Local competitive surf coach Matt Myers on what it takes to make it in professional surfing

By Neal Kearney
June 11, 2024

Last year, I had the pleasure of profiling Matt Myers, of Myers Surf Mentorship, for a print article in Vibes, discussing his role as someone surfers can trust to help bring their game to the next level. Myers, a former professional surfer himself, has dedicated his life to this insanely difficult pursuit. His deep well of knowledge, and knack for cracking the competitive surfing code, has brought tremendous results to all his athletes, from WCT warrior Rio Waida, to Challenger series rookie Levi Slawson. I decided to check in with Myers after a tough slog at the Australian leg of the Challenger Series to see how things have been going since we last spoke. .


How are things going at Myers Mentorship midway through the year, with the QS Regionals wrapped up and after the first two events of the Challenger Series?

So we finished up a nine event regional tour, which is year round, but wrapped up at the beginning of April and then we kicked off the Challenger Tour, which has been two events, two out of six, so we’re a third of the way through that. We’re almost half way through 2024, it’s been a pretty busy and exciting year. I think as far as looking at my win/loss record, I’ve had less “wet shoulders”, less big wins this year.

I’ve obviously set such high standards for myself considering how well I’ve done the past few years doing this. But I had one main win, which was the Pro Junior at Pismo this year with Canadian Olympian Samoa Olin, which was exciting.

And then we had a big Regional Qualifier year. I think for that, it’s important for the readers to know just how hard it is to be one of those guys qualifying in the top seven to make it onto the Challenger Series. It’s pretty remarkable, really. The quality of USA surfers is really high and to finish in that top seven you need to have so many things go your way and it’s a gnarly, long tour. We have a lot of waves in poor conditions, lot’s of beach break. Luckily, we had our hometown event at Steamer Lane, but unfortunately it was really bad this last year, wave wise.

Myers and his A-Team. Photo- Brady Lawrence

Other than the Lane, which the local surfers on your squad would obviously favor heavily, what event would you say is most important for the surfers to do well in?

And we have an incredible venue, which is probably the best venue on tour, which is Barbados. It’s the only 5,000 star event, which is the highest rated of the season and at that event there is just so much buildup for these guys and gals, as it’s the last event of the season. For the gals only four spots are up for grabs at the end of the season, with a wildcard, and the guys have seven, also with one wildcard.

Even if you win an event or two during the year, there’s no guarantee that you’re going to be in that final mix. Levi Slawson, who I’m working with, was the most consistent surfer on the tour, but since he only did well in the 1,000 star rated events with two wins, he still wasn’t safe.

Our local boy, who we love so much, John Mel, came into that event ranked in 3rd place, but unfortunately had a tough showing there. He surfed well, but a slow heat can happen any day to anybody, and he ended up losing out in his first heat, in the round of 64, which cost him. If he was to make that heat he would have qualified for the Challenger Series and his entire world and year would have looked different.


Mel, taking scalps in Florida. Photo- Andrew Nichols/World Surf League

I’d imagine such a close and important loss was devastating for both of you.

That was probably the hardest loss I’ve ever felt, just because I know how much work he’s put, both in his surfing and his competing. He didn’t leave any stone unturned in regards to his preparation, which made that loss even tougher to deal with. I’m telling you, I had a stomach ache for multiple days after that. Like straight up, I felt like shit. Because I generally care for this  guy— he was my first professional client, and he’s our hometown guy.

He’s at his prime age, 24 years-old, and he’s ready for that next level and just came up two spots short, finished ninth in the rankings and that was a tough pill to swallow for us. His buddy, his travel partner and another of my clients, Levi, ended up finishing the last spot in, seventh, which was gnarly too. So it was super close and just crazy how it all came down to that final event.

During John’s heat, was it down to luck, such as a lack of waves, or was it a performance thing that led to his loss? Or something else?

Yeah, there was a major lack of waves in that heat. He started with a really strong score, which is a keeper score, but he had no back up, and he held priority for a really long time, and he only needed like a 4.0.

