Welcome to The Temple of Surf Podcast.
Today is the 20th episode of the third series, thank you so much to all of you that follow us every week since now 18 months!
Professional Surfer, coach and motivator Alex Gray is today’s guest of the show. We discussed with him about surf, coaching and much more!
You can follow the episodes on all major podcast platforms or read the interview below, forgiving us (please) of some spelling mistakes
TTOS: Aloha Alex, welcome to the show. Where are you today?
I am at home in Los Angeles, California
TTOS: first question is a very simple (or not, lol) …. what is the most important thing in surfing in your opinion?
I think the most important thing for me in surfing is to never lose the idea of why I started, which was, the best feeling and experience of my life. You know, I caught my first wave when I was nine years old, my parents didn't surf and my dad took me out surfing and, you know, I think it's everybody's story that one wave, it was like magic and now, it's almost…. gosh, 24 years later. The things that I dreamed of being a kid, a lot of them came true and a lot of things happen because of surfing that I never imagined., I'm always grateful for the simple fact that surfing is the happiest moment I think I ever have in life, you know, is while I'm in the water riding waves. I just think that that's the most important thing about surfing, you know, is continuing to use it to make you a better person.
TTOS: You said something very important, grateful, is not is not that easy in today's world, but it's so important, right?
Surfing has a lot of analogies and it there are a lot of things that happen in the ocean that carry back into my life on land. You know, post-surf sessions, I've learned a lot of lessons in life due to certain scenarios while surfing, it can be a sport that lifts you up that makes you feel like the king of the world and then it can also on your next wave make you feel like you just don't have anything going on. For me, surfing has always been some of the lifts me up, but at the same time, it's very humbling and I think that's why I'm so addicted to it because every day isn't the same, I'm always searching for that unique feeling that it is not in every wave, it's not in every session, and it's not every traveling adventure I go on. The gratitude comes for those moments that we get that you want to cherish forever because they can be, life-changing
TTOS: Definitely, I agree with you, we all deal with an element that is mother nature that is the ocean that we cannot control…..maybe in the wave pool, we can somehow control, but it's not like ocean, right?
I explained to people, the one thing that we need and want in our control is, like you said, completely out of our control and that's the actual surface that we're riding on, are the waves that approach us. We wish that every time we surfed that wave that we saw from the beach comes straight to us, but surfing is just not like that. The opportunity sometime arises in front of you, sometimes you work hard for it and sometimes it doesn't appear at all. In other sports like football, basketball, baseball, the surface that they play on with is constantly the same.
Surf fits my personality, I've never been good at a routine or kind of a everything staying the same in my life….that drives me insane…..surfing is a really good sport for my personality.
TTOS: It challenges you like every day and every day is different.
What was your first proper surfboard and still have it?
The first surfboard that I had was from our neighbor, the person next door and like every little I can barely put my arm around it. It was way too big for me, but it was a hard fiberglass surfboard and I just thought that was the craziest, coolest thing ever. I remember that board, it's a local shaper named Dennis Drivers. He shaped spider surfboards, he still shapes surfboards now, but he was a really big shaper in the nineties. I actually got a custom board from him when I was 11 years old, it's a five foot board by 16 and a half by one and three quarters and I still have it.
You know, my dad was so smart, he had me hold onto it…. I think a lot of us unknowingly go into these careers and we don't think about those momentos. The things that we had during that time, that, you know, last a lifetime of memories. I'm so stoked that I picked that board up and I just, I trip out on myself, I was this little kid that rode this board and, you know, that was being 11 years old, that's when I've got my first sponsors. At 12 years old, I got my first really big sponsor with Volcom and Body Glove and Dragon and Reef. Looking back at that time, I was so stoked on the idea that I got to put a sticker on my surfboard and get some clothes and shoes and surf boards. It was like this little fire that was like “how do I take this and make surfing my life?.... it's fun, you know?” Cause we're just talking about the past that when I was 12 years old, I honestly knew exactly what I wanted to do in life and that was be a professional surfer.
