Anyone who has ever been to a European event where the France national team has been present over recent history will undoubtedly recognise the figure of Stephane Corbinien. In fact, even if you’d not attended in person you’d have seen him in the countless pictures circulating the internet where a French surfer is being chaired up the beach in triumph. The surfer is being carried by his/her coach. That coach is Stephane Corbinien. 


One of the main paradigm shifts in the sport of surfing over the last decade has been the increase in popularity of the surf coach. Gone are the hedonistic days of the 80s and early 90s; todays pro needs to be far more pragmatic to stay on top of the sport. Internationally, coaches such as Mike Parsons, Brad Gerlach and most recently Glenn “Micro” Hall have all garnered respect throughout the surfing community as a valuable tool in a surfers arsenal for their competitive attack. Glenn Hall especially, mainly due to the meteoric rise of Aussie Matt Wilkinson under his tutelage. However, Stephane Corbinien rarely has his name mentioned in this conversation, and he is one of the main figures behind the recent success of an entire nation. 


To emphasise this success, one must rewind twenty years and look at the competitive scene in Europe in 1997. A European surfer had just become the first from the continent to qualify for the World Championship Tour, that man was Russell Winter; from Cornwall, England. Fred Robin from France would follow Russell in the following years along with Miky Picon. Although, and I may be discounting Russ’s 3rd place finish in Brazil in 2002, it could be argued that until Jeremy Flores entered the fray in 2007 that there wasn’t a substantial international threat coming from the European nations. To say that European countries would be emerging would be naive, but there certainly wasn’t the international presence from the home nations as there is today and there wasn’t a dominant force on the continent itself. Flash forward twenty years and the scene is very different. France have stepped up as the dominant nation on the European and International front. On a personal level, Jeremy Flores claimed the ASP rookie of the year award in 2007, the 2010 Pipeline Masters , and the 2015 Teahupoo CT contest. Joan Duru has stepped up to the tour this year and has already shown himself a real prospect at CT level. However, it’s nationally where the French have truly shown their competitive mettle; they are currently ISA World Junior and Open champions and ESF EuroSUP and Eurosurf champions. The only national titles they don’t currently have in their possession are the ISA World SUP championship (2nd in 2016), and the ESF Eurojunior championship (France elected not to compete in 2016). At EuroSUP 2017 held in Peniche in June, the French continued to dominate, taking wins in all divisions except one. 



So what has been the key behind French success? A question this pertinent should be aimed at one of the main players behind this momentum shift: Stephane Corbinien, whom we caught up with in between heats in Peniche...... 



“It was a ten year plan” claims Corbinien “we tried to implement the most efficient way of getting results, which was to start with the coaching staff of the national team and then focus on the junior surfers”




The French junior team would become the cornerstone of French success over that time and it’s clear to see their domination began at youth level. They have now claimed the last two ISA World Junior Games and are favourites to reclaim the crown in Japan later this year. But what seems different about the French approach to junior coaching is the recognition of the importance of the coaching staff themselves.... 



“With the longboard, SUP, bodyboard, and junior....the (coaching) staff are nearly exactly the same organisation everywhere....for the kids when they become older....they have already the skills to arrive with the open”....thats the way we try to work....we work with all the territories too....to coach the coaches”  



It is often not taken seriously across all sports let alone surfing that it’s not how many coaches you have but how efficient and effective those coaches are in implementing an ethos and competitive culture onto their junior subjects. English football for example....there has always been a huge amount of interest and sure there are as many coaches in English football as there are in Spain, Brazil etc but the lack of national success in the sport has long been blamed on the lack of continuity between junior and senior coaching methods and culture. Any time spent on athletes adjusting to different age categories as they progress through their career could be seen as time wasted and ground lost on rivals. Something Corbinien has obviously been instrumental in avoiding when it comes to the French surf team....



“This way, what they learn with the regional coach....the regional coaches have to work the way the national team do....so there’s a small gap when they arrive with the national team”



Having this continuity between age categories and disciplines is essential it would appear in achieving national sporting success. Something the French are reaping the rewards of taking seriously. Especially when it comes to aligning coaching ethics across the French territories, which are spread across the globe about as far apart as is possible. Having world class coaches in these areas has only helped with producing solid results for the motherland. Titouan Puyo for example, was born in Rapa (French Polynesia) and raised in New Caledonia, and has undoubtedly been one of France’s standout performers on the world stand up paddle stage. Athletes such as Tito will make up a huge part of the make up for French future success. 



Corbinien also highlights the need for warm weather training when the harsh winter makes effective performance levels much harder at home. Starting with training at home in the summer, the French junior team is assembled and the best young talent taken on a variety of trips to broaden their skill set and also experience of travelling the world....something that cannot be disregarded when it comes to preparing the next generation of professional surfers.....




