To say that 2022 was a long year for pro surfer Conner Coffin is probably an understatement. After ending 2021 fourth with a spot in the inaugural WSL Finals, 2022 saw Conner just barely miss the cut, sending him to the Challenger Series to duke it out with other Championship Tour-hopefuls. At the end of the CS season in December at Haleiwa, Conner missed re-qualification by a few spots, a frustrating result to say the least. But when we connected this week, he was genuinely stoked for what 2023 has in store for him. Namely: time off tour to freesurf, go on strike missions with his brother, and pursue other aspects like music, fishing, and cooking.
Conner also shared that he’s split ways with former sponsor Rip Curl, to start working with Salty Crew and Body Glove with an increased focus on lifestyle and freesurfing with his time off tour. The James Brand, a knife and EDC brand from Portland, Oregon has been one of Conner’s longest-running sponsors, and helped facilitate this conversation. They’re also big fans of Conner’s shifting path, and are excited for what’s to come.
“We couldn’t be more stoked for him,” said James Brand team manager Julian Hernandez. “There are so many great things outside of competing that make Conner who he is. From surfing, fishing, and cooking, he’s incredibly multifaceted, which is why we value his input when it comes to the tools we create. A big part of The James Brand ethos is encouraging our people to be 100 percent authentic, 100 percent them. If this means shifting his focus to freesurfing, then we say ‘hell yeah, let’s do it.’ Conner has been a part of The James Brand since the early days, and we look forward to supporting him through this transition, and beyond.”
We dove into the details.
Sounds like you have a lot going on?
Well, I’ve been riding for Rip Curl for the past six years, but just recently split ways with them and am now riding for Salty Crew, as well as Body Glove for wetsuits. It feels really good to be working with more local brands, you know, both Body Glove and Salty Crew are based in California, so it feels sorta closer to home.
Where are you at with the Championship Tour?
I’ve been competing on the Qualifying Series since I was 18, I’m pretty sure I qualified for the Championship Tour my third year of the QS, and I’m 29 now. And once you’re on the CT, it really becomes all that you do. Every year we’d get two months off, January and February, and then go straight back into it – December and January now that they’ve restructured it all with the cut and the new Challenger Series.
And last season I went from being on the CT and finishing fourth in the finals, to competing again the next year, falling off the CT with the cut and flying straight to Snapper the next day, competing there, and the rest of the CS until Haleiwa. So it’s been a pretty full schedule for sure, and not a lot of downtime to do other trips or anything.
I loved competing and being on the CT for all those years, but you know, all of a sudden now it feels kind of good to have a little bit more time and maybe get to explore some other things and do some fun projects that I haven’t had time to do. And my current sponsors are all on board. I might still compete this year, I haven’t decided yet one way or the other. I’m definitely gonna go to Snapper just because it’s such a rad event and the first CT event I surfed. And to surf that wave with only four guys out is pretty hard to turn down. And who knows? I might have a blast and keep going with the Challenger Series. But right now, it’s been pretty nice to have time to hit the brakes and look at where I want to take the next chapter of my career.
What sorts of projects have you been working on?
I had a ton of fun last year working with 805 and Keith Malloy on Mind Surfing. He’s great, and getting to go shoot and create something with him was awesome. So yeah, I want to do more film projects and more exploring, and I think at the end of the day it’s coming full circle. When I was a kid I just loved surfing so much that I got really fired up to get good. And competing went along with that, that was just what we did. But at the end of the day, whether it’s competing or freesurfing, I just love surfing.
Before I was on tour my brother and I made a film called Highline where we went to J-Bay, and made one in Indo called Wildfire, and we had so much fun doing that stuff. Those are the things I think that really got me going as a surfer, the most, and I found it really hard to try to do those sorts of things and be on the tour because the level is so high, you know, and I wasn’t one of the most naturally talented guys, so I had to work really hard just to be there. It took a lot of concentration and focus. But you know, I think I did it for a pretty good long run.
So if your competitive career ended right now, you’d be stoked, and if it kept going for another 10 years, you’d be okay with that, too?
Yeah. I mean, last year was definitely not how I would want my CT career to end. I wasn’t like “Woohoo! I just lost,” you know. I did shitty the first half of the year, and never really felt like I got to get on a roll and surf how I had the year before. So I was definitely frustrated, but it was a lot of challenging heats, and conditions, and just losing by a tiny bit. I tried my best and am happy with how I did and how I carried myself, and you know, at the end of the day, that’s kind of all you can do. Sometimes it just doesn’t go your way.