TTOS: It takes a lot of determination to make such a dream come true…..
I always tell people, I was never the most talented surfer, but I was willing to put in the hard work. I obviously loved it, it was my greatest passion in life and I was willing to do anything to get to the level that I could compete against the best kids in the world. I think, really,the main thing that I was willing to do was sacrifice…… It's hard at 12 years old to get a bigger picture of life and try to grow up a little bit faster and become goal oriented and set goals and actually go after them. I was trying to be a kid at the same time, it was this kind of yin and yang where I was being pulled to be a young little teenager, but, at the same time, I wanted to be 18 and set up to go onto the world qualifying series and hopefully make the world championship tour and, you know, get the magazine coverage and the videos. I was still in high school, that responsibility and stress….. it's not easy,mentally speaking, for a young adolescent to be projected in that world…..
Looking back, even to this day, I put too much pressure on myself, it's kind of a blessing and a curse.
If I have an idea, whether it's, you know, a big idea or a very specific goal, I will put as much pressure on myself to create it or perform.
At a young age it was good because I began to really work with my mind and try to understand, you know, why I got nervous, why I'd get scared in competition…. I was like 16 years old and starting to get into the mental aspect of life. A lot of my friends weren't doing that and I honestly thought I was a weirdo, but I really enjoyed it. That's the thing with the surfing is just, it's so much more than just the act of riding waves. It's just crazy how diverse of a platform it was and I just loved every bit of it, but I wanted to soak up how to just graduate high school and rather than going to college, like everybody else to, to really jump into traveling the world and see if I could make it.
TTOS: What was the defining moment of your career as a surfer?
Oh gosh, it's interesting because I found myself in love with every aspect of surfing. I started out here in Los Angeles on really small crappy waves, I was scared to death of anything overhead high and at a young age, I think what was actually really important was Volcom sent me over to the north shore when I was 16. I slept on the floor of a two bedroom Volcom house at pipeline for a week and I saw and experienced more than I could even knew existed, but the main thing was understanding and seeing surf like that and knowing that I was going to have to push myself outside of my comfort level to be an a well-rounded surfer to be able to surf with any conditions. Those early years were very important. It was something that was really hard for me, but that I worked my butt off to try to understand how to ride those waves and understand the lineups and the boards to ride…. it was a huge opportunity being with Volcom and staying there on the beach of pipeline …. I really think that's what excelled my surfing and career, trying my best over there
At Pipeline, everybody surfs good over there and there are local Hawaiians over there that none of us have ever heard of that surf just incredible, way better than anyone and then you have the entire world of professional surfing that culminates at the end of the year for the triple crown, although a lot goes on all year, Hawaii to me became the most important place. It was like, if you weren't good at surfing in Hawaii, you just weren't that cool, you had to be able to surf at all! I always looked up to surfers like Shane Dorian who could ride a one foot wave incredibly well, but then would go and do crazy stuff in scary waves…. he's in a league of his own, people like that always inspired me, not to be somebody that only did one version of surfing, but can you handle your own in any type of situation in the water that's thrown at you….
That was a trip, you know, I was doing the WQS, but then I fell into a love affair with kind of the bigger waves on the North Shore, I had a lot of work to do, but I did happily
TTOS: Among all the surfers you met, was there a particular meeting that was very meaningful for you?