This is where it all went wrong…he pulled the trigger at like the three minute mark (time remaining) on a medium wave to try to get that score, giving up priority. He did get it, I can’t quite recall exactly, but I think he got a high four, which took him up into the lead briefly. But then a really good set came in which put him in last priority, and all the other surfers got good waves. So he went from first place to last place in a moment. So that one hurt.


What do you think John got out of that, looking forward? What do you think he could do in the future to avoid something like that happening?

That’s a real good question, and I think this loss weighed the heaviest of his entire career, because he felt like he’s done everything in his power. Knowing you’ve done everything you can to be that best version of yourself in that moment and come back and have it come up short.

That’s left him asking a lot of questions. Why am I doing this? Why am I here? After all my preparation and I’m still coming up short? Those are some of the painful questions an athlete’s gotta ask themselves.

You’ve got to look at yourself in the mirror and ask yourself how much do you love it? How much passion and drive does it give you to be a competitive surfer and for him, you know, he’s going to have to take some time off. The thing is, I told John, “every year we’ve worked together, your ranking has finished higher.” He went from 18th, three years ago, then 12th, and now 9th.

So, he’s climbing the ladder. His arrows going up. He’s getting bombs at Mavericks every Winter, he’s winning events. Right before that he made the quarterfinals in one-foot Cocoa Beach, so he’s got a lot going for him. But you have to feel for him. He changed his diet, he works out everyday, he does ice baths everyday, he’s meditating, he’s journalling, he’s doing everything.

That’s a lot of sacrifice!

It’s enormous. We’re signed up for this sport that is dictated by mother nature and there’s so much out of our control. There’s the waves that are out of our control, and there’s the judging that is out of our control.  So all you can do is your best. I think John should take some time off, to work on his surfing.

For us, it’s to identify his key areas of growth, and where in his surfing he could get better, and putting these next few months into all that. Then jumping back on the Regional Tour next year and going at it. If there comes a day in time where you just don’t have that fire anymore, then that’s a time to maybe look to something else, but I think John has every ounce of ability to make it happen.

Nat, shake ‘n bake. Photo- Cait Miers/World Surf League

Shifting gears a little, but still keeping on the Santa Cruz page, you’ve got a new athlete in your corner, Nat Young. You guys had an interesting, to say the least, time in Australia, especially with the whole judging controversy (Editor’s note: Nat got an amazing ride at Snapper Rocks where he should have been rewarded with an excellent score but earned a measly 4. In an unprecedented move, WSL apologized and retroactively changed his score after public outcry).

With Nat, you’ve got someone at a point where they’ve dedicated their entire life to competitive surfing but keeps being faced with these watershed moments where they’re forced to really ask those important questions like those ones you just alluded to with John. What’s it going to take for Nat to start seeing the results that seemed to come so easily to him when he first hopped on tour all those years ago?

First an foremost, I wanna just say that I’m so thrilled at the opportunity to be working with Nat. He’s the most accomplished surfer in the history of Santa Cruz, that’s undeniable. He’s had seven years on the Championship Tour with three final appearances, he was Rookie of the Year, he’s won numerous WQS events, and even just two years ago, he was making big heats on tour. There’s no doubting his skill.

I know when he got knocked of last year at the mid-year cut, that that was a really tough one for him. After that, he had one week in between events, going from Margaret River to Snapper during his transition from the CT to the Challenger. If you’re not ready for that, especially if it’s their first time going through that whole thing, that’s a really hard place for your brain to go- to make that transition.

So, he just wasn’t ready to buy into the little things. He’s the first to admit that and we’ve those talks. This year, he’s all in. He’s young, he’s only 32 years old years old. In most sports, that’s still your prime, competitively speaking. Physically, he’s sharp as can be, and he’s sharp with his mindset.

He came to me to work on all those little things, to bring the motivation and the little detail like heat tactics up front and center. He’s going out in heats and not just going to let the results come to him. He’s going to be that tenacious competitor that’s going to battle from the start and hustle for waves and fight to the bitter end.

