If there was ever a reminder of how much influence a coach can have on a surfer, it was the recent Australian leg of the Championship Tour. And if there was ever an event in which the right advisor in your corner can make all the difference, it's the pressure-cooker environment of the next event on the schedule, the Jeep Surf Ranch Pro presented by Adobe.
Brazil's Gabriel Medina has been one of the most aggressive, successful competitors on Tour since 2011, when he won two events after joining mid-year. In the decade since, after securing two World Titles and 16 wins his dominance has gone hand-in-hand with an enigmatic countenance which set him apart from even the close-knit crew of his countrymen traveling the world.
This year we've seen an obvious change. He's more open in post-heat interviews, and frankly seemed happier around the events in Australia, but he's also started far stronger than in any other year. For the first time in his career, Medina was traveling with his wife Yasmin Brunet, and new coach, Andy King. Previously, it was his stepfather Charlie who was by his side.
"It feels good to be surfing the way I like, and I feel comfortable out there and just enjoying every moment. I'm blessed to have these kind of waves on tour and to be traveling with my wife, and to have good people around me
"Thanks Andy, Andy was a great guy ... he had my back," Medina said after winning the Rip Curl Rottnest Search presented by Corona.
Medina has so far this Season appeared in four out of five finals and won two events. Usually he starts slow. For example, in 2018, when he won his second Title, he didn't place higher than third and went as low as 13th until he turned things around at the halfway mark in Tahiti and went on a tear. The change in his outlook is obvious, and while much of that is due to his wife, there's no denying the change in coach has also played a role.
There's so many other examples, from Brad Gerlach helping get Conner Coffin on Tour, to Mike Parsons working with young phenomenon Caroline Marks, to Four-time World Champion Carissa Moore seeking advice from Mitch Ross.
Morgan Cibilic is yet another. No one had heard of him before this year, and now he's all but locked in a Rookie of the Year award after making the Finals against Medina at Rottnest Island, Eliminating John John Florence twice in Australia and coming third at the Rip Curl Newcastle Cup presented by Corona, surfing at this home break. He's now No.5 in the world -- if he holds this spot he'll be surfing for a World Title in his Rookie year in the first-ever Rip Curl WSL Finals events at Lower Trestles.
His coach, Jay "Bottle" Thompson, had not one but two clients in the Finals at Rottnest, with Wildcard Liam O'Brien also making the Semis. Success stories like this come at a time when even more athletes are realising how important a coach is, especially when they act as a bulwark between them and the pressures of the Tour; surfing technique is only a small part of an elite surf coach's role, with advice on reading the lineup, heat strategy and coping with pressure playing larger roles.
Few know this better than Glenn "Micro" Hall. The former CT competitor is now one of the most high-profile coaches, with athletes such as two-time World Champion Tyler Wright in his stable. His work with former CT Matt Wilkinson leading up to and during the 2016 season remains one of the most stark examples of how much influence the right advisor can have.
Wilkinson was a perfect example of someone with a surplus of natural talent which just needed to be channeled and focused into success. Prior to 2016, he was just making up the numbers, entertaining fans with electric surfing and out-of-the-water shenanigans as much as he was chasing a World Title. His best-ever CT result was a third-place finish, in a sea of 25ths. But in 2016 he won the first two events of the year, and came second in Fiji.
"I one hundred per cent know I didn't reinvent Wilko, he could already do a crazy backside reo and a crazy backside spinner and he could already do all these things, it was just a bit fitter, a bit sharper and a bit healthier and feeling a lot better about himself and a lot more confident," Hall said.
This was one of many catalysts which has seen a shift on Tour, with athletes now recognizing that the little things the right coach can add can help add up to victory when the pressure is on. Previously, Hall explains, there was a perception that if a coach wasn't going to reinvent the wheel and rebuild you from the ground up, what was the point?
"There's more acceptance of investing to just get a few small details," Hall said.
"There's more acceptance of investing in your career and if your coach just gives you that one little bit of guidance along the way, whether it's advice on reading the lineup or board choice or just a sounding board, where they [the coach] haven't actually told you anything you don't know but they make you feel good," Hall told the WSL.
This could make all the difference at The Ranch, where the pressure to perform is amped up by the format. Everywhere else, you can catch as many waves as you want but in the pool you only get a few chances, in a lineup that's identical for every other surfer. A big part of it is blocking out the noise of commentators, fans, haters, shapers, and distilling this surplus of information and opinion into what actually works for the athlete.
"There's surfing details you work on, but a lot of it is just making them feel comfortable, and feel the trust themselves and feeling good on the road. You definitely wear a lot of different hats as a surf coach.
"For the wave pool you zero in a bit more on the right board choice and the confidence to be able to paddle into the one and only wave you're going to get to get the score. So the mindset of feeling comfortable and confident," he said.
"It's a unique event where your coaching hat is a little bit different to all the other events, and it's pretty cool."