There are few people, when I was 12 years old, there was a surfer named Greg Browning who was in the Taylor Steel videos in the nineties, he was from Los Angeles as well. His girlfriend's dad was best friends with my dad and we got connected like that. I had never seen somebody surf that good before, it was amazing to be around him to watch him surf, but also he kind of took me under his wing as a mentor and guided me through those early years of understanding sponsorships, how to do contracts, which sponsors probably the better ones to go with because there was a longer career sticking with that brand rather than going with another…. He was very helpful, still to this day, I don't think that I would have really had the path that I took without his guidance and I'm super grateful for that. When I was in Hawaii, I met a surfer named Dave Wassel, big wave guy over there that rode for Volcom…. he took me under his wing as a little kid, you know, and was dragging me out to outer reefs where I did not want to go out. He was like, “we're going buddy” and I'm like “oh my God. Okay” . He became one of my best friends and travel partners where we traveled the world to a lot of perfect big waves. Along the way I've gotten to meet awesome people and lately I've really been thinking about Kelly Slater and just how awesome of a ambassador he is, you know, because my generation was just after his.
As a young kid, I had Kelly Slater to look up to and see, you know, how good of a person he was, how healthy of a human he was, how much, of course, how good of a surfing was. That guy puts in so much effort and hard work, he's almost 50 and he still surfs like he's 15. I think that my generation kind of had this really cool changing of the guard, but we had really great people to look up to and I think anyone's foolish to say that they just did this on their own, there's countless names and stories we could get into, but that would take probably a long, long time.
TTOS: You know, maybe Kelly will disagree with you saying “the generation after Kelly” as he still competing…..
Yeah, it's funny. He cracks me up, we were surfing Cloudbreak with him a couple of years ago and it was just me and him out…. I looked at him as we were sitting in the lineup and he asked me “I'm tripping out. The waves are firing, should I go to JBay? Should I stay here?” And I'm like, “dude, if you're asking me, I'd love to see you quit the tour and just go surf perfect wawes for the rest of your life”
He ended up skipping that contest and we scored perfect Cloudbreak for like two or three days. We're living through history with somebody like him and I don't know if anybody's ever going to repeat what he's done
TTOS: Let's fast forward to today…. you are actually keeping yourself pretty busy, you do a lot of things rise, you cannot stay still…. I read about surf therapy…how did you start with this project? What was your goal? how things are going,
I mean, asking this question gets into my personal life, which I find wanting to talk about more anyways these days. I think what's so cool about the podcasts and bringing on surfers is getting to know the actual stories because we can sit here and talk about all the romantic aspects like we have been. And the things that everybody you know and people would just go “wow, what an incredible life and it is”, but I don't think anybody lives without unexpected hardship. For me, it was a tragedy, the reason that I started this surf therapy is my older brother passed away when I was 17 from a drug overdose and that was and it still is the defining moment of my actual life, you know, and it's tough when you're so young to have such a pivotal moment with mine that was surrounded around grief, you know, the loss of a loved one and the process that it took for me to find acceptance, understanding and coping mechanisms, healthy coping mechanisms to move forward. I'm still working on it today and it's 17 years later.
Three years ago I realized I wanted to do something for anybody else that felt the pain and struggle that I was so familiar with and I just used my Instagram, my 90,000 followers and, you know, I want to do more with it. Of course, it's fun to have the ego and have people tell you, you rip. It's cool, thank you everybody out there, it feels fantastic, but I wanted to help people.
I put it up on my Instagram that I was at my local beach here in Los Angeles and I just said “Hey, I'll be down here for anybody that has lost a loved one that's going through grief…I'll provide beginner surf equipment and wetsuits”, it was just peer to peer, it was just people helping people….There were no doctors, no therapists, I was really just trying to get together a group of people with what I call an unfortunate common bond and see if collectively together we can work it out because one of my biggest mistakes in my journey of my brother's death was I tried to do it on my own. My personality is very big and happy, but it can also be very dark and depressing and, you know, anxiety, riddled, and stress and all of that.
