Conner Coffin Has No Idea What He's Doing Next

Since he was a wee grom tearing up lineups along the Santa Barbara coastline, Conner Coffin had a one-track mine: his goal was to someday make the Tour and be a professional surfer. By 2016, the California stylemaster had both of those boxes checked and by 2021 he nabbed a fourth-place finish at the WSl Finals.

Unfortunately, the following year Coffin got knee-capped by the mid-year cut and was relegated to the Challenger Series. After a year and some change of 'CS groveling, Coffin's decided to hang up the jersey for good, to focus on freesurfing and explore his next career option. We caught up with Coffin right before the 2023 WSL Finals to talk about his recent career shift.

So first things first, I read you were going to Burning Man—did you indeed go, and is that something you’re into?

[Laughs] Yeah, we just got back a few days ago. One of our really good family friends has been going for 10 years and was always inviting us, but I could never go because of contests. And Sierra [Conner's fiance] has been a few times and loves it. Basically, I wanted to check out something new.

<p>Ryan "Chachi" Craig</p>

Ryan "Chachi" Craig

Did you get stuck in all the heavy rain?

Yeah, kind of. I mean it wasn’t as bad as all the media was saying it was but we got stuck for a couple of days and basically in a big mud pit. Last year was like 105 degrees and dusty the whole time, and this year was like cold and rainy.

Okay second thing: who’s your pick for the title? This will come out after the event so we’ll see how close your predictions are.

I gotta go with Griffin--he's someone I’ve watched grow up and I love his surfing. He’s been on fire this year, so I’m obviously pulling for him, but I’d say beating Filipe is going to be a tall order. He did so well out there last year and is surfing so well this year. I’m hoping it ends up being a Griffin/Filipe showdown for best two out of three. But I gotta pull for the homeboy.

And what about on the women’s side?

I think I’ll go with Carissa. They’ve all been ripping but I feel like after last year Carissa will be so hungry to seal the deal.

[Editor's Note: Sorry, Conner. Zero for two.]

We’re just a couple of years out from you finishing 4th at the WSL Finals–how does it feel watching it on this side of the fence now that you've retired from competition?

It feels good. It’s cool because I got to at least experience it one time so just sitting out on the outskirts it’s cool knowing what everyone is going through just knowing what that day feels like, so I think it makes it even more fun and interesting to watch it, knowing what all goes into that day. Being a bystander on a really important day is fun. Excited to be a cheerleader.

Did you like the new final-5 situation?

You know, I really liked being a part of it. I thought it was super fun, super exciting and I was a big fan of it. The flip side of that is I’ve never been in the world title no. 1 spot with the possibility of losing after crushing it all year [laughs]. I feel like that’s the only downside. Surfing is kind of unique where it feels weird to have it all come down to one day because it’s so different than other sports, but it is really cool to see everyone surf it out and go head to head. So I think as a bystander, it’s really fun to watch, and at the end of the day, hopefully that’s good for the sport.

Initially, they sold us on the idea that it would be a different location every year. Running it at Lowers every year could get a little stagnant and you could get a similar champion every year, whereas if the location rotated every other year it would keep people on their toes and add a whole other element.

<p>Ryan "Chachi" Craig</p>

Ryan "Chachi" Craig

What was your decision for retiring?

Well, I definitely don’t feel like I’m retired—just going down a different path at this point. I competed for a really long time and it was just starting to feel a little monotonous and I wasn’t able to do a lot of the things I wanted to do–both in surfing and outside of surfing. I was just ready to have a little more flexibility and creative freedom in the surf world and my day-to-day life, and travel a little less. I just really want to explore other parts of life.

Also, getting back to the QS, I know how much focus and a one-track-mind mentality it takes to do well. The level is so high on the Challenger Series and getting back there after the mid-year cut, I was just ready to do something a little different.

Did you feel like the level on the CS now is a lot higher than the QS when you were on it years ago?

I think it is. Everyone is surfing so well on the CS. When I got back on the CS, we got the worst waves. And it was really trippy going from competing on the ‘CT for six or seven years to all of a sudden going back to surfing in shit waves with four people, it was such a big adjustment—from boards to my head space. I had a hard time transitioning and bouncing back into that. If I were to really do it, I would need to really dive in and work on all the shit that I did back when I qualified for the ‘CT. It’s a super different game than the ‘CT.

Surfing shit waves seems like a young person’s game.

