PROFESSIONAL SNOWBOARDER - HALF PIPE WORLD CHAMPION - OLYMPIAN - NICEST GUY OUT THERE - NOW DAD
I think we first started working together in NZ around 10 years ago Nate, back in the days when Snow Park’s pipe was the place to be in the southern winters. I remember you as a ball of muscle who never seemed to run out of energy. As long as you were snowboarding, skating, golfing or surfing you seemed to be pretty happy. I know a few things have changed over the years in your world (you’re now a dad!), but would you say this still rings true today?
I think most definitely! Except I have less time now to do all of those things haha.
Being athletically gifted at so many things, how did you, as a grommet from the surf focused Northern Beaches, end up choosing competitive half pipe snowboarding as your main focus?
I first started surfing because my dad was really into it. And I guess the same happened for snowboarding. As for becoming a competitive half pipe rider... no idea. I have never been a super competitive person, beating people in competition wasn’t the thing that really drove me. I think it was more just the feeling you’d get of being successful in something and the self achievement from winning an event that kept me coming back for more. It’s one of those things that once you get a taste and get that feeling you want it all the time. But going back to how I got into half pipe, it was just one of those things where at the time when I was young and developing I had really good coaches that all liked riding pipe so we ended up riding pipe all the time. And because we were learning from some of the best we all flourished at pipe riding.
Now as a dual Winter Olympian and World Champion title holder … looking back what advice, if any, would you give your younger self?
Enjoy more of doing what you want when you want, and travel more. Because once you have a family and a child you don’t get the time anymore haha. Not that I don’t appreciate what I have now, it’s just funny to think I thought I was busy back then. Ohh how I was wrong.
Considering the impacts and crashes associated with competitive half pipe snowboarding, your body has managed relatively well over the years. What injuries have you had to work through along the way?
I have been super lucky in my career with injury’s. I made it out the other side pretty unscathed compared to some. Really only a few broken bones.
Your ankle injury that ruled you out of the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics happened in an airbag during a training camp weeks before the Games. I remember sitting with you in the US hospital waiting room as you awaited surgery… that was a tough situation for you to swallow. If you could go back would you do anything differently? Or do you think the disappointment of missing that Olympics helped pushed you along for the successes you’ve had since then?
Looking back I probably wouldn’t change anything . I think having those moments in your life make you a tougher individual and learning how to deal with the disappointment makes you stronger. After that injury I went home, rehabbed the shit out of my ankle and got my body in the best possible shape I could. I came back the next season hungrier than ever with heaps to prove to myself and others, and ended up having one of my most memorable seasons in my career.
You’ve been lucky enough to travel for many years with physio support on tour. What are the best tricks of the trade you’ve discovered work well for you to keep your body working at its best?
I found my body responded best to hands on physio. And as I got older I started to introduce more yoga and visualisation which I found super beneficial once I learned how to use it more to my advantage.
The snowboarding tour obviously requires a lot of travel. How do you manage to unravel and reset your body after long periods of transit?
I would normally travel with a foam roller and a ball or just the ball depending on how much room in my bag I had to play with. I found the ball worked best and for the size, you cannot beat it.
The progression in men’s half pipe snowboarding has been nothing short of insane during your career. Has managing fear ever been an issue for you? How do you manage to stay relaxed at the top of the pipe before you drop in? Do you have any rituals/superstitions
When I was younger I wouldn’t even think twice about trying a new trick, but as I got older fear definitely starts to creep up. I don’t know why or how but all of sudden it is just there and to suppress it was one of the hardest things I have had to overcome in competing and snowboarding. But when you can recognise it and use it to your advantage is when good things happen. I never got into superstitions and all that stuff, I tried it once or twice but couldn’t back it enough to use the benefits from it.
I do remember some pretty tasty meals being cooked up in the half pipe household. What have you found works best for your body with regards to diet/supplements? What are your go to meals pre and post snowboarding?
