Training Sessions With The PacSun USA Surf Team

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Someone braving the Goat Trail. Photo: Steindler

The PacSun USA Surf Team is under a new regime. Gone are the days of embarrassing finishes behind countries like Switzerland—there’s not an ocean that even touches Switzerland.

After Ian “Kanga” Cairns took over last year, he went right to work at ending the thirteen-year gold medal dry streak for Team USA. Right now he’s running training sessions with the juniors of the PacSun USA Surf Team in preparation for January’s ISA World Junior Surfing Championships in Auckland, New Zealand.

America’s juniors finished fourth in Ecuador last year, with Courtney Conlogue being the lone American to snag an individual medal (silver). With the quick success of Coach Kanga’s formula to winning there is an apparent air of change in the junior’s side of things. Since the inception of the World Junior Surfing Championships in 2003, the overall gold medal has eluded America’s best juniors—dominated by mainly Australians.

That can most likely be attested to the Australian nation properly prepping and cultivating their best young talent year in and year out. Call it ironic, fitting, or what you will that Coach Kanga is an Aussie himself. And an Aussie whose strategy has proven itself to work.

The PacSun USA Surf Team invited us down to their training sessions this past weekend in Southern California to get a look at just how Kanga runs ship. Jerseys, a video camera, and a megaphone lay in front of the burly Australian as he dissected the glassy distinct peaks that Blacks Beach in San Diego offered for the Team USA training session on Monday morning.

After his detailed yet simple analysis of the surf at Blacks, Kanga got started with each of the three divisions—Boys Under 18, Boys Under 16, and the Girls Under 18. He first shows them what he has found with what types of waves exist and what types of maneuvers the waves are suited for. This gives them the tools to make the most of the waves.

The current mock heat runs out and attacks Blacks while Kanga videos each and every wave of the four American surfers. Upon the completion of the heat, Kanga then touches on what was working out there and what wasn’t. They review the video and dissect what went right and what didn’t go so right. Kanga of course helping each junior by advising where weight should have been distributed, what should’ve been done on that end section to receive a better score, and anything and everything to make the most of the waves they caught or should’ve caught. When the video is fully reviewed he then gives each surfer points they need to work on for the next heat. And then the process is started again for the next division.

Kanga is all about giving the top surfers in America the tools to make them the best surfers in the world. Following their third training session of the weekend (all of which were held at different breaks) we caught up with Head Coach Kanga for a quick little Q-n-A.—Ryan Brower

Coach Kanga dissecting things for the young USAers at Oceanside Harbor earlier this weekend. Photo courtesy Billy Watts/Surfing America

Coach Kanga dissecting things for the young USAers at Oceanside Harbor earlier this weekend. Photo courtesy Billy Watts/Surfing America


TransWorld SURF: First off, congrats on bringing home the first gold for a USA Surf Team since 1996.

Coach Ian “Kanga” Cairns: Yeah, that was pretty cool. We’ll see if we can keep it going.

What were the keys to that big victory?
It was good quality surfers who wanted to compete there. Once we had good people, we actually spent more time training at the break than anyone else. So we understood the wave better. Therefore you can build a good strategy, and when you have a good strategy you get the good surfers on the right waves, and that’s hard to beat.

It seems that knowing the wave is the main focus for your heat strategy.

I think competition is really similar to just basic good surfing. If someone is out the back and catches good set waves all the time everyone thinks they’re a great surfer. If you do that in a heat and you’re a good surfer, then you get great scores. So really my focus is on trying to figure out the lineup, get the best waves, surf them really good, so then someone has to do something amazing to beat you. That’s the fundamental basis of what I teach.

“No one is going to put more pressure on me and on the team than I will. I work these kids hard. I work them hard because that’s the level you have to be at to be successful. For me to be successful I have to have kids that are successful.”

Well it definitely seems like it worked right off the bat for Team USA.
Yeah, and it’ll work with these young kids too.

There’s always a lot of pressure on Team USA to bring home a gold, and with the recent win, is there a big push to follow up in juniors?
No one is going to put more pressure on me and on the team than I will. I work these kids hard. I work them hard because that’s the level you have to be at to be successful. For me to be successful I have to have kids that are successful.

What’s the selection process like going from the Primes and the training sessions down to the final travel squad?

That was our third training session so far with this junior team. We’ve got another in December and then we’ll select our final travel squad. By that time we’ll have really strong competitors.

We have five people selected in each division, and we’re going to take four. Basically myself and Assistant Coach Sean Mattison will rank each of the surfers 1-5 in each of the divisions. Then we take into account how they’re doing in the Primes, how they’re doing in ASP Pro Juniors, what their results were in the US Championships, and all of that put together gives us a good formula. Then we’ll take our findings to the selection panel of surf team managers and industry gurus who know these kids, and we’ll say this is how we see things. We’ll get together and everyone will talk about it, and our final training finishes in December. And by the day after we’ve got our travel squad selected. And by that squad we’ve got the best kids in the country, and they may be the best in the world. I’ve watched all these kids develop the last few months and there is no doubt about it that we’re going to have a good team.

“You find the good waves, you get the people on the good waves, they surf good, they’re already trained up, we’ll do well.”

As of right now, how’s the overall team looking to you?
In the Under 18s we’ve got five guys, and it’s going to be really hard to select four. In the Under 16s, it’s going to be really hard to select four out of those five. The girls are solid, Courtney [Conlogue] and Lakey [Peterson] are easily both candidates to win.

If we can get everyone pushed up to their highest possible level and if we go down there and figure out the break and are trying hard at it, then you basically just let if flow. You find the good waves, you get the people on the good waves, they surf good, they’re already trained up, we’ll do well.

For more on the PacSun USA Surf Team, head to SurfingAmerica.org. And stay tuned to transworldsurf.com for much more on the team as they get prepped for New Zealand and narrow down the travel squad. Go USA!