It just goes to show, you can be a seven-time Pipe Master and still want a bit of a tune up before, what could be, your final lap on surfing's greatest stage.
For the past year or so, Kelly Slater's been under the tutelage of Australian big wave surfer Mark Visser, who has been putting the GOAT through his Ocean Warrior course, which incorporates a whole load of techniques to improve your mindset (and much more) in the water. And if you need evidence that it works - how was Kelly's perfect 10 during the Pipe Masters a few days back? Shifted foam through at least four crumbling Backdoor sections before being spat out to universal acclaim. Scroll down to see the clip.
Anyway, we decided to catch up with Mark to find out more about exactly what the Ocean Warrior course is and how it worked for Slater.
Can you tell us how you and Kelly ended up working together while prepping for Pipe?
MV: We actually started working together back in 2018 before the Surf Ranch event, Shane Dorian had connected us and we planned out a good training block for all the physical training from the course for a solid week in the lead up to the 2018 Pipe event.
We also worked on some mindset stuff beforehand. This year we started back before the tour began on the Goldy. Kelly has become really good at the physical drills as well as the mental process, but before Pipe this year we had a slightly bigger training block than last year, Kelly actually really loves doing it which is awesome when you’re there to help.
Walk us through the course (part of Ocean Warrior) you did with Kelly, what did you guys work on and how did you go about it?
Each session at the start went on for over an hour. In Hawaii in 2018 we had a seven day training block and on the Goldy in 2019 we would do a few weekly sessions. We worked a lot on getting the breaths right. So the correct breath to use when you come up from when you’re underwater and correct breaths to use to recover fast if you need it, as well as the right breath to use when we wanted to drop the heart rate right down when needed.
We started off doing a lot the land drills to really perfect those breaths and also so he knew the importance of which muscle groups to use and which ones to shut off when it mattered.
The drills in the course really spell it out, and even if I just told him, he wouldn’t have realised how important it was for himself until he actually did it.
This year it was a ten day block but with all the new elite mindset stuff added to the advanced drills as well as breath relaxation stuff. He is very good at getting himself back to being calm and relaxed really fast in all of the drills which was awesome to see.
A lot of what we hear about with your course is about big wave survival and breath holding, but it’s more complex and deeper than that, right? Some of what you do doesn’t have anything to do with surfing or being underwater?
Yeah, it’s funny because for so many people the worse hold downs can actually be on a 3 foot day, and that’s happened to me too.
The course was designed for people dealing with waves and water, but it has actually been something that’s been really helpful for people dealing with anything that causes stress in life.
The more the course has gotten out there, the more feedback we are getting that it is relatable for everyday life. When you go through the elite mindset program that you use to apply to the other stages in the course, you start to really see that it can be used in any area of your life.
The process of how our mind connects to our body and the programs we run around fear are the same.
Slater is renowned for being well researched, it’s kind of odd to think there’s anything more he could learn, especially before Pipe. What is it that you felt you could help him with?
So true, he totally is and I was thinking the exact same thing! When we chatted about it back in 2018 I realised there were a few areas that would be new to him. It’s also something I’ve spent a large section of my own life studying, researching, and looking for all the answers on how to perfect.
I’ve worked with so many different types of professionals in so many fields too, from an 18-time freediving world champion to neurology experts, kinesiologists, energy workers, sports scientists and psychologists along with my own constant trial and error from big wave beltings.
I would constantly experience a heavy situation and go back and try and figure out how I can reverse the psychology of what was happening when we experienced stress and fear to the point were I became confident enough to jump off the back of a JetSki in front of sets at Jaws to test it. It works.
Did anything about this possibly being his last ever CT season, or his last ever Pipe Masters, come up - was there any sense of that in working with him?
Not really, this kind of work is all about dealing with now moments. I was also getting him ready for the Triple Crown too. But I think Kelly has openly stated that if he wins pipe he might just do that.
What about Olympic Qualification?
No, not at all, that’s what I think makes Kelly so good. If you live life too far in the future you start trying to predict outcomes, outcomes that you can’t control.
That’s what causes us all stress and that’s one thing I’ve noticed with him, that he is often very present in the moment. For sure he might have planned it, but when that was done he seems to be back onto whatever is going on at that moment.
Was there any specific preparation for this event? How did your ethos and approach relate to Pipeline specifically?
Yes, it was more the back end of the advanced stages in the realistic sections of the course. They are the hardest and what make you super confident for any heavy wave that’s going to dish out a longer hold down than normal.
The biggest thing I learnt from Kelly is that he’s a real guy just like everyone else that deals with good days and shit days
We also focus a lot on reducing stress before it builds up, by doing the breath work before we started. We really worked a lot on the ability to feel versus think! That’s what it’s all about, the technical term for that is called “Transient Hypofrontality”, when basically we shut down the pre-frontal cortex of our brain.
This is really important because this is the part of our brain that keeps track of time and consistently references past, present and future. When we can do this we are in the “now” where any individual is at their absolute best.
You’ve run through this course with so many different surfers, imagine that you often come away learning from them too. What did you learn from the GOAT?
For sure I’m always learning, and always discovering new and better ways to teach and help people. The biggest thing I learnt from Kelly is that he’s a real guy just like everyone else that deals with good days and shit days, but for him when he is focussed on what’s going on and really zeros down in that exact moment, he is super efficient and is so good at doing the exact task that needs to be done.
Sounds simple, but it’s hard to do when your world is upside down or the pressure is on.
And we heard the HBO crew was there filming a docu that aired this week in the US. What was that like?
Yeah that was pretty funny, the first morning I woke up, walked out of my room and there was about 13 people sitting in the living room at 6am with boom mics and a heap of cameras.
They were a really cool crew though, very respectful of everyone’s space, but also onto everything to get the best story for the viewers. Most of their team was from NYC and had no idea how lucky they were to get perfect days at Pipe and good weather while they were there. It didn’t seem to faze Kelly during his training sessions that he had a big crew watching his every move, he is just so used to that, but we did do a few sneaky sessions to just practice some of the mindset stuff. It was a super productive trip and it looks like he has got off to a good start at pipe event and hopefully the waves keep coming so he can do his thing.
For a limited time, Mark Visser's Ocean Warrior Course 2.0 – with the new Elite Mindset Program – is available for 60% off, find out more info and sign up HERE.