“Every year for at least ten years....we’ve been to Australia, South Africa, Panama....at the first organisation in the summertime we see all the kids....then we work with all the best kids during winter time....we work with the open too but not in the same way of course because we have professional surfers in the open so its a little different....but in wintertime....with the kids....we do training like if they are in the national team”



Having the open surfers train concurrently with the juniors on these winter trips is undoubtedly something on which French success hinges. It’s not rocket science that the elder French pros would have a positive influence on the up and coming juniors but the act of teaching one how to succeed is one thing....but to see these methods being applied by those who’ve gone before is a unique privilege that the French juniors are lucky to enjoy. 


But for those at the top with a target on their back the question remains....where next? Another ten year plan. For the French National Surf team there are relatively few objectives left so the question was asked.....what does the future hold for France? CT World Champion?




“We hope so, but the next step....as it is for everybody....will be the Olympics (in 2020), so we try to work a lot to arrive in the Olympics in a good position.....a new plan, a new objective....which is a big objective but its our new plan” 



The announcement last year that surfing will be a part of the Tokyo games in 2020 was received like the proverbial bombshell across the surfing universe. Although those on the inside knew that the planning had been going on for some time, most thought of the idea with a little bit of skepticism, at worst controversial. But what it does give is a chance for the professional surfing world to showcase their talents whilst representing their countries in front of (with respect to the WSL Championship Tour and the ISA Games) one of the World’s biggest sporting audiences. In fact the 2008 Summer Olympics boasts the official world record for the largest global viewership of any TV broadcast, and it was estimated that almost 5 billion individual viewers watched some part of the coverage, including its peak final hour of the live broadcast of the closing ceremony in August 2008. The French are a patriotic lot and would clearly relish the chance to prove themselves as one of the most professional and talented in surfing, and with the groundwork in place over the last ten years there’s absolutely no reason why a French surfer won’t make the podium in Japan. 



French success on the international and continental front also makes for a stronger Europe, as it would do when any of the home nations enjoy success. France are the country with the biggest target on their backs in Europe no doubt. Of course success breeds competitive energy just like it does in any sport but working together within the confines of the European community is something Corbinien recognises as imperative to future triumphs....



“It’s good for all Europe....Europe will be important in the future of the Olympics....its a new objective for all of (us)....and its important to work a lot together”



The future of European surfing is certainly in good stead, and this positive momentum will surely all be worthwhile come 2020 and we should look forward to seeing a European on the podium. But Corbinien knows the job has only just begun....



What is really hard is you can be first but its harder to stay there....we want to stay at the top”



With the recent one-two-three of European nations at the ISA World Games in Biarritz, where Portugal and Spain were respectively nipping at the French heels all event....never has that sentiment been so apt. French neighbours can see the momentum building and naturally they want in on the act. Portugal and Spain are close....maybe the rest a little further behind but most importantly, all learning from each other and working together with the end goal of making European surfing as much of an international presence as possible. 

Day 2 of EuroSUP 2017 began today with the first race divisions being held under blue skies and great conditions and by the days end European champions would be crowned in  both the men and womens technical race divisions. The race would start and finish at Molho Leste; the north end of the beach at Supertubos, the course would then take a tricky route around the bay, made especially more technical due to the thumping shorebreak that would ultimately end up taking its toll on numerous competitors.

The women went first and it was Frenchwoman Olivia Piana who took home the gold medal with a dominate performance over Laura Quetglass (SPN). Piana led from the start and never looked likely to finish anywhere other than first, always increasing her lead throughout the race. Nicoline Rasmussen finished third. 

The mens division was much, much closer. Ultimately it would be Denmark’s Casper Steinfath at the top of the podium after an incredibly close race with Arthur Arutkin (FRA). Both competitors were neck and neck throughout and traded the lead on numerous occasions but it was Steinfath who took the line required to hold the lead around the last marker buoy that allowed him to hold Arutkin off until the finish line. Steinfath now has the European crown to go with his three world titles; a legend of European watersports. Frenchman Titouan Puyo was third and Italian Leonard Nika fourth. 

 

The surf competition continued after the technical races were held back at Supertubos in conditions similar to the opening day. Pierre Roullet (FRA) was the standout of the day racking up some huge scores for an impressive display of powerful and technical surfing in round 2 of the mens division. Compatriot Justine Dupont was also outstanding in the first round of the womens, taking the win in her heat and amassing the highest heat total of the day for the women. Her surfing looked every bit as sharp and critical as the mens and the Frenchwoman may have just announced herself as the person to beat. 

 

Competition will resume tomorrow afternoon at Supertubes. 

 

The 2017 ISA World Games took place last week in the French surfing mecca of Biarritz, held in what could pretty much be described as typical French beachbreak conditions; ever changing with the tides and swell but yet some of the most undeniably fun surf the planet has to offer. Plus the backdrop is undeniably one of the most scenic you could hope for. Biarritz delivered. 

