Another love story...
A few weeks ago, I came back from Sri Lanka, where, after many years of not-so-productive surf self-teaching, I finally decided to take some lessons. I spent one week at Lapoint surf camp in Ahngama in the south of Sri Lanka, and it was an experience I’ll never forget. I got this cliché picture in my head about surf instructors, which was mostly confirmed when this blond, tanned big-muscled dude introduced himself as my surf teacher for the week. I started out skeptical about the whole thing, but after a few days of lessons, I got to see how much passion (while sometimes also being a pain in the ass) he had for teaching and motivating us to surf, and all my misgivings were gone. Now I’m just thankful I decided to book those surf lessons.
Interview with Adrien
Hey Adrien, tell me a little bit about who you are and where you come from.
I’m Adrien Decae-Martel, I’m 22 years old, classic blonde surfer dude. I’m from Dunkerque, France, not so far away from Belgium, one of the biggest harbours in Europe. I grew up on the seaside but not really in a place where you can surf — too windy, people are more into sailing there.
Water played a big role in my life, my mom would bring me to sailing classes, and I love catamarans. I can say that I basically spent lots of time in the water when I was younger.
When did you get to know what surfing was?
When I was a kid, I used to be a bit bigger than I am now. To be honest, I was a little fat! The only clothing brand that fit was Quicksilver, so my mom was buying me all those surf brand clothes and that’s how I got to know what surfing was.
Did you tried surfing right away?
Not really, it all started a bit later, when I was finishing high school. My sister passed away and it was a really hard time for me and my mom. My mind wasn’t in a good place because of the loss. Somehow I managed to finish school but I couldn’t find my place after it. I needed a change. My English was really bad back then, I couldn’t say a word, so I thought it would make sense to go somewhere and learn the language. I looked at schools around the world, and I found one in South Africa that sounded really interesting, with a volunteer program to help children learn about surfing. I remember I took the laptop and went to my mom, she was at the hospital back then, and I showed her the school and she said: “if this is what you want to do, then go for it”! I’m so thankful to her, she has supported me every step of my life. As she said the other day: “behind every great guy, there’s always a even greater women”. She’s right!
Your English turned out pretty good, I almost can’t hear the French accent! What about surfing, how did you get into it?
It must have been the first or second day after I arrived in Jeffreys Bay, I took a surfboard and went out and I loved it! I couldn’t even stand up, but I still loved it. After that experience I couldn’t stop thinking about how I wanted to be better, catch real waves—I had to make it. The first time I went out to a point break I got smashed super hard and freaked out. I was like, fuck no, I don’t want to do it like this, I want to do it properly like the good surfers. So I pushed myself really hard, and here I am now teaching surfing!
I got to experience you surfing and teaching, and I can tell pushing yourself paid off! How did you become a surf instructor, though?
So I stayed in Africa for nine months the first time, doing this volunteer program and surfing, until I had to go back to France and get my life together. I was looking for universities I could go to, but all I could think of was surfing. I knew what I wanted to do, I wanted to become a surf instructor. For me, a surf instructor doesn’t require being a surf pro. It requires the passion to teach, to share and pass on something you love to others. So I went back to South Africa, and did this ticket-to-ride tour, which was a program to become a surf instructor. It took me three months of surf lessons, lifeguarding courses, and exams to finally get the certificate. I went back to Jeffreys Bay, one of my favorite places. Awesome point break, good food, and mellow people. This mate of mine, Daniel, who is a local and surf instructor there, hit me up with some job opportunities to train a little, because I still had to do 20 surf lessons to have the final certificate from the ISA. That’s when I finally became a surf instructor.
You’re teaching surfing in Sri Lanka now. How did you get here?
Something shitty happened, in the form of a shoulder injury—such a bad one that I had to have surgery back in France. I went back to Europe for a few months to get my shoulder fixed. While I was back, I knew I had to find a job, because bills don’t pay themselves. I started looking around for jobs, especially in Morocco. After a while I found this job opening at Lapoint surf camp in Norway. Not exactly the same as Morocco but I had to start somewhere, right? I actually made it to Morocco eventually! I was teaching at Lapoint camp in Taghazout for a few months, and then I went back teaching in Norway for seven months. While working for Lapoint I met Oscar, another instructor, and we became like brothers. He was sent to Sri Lanka to work, and when I got the opportunity to go over there as well, I took it! Finally surfing tropical waters with my bro—I couldn’t resist! And now I’ve been here for six months! And it has been amazing. I improved so much, having the chance to go every day, surfing really good waves, especially the one at the reef break in Weligama, with almost no people. You get so many waves just for you, it’s awesome!
Norway sounds cold! Did you know what you were getting into?
Yeah, the water is pretty cold, but it’s also cold in my hometown in Northern France. The only difference is that in Norway they have amazing waves! All I cared about was surfing, so why not Norway? Awesome landscape, just you in the fjords, surrounded by nature. When it’s all covered in snow, time stops, everything is quiet. You know, when you tell people you teach surfing, they picture you in one of those tropical places, warm water, bikinis, palms, and coconuts. Norway was completely different, more challenging. Giving lessons is really nice but intense, and doing it it Norway is even more intense. If you want to surf for yourself after the lessons, you really have to set your mind on getting back out there in the cold. Being able to do it in those conditions really showed me that surfing is my thing. My motivation and passion beats the harsh conditions.
Last question: pro and cons of the surf instructor life and a piece of advice?
It’s mostly great! I can surf and I get paid for it, I get to know many amazing people and share my passion with them. Of course, sometimes I get frustrated, not all my students are easy to teach, and I have the feeling I could do better to help them to do their best. But it pays off once one of my students gets a good wave! Got plenty of advice, you probably heard lots of it yourself during our lessons. What I can tell you is to listen to your mind. If it is not in the right place you won’t have a good session. You need to have the right mind set to catch the waves.
Thanks for reading,
Pictures: Casper Arvefors (all except the pictures in Norway)
Words: Gaia Giacomazzi
Location: Weligama, Sri Lanka