Martin Dunn and I are sitting in front of his laptop scrutinising footage of the session I’ve just had. Relying on his well-trained eye, Martin pauses the footage when he identified something that can be worked on and, in a gentle tone that does not destroy my surfing self-esteem, advises me on ways I might improve my performance…
It’s a marked departure from my typical “just do your own thing” approach but as I look at the flailing arms, the half-turns and the kinks in my act, I realise I’m in need of help.
Over the last 33 years, Dunn has developed a reputation for being one of the most astute coaches in surfing. Along the way, he has helped a swathe of top-flight competitors (most recently Connor O’Leary and Nikki Van Dijk) hone their acts for elite competition. Now Martin has transferred all that knowledge onto his website and organised the information into a series of sequences and training regimes that enable surfers at all levels to log on and learn. Part of the program involves submitting footage of your surfing to Martin, who will respond with a detailed critique and set of specific training devices.
Today I’m getting the personal touch.
As we sip our coffees and review the footage, Martin is adamant that he never identifies a defect in someone’s surfing unless he has a solution. “It’s too easy to just say what someone is doing wrong,” he emphasises. He’s also conscious of reinforcing the things people are doing right. Apparently, my lifted arms as I enter a backside turn are a good thing, but Martin encourages me to lose the ugly pump as a default speed generator. Instead he suggests the more effective and aesthetically pleasing “throw and go” where both arms get thrown up to generate down the line speed.
Martin’s training vocab features several of these catchy little buzz phrases that are designed to give you the right cue when you are on the wave. For example ‘squat till you spot’ is a cutback mantra and is designed to remind you to stay low until you spy the section of the wave you want to come back around and hit. "Where you look is where you go" is a tagline that reminds you that the body and board will follow your line of sight. It’s simple language that helps to decode the complex biomechanics of surfing.
The website program, which is essentially Martin’s life’s work, is however, far more sophisticated than a few power mantras. For major manoeuvres like the bottom turn, there is a sequence of drills that can be used on land, on a skateboard and then in the water. After detailing some of the sequences, which actually look quite fun, Martin pulls up corresponding clips on the laptop, that demonstrate the ideal bottom turn and why it’s such a crucial skill. Julian Wilson’s spring-loaded swoop off the bottom is the gold standard in this case.
Cutbacks and carves are one thing, but perhaps what many of you really want to know is can Dunn give you wings; teach you to soar beyond the lip and then land like a feather on snow? “There will be program for airs on the website,” he states confidently. However, he is quick to point out that to consistently complete sophisticated manoeuvres like aerials you require a solid basis in fundamentals. “You will have to be able to generate horizontal speed, do a vertical re-entry, do a fin-bust and then an aerial.”
What about the suggestion by some that technical training is the enemy of individualism and personal style in surfing? “I’m not trying to create clones,” stresses Martin, before explaining that he looks at fundamental biomechanical movements not stylistic nuances, like how a surfer places their hands. He argues that his coaching approach allows surfers to preserve the idiosyncrasies that make their approach unique, while helping to improve aspects where there are obvious flaws or need for refinement.