I just like to eat - doesn’t matter what it is! When on the road I would try keep it as healthy as possible but being in the USA most of the time made it quite tricky. My go to was always eggs for breaky. And stir fry’s for dinner. Both easy meals that don’t take long and always tasty. The last thing most of us felt like doing at the end of the day was cooking so keeping it quick and healthy was always the go to.
As far as training techniques, you’ve also been involved in the snowboarding world long enough to live through the transition from when everyone’s training consisted of just snowboarding, to now where everyone trains as much off the snow as on. Did you manage to find the right training balance for you in recent years?
Yeah training off snow has become just as important now. I truly think because of how much off snow training I have done from such a early age it was really the main ingredient for keeping me uninjured for all these years. And now because of how much the sport has progressed and how technical it has became off snow gym training is essential to stay uninjured.
I also remember feeling incredibly sad for you when you told me that despite all of the mountains you’d visit throughout the world with snowboarding, you’d often never explored any more of the mountain than where the half pipe was. Has this changed over recent years for you? Do you feel it is important for snowboarders to also be regularly freeriding as part of their training too?
Yeah most definitely. In the past we would just travel from one comp to the next and didn’t really get the time to explore or experience what was around us. But as I got older I made more of an effort to get out and explore and experience all of these incredible destinations we would visit for contests. But I think its really important to have the diversity in your training so it doesn’t become monotonous.
These days, when you’re not on snow, what are you doing?
At the moment just working full time and hanging at home surfing and being a full time dad. Once the snow starts falling again I’ll be hunting down some fresh somewhere in Aus and wiping the dust of the old split board and giving it a good nudge this winter.
And now that you’re a family man, what does the future hold for you in snowboarding?
My plan is to focus more on the filming and photography side of snowboarding. The pipe board is going to be packed up and put in the attic and it’s the pow board and split boards time to shine. But really I’m just enjoying being at home now for a good chunk of time and when the snow is on I’ll make trips down to score it when it’s good.
If you owned a fortune cookie company, what would be your words of wisdom?
Get out and see the world.
And finally, if you had to choose… would it be a day of pow riding with friends, or a successful day on the competitive scene.
Most definitely riding pow with friends.
PROFESSIONAL SKIER - ADVENTURE SEEKER - EX SLOPESTYLE OLYMPIAN - NOW BACKCOUNTRY FILMER
I think we first met way way back in the Physio clinic during the good old days at Snow Park NZ. I vaguely remember treating you for painful heel bang at the time, which was nearly impossible considering the number of laps and jumps you were determined to stomp in the park each day, despite the discomfort you were experiencing. I remember at the time thinking how stubbornly tough this pint sized smiley Aussie was, which to this day I’d still agree with. Do you feel my first impression was accurate?
Yep, I’d say you were pretty accurate on the stubborn evaluation. In terms of toughness, I guess I’m generally pretty tough, but I do have ‘delicate’ days. When I have a cold or am feeling sick, you’ll know about it!
Can you list your full injury history for everyone to see (as I think this further exemplifies my first impression!).
Ughhh…. I’ll try.
2 x blown right ACL, torn patella, torn MCLs, blown left ACL, cartilage damage in my left knee, torn meniscuses, spiral fracture of my fibula, torn tendons in my ankle, spiral fracture of my middle finger, broken thumb, 2 x broken wrists, micro fractures in my heals, compression fracture in my back, 3 major concussions… I think that’s the main ones covered.
A lot has happened in both of our worlds since we last worked together in the lead up to and during the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics. But before we delve into the exciting things you’ve been up to since then, lets time travel back to this time four years ago… Can you tell us what you’d been dealing with through that Olympic lead up period injury wise.
I had my best season ever in 2012 and had high hopes for the 2014 Olympics. But then in Feb 2013 I injured myself at a World Cup event in Europe- chipping a large piece of cartilage in my left knee. I wasn’t aware how painful and frustrating this injury would be. Rehab started after a minor knee scope to clean things up, but I had no idea what I was in for. My knee was constantly swollen and felt like I had broken glass shoved in between my joint. Rather than progressing in the 2 years leading up to the Olympics, I was trying to learn how to ski again. In my first comp back (late 2013), I didn’t even make finals - this had never happened to me before! My following comp, I crashed and felt that I had tweaked something in my hamstring. A few weeks later I learned that my ACL was only hanging on by a thread. At this point, it was three weeks out until the Games.