I don't have a balance in life, I never had. it's one that goes really high or really low. At times I was having trouble with friendships because on my worst days, you know, I think people were being affected by me not understanding how to deal with my emotions. This Surf Therapy was a way to get people together and do it, I think it's important to not do it alone and do it together. I thought maybe one person was going to show up and 35 people showed up and man, you know, I've, I've been scared surfing, especially in big waves, but I think, one of the scariest moments of my life was standing in front of these 35 people who were staring at me and me going “oh, wow, you created this, you got to own it”
We all know that, when you go surfing, there's something unexplainable, It was a very healing aspect, it was really cool to see others experience that about half the people caught their first waves ever. What I noticed was the change, the sort of lightness and a bit of, I mean, almost happiness and strength that people had when exited the water after the surf, they came back with and when we sat down and, you know, we sit in a circle and everybody shares, it was really enlightening and powerful for me to. I always knew the ocean has this and it's what I've experienced, but that day confirmed it. I made a Facebook group and now there's 600 members fromabout eight countries now. I did the surf therapy surf sessions, once a month for 18 months and then COVID unfortunately hit and we couldn't gather in groups anymore.
I want to encourage people to understand what that all is, what it means, and then try to provide ways for people to get back on their path of destiny, you know, get back on the path that you were meant to fulfill and, and, and meet your potential. Because as humans, here's the most messed up part that I've learned, you don't grow from the best times in life. You don't grow from sitting on the podium, holding a trophy. It's everything that happens up until that moment.
The reality is, is that you grow from failure, you grow from losses, you grow from tough times in life, but you have to sit and face them. You, I need to get better at being emotional and showing my emotion and letting it out, and then moving forward and then letting that pass and letting it go, you know, not getting stuck. It's so easy. I don't know about you, but it's just so easy at times to get stuck in a, in a thought, a thinking pattern that it can drive me insane. And that's where I look at kids. I'm like, dude, surfing saves my life. Like all the time. There's just days that I can't break the thought pattern. You know, we, we have the tools, but there's just some days it's too much.
TTOS: I guess surf therapy and the speeches you give. I saw some like university classes, it's all connected. Right? The scope is to bring people together and to make things easier for them….
Yes, I first gave a speech, It was at the high school that I graduated from about four or five months after my brother's death. I knew what I wanted to say, it wasn't like a big written speech, I just said to the principal “Hey, can I come speak, I need to explain to people what I have experienced, you know, the consequences of the choice my brother made with the drugs….we all need to understand that this is a real, a true issue that could happen to anyone”…. My brother was a really good person, not the stigma of like “oh, drugs, people, bad people do drugs”…..things like this can happen to anyone.
The whole school ended up showing up and it was like 1200 kids, I was just standing in the middle of them with a microphone and it was the first time that I'd ever cried in front of people. When I started talking about my brother, I just started losing it, it was a really cool experience and so I went to some more schools and now it's been, you know, over the years, I've now spoken to 40,000 students. That's just here in Los Angeles which has been really cool, it's all part of the mission of what we've spoken about, but there are things that I wish I was told at a young age, by somebody that I would have listened to.
I think for the most part, these kids will actually listen because I'm not the parents saying it it's the same thing, but you know how it is as a kid, you just, we don't listen to our parents as I worry about the generation, you know, they're growing up so fast with social media and all the information that they're getting and the lifestyles that people are, you know, I say with fakeness, putting on Instagram and it's too much pressure and stress for these kids.
They're beginning to cope with unhealthy skills, you know, like using drugs and alcohol; I just need them to understand where it can take you. I want to see people do well in life and if I can help people avoid certain situations, that makes me feel good, it becomes full circle of like I spoke about, I had very great people in my life at a young age. I have incredible parents who supported and loved me and so at this point on the back end of a career, I have to give back and I have to be that person that I was given at a young age. I find that this is an important journey now, you know, as much as I still want to get better at surfing and I do miss, you know, the crazy traveling and all of those wild moments in contests and videos, and it's near impossible to let go of, but yeah, we got to kind of get mature as professional surfers coming towards the end.
