"I know they're kids and just having fun, but this project deserves full commitment," says narrator 1977 World Champion Shaun Thomson, in the latest episode of the EDP Surf For Tomorrow series. "Do these young surfers really want this?"
It's the big question asked of João Mendonça, Gabriela Dinis, Matias Canhoto, Hans and Kai Odriozola as they complete an intense four-day camp at the Wavegarden in the Basque Country in Spain.
Coach José Seabra is pushing the young Iberian surfers aged between 13 and 17 as they attempt to achieve their dream of one day making the Championship Tour. Now wave pools might yet provide the perfect training ground for professional surfers. By keeping the ocean's ever-changing constants fixed, it's the first time surf training can involve replica and repetition in the water.
Good, in theory, right? Yet with that repetition comes the need for discipline and focus. After all, how many millions of forehands has Roger Federer hit on the practice court? Or imagine the number of shotgun snap drills Tom Brady has performed on the training ground. For teenagers though, focus doesn't isn't always come easy.
In this video, both João Mendonça and Gabriela Dinis struggle to stick to the coach's strict script. A 30-minute drill where the surfers are required to perform just two turns each wave proves too much. Dinis broke ranks and after attempting a few airs is hauled from the pool and put on the naughty step. "For me, surfing represents a freedom and a type of unstructure, so it's an interesting watch," says Tomson. "This program adds structure to the kids' development, so they need to listen, but keep the stoke. Balance is key, and here we can watch, in real-time, the results."
16-year old Portuguese surfer Dinis had started her competitive year, and the series, strongly with a Final in the first event of the European Pro Junior series. She backed that result by being one of the standout performers in the group's freesurfing trip to the Maldives, where she constantly put it all on the line in challenging surf. She clearly is one of Europe's best young prospects.
In the Wavegarden though, Coach Seabra is unhappy that Dinis isn't following his instructions. "It's sometimes hard to not follow your instincts and just surf," Dinis told the WSL. "But if you want a career in surfing, we are learning there are times when surfing isn't all about fun, it's about trying to be a better surfer, with a better mindset."
Seabra tested that mindset, and resets the training, with an original training drill. With just a whiff of Obi-Wan Kenobi and Luke Skywalker, just without the lightsabers, the surfers hit the Wavegarden blindfolded and surf the waves by feel alone. It's just another step, all be it an unorthodox one, that shows the lengths these kids need to go on the journey from talented teenagers to professional surfers.
"It's a hard road to the top of professional surfing and only a tiny percentage make it," concludes Thomson. "Luckily now the kids don't have to do it alone. But even with support, it has to come from within. These young surfers want it, but will it be enough? Only time will tell."