After such a mentally and physically challenging year of rehab, how did you manage to deal with the blow of significantly injuring your ‘good’ knee just a few weeks out of the Games?
I was devastated, frustrated, sad and I felt hopeless. However, I had begun working with a sports psychologist through 2013. I had learned a lot from her and I started to really put her methods into practice. I took each day at a time and did everything in my power to improve my situation - I meditated, I ate anti-inflammatory foods, I visualized, I did exactly what my physio (you) told me to do, everyday. No more, no less. Knowing that I was doing everything I could do, kept me feeling positive and increased my hopes of making it to Sochi.
Working closely with you throughout that year, I know it was definitely a challenging time. With the luxury of a few years of hindsight under your belt now, is there anything you would have done differently if you had the chance?
I would have paid more attention to my sports psyche - and spent more time training my brain than my body. Also - I would have listened more to my physio and taken more rest days, rather than taking the mindset that more gym time was better for my recovery.
Despite having only one functioning ACL (and having a terrible head cold), you successfully competed on the world stage down one of the gnarliest slopestyle courses ever created and came an impressive (I think so) fourth. Although fourth can be considered bitter sweet and is obviously not the easiest placing to deal with, how did you feel about this result at the time.
It was bittersweet. Because there is always that voice inside your brain thinking ‘what if’. But if I had taken bronze, maybe I would be wondering ‘what if’ about the gold. But all in all, I was over the moon. To be honest, I wasn’t even expecting to make it to finals. And to put down the run that I had spent so long visualising, I couldn’t have asked more of myself in the condition I was in.
Has your view on where you placed changed at all in the years gone by?
No, I’m still amazed at how I dealt with the adversity. I am really proud with how I handled the time between discovering my ACL was blown, to finishing my final run at the Winter Olympics.
After the Sochi Games, you retired from competitive skiing. Did your battle with injuries play a part here, or were other factors at play?
Injuries haven’t played as big a part in my skiing since I finished competing. I have had a few, but nothing that has kept me out of action for more than a month. Which is so nice! I’ve definitely had my fair share of mental battles though. Trying to transition to being a ‘freeskier’ and shooting for photos/ films, has been really hard. I was known as a ‘park skier’ and it has taken a long time to develop my skills in other areas of skiing to a point where people will take me seriously in those areas. I was at the top of my game when competing in slopestyle and transferring over to a back-country skiing saw me starting from square one again. It’s been humbling, but I’ve learned so much about both the mountains since I finished competing. It’s been a new step forward for me.
With a new ACL in place and yet another rehab period complete you returned to skiing the next season, and it seems you haven’t looked back. Can you fill us in on what you’ve been up to since you left the competitive stage?
Learning how to ski in the backcountry! Learning how to shoot for ski photos and ski films, learning how to ski powder properly, learning how to choose ski lines, drop cliffs, ski pillows, use ropes and so much more. Ohh… and learning how to produce a documentary film!
One of the focus points of your filming project Finding the Line is exploring the level of fear we are comfortable to put ourselves in front of. Do you feel that your extensive experience with injuries, pain, rehab/rebuilding etc has played a significant role in shaping how you deal with fear and how comfortable you are in its presence these days?
I think it was actually the process of making the film that shaped how I now deal with fear. When we first started developing our ideas for the film, I had a theory of how I dealt with fear. However, through the filming and post-production processes, I realised that this idea I had about my own character was false - or just a superficial idea. And I feel that not knowing myself and my true motivations thoroughly enough when I was younger, was what led to many of my injuries.
Do you feel your past injuries have contributed to shaping who you are now, and have they changed how you train / approach your skiing these days?
