Team USA coach Brett Simpson and 11x world champion Kelly Slater survey conditions at the ISA World Surfing Games in Miyazaki, Japan. P/C: Sean Evans

Two-Time U.S. Open Champ Brett Simpson Named Olympic Surf Coach

Team USA’s Olympic surf Coach Brett Simpson was unanimously selected by America’s four Olympic surfers — Carissa Moore, Caroline Marks, John John Florence and Kolohe Andino.

Simpson is a two-time U.S. Open of Surfing champion and coached USA Surfing’s junior national team to team gold and the World Surfing Games team to silver last year. He said he is proud and honored to have earned the team’s trust and to represent his country as the Olympic team head coach.

“Team USA is absolutely stacked with Carissa, Caroline, John and Kolohe,” Simpson said. “Their precision, energy and power are made for the Olympic stage, where medals are decided in the span of a few short days of giving it 110 percent, no mistakes, and mastering what the ocean provides at that time.”

Brett debriefs with 4x world champion Carissa Moore at the ISA World Surfing Games. P/C: Sean Evans

USA Surfing CEO Greg Cruse said Simpson’s rapport with America’s top surfers — many of them multi-world champions, is the perfect fit for the job. Carissa, Caroline, Kolohe and John all have teams that they work with, year-in, year-out, so they really don’t need coaching in the traditional sense.

“What they need is someone that they can relate to, that they respect, that they can bounce ideas off, that can calm them, or hype them up, and just get them in the best mindset,” Cruse said in a LA Times article.

Surfline — the official forecaster for Olympic surfing, recently interviewed coach Brett about his plans for leading the team as they take to the world’s biggest sporting stage next summer in Japan.

Congrats on the coaching gig. Are you feeling the pressure, or are you feeling pretty confident?

Well, we would’ve been two weeks out from the Olympics now. But obviously with COVID, everything got pushed back. Things would’ve been pretty tight if they were moving along like they were supposed to. I already have tight relationships with all these athletes, but this just gives us more time to train and to grow as a team.

John is healthy now, coming off his knee injury from last year. Kolohe just got a little knicked up surfing down in Mexico. Carissa was going to be taking this year off tour anyway, and she was really just going to be focusing on the Olympics for this year. And Caroline is, you know, super young and just surfing her brains out. It has been a little bit of a blessing in disguise for us to have this extra time. And next year, if the tour gets started again, they’re not going to have a ton of time for training in between events. So, we can start building the groundwork now. There’s a chance we’ll be doing a trip to the BSR park in Waco, then hopefully some work in Hawaii later this winter.

It’s been such a whirlwind for me — going from being a competitor, to having a couple years coaching the juniors, to having that successful run at the ISA World Surfing Games last year. It’s honestly something that I truly love, the whole coaching thing. It’s exciting, but at the ultimate level like at the Olympics, it’s a little nerve-wracking, too. Luckily, our athletes are the best in the game, and I’m confident in them — that’s a big relief.

Brett Simpson at USA Surfing Prime Series event at Steamer Lane. P/C Kurt Steinmetz

What skills do you bring to the table as a coach?

When you’re competing at such a high level, you want your coach to bring that comfort level and support. You want them to be there as a backbone to the whole operation.

These are the top athletes, and they wanna hear the truth if something isn’t working. They can deal with the truth.

On the day of, you want the coach to be there and calming the nerves and pointing things out that they might not be seeing. You want the coach to simplify things for the athletes, so on the day of, they can just go out and do what they do best.

What has training been like during COVID?

I’ve been working with Kolohe here and there. We’ve been training with some high-level athletes in the SoCal area. A lot of them already have coaches who work with them specifically on fitness. I try and work with them to get everyone on the same page. I can’t be with all of them every single day, so it’s a lot about communication and syncing everyone up.

One thing to work on is building up a camaraderie. We all know surfing is such an individual sport, but the Olympics is such a different beast. That’s something we plan to work on moving forward — really make them feel like a team. When the hooter sounds, they know what to do. But they’re not super familiar with the team aspect.

