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.