I think each injury you experience plants itself in your memory bank. It’s always there (with all your other experiences) and all your past experiences have a part to play in how you approach your future. They shape you. But you can develop tools to deal with these experiences in order to achieve the outcomes you want from yourself. So I would say yes! They have changed my approach to skiing. I am more conservative and more calculated in some aspects of my skiing. But in other aspects, I am more trusting of myself.
Do you miss being surrounded by the community of athletes you’ve grown up with on the competitive circuit? Or do you feel that having your sister Nat with you now on most of your skiing adventures fills that void?
I do really miss my friends from competition. I lived with them, travelled with them and skied with them almost every day. Even though we were competing with each other, we were all very close. It has taken me a few years but I have started to find a new community, of girls and guys who are just as passionate and have the same ideas that I do about skiing.
Has Nat’s background as a big mountain skier helped fuel the fire to spread your wings into the world of back country skiing? (What I’m politely asking is how competitive are you guys when you’re out there filming together?)
When we’re filming, we’re actually not competitive at all. Watching Nat ski definitely inspires me, but we each have different styles and I think we work well together to complement each other. We help each other choose lines and bounce ideas off each other. I greatly respect Nat’s opinion.
Do you have any magical tricks of the trade (routines, exercises or techniques) that you rely on to keep your body working at its best?
I’ve recently really gotten into Epsom Salt baths for my feet, after a long day in ski boots. Other key things are drinking lots of water rolling out after skiing and sleep!
Are there any devices that you travel with to assist you with this? What can’t you live without whilst on the road?
Roller, a spikey ball and a selection of herbal teas.
Aside from keeping your physical body in the best shape it can be, are there any techniques you practice to assist with mentally being in the best zone?
Yoga, more to chill me out rather than a work out. I meditate when I have a good routine going, but I’m on and off with this. I should do it more!
And do you feel that nutrition plays a role in keeping you at your best? What have you found works best to keep you fuelled for long days filming in the back country?
Nutrition plays a massive part in keeping my energy levels up and also- sleeping well. I’m no angel as I have a massive sweet tooth and peanut butter addiction. But I try to keep the sugar to a minimum and try not to eat it before bed. Pre snow breakfast I try to eat something warming and hot (oatmeal with Banana, cinnamon, peanut butter and other yum toppings). - I love smoothies, but try to keep these for when I’m not skiing. On snow, I’m a big fan of making wraps with loads of veggies, hummus, quinoa and avocado. After skiing, my go to’s are curries and stir fries as they have lots of good spices, packed with veggies and are quick!
I know that during your last few competitive years as an athlete, your injuries had you spending a large focus of your training in the gym environment. Do you still spend much time working on formal strength training these days? Can you outline your typical off snow training program?
I do still spend a good amount of time in the gym, because I still want to perform my best when I’m skiing and prevent injuries. I do a lot of strength work with heavier weights pre-winter (squats, deadlifts, lunges etc), during winter I do a lot of yoga and try to get a couple lighter gym sessions in a week (when I’m home). I also try to do my own pilates routine a couple times a week- lighter than lifting weights, but keeps the right muscles firing. Then in the summer, I love hiking, trail running, surfing, rock climbing and swimming. After a long winter, I just want to be outdoors and in the sun as much as possible!
With the knowledge and wisdom you have now, if you could go back and coach your younger self, what would your advice be?
Don’t worry what others think of you so much!
What was the best advice you’ve ever received, and from whom?
From one of my coaches, Elana Chase - “it’s just skiing, you’re not curing cancer out here”
If you owned a fortune cookie company, what words of wisdom would you choose to impart on the world, one cookie at a time?
Make more time for your friends and family
Finally, being one of the exceptional athletes who has excelled in both realms, if you had to choose, would it be a day of filming pow in the back-country, or a successful day in the slopestyle competition scene that would make you smile the most?
Ohhhh I can’t chose!