Yeah I mean, I’ll surf anything, but I think it’s the mentality and the hunger you need to tackle the QS. I felt way more hungry to tackle it when I was 18 than I do now. But I’m really excited to do some trips and hopefully make some films and surf some of the best waves of my life. I know I’m not going to have this opportunity forever so I’m hoping to take the next four or five years to surf my brains out and get to do a lot of fun stuff that I haven’t been able to do in the past 10 years.

It feels like the mid-year cut is here to stay. Do you feel like that’s good or bad for where the WSL is headed?

Gosh, I mean two years, it feels like it’s been a long time since I’ve been removed from the Tour and haven’t been paying attention—I mean I still love watching it but I just don’t pay attention to the politics of it. So I wouldn’t really know if the mid-year cut has been a good thing for them at all...for me, personally, now just watching it all, I don’t think it does much. It doesn’t make the mid-year more exciting. If anything it makes the next 4 events sort of anti-climactic because everyone is already qualified and there are less surfers to watch.

And I think for the sake of growing the sport of surfing, I think one year we lost Leo, Frederico—those guys have whole countries that watch surfing because they’re on the ‘CT and I think it’s a bummer to see guys like that falling off after five events. If we get another Japanese surfer, or someone like Carlos Munoz, he got on, got hurt and didn’t get to surf and now isn’t on tour anymore. That was an opportunity to back someone on the ‘CT, so I think that’s a little weird part of the mid-year cut.

I just think five events goes by way too fast. 10 events goes by fast when you’re a rookie; five is fucking crazy.

Yeah I guess that’s a good point--I do get a little less excited watching events towards the back half.

I felt like the mid-year cut was made for the sake of change whereas the Final Five thing actually provides this exciting climactic moment. But I don’t think the mid-year cut does that—I just think it’s painful for everyone involved [laughs].

<p>Courtesy of 805</p>

Courtesy of 805

Any films in the works now that you've got a lot of free time?

Not right now. I worked on the 805 film, Convergence, which came out in August but we’ve got a wedding coming up on September 23rd, so I feel like everything is on a slight pause until that’s done. Once we get past that it’ll be like, 'ok what am I doing now?' I’m fully committed to what’s next.

Do you feel like a weight has been lifted?

Umm, I don't know about a "weight", but I definitely feel a new freedom and excitement about what’s next. To me that feels really fresh and exciting. Being on the Tour, the next event and figuring out what I had to do to get ready for it was always in the back of my head.

Now that you’re not focused on making heats have you been experimenting with different boards?

I just did that Maldives contest, where we ride single fins, twin fins and thrusters, and that was rad. I grew up riding a lot of single fins and longboarding, and then I just went down a thruster rabbit hole. So I’m excited to feel like I can ride more different equipment and play around with boards. I told JS I’m still psyched to work on boards. I feel like not being in events I can be such a good test pilot and provide good feedback, whether it’s shortboards or other designs because I don’t have to be dialing in my equipment for the next contest. I could ride three different boards for the feeling and not need it to do something.

When my brother stopped competing, he was able to really work closely with Britt Merrick and CI because he wasn’t at events–he was around, going on trips and trying so many boards for Britt and could be a good sounding board for him. Britt was then able to take that and make the boards better for the guys on Tour who ride for Channel Islands.

Anything you’re excited to do outside of surfing in terms of business ventures?

Yeah, I’ve worked with The James Brand, a knife company and I’m excited to work more with them. I’m also super excited to do more trips with Body Glove and Salty Crew. Hopefully, Parker and I can do some trips together—we’ve already got some spots we want to go to.

It’s funny because I’ve always been someone who’s been sort of like, 'OK this is what I’m doing and I’ll focus on it.' I always had this direction and I was really driven to do one thing. Now I’m almost trying to take the time to unwind a little and just go with the flow and be spontaneous with whatever opportunities arise—which is cool and different for me.

Well, congrats on your wedding and having some freedom!

I’m excited. I’m looking forward to diving in and working on the next thing and hopefully exploring over the next few years. I feel like I’m going to get to surf more now than I did over the last five years so that makes me happy. When you're at ‘CT events, you’re in the lineup with 56 really good surfers. You’re in the water a lot but you’re actually not surfing that much—it’s actually a weird feeling as a surfer. You’re out there but you’re not catching very many waves. You’re watching a lot of good surfing.

You’re fighting for the waves.

Or the scraps [laughs].