 

At the events culmination it was Mexican Jhony Corzo who took the honours in the mens division and Pauline Ado from France the womens. The event was a major benchmark from a European perspective, with the French team dominating to take home the gold medal, Portugal claiming the silver and Spain the bronze. And that wasn’t the only sign of European ascendancy. Johanne Defay was a close second to compatriot Ado in the womens final to conclude a French domination of the division, and in the mens final Corzo was the only surfer not from Europe. WCT rookie Joan Duru finished in second place, Pedro Henrique (POR) third and Jonathan Gonzalez (ESP) finished in fourth. In fact, come the semi final stage it seemed you could have picked any of the European surfers to take the crown. Only two surfers from countries outside the jurisdiction of the European Surfing Federation were still in the hat at this point, Jordy Collins (USA) and the event winner Corzo. Yassime Ramdani placed an outstanding fifth for Morocco and Spain’s Vicente Romero also came agonisingly close to making the final. Jeremy Flores (FRA), Europe’s most successful on the world stage (Pipeline and Teahupoo CT victories etc), was also knocked out at the semi final stage which highlights the standard of surfing on display and the fact that the Euro surfers were leading the charge. 

 

It should come as no surprise that there was a European on-two-three in the overall positions. The work has been going on behind the scenes for years and it was only a matter of time before the rewards would be seen. France now hold both the ISA senior and junior titles and Portugal have now held the silver medal in the last two ISA games. Spain have a ridiculous amount of talent coming through and an impeccable team supporting them so the fact they rounded out the podium positions should come as no surprise to anyone. 

 

It’s been written before on this website and to a certain extent this is now repetition, but the ascendancy of European surfing is now in full swing. With the Tokyo Olympics round the corner the timing couldn’t be better and with the team structures in place across the continent I don’t think it would be out of the question that we’ll see a European surfer with a medal when 2020 comes around. 

 

 

You’ve had quite an eventful year. How has it gone for you?

It’s been super hectic year for sure! Competitively....I couldn’t have had a better one winning the holy trinity (English, British and European Junior Champion)! It’s been sick to really try out a wide range of boards that are coming out from my shaper Skindog too. I definitely haven’t been bored in the water, put it that way!

How was Morocco for you? Other than the obvious....

Morocco was a hell of an experience! It was an honour to captain such a talented bunch of junior surfers from my country. I hadn’t properly met the crew before....I’d only seen them at a couple of contests what with the shortboarders and longboarders being separated... Waves wise, our trip started very slow but thankfully as the competition period lurked the waves switched on and I can’t recall scoring better waves for a contest. Was also nice to finally go to Morocco and surf something other than a beach because previously we got skunked for waves! We scored Anchors and Killers in the final few days of our trip which was incredible.

You cruised the earlier rounds of the competition, how were the nerves when Joao Gama dropped those high scores early in the final?

It was a super strange feeling. Knowing that you’ve got what it takes to top your rival’s scores, whilst also scared that the waves might not come your way! However the waves were pumping so I was just focussed on getting priority and hoping to get a long playful wall to deal with, and thankfully my patience played dividends. A 30 minute final and priority system definitely helped with the nerves though!

Longboarding has been by far the most successful division for English and Welsh surfers over the last decade, with Ben Skinner, Elliot Dudley and Sam Bleakley all taking wins at some point. Why do you think that is? Who influences you on the UK scene?

I think it comes down to 2 things. Firstly, the waves we get in the UK are often better suited to longboarding in my opinion. There are a lot more spots in this country that are better suited to riding a longboard rather than a shortboard. And secondly, the amount of shortboard talent coming out of other countries in Europe (France, Portugal, etc) is increasing rapidly, and that’s down to the waves they get, and also the financial support which then contributes to travelling and training. This makes it stiff competition for the UK shortboarders to compete against because we don’t get the same kind of backing as other European nations do. However with longboarding it is much more of an open playing field. The English guys who influence me are Skinner and James Parry, for the fact that they both shred and how they’ve shown the world how well a surfer from the UK can actually surf!

What do you think it’ll take for you to break the monopoly that the Delpero brothers and Ben Skinner have had over the open longboard divisions over the last few years?

Think maybe bringing something new to the scene, new moves, new tricks, that sort of thing. Also with rumours of a potential change of criteria that may be happening next year it opens up a whole new realm to approaching a wave on a longboard that is hidden from competitive surfing.

What are your plans for the upcoming year? Are you planning on getting around Europe to do the contests there?

Now I’m at Plymouth University, who have been really supportive, I have a lot more time to get around Europe and do the comps, so I’m going to take a shot at the WSL events this season and make a run for the WLT in China at the end of the year. My aim is to give it all a go riding a single fin, and me and my shaper Ben Skinner are working on something that could be the board of the future, so watch this space...

Who are you surfing and traveling with at the moment?

At home I’m just surfing with the normal lot - my dad, mates and a few of the local lot. I’m hoping to do the European leg with fellow Skindog rider Joe Hornbuckle, so will be sick to do the circuit with the tour with a teammate.

And finally who’s supporting you this year? You’ve got a free platform to give your sponsors a shout out.

I have had massive support from Skindog Surfboards, Gul Wetsuits and Plymouth University, and I definitely wouldn’t of made it to where I am today without these lot...

Thanks for your time Jack.

Cheers boys yewwww

With 2013 now well and truly behind us the WSF is looking forward to our most exciting year ever! 2014 promises to be something special as the WSF takes to the World Stage for the first time in its 40 year history

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