FREERIDE SKIIER - BIG MOUNTAIN SLAYER - INFECTIOUS LAUGHER - WORDS LIVED BY: NO STANDING ONLY DANCING
We first met in New Zealand, where you were training for competing on the Freeride World Tour. I remember your booming laugh, your wonderfully goofy jokes, and the fact you were virtually impossible to keep up with skiing (despite still rehabbing post ACL reconstruction). Another memory firmly etched in my mind is trying to relieve your extremely sunburned butt, sustained in Manly after surfing unprotected in the harsh summer sun for a good 4 hours or so because you were having too much fun to come in. Do you feel my memories paint a fair portrait of you?
Can you tell us how you became involved in skiing? And what led you to become a big mountain skier rather than follow you sister Anna down the competitive slopestyle skiing path?
I skied since a young age, as a sporty and decently competitive kid I naturally got into alpine racing and later moguls. Anna, my older sister, paved the path for a long time but when I was 17 I branched off. I was offered an opportunity to start training with the pre-development team and after a lot of consideration I decided to not pursue it in the same way Anna had because I was a) not interested in going to the Olympics over pursuing my studies – art at the time and b) I didn’t feel that my jump abilities were competitive enough to make it as an Olympic mogul skier. Anna soon moved onto freeskiing and while I love to ski park, the acrobatic side never called to me. I got bored only skiing park. I didn’t have the passion for it. It wasn’t until I spent a winter overseas in the French Alps that I realized what my calling was. Following this winter, I soon became interested in freeride skiing and followed that pathway to freeride competitions in Europe and America and later to the Freeride World Tour. This in turn led me to backcountry skiing.
Over the last few years you and Anna have been working together filming your latest project, Finding the Line. Do you have any desire to return to the big mountain competitive circuit on the Free Ride World Tour? Or is filming the future…
Nearly three years on, I am still struggling with this question. Finding The Line came at a good time for Anna and I. Anna had officially retired from slopestyle skiing. I was still competing but after the first year filming (2016) I haven’t competed. I stopped competing and started filming this project as I was having a lot of trouble with my ‘mental game’ at events. I wasn’t willing to put everything on the line to win, more often than not I would back off bigger lines only to regret not skiing them after my event, I would always ski much too conservatively. I was also so concerned about failing that I had a hard time just skiing. The two times I just let go at events, I ended up on the podium. Part of the idea of Finding The Line was to explore the mental side and discover what was holding me back. While I feel I have resolved a lot of issues, I am no longer sure that competing will give me what I want. I find the competitive side of this sport too contrived and really it’s just a tool for me to prove to myself that I am capable. I can do that without spending $1000 a pop at ski events.
I know this year you’ve been struggling a little with some back troubles whilst filming around the globe. Yet in typical Segal style you’ve managed to push through. What other injuries have you sustained during your skiing career?
As a teenager I constantly had issues with my lower back while I was skiing moguls. I also tore my ACL in the middle of my comp season. I was feeling very strong but took an air too fast and ended up crashing into a tree and my ski didn’t pop off and got stuck.
Have any of these injuries changed how you train or approach skiing these days?
The back problems I had skiing moguls caused me to start training in the gym when I started freeriding, this really helped to alleviate the pain I had when I jumped. My ACL rehab made me really get in tune with my body but it also caused me to overthink situations and become a lot more cautious as I was afraid of being injured again. My most recent injury has made me realize the importance of my strength and up keeping not just the big muscles but the small ones as well and making sure I train better and not harder (and rest :P). Rest is so important but so hard to take, I never want to rest until it is too late.
With regards to your latest back trouble, what have you discovered works well for you to keep you at your best?
To begin with manual therapy, dry needling and rest were the best. Once the pain stopped yoga and pilates helped me to start regaining my strength but it was hard to find a balance, so I didn’t over-do it. Self-release has been awesome for the whole time and building up strength from my core and butt outwards has been important since I stopped feeling pain. I also think positive self-talk has been very important. While this hasn’t been a fully debilitating injury – the mental side of dealing with it has been more exhausting than the pain or re-training. Staying within my limits while training and being ok with it has made a big difference to every part of rehab - as well as making sure skiing stay funs.
Anyone with a bad back knows that travelling can be a nightmare. How have you managed to unravel and reset your body after long periods of travel on your way to different filming locations?
