Mark Visser on Preparing Kelly Slater For the Pipe Masters

13 Dec 2019 0 Share

Photo: WSL/Heff

Photo: WSL/Heff

COASTALWATCH | OCEAN WARRIOR

Right now the greatest surfer of all time is possibly surfing his last ever event as a full time Championship Tour surfer. And that event just happens to be the most famous and prestigious surfing competition in the world.

Kelly Slater has of course won the Pipe Masters a bunch – five times back in the 90s, and twice since then – and holds the all-time record for Pipe victories. As someone who first won it all the way back in 1992 and has been a dominant force out there, jersey or not, ever since – what could he possibly learn preparing for the Masters in 2019?

Well, plenty, apparently. And to do so he enlisted the help of Australian big wave surfer Mark Visser and his Ocean Warrior course, with its new elite mindset components, to get prepped before the Pipe Masters got started (and Slater, as you saw with his TEN in Round 3, has been on fire so far).

We chatted to Mark to find out more about exactly what that is and what they did.

CW: Hey Mark, can you tell us how it came to be that you and Kelly ended up working together in prep for this Pipe Masters? 

Mark Visser: 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 set stuff beforehand. This year we started back before the tour started 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.

So what did the course entail this time around? Can you run me through what you guys worked on and how you went about it?

Each session at the start went 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? A lot 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.

This might be a little naive to say, but Slater is so renowned for being so well researched, so well versed on everything in his grasp, that it’s odd to think there’s anything more he could learn at this stage of his career… especially heading into Pipe, which he’s won seven times. So what is it that you could help him with that he didn’t already have in his arsenal?

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.

Slater bottom turning at Pipeline during his dominant performance in the Round of 32 this week. Photo: WSL/Sloane

Slater bottom turning at Pipeline during his dominant performance in the Round of 32 this week. Photo: WSL/Sloane

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.

Did Olympic qualification seem like a factor in his preparation also, or on his mind at all?

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, and this wave in mind when doing the course, how your ethos and approach could directly relate to Pipeline and the Pipe Masters 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. 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 done this course with so many different surfers, with so many differing abilities – I imagine that you often come away learning from them too. What did you learn from Kelly Slater?

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 I heard the HBO crew was there with you guys, filming their doco that aired this week in the US. What was that like? Those filmmakers are the best in the world at what they do too, what was it like to see them work?

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.

Mark and Kelly train in the pool in the lead up to the 2019 Billabong Pipe Masters, as the crew from HBO watches on.

Mark and Kelly train in the pool in the lead up to the 2019 Billabong Pipe Masters, as the crew from HBO watches on.

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 over here.

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