TTOS: among the things you do, is also to organize surf trips right?
last year was my last paycheck that I got as professional surfer and that was 22 years of being paid to surf, which is a fantastic thing. It's more than I ever imagined and I'm very proud of myself for it, but reality came over on “what's the next step” , Surf Therapy is fantastic, but it's just volunteer at something that I happily do from the goodness of my heart, the speeches are really cool, that's a cool financial avenue that I still feel good about helping people with, but the next thing was, you know, “how do I continue to travel surfing?” because I want to do that forever.
I was like, I've been to so many places during the height of my career, I was traveling 10 months out of the year to about 20 different countries and so out of all of that, I was like “I'd really like to work with, intermediate levels, surfers, people that have been surfing for a couple years”….we all get to that point where you just, somebody needs to show and tell you a couple things, it just unlocks the next phase where you can get barreled, do that big cut back, take off late on a wave. I just, I love that attitude, that time of surfing because everything is good, every wave is fun, you just want to learn and I catered it to intermediate level surfers, I've done a few of them….we're going to Mexico because I call it the Disneyland of surfing with multiple right-hand minute long sand point breaks and it's fun….It's fun for professionals. It's fun for intermediate….it's crazy, it's really is for everyone. I go down there and then I bring six guests, we use their local Mexican surf guides to take us around, I bring my professional filmer Mike who filmed my whole life during my career as most people have never seen themselves surf before.
Oftentimes the bad things that you think you're doing wrong is actually when you're doing something, right. I go in the water with everybody and, in the water, I help them with positioning in the lineup. And then I'll also help them kind of wave to wave. After each wave explained certain things to them, arm, position timing, you know what they're doing on the wave and then Mike films it all, and we surf two or three times a day, we surf our brains out. I want people to not even be able to walk or paddle by the end of the trip if you're like me.
During the night kinda over some beverages, we watch the footage and I break it down and I get to show people, you know, I'll pause and show them what we had been talking about. It's fun….and then the cool thing is, I thought my age demographic was going to be kind of young 20 year olds, but I have upcoming, I have 55 year olds, a 60 year olds some 30 year olds. And you know, it's just a Testament to what I know about surfing and what I want to do forever is that we will surf till the day we die, but you never want to stop learning and I think we never want to stop getting better.
I try to make all, everybody who comes on the trips, an extension of me and all of the things that maybe I didn't want to share when I was younger, because it was going to get people more waves and all this stuff, everyone in my group, I'm like, all right, you guys, I'm going to tell you a couple of secrets right now, you know, about certain tides and swell directions so that these guys ended up getting getting the better waves. I want to share with you my knowledge and experience of all of these years that I know has made me happy, but to your point, it actually, at this phase in my life, it makes me happier to provide happiness for somebody else in the water.
I've let go a lot of my own self selfishness where, you know, at times I've been that surfer that wants to catch every fricking wave and it's easy to do because it's just feels great. But you know, at some point you gotta let go of that and I want to be enjoyable to be out in the water with, and it's important to carry a bit of an ambassador role with surfing to show like you're talking about the Aloha or whatever you want to call it. We all have a choice of what attitude we want to bring in the water with us and I've seen surfers that it brings out the worst in them and then I see surfers that it brings out the best in them. These trips with these surfers, it's, it's helped me grow as a surfer because I take pride and I take a lot of kind of seriousness and providing a really fun, epic trip for people, it's been very introspective for me on how to share it all, it's actually been really good in my life.
TTOS: We're going to finish our interview with a short Q/A session, please answer the first thing that comes up to your mind, the best surfboard that you've ever ridden,
Al Merrick MBM+ from 2008
TTOS: Your favorite shaper
Al Merrick, the only reason I say that is I've been riding for them for 20 years and they're the only surfboards I ride.
TTOS: Your favorite song
I've been listening to a lot of reggae….
TTOS: Your favorite surf spot.
That's a good question. I'm going to keep this real easy. The place where I rode my first wave ever at torn beach.
TTOS: Your favorite surfer,
TTOS: Your best relationship advice…..
Don't be a surfer because relationships are impossible when you love surfing more than anything, the girlfriend will never understand