I carry a small spikey ball with me everywhere I go for my back and hamstrings, as well as a travel roller and travel yoga mat. I think it’s super important to not ski / train too hard before you travel, stay active and stretched out while you travel (yoga in airports is fun), hydrate and make sure you do light exercise when you first arrive and have time to warm up. I also pamper myself after lots of travelling. It’s ok to spend money on a physio session or take an extra day off to make sure you stay on top of you health- it’s just hard to stick with if it’s a pow day the morning after you arrive!
One of the focus points of your project Finding the Line is exploring the level of fear we are comfortable to put ourselves in front of. Do you feel that your experience with set backs and injuries has played a significant role in shaping how you deal with fear and how comfortable you are in its presence these days?
Injuries have played an important role in how I deal with fear. I find that when I am coming back from an injury I question my actions a lot more. In doing so I become more confident in the things that I am willing to do
And do you utilize any mental training techniques to assist you with this?
I use a combination of yoga, meditation (I try but I find it hard to keep up), visualization (when skiing bigger lines or jumping), breathing exercises (I use deep breathing when I am scared by less so on skis – more so when I am flying!
Do you feel that nutrition plays a role in keeping you at your best? What have you found works best to keep you fuelled for long days filming in the back country?
I think nutrition is integral to keep your body and mind healthy for skiing and your best possible performance. I find it very difficult to ski without breakfast, so a good breakfast (eggs, smoothie or porridge) is essential. On snow I usually take snacks and eat lunch later in the day but if we are doing a big ski touring day, I will bring 2 energy bars (ProBar/ Larabar) and a sandwich/ wrap. I cook most of my own food and usually prefer to cook vegetarian. For example:
You spend much of the year living in some of the best outdoor playgrounds in the world (Chamonix, Wanaka... to name a few). Do you spend much time working on formal strength training in the gym? Or do you prefer to be out and about in nature for your cross training? Can you outline your typical off snow training program?
In the past I have mainly focused on my pre-season training and have done sporadic gym sessions during winter. This year I am trying to continue gym training through the season, even if it is just body weight exercises working on keeping the small muscles firing, stretching and strengthening weak points. I think ski touring is a great way to also keep fit during the season, especially if backcountry skiing is part of your repertoire.
With the knowledge and wisdom you have now, if you could go back and give advice your younger self, what would you say?
Do more Pilates, don’t over train, and enjoy!
What was the best advice you’ve ever received?
That is a hard one!!! :/ I get a lot of advice, I think the idea about training better not harder has been repeated multiple times and it is an important factor in staying healthy.
If you owned a fortune cookie company, what words of wisdom would you choose to impart on the world, one cookie at a time?
No standing, only dancing :D
Finally, having become at home both competing and filming in the back country, if you had to choose, would it be a day of filming pow, or a successful day on the competition scene that would make you smile the most?
So difficult, I think a day of filming big mountain and jumping off cliffs and skiing cool terrain would make me smile the most. Competition is amazing and does make me smile but in the end, you are only ever competing against yourself and I think I can do that without the waiting around and crowds.
WQS SURFER - HEALTH EXPLORER - PHARMACY STUDENT - GUITAR LOVER - CELLO OWNER SOMETIMES PLAYER
We first me a few years back in Manly when you were competing in Manly for the Australian Open of Surfing and looking for some guidance on being able to get the most out of your body. My memories from that initial assessment are of your wonderfully relaxed and easy going nature, and of my amazement at just how stiff and tight your hips and spine were for a professional surfer. I know you’ve done a hell of a lot of work since then (both physically and mentally)… can you fill us in a little on your journey?
Haha thanks chick! It’s a shame the joints don’t reflect the personality, well the outside personality at least (I’m a jittering mess on the inside). Yeah, I surfed a few good heats that contest thanks to you! Since then… pretty much me hopping around coaches, trainers, diets, studies, mentors and board shapers trying to find ‘what works’ for me. In conclusion, I haven’t found out. Oh and I did a year of Spanish in there and failed a pharmacy subject.
