Above all else, it is the people that make Surf Simply – be they guests at our coaching resort in Nosara, Costa Rica, or the incredible and talented individuals who work at Surf Simply. Last Christmas, we bade farewell to one much-loved member of the team as he hung up his boardshorts and moved on to the next chapter in his surf/work career; Asher King was a coach and anchor on the Surf Simply podcast, and remains a great friend who is still very much part