ASP Europe caught up with French surfing legend and long time ASP competitor, Didier Piter, who recently launched his own surf coaching company. With five European surfing titles and 14 consecutive years on the national French team, Piter has an enormous understanding of the technicalities needed for surfing at the highest level. With his new company, he now offers guidance to anyone interested in taking surfing to an entirely new level.
ASP Europe: Hey Didier, let’s start with your competitive years…
Didier Piter: I started competing at 15. I grew up in Senegal and was passionate about surfing. My brother was on the contest scene in France and that’s how I got started. It went well right away so I continued for the next fifteen years! I found myself a true passion for competitive surfing and I had no idea I had it inside me, but that’s what kept me going forward and progressing all those years. My whole surfing life I’ve only wanted to get better.
ASPE: You’ve been on the ASP tours as well?
DP: Yes, though I started very late in 94 I was 23 already! I started half season, I remember Russel Winter was leading the title race back then. We had a little competition together and I finished runner-up. I discovered the ASP tour and I figured that’s the one I wanted to win! The next year I was leading the rankings all year but ended up losing and Fredo (Frederic Robin) took out the title. Finally the third year I managed to get my hands on the European Crown! I had four event wins that year and probably about ten in my whole career. In 97 I had a wildcard on the WCT as the European Champion but it was a very tough year for me as I broke my wrist and leg. It was an amazing opportunity to surf on the CT as a wildcard but unfortunately I didn’t experience it fully cause of the injuries. The next season I ended up fourth, and finally I quit competing totally in 99 or 2000.
ASPE: How did the transition from competing to working go?
DP: I was team manager for Gotcha back when I was a team rider. They were bought out by Quiksilver and the corporate headquarters moved to St Jean de Luz so I got more involved until 2002. Then I had to choose between going full corporate with a marketing job, or stick to coaching which I had started a couple years before. I felt this was what I was meant to do so I went to the French Federation. I became coach and trainer for the French National Team from 2004-05 and I was working with the Duru generation, Marc Lacomare etc. Before that I coached them at the Hossegor Surf Club, and I saw them grow and mature to become part of the national team. My best memory is from 2006 when the team got second at the World Championships right behing the Australians, it was huge! Pauline won the individual title and Marc placed runner-up.
ASPE: Then you left the federation?
DP: Yes I moved to Volcom in 2007 and worked there for five years. There wasn’t really a team when I got there and I brought my experience in, which attracted some surfers who wanted to be part of something dynamic.
ASPE: Your position at Volcom was terminated last year then, let’s talk about your situation now?
DP: Well now I’ve launched my own company. I’ve built experience over the last thirteen years coaching and this clearly is what I’m passionate about. Plus to be honest it works very well, you know progression is pretty much infinite in surfing, you can always fine tune and learn new things, that’s my queue. I love coaching at the elite level because I know how important technique is in performance surfing but I’m also happy to offer my knowledge to surfers with a lesser level but the same desire to improve .
ASPE: So do you work only on technique or do you train physically as well?
DP: I’ve done training programs for surfers I work regularly with like William Aliotti for example.
ASPE: Tell us exactly what you do then?
DP: Well basically my services are for anyone that can surf a little, that have autonomy out there in the lineup and enough understanding of the environment. I try to give them a precise technical analysis of their surfing with solutions to improve it. And for that I mainly work with video, it’s such an extraordinary tool to improve faster. I work in groups of four surfers maximum because I feel that with more than four it gets difficult to observe everyone well enough. With four people out, all the coaching is personalized, but I also do one-on-one coaching when I’m asked. I also try to encourage mobility to work on becoming a complete surfer, being able to surf different conditions, different waves and that’s a great way to travel over the winter.
ASPE: On your website you also offer online coaching?
DP: Yes, well I’ve been doing this for a while, I used to have surfers in my teams that were in Portugal, Italy, and someone staying in Costa-Rica… With video, there’s no shortage of analysis, it’s true that you won’t get that particular situation of being out there in the lineup and see everything that surrounds the session, but technically video is enough to observe a surfer and analyse his technique. You can see right away, how the surfer uses the wave, if there’s an exchange between the surfer and the wave, if he uses its power, speed etc, and the pure technical aspects, if there are any movements interfering with his global balance, timing, style etc. All of this is easy to analyze on video and to point out. When you’re only explaining verbally, the surfer might not remember everything you tell them, but with the video you can watch the clip and explanations as much as you want. From experience I know that the visual aspect of demonstrating is very important to understand. The only condition is to have video footage of yourself, so when I’m out there with a group I film them myself, but nowadays there are innovations and cameras that allow you to film yourself in the water etc, so basically anyone can get a session filmed and send me the footage. In an upcoming trip to the Mentawais, I’ll also have somebody to film from the boat. This way I’ll be able to get out in the lineup with the group, be more responsive with my observations and also show them. Sometimes demonstration is important as well.
ASPE: So you organize trips as well?
DP: Yes, there’s different types. Mid-season close trips like Portugal, the Canaries, Morocco you know all those destinations closeby that allow for a roadtrip a few hours away for example. In winter I also offer some longer trips a bit further, like a ten day training camp in Costa Rica for someone who wants to work exclusively on airs and technical aspects. I also just got back from Hawaii where we worked on different abilities and got to surf Pipe, for example. You know there’s a lot of subtleties to surfing Hawaii, when you’ve never been there it’s good to have someone help you figure out who’s who, the different orientations in a swell, etc.
ASPE: Are you the only one to offer this kind of service?
DP: Well I haven’t seen this particular service anywhere else, I mean LIVE coaching is quite new. Basically I’m going to receive and work on videos sent by people and then work with them live to discuss their situation. I know it exists within some teams with coaches working over skype for example but not with the graphics and annotations I’m able to provide.
ASPE: Who’s asked you for that kind of coaching so far?
DP: I’m surprised, most of the people I’ve worked with are thirty year-olds that have been stuck with their surfing for a while and want to take it to the next level. They are mature enough and understand well so it works great with them. I also have young surfers that want to compete, they’ve always been my main target, those who want to become professional and solidify their basics before entering the competitive jungle. Basically anyone that really wants to improve and have fun, there’s no particular stereotype, I’ve also had people who want to become coaches themselves etc.
ASPE: And how’s the feedback so far?
DP: I’ve had excellent feedback so far and it’s going great. I’m starting to have more and more people asking so maybe my next step forward will be to have somebody trained to handle particular groups. I’d like to have another passionate ex-surfer help me with this at some point.
ASPE: Do you work on improving your method?
DP: I’m going to get new equipment, I need to change my camera for example. I train guys like William who need images for their sponsors and web clips etc. So basically guys come to me, we work together they get the coaching part and also content for their blogs. I’m also working on a couple other new technologies to improve the coaching but it’s not quite ready just yet. I try to adapt to all different profiles of surfers, I know the competitors well and know that sometimes they’ll need help at a certain point in their season, so I offer personalized packages for them.