I mean, had I not cracked the top five and had that experience of competing at Lowers I think I’d be hungrier to make that happen, you know, but I had a good run on the CT, like you said even if I don’t ever compete in another CT event, I’m not gonna be totally heartbroken, you know? Then again, I’m certainly not opposed to surfing on the CT again if the opportunity arises.
I feel like it’s rad and I enjoyed it, but to me there was always a lot more to surfing and what I loved about surfing than just pulling on a jersey and making heats. The culture around it, traveling to all sorts of amazing places… I’m just stoked on where I’m at and the people that I’m gonna get to work with now, what they see in me and what they want to support, and I’m pretty excited about that going forward.
There’s also something to be said for getting that close to the glory of winning the tour, and coming up short, at least from a psychological perspective.
Yeah, you have to have a one-track mind to be on tour, it takes a lot, ‘cuz everyone’s so freakin good now and you only get five events before it’s only 22 people, and anyone on the CT can win a contest these days, you know? All the way down to 34. It’s pretty crazy. I was fourth in the world last year and sucked shit this year. So yeah, the pendulum swings quickly. It sounds weird, but it’s totally a mental challenge. That’s what’s amazing about Kelly and those guys, they can go get a world title and show up the next year ready to do it all over again.
And I think that’s a part of what I’ve realized – I’m different from them in that I’ve always had a ton of passions outside of just competitive surfing. That probably took my focus away from competing a bit, but I always felt like it’s rad to be more of a well-rounded person than someone who could just make heats.
And that was where I connected with the crew from The James Brand, because that fits so well with how the brand’s represented. I’ve been involved with The James Brand for maybe five years or so now. And what’s always really resonated for me is their vision and authenticity. They had an initial idea for the brand and they’ve really stuck to it. All their products are very thought out, and they know what they stand for, they know what they do, and they don’t stray too far from that aesthetic.
I’ve always loved knives because they’re something I use all the time, from cooking, fishing, traveling, even stickering up my boards, you know? Ever since I was a kid, a pocket knife was a pretty natural everyday necessity for me. And the team at The James Brand has been super supportive of me and my other interests so I’m going to try and fold all those passions into what I’m doing now and see where I can take it.
What’s your favorite thing to cook?
Oh, gosh, I love cooking fish. I love being able to catch fish at home and then cook it so probably one of my favorite things to make is ceviche, like fresh halibut ceviche, or the other night I caught some rock fish, battered it with panko, and had rock fish tacos. But I also grew up cooking Italian with my grandpa teaching me all his recipes. Spaghetti and meatballs is another favorite for sure.
Any hopes and dreams for 2023?
2023… I feel like I’m just figuring it out at this point, sorta day-by-day. The past couple of years have been so nonstop, it feels good to take a sec to hit reboot and figure out where I’m going to take things next. But like I said, I’m trying to figure out a way to embrace all my interests, from gardening, to music, entrepreneurship, travel, and culture. And hopefully I can continue to do that with The James Brand. I’m definitely going to compete a bit, and maybe do the Challenger Series, but we’ll see.
One big goal for me is like, I can’t even remember the last time I went on a true surf strike mission, where it was like “oh my god the waves are gonna be good, let’s go.” I really want to do that with my brother, like go on a surf trip just the two of us. So that’s one of my goals for this year, to go score some sick waves with Parker. He was just in Ireland, so I’d love to go back and score that with him as well as ride around home more and score some of the nooks and crannies we have around here. I’ve also wanted to get more into the big wave thing, try and surf somewhere like Mavs or Todos Santos, or big waves in Hawaii. Definitely want to dabble in that a bit and push myself more.
But honestly I’m just stoked to have the opportunities that I have. It’s a tough time right now in the surf industry, and I feel super grateful that all of the brands I’m working with now are willing to support me in doing what I love.
Do you have a favorite knife or tool that The James Brand makes?
Yeah, The Chapter is my favorite – I’m a total knife junkie, ever since I was a kid I always had a pocketknife I’d carry around. Which confused a lot of people, but to me it wasn’t a weapon or anything, just something I use all the time. But I love The Chapter, it’s been my go-to EDC for a while now.