You’ve also had a few injuries along the way?..
Yeah, I nastily grade two-ed my MCL on my front knee full moon surfing out Snapper Rocks trying to impress a boy by getting barreled. It worked but also came with expenses. 2 months out. And I had a friendship breakup - that took way longer to recover (true story).
Would you say your injuries and all that you’ve learnt from them have changed your approach to training these days?
My brain likes to learn stuff, and also has ‘the grass is greener on the other side’ attitude. I am often flickering between different training modalities and trainers who make the most sense to me at the time. I still feel like there are so many different ways to train and I’ve only sampled a couple. My injury didn’t necessary change my ideas about training but forced me to start learning about recovery and healing. So I was basically trying to optimize my diet so it made me a great new ligament, and trying not to faint between hot baths and cold showers.
What does your dry land training look like nowadays?
My limbs being pulled apart by a Keiser cable system and me trying to keep my rib cage apart as well as focusing on all the cues my trainer calmly suggests. My trainer Mel is an absolute legend. He uses the Functional Patterns modality. We are basically trying to develop intrinsic stability by getting my rib cage to widen and integrating the diaphragm with like TVA and other important structures, eventually achieving some spinal decompression. My rotation is increasing and my slings are getting more sling. Getting the body working better as a unit should alleviate the rigidity that you witnessed. That’s the plan, anyway. I have a long way to go, but it makes more sense to me than doing deadlifts, although deadlifts made me feel powerful on the inside. Also, I do a bit of skating.
And what other methods have you discovered work best to keep your body functioning at its best?
I’m not a big static stretcher. I’m more a rolling over a blunt object kinda girl. A lacrosse ball and PVC pipe are my weapons of choice. I think it’s a good way of getting into the fascia but the most effective for me has been Mel (and you) targeting the adhesions manually. I’ve had good results with an acupuncturist but he was targeting my organs - it actually helped with tension in the muscles however in the short term, but I find it more symptomatic treatment and I wished I could have persisted with in the long term. My strength training doesn’t involve building muscle as such, but connecting the body in order for it to work efficiently. I enjoy the occasional Wim Hoff breathing session, breath holds and hot/cold baths. I love the way I feel after half and hour of hot and cold water therapy; I feel soft like a marshmallow. I use meditation as brain maintenance and I believe it helps with retaining information.
And has your outlook or the way you approach competitive surfing also changed over the years?
Last year I competed full time, worked full time (cutting myself off from daddy) and studied part time. It made me realise some stuff such as: I’m already living the dream, whatever the outcomes may be. I’m super lucky I even get a choice in how to spend my life. Even if I’m staring down the barrel of 10 hours of false enthusiasm in a pharmacy, I try to make it a bit of a hoot; bringing some giggles and chocolate always helps. I feel like I am enjoying the journey more than my younger self, despite the frustrating results. Imagine when I start winning??!
Do you include any mental training or breath work in your training? Or have any rituals or superstitions that you use around competitions?
If I win my first heat in a certain pair of boardies, I normally stick with them for the next heat. My mental training involves me trying not to write myself off all the time. If I am staying by myself I definitely pump out a few rounds of Wim Hoff or a couple of breath holds in the pool, it can be really relaxing. Also I do a specific type of meditation that’s costs lots of money to learn. Before my heat I wrap my ribs up with a resistance band and breathe against it to give them a bit of activation. I don’t wanna give all my secrets away, the groms are too good these days! When I was 18 and in Spain with my father, one of the best heats I’d ever surfed was fueled on toblerone and a raw carrot while I was playing guitar sitting on a fit ball. Pre heat nutrition on point.
You’re a pretty smart cookie too outside of the surfing world. How do you manage to combine your pharmacy studies with the travel on the surfing womens’ WQS tour?