Sometimes, when you’ve been on tour in perfect waves, it’s a little easier to sit back and think that you’re going to sit back and let the results come to you, but in the four man heats in the Challenger Series it’s not only your surfing but your competing, if that makes sense. When he first qualified all those years ago it was a completely different story. We could go in depth about all those little things that happened in Australia, but to keep things simple, this year is really going to just test his reliance. That’s the key.


I really like to email my clients, just to go into depth. In Nat’s case, I’m just asking him, ‘how do you want to leave your legacy? How do you want to be viewed coming back from your most challenging moments in your sporting career?’ He had some decisions that were really out of his control that obviously reflected poorly on the competitive sport. So it’s up to him. How can you respond to that, and show them how you’re better than that?

There’s 80 guys in these events and there’s other great examples for him to look to, like Alejo Muniz. He’s 34 and he just made the final at Narrabeen. He made the final! He got 7,000 points toward qualification and putting Nat next to him, I’ll bet on Nat every day. No offense to Alejo, but any of these 80 guys, who all rip, any of these guys who catch fire that event and is on the good waves, making all those good decisions to have things go their way, they’re going to do well.

Nat and I have been talking about those little details. Are we going to go offensive or defensive? Defensive, are you going to use your priority and hold other guys off waves, or offensive, are you doing to proactively look for scores? There’s times for both. It’s figuring out when that time comes. Sometimes, when being too offensive can hurt you and you’re leaving yourself vulnerable to the guys sitting out the back with priority, like what happened to John in Barbados, right? Or being defensive, holding your priority and playing that game?

Nat Young surfs in Heat 3 of the Round of 32 at the Bonsoy Gold Coast Pro, Australia. Photo- Cait Miers/World Surf League

That kinda ties into another question, like, so many things are outside of your control, from the waves just not coming, to something tiny, like my tail pad was coming off. Or I didn’t wax that little spot on my board. As a coach, how do you rationalize making a living with so many intricacies that could make or break the success of your athlete?

You’re right, there is. I think first and foremost, whatever you do in life, you gotta do it because you love it. Which I do. And secondly, you have to be as absolutely prepared for everything possible, every situation and every outcome, so that there’s no excuses. You’re trying to eliminate any excuse. That goes for both myself and my athletes.

Even, for example, there was one time in Ballito (South Africa), where one of guys brought the wrong wax down to the contest site before their heat. So his board wasn’t sticky and he went out and lost. That was a blunder, a one time thing that’s never happened again, but those things can happen and can absolutely affect the outcome, which is just crazy.

So yeah, it just comes down to your overall preparation. Preparation is everything, from your headspace to obviously your equipment. Just putting in so much preparation into your equipment, from picking a board you trust for the particular conditions and a board you love. Then having a back-up and a back-up for that. That’s what Mick Fanning used to always say to me. He would have his A board, and then would have two back-ups o that board. At all times

Alyssa Spencer, all smiles at the GWM Sydney Surf Pro, Narrabeen, New South Wales, Australia. Photo- Matt Dunbar/World Surf League

That way you can’t really blame it on anything else.

Exactly. That’s hard to come by though, you’ve got to have a dedicated shaper that’s working with you that’s really supportive of you for that. Then yeah, having a dedicated coach, who’s going to be that second set of eyes is really helpful.

So you’re doing everything you can, behind the scenes. Being that kinda leech on the calf of the contest site, soaking up the pertinent information so you can help your guys

That’s right. What I’ve found is that I can allow my competitors to do any type of warm-ups they need to do— they can go do their meditation down the beach, you can do all your stretches, or even take some time off to get your headspace refreshed— but I’m going to be down there, before their heat analyzing everything. From the scoring, from the tide’s doing, what the wind’s doing, the consistency and where the waves are breaking.

So when you show up, you’ve got me and I’m going to be that database. I’m just going to download it to them, and it’s really to have that trust in this sport.

For more, visit his website, Myers Surf Mentorship.

Also be sure to check out his Youtube channel for the new series, Wet Shoulder League, which provides an intimate look into life on tour.