From surfers to cameramen, charities to shop owners; we’re not low on talented guys and girls to call ambassadors. One such man, a legend both in and out of the water, is Martin Potter. Regarded as one of surfing’s all time greats, Potter is someone who defined the term ‘ahead of his time.’ An early proponent of aerial surfing, he realised his radical approach wasn’t winning over the judges, and adjusted his style to win the 1989 world title, before returning to his original ways and carving his name into history. Continually ranked in the top 20 surfers of all time, Potter now spends his time as a commentator on the World Surf League – rightfully maintaining his place at the forefront of surf innovation. We caught up with him to discuss his job, influence and what he thinks of the suits he has been wearing.
Photos and interview by Chris Gurney.
Volte: You’re one of the lead commentators on the WSL these days. What’s an average day for you, when the contest is on?
Martin Potter: I wake up at 5.00 am and arrive at the contest by 5.30 am. Normally we start running the contest at 7.00 am and we split the commentary into two teams, there’s myself, Joe Turpel, Ronnie Blakey and Pete Mel. Each team does one hour on and one hour off.
That gives you time to work for one hour, then to study heats for an hour when you’re off the air. It’s basically non-stop, you can’t walk away and divorce yourself from the action because there’s so much going on. You’ve got to be relevant once you’re back on the webcast – you’ve got to know what’s happened and who’s in form.
It’s a full on day. Depending on where we are, we can run days as long as 7.30 am – 8.30 pm because of daylight hours and tides – France is a good example of that. It’s all different though, each individual spot we go to demands a certain kind of attention.
What kind of preparation do you need to do? Obviously you need to know all about the different surfers, how the conditions will affect them and a whole lot more…
Yeah, I mean a lot of the info is already in my head because I’ve watched it for so long and I know all these guys from when they were little kids. I’ve watched them come up through the ISA World Juniors, onto the WQS and finally here, onto the WCT. But for each event we also get notes; things like who’s won the event before and what each surfer has done in previous years. We’ll get a page or so of data on each of the surfers.
It sounds pretty full on, when you have an off-day do you just want to rest, or do you try to get out and see each destination?
Well again, it depends where we are. The Gold Coast can be a nightmare because on the day’s off there are 200-300 guys in the water so you don’t necessarily want to go surfing. Then a place like Western Australia, as soon as there’s a day off, everyone is frothing to go and find waves. I’m a surfer first and foremost – at home I wake up, check the wind and if there’s waves I drop the kids at school and I’m straight down the beach. So if there’s waves on the off-days then that’s usually the first thing we want to do.
If there’s no surf we often play golf – If it’s onshore and crappy as far as waves go, it’s always six feet and offshore on the course! It’s a great pastime because there’s a golf course wherever we travel and many of the tour surfers play golf too. It gives us time to connect with them outside of the competition area and gives them a chance to let their guard down and talk about stuff they might not when they’re focused on competing.
You were a visionary in regards to aerial surfing and you were one of the first guys doing airs functionally in contests. Looking at the tour now and how well that type of surfing is rewarded, were you always confident it was going to happen eventually?
In the beginning no, not at all. I probably sacrificed a lot of event wins just to try and make the aerial a functional manoeuvre. Back in my day it was considered one-manoeuvre so the maximum score they could give you was a 6.5. Someone who put together three average turns would always beat me, even if I did a massive air and landed it they would consider it equal to a single turn. I had to link a bunch of turns up and then do an aerial at the end of the wave and that’s when it became more functional and I started getting rewarded.
It took a long time, and I honestly got a bit disillusioned with it. The year I won the world title I probably did the least amount of airs I’ve ever done, I just kept the board in the water, didn’t make any mistakes and got the score. After that I went back to my old ways and dropped from first in the world to 15th. It was like banging your head on the wall so I said you know what, this isn’t working…let’s go back to basics, win a world title and go back to surfing how I want once I achieve that. Towards the end the judges started getting it and the crowds were really getting behind aerial surfing and I think they realised it was what people wanted to see.
That’s rad. Last one – we’ve heard you are pretty pumped on the suits and how they feel, is there anything in particular you’re enjoying?
You know when you put a wetsuit on for the first time and it just slides on perfectly? The one I wore this morning (Super Premium Chest-Zip Steamer) was like that, it just fit like a glove. I’ve worn all the big brand suits throughout my career and I’ve had tailor made suits from Japan that were made from this beautiful soft rubber and that’s what the Volte suits felt like. Out there, it almost felt like I wasn’t even wearing a wetsuit, it didn’t bunch up or aggravate me anywhere. To wear a wetsuit for the first time and not have it rash or feel uncomfortable at some point is pretty special. I’m stoked to be wearing them.