Surfer Cooper Chapman on the power and unpredictability of the sea. By Richard Cooke.


A life in waves: Cooper Chapman, 22, surfer

How do you make air out of water? It’s pretty much based on speed and choosing the right section. And timing.

As a little kid I always watched guys doing airs and thought it was a pretty interesting way to surf. Something different. I’ve always been pretty fond of doing airs. They always score big at events. 

I wouldn’t say I’m a board nerd but I work pretty closely with my shaper Simon Anderson. Pretty often I’m just trying to find the right boards that work in all conditions, and changing it up a bit. Having the equipment that can adapt to the changing of conditions.

I’ve been working on getting my surfboards right. Fine-tuning a few things. Making sure I’m feeling sharp, I’m looking sharp, doing some video analysis with a few coaches. And just being in the gym almost every day trying to get the body feeling as strong and fit as I can, so it’s ready for kind of any situation.

Manly is always pretty challenging [Cooper is competing in the Australian Open of Surfing, which begins this weekend]. You get all kinds of conditions. You could get a swap or a big chunky beach break – it’s kind of challenging, but then I’ve grown up in it. I’m only just down the road, so I feel pretty comfortable at Manly. 

It’s pretty cool getting to surf against all the best guys in the world. Surfing in conditions like that kind of evens the playing field a little bit for everyone, so it should be fun to try and hopefully get a few waves against the best guys in the world. 

There’s definitely a fine line between surfing being a job and being something that’s fun. All of us guys who do it professionally train really hard and are in the gym and do stuff with coaches. But there are days that you don’t want to go surf because the waves are terrible, but they’re the kind of days that you find a wave and you end up enjoying yourself anyway. You definitely can’t complain. It’s not waking up at 3am and going swimming laps in a pool.

I do some training on skateboards. Up at the high performance centre on the Gold Coast. With a skate ramp and things like that to work on progressive surfing. There’s just a big airbag so we can practise doing flips and spins and just get a bit more air awareness.

It’s obviously a lot different – doing it with a skateboard – it’s a completely different sized board, and off a ramp with different amounts of speed. It’s pretty hard to get the complete transfer, but it’s more so just about getting that awareness of feeling your body upside down and thinking about different ways to move your body through the air.

Indonesia is probably the best place in the world to surf. The waves are always pretty nice, the water’s warm and there’s plenty of reef breaks. 

I used to do quite a bit of yoga but the last couple of months I’ve been focusing in the gym just doing my own sort of workouts. I enjoy it, but it’s not for everyone. Basically I’m just trying to get stronger and be in peak physical condition and feel like I’m fit and ready to compete in the events I’ve got coming up. 

I reckon I’ve been surfing or down at the beach at least 20 per cent of my life. And then when I’m at the ocean, 100 per cent of the time is watching the waves. It’s the No. 1 rule in surfing: if you’re down at the beach, never take your eyes off the ocean.  

The ocean – it can get dangerous. It can be your best friend and your worst nightmare at times. I’ve learnt how to use the ocean to obviously surf and find the right places to paddle out and use the power of the ocean to move around. It’s a pretty interesting place. But the more time you spend in it, the more comfortable you feel out there.

Water awareness is the most important thing. You see guys like Kelly Slater and Mick Fanning and the waves seem to come to them, but it’s just because they’re so good at reading where the waves are going to come next, and where the sand banks are the shallowest. There are a lot of little things that you need to keep an eye on.

There’s definitely a few tips and tricks that you can give each other, but I think just the more time you spend there, the more time it comes to you. Sometimes you’re sitting out there and just get a feeling that a wave is going to come over somewhere, and you paddle there and it happens. Just getting in the flow with how the ocean feels and being aware. Just always being observant and trusting your instinct and where the waves are going to be coming next.


1 . This week’s highlights…

Motorsport: Superbike World Championship – Australian round

Until Sunday, Phillip Island, Victoria

• Surfing: Australian Open of Surfing

Until March 5, Manly Beach, Sydney

• Horseracing: Blue Diamond Stakes Day

Saturday, 1st race 12.30pm (AEDT), Caulfield Racecourse, Melbourne

• Netball: NSW Swifts v Adelaide Thunderbirds

Saturday, 5.10pm (AEDT), Qudos Bank Arena, Sydney Olympic Park

AFLW: Fremantle Dockers v Adelaide Crows

Sunday, 4.05pm (AWST), Fremantle Oval

NRL: Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks v Brisbane Broncos

Thursday, 8.05pm (AEDT), Southern Cross Group Stadium, Woolooware, NSW

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on February 25, 2017 as "A life in waves".

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Richard Cooke is a contributing editor to The Monthly, and the 2018 Mumbrella Publish Award Columnist of the Year.

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