The other thing is that nobody has competed for the past four months. And that rust is there. So, going forward, we want to do some mock training events where there is that high-pressure of competing on the world stage. We’ll be doing some of that out here in SoCal, then hopefully out in Waco in September.

Olympic surfing hopefuls and USA Surfing’s High Performance Committee meets with Kobe Bryant at the Mamba Sports Academy in Thousand Oaks, Calif.

USA Surf Team staff and Olympic hopefuls (before the official team was announced) meeting with the late Kobe Bryant at his Mamba Academy in 2019. Photo: Jeremiah Klein

What’re some areas of improvement that you hope to work on with the team?

Mindset is huge. These are four of the best surfers in the world. And they all know the mindset they need to be in to win. But it’s also the first time they’ve had to do this in the Olympics.

Fine-tuning the equipment will also be key, specifically for the conditions in Japan. We’re hoping to get over there to dial in equipment, but we’ll have to wait and see with international travel. I want them to test boards, test the waves, stuff like that. Caroline and Kolohe have spent plenty of time in waves like Japan. With John and Carissa it might be a little different; they’re not quite as used to, I guess you could call them, crummier waves.

Obviously, Japan can get really good. But they’re not Hawaii waves. We’re preparing for it to be a grind-fest.

These are waves where you need to create your own speed. John has worked a lot on that. And he’s the best in the world when he has speed. But those are things that we could still work on. Like, if it ends up being really small, we need to work on that.

Team USA (sans Carissa and John John) honored at a Lakers game back in February, plus power forward, Jared Dudley. Photo: Justin Jung

What strengths do you think this team has compared to others?

Besides Caroline, most of our team are veterans now. When it comes to these high-pressure situations, that can be an advantage for us. Some of these other countries might not be as comfortable in the high-pressure scenarios. But then again, you look at some of the other top countries, like Brazil, Australia, and parts of Europe — they have experience too. There could also be some underdog countries. At the same time, it’s the first Olympics for everyone. The pressure is going to be intense. But having our athletes, who have competed at the highest level for so many years now, I think we’ll lean heavily on that experience.

Who’s the biggest competition for Team USA?

Japan is going to be strong. They’ve got homecourt advantage with Kanoa and Shun Murakami. But, of course, you can’t deny Brazil. They’ve got Italo and Gabby — probably the two most explosive surfers in the world in all conditions, but especially in average waves. Then there’s France and Australia. So, look, it’s a stacked field. I think it’s going to come down to who can be the most exciting. It’ll likely be mediocre surf, so we’re gonna need to be light on our toes, and just explosive. That’ll be the absolute key.

Team USA with a silver medal at the 2019 ISA World Games in Japan. Photo: Ben Reed

How has it been for you transitioning into this coaching part of your career?

100 percent. When I was competing, I’ll admit that I wasn’t always the most tactical. I always tried to rely on ability. But once I step back, and I look at it from a coaching standpoint, you realize that wave selection is so huge. When you’re at that high level, everyone rips. So, you really need to put yourself on the best waves in order to make the difference.

Even when I surf now, I focus on those things. And the few times I’ve competed this past year, I had more success. I felt more comfortable, more confident. My decision-making was way more on point. It’s really easy to get in your own way by making easy mistakes. There were things that I used to do, and now that I have this coaching perspective, I’m like “man, that was stupid.” That’s the beauty with our team: they know the system and they know how to use it to their advantage.

In your eyes, what’re Team USA’s chances of bringing home some medals?

Obviously, you could say I’m a little biased, but I think our chances are fairly high. I’m setting high expectations for our team, but I think we can expect some gold medals. This is such an amazing opportunity for our team, for all the athletes. And let’s be real, people expect some medals from our team. But I’ll tell you what, we’re shooting for gold. We won’t be satisfied without gold.

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