From taking on Hawaii’s mega breaks and mentoring champion rider Kelly Slater to training Navy SEALs and SAS soldiers, Australian big wave surfer MARK VISSER talks his coaching techniques, special online program and catching the next big one…
Born on a farm in rural Victoria, Mark Visser wasn’t raised near the ocean. In fact, a near-drowning experience at an early age left him with a deadly fear of the water. It was only through learning to swim, and later by surfing as a teenager, that Mark was able to overcome these early reservations, kick starting a lifelong passion that has seen him achieve the unachievable. This meant setting out to do something previously considered impossible — surfing Maui’s legendary Jaws break at night, which he tells us “started as a dream.”
The breaks at Jaws, situated roughly four kilometres off the coast of Northern Maui, hold an iconic, almost biblical position in big wave surfing lore. Jaws is frequently ranked among the biggest waves surfed by pro-surfers each year and was even etched into cinematic history when it was ‘surfed’ by 007 in the 2001 Bond film Die Another Day. A challenge to expert surfers during daytime, to surf Jaws in pitch black was once considered out of the question. “Back then it was considered a non-achievable task and everyone was saying it wasn’t possible” Mark recalls.
At 28 years old, following extensive training and mental preparation, Mark achieved this feat in 2011, making international headlines and earning a place in the big wave surfing legends book. Armed with custom-designed LED lights built into his board and solar-powered vest, he successfully surfed 30-40 foot waves in pitch black conditions. A chopper hovering precariously above helped film the action and the efforts were later marvelled at in the documentary Operation Night Rider.
Now 36, and based on the Sunshine Coast, Mark balances surfing with family, coaching, work as keynote speaker and life as a self-described ocean adventurer. He’s done TED events, spoken in front of a slew of corporate clients, coached Navy SEALs and SAS soldiers and for the past two years he has helped Kelly Slater prepare for the Billabong Pipeline Masters. When it comes to training, Coach Visser expects openness from the teams and individuals he works with. “When you’re working for the likes of Kelly Slater and elite military groups, if they’re OK to be open and vulnerable, I can help them a lot faster. If they’re closed off and just showing me what I want to see, I can’t help them.” A mind-body connection underpins his coaching philosophy. This is enshrined into The Ocean Warrior, a series of online training programs Visser has co-created to teach students the secrets to safely holding their breath underwater, as well comprehensive land and sea safety.
Although he can hold his breath underwater for over six minutes, he’s quick to reiterate that the skills required to recover from a serious wipe-out have little to do with a six-minute record. “The amount of time has no relevance in the scheme of things. When you’re getting washed around in the water, a six-minute breath hold doesn’t matter,” he explains. The Ocean Warrior courses are full of practical advice about what to do in such scenarios. “It gives people a lot of advice to navigate any uncomfortableness in any area or sport. That’s why I’m able to work with so many sports and teams.” Mark’s philosophy, and experiences as a surfer, lend themselves to almost any sport or industry. Indeed, life is but a series of proverbial – or in Mark’s case, quite literal — waves and wipe-outs. Therefore, it was only natural for Visser to expand the Ocean Warrior courses, introducing the Elite Mindset program.
This course is broken up into six stages and incorporates mental and physiological elements in the pursuit of reaching goals. While the course can be completed online, Mark has run Elite Mindset retreats for corporate clients overseas. He’s also a big proponent of the spiritual and invigorating aspects of surfing as both sport and recreation, and insists it’s never too late for beginners to pick up a board. “It’s totally open to anyone ready to have a go,” he says. “The only reason I believe people struggle when they’re older is ego. The door is wide open at any time, it’s a matter of being OK with learning.” Unlike some sports, Visser says that surfing isn’t about anyone else — it’s about enjoyment.
Having scaled, and surfed, previously unimaginable heights at Jaws, Mark and his pals are once again working to track and research waves in the Pacific, although he’s slightly secretive about this process and precisely where he’s heading next. “I’m working on this project to explore in the middle of the open ocean to see if there are some waves out there that are possibly the biggest waves in the world. It’s between Australia and Chile… that doesn’t really give too much insight into the exact location!”
Despite his remarkable accomplishments in big wave surfing, Visser is humble and somewhat nonchalant about his achievements during our interview. In fact, when it comes to professional fulfilment, he insists helping others remains the most rewarding part of his journey, particularly “seeing people’s lives get turned around.” And he recently got a great affirmation on this front. “The other day I was out in the surf and this kid said, ‘You’re the guy who does that Ocean Warrior thing! That thing saved my life, thanks so much for doing it.’ I always want to be the guy who helps someone — that’s what brings me joy.” ■
For more information about The Ocean Warrior and Elite Mindset programs, go to www.theoceanwarrior.com
INTERVIEW BY REILLY SULLIVAN
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