August. Which makes perfect sense.Simpson is as patriotic as they come, and after spending six seasons on the CT, and winning the US Open back-to-back, he's more than qualified to help prepare America's best surfers for the biggest competitive stage of their lives:
WSL: So, you're an Olympic Coach now. How does that sound? Could you have imagined this role for yourself five years ago?
Brett: It's crazy. Falling off the tour, at first, I was kind of like, "What do I do now?" I still dabbled around on the QS for a few years afterwards, but I'd lost the drive to be there. At that point I had to really think about the next chapter for me -- and obviously I love everything surf -- so coaching just felt like it fit naturally.
I started by working with the youth, and I felt like I had a lot of insight to offer them after so many years competing. I made a lot of mistakes in my time on Tour, but I learned so much from each of them, and that's really helped me in this new role. When I was on Tour I wanted to do a lot of things my way, but that doesn't always work [laughs].
You must have been thrilled when four of the best Americans chose you to coach them in The Olympics.
Oh yeah. So thrilled. I've been in great contact with all of them the last couple of months. We haven't been able to do much together yet, obviously, but we're penciling in some time to get together and build some team chemistry. In the meantime, I'm trying to get to know each of them a little better.
Obviously, these are the best surfers and competitors in the world, so heat strategy likely isn't your biggest coaching priority. That said, what is the most important role you plan to play?
I think that's something we'll work out as we get more time together. Like you said, these are some of the best surfers in the world, so the job at hand is somewhat easy. I'm not telling them how to surf or how to compete. It's more about putting them in the best position to win, so that means dialing in their equipment, their mental game, and working on a lot of day-of strategy, which is obviously unique to each surfer and their strengths.
John and Carissa already have World Titles. Kolohe and Caroline are on the brink. How do you think an Olympic Gold would stack up with a world title?
For John and Carissa a gold medal is everything right now, because they've achieved the highest of the highs with the World Titles. If you were to ask Kolohe and Caroline, I think the World Title is probably still their number one goal, with an Olympic Gold right there next to it. But what's so cool is that next year they will each have the opportunity to achieve both honors within a short amount of time.
Good point. There will be a lot of competitive pressure heading into the Olympics in August and the WSL Finals in September of 2021.
Exactly. It's a tricky one. Helping them navigate all of that is another role I plan to play.
As far as the conditions go, any insight into what to expect in Japan?
The waves aren't all that perfect where the event is happening, it'll be an East Coast, or Southern California type of beachbreak. It's gonna come down to high-performance maneuvers, which of course all four of them have in the bag. I look at our team and I see a very good opportunity for a gold medal. But we still need to pick the spots we excel, and also dial in what we need to work on, because there are obviously some other really talented teams, so that's what we're working on right now. It's all about the attention to detail. Especially since they are going to be coming off an event at J-Bay shortly before the Olympics in Japan. So, they'll have to be mentally ready to quickly switch gears, and have all of their small-wave equipment already super dialed well before the event.
Aside from an immense amount of pride, what will you receive for coaching Team USA?
Man, I love my country and I love these athletes. The main driving source for me is that I want the best for them. This is the first Olympics for surfing, ever. Someone is going to walk away with a gold medal. I've always been really invested in watching it [the Olympics] and I really get a kick out of countries competing against each other and how intense it all is. I love everything about it. And I think all of our athletes do as well, and will have a tremendous amount of pride going into this event.
I'm not gonna lie, I'm nervous. It's interesting, it's new, and it's gonna be a lot different. At Tour events you can have your friends and family be a part of it. Whereas this is gonna be a lot more exclusive. It's not what they're used to. It's gonna be myself, the athletes, and a couple of other select people. That's our team and that's what we're locked into for the day. So, that's another thing we'll be mentally preparing for. But if we can get all of that stuff dialed in, once they're actually in the water competing, I won't be worried one bit, and I really like our chances.