Six Months In…

GB Surfing Team Manager, Gwen Spurlock, reflects on the first 6 months of the GB Surfing Progression Squad…

This week marks six months since we launched the GB Surfing Progression Squad, an Olympic surfing programme funded by UK Sport.

This was a huge moment for surfing in the UK, giving us the opportunity, for the first time ever, to put resource behind developing and nurturing promising young surfers, and giving them the training environment needed to ensure Britain qualifies for, and is competitive at, the 2028 LA Olympics and beyond.

With LA 2028 qualification and medals at the Brisbane Olympics in 2032 our goal, GB Surfing selected five athletes – Alys Barton, Ellie Turner, Lukas Skinner, Patrick Langdon-Dark and Stanley Noman – for the Progression Squad, all of whom had met the selection criteria and have shown the potential to be podium competitive in eight years’ time.

Luke Dillon was appointed Progression Squad Coach in June to oversee all performance elements for the squad – managing data, tracking progress, monitoring development, planning training and strategising competitions. Luke has also started on his own journey, as he transitions from surfer to coach, and has received support from the UK Sport Coaching Programme and has also been mentored by Pat Sharples, GB Snowsport Head Coach. Pat is widely regarded as one of the best freestyle sports coaches in the world, and recently won UK Sport Coach of the Year.

Our strategy for the Progression Squad is a camps and comps based programme, giving the team access to world class waves for training and where appropriate supporting them at the World Surf League qualification competitions.

Since announcing the Progression Squad, the surfers have been on four training camps in Portugal and a month-long training camp in Australia. This equates to 50 days of training on world class waves. Portugal was selected due to its proximity to the UK, and in Australia, the team were based on the Gold Coast with access to the breaks we predict will be used in the 2032 Olympics.

As well as coaching from Luke, we have brought in specialist consultant coaches at various stages on training camps.

These include Richard “Dog” Marsh who was previously Billabong’s International Junior Development Coach, Mick Cain who has managed and developed some of Australia’s best young talent, and John Tranter who coached Portugal’s Yolanda Hopkins to fifth place at the Tokyo Olympics. All have added hugely to the team’s development, offering input on technique and tactics as well as technical feedback.

Along with coach consultants, we have invited guest surfers, including Yolanda Hopkins and Frederico Morais who is currently ranked #25 in the world, to take part in camps.  Their presence has not only increased the level of competition and shown the squad what excellent looks like, but it has given our surfers the opportunity to pick their brains and get an even better understanding about competitive surfing at the highest level.

For competitions directly linked with Olympic qualification, such as the ISA World Surf Games, we run a separate selection process, with positions on the British team open to all. GB Surfing fully manage and financially support British shortboard teams at international comps.

At the 2024 ISAs, we finished 13th, a significant team improvement from 2023. Stan Norman and Alys Barton were the two Progression Squad members competing and both showed huge progress from the 2023 event. Following on from six months as part of the GB Surfing programme, Alys finished 13 places and 65 points better off, a performance increase of 25%, and Stan finished 12 places and 60 points better off, a performance increase of 22%.

Out of the water, we have taken a chef and soft tissue specialist on camps and to competitions in order to aid the athletes with their preparation and recovery. We need to maximise our time on camps, so it is important that the surfers receive support in managing their body enabling them to train two to three times a day. At competitions, we aim to remove distraction and give the team the best possible chance of success by ensuring they are fuelled and fit ahead of each Heat.

As well as supporting our athletes with camps and at competitions, we have invested in providing them with world leading equipment. All the squad were offered a full quiver of JS Industries surfboards, and we will continue to remove the barrier in our top athletes being able to access top of the range boards throughout the year.

Next up for the squad is another camp to Australia in June. This then leads into the RQS followed by two more Portugal camps at the end of the year.

It has been a huge six months, and we have already achieved so much, but we are still right at the beginning of our journey. Ultimately, we want to win Olympic medals, but we have so many goals and checkpoints to hit along the way, and we are all incredibly excited about what the future holds.