Haha thanks chick. I’m not smarter than anyone else but I am definitely good at taking on way too much! My first 3 years of my pharmacy degree I did full time which was difficult because the course is designed to be learned on campus. Keeping it up on the road took some enjoyment out of my travels, I won’t lie. In first year I actually finished with my highest surfing ranking at #29. After 3 years of that stressful nightmare I took uni off to focus solely on surfing and what-do-ya-know? I had one of my worst WQS finishes ever. No sense was made? I basically used airport and plane time to study, travelled by myself to be less distracted, and got up early to study before I hit the waves. I’m yet to know whether it has ruined my surfing career.
And you’re also quite the musician I hear too… Many athletes become overly focused on the physicality of their sport. Do you feel having non physical outlets is important for you?
I feel like I have way too many non physical outlets and they’re all important to me. I can’t surf for that long because I wont be able to move afterwards so my training regimes are different to most. Like, I love reading stuff; all I wanna do is read about some ridiculous diet I haven’t tried yet. I love guitar; it’s big and bulky and often costs money to drag on planes but its always worth it. I’m learning the cello but I have not touched it in a year, it makes me feel guilty. I’d love just to lie there listening to music. Then I’m all like, you know I should really learn Spanish, the Latin people seem so friendly, I’d make way more friends. My very blessed life offers me many fine options apart from surfing but I get overwhelmed by having so many great things to choose from that I might have been better off being a robotic athlete who has no other interest but their sport.
There’s a hell of a lot of travel involved chasing waves around the world. How do you manage to unravel and reset your body after long periods of transit?
To be honest I have not really worried about losing strength and fitness but I am very prone to stiffening up! At airports I sometimes ride the trolleys, do little joint mobility exercises, or get the lacrosse ball out and jam it between my sore spot and the wall. I try not to eat too much because when I get bored I definitely turn to eating. Airports generally have low quality and expensive food and although I could spare a little room for some fat, the travels are on a tight budget.
And how important is nutrition for you? What have you found works best for your body with regards to diet/supplements? Do you have a go to meal/snack pre and post surf?
Nutrition is one of my strongest interests but by no means am I a Nazi when it comes to restricting things (except tap water). I don’t supplement really at all because I feel like I get a variety of nutrients, however I use Great Lakes as a protein supplement if I’m making a smoothie that I don’t want a raw egg to be in. Without a protein supplement a smoothie will only sustain me for an hour. A general rule for home is I buy the best quality food I can afford, but if I’m having a broke week I won’t always be farting organically. I will always buy organic meats however. But if I’m going out with the ladies I will eat whatever I want or if food is free (the universes way of saying its okay). The happiness I get from sharing a meal with friends at the beach overrides its potential low quality, I reckon. I am a massive meat eater and try to rotate my proteins as suggested by Paul Chek. However, after being introduced to a scientist Ray Peat by some very knowledgeable friends of mine, I find his articles make lots of sense too I have been employing some of his ideas to my eating. I also am mindful of Ayurveda theories when I select and combine food. But when there are too many rules it gets too stressful for my brain.
With the knowledge you have now, if you could go back and coach your younger self what would your advice be?
Oh god, don’t get me started. I’ll try keep it critical.
What was the best advice ever given to you, and from whom?
My massage lady who I adore, Kymmie, said I must love myself. I giggled at first. It took me a while to get it, but definitely worth exploring if you wanna like, be happy.
If you owned a fortune cookie company, what would be your words of wisdom
Never hold back a kind word. I got that in a fortune cookie. I like it. My friend Madi writes ‘you’re amazing’ along walking tracks, I reckon she should get the gig of fortune cookie writing.
And finally, if you had to choose, would you pick a day of soul surfing with friends, or a successful day on the comp circuit?
I totally sound like a tool but I have been busting my gut since I was 18 to be successful in competitive surfing so I’m sorry but I gotta burn my friends on this one. But, if it was 4-6 ft offshore barreling rights I’d be hooting them into every single gem and closeout.
Thanks lovely Freya.
Author - Jess Cunningham
After years of having the privilege of partaking in long candid talks during treatment and rehab with many amazing athletes and clients around the globe, I realised I've taken for granted the interesting insights I've been lucky enough to have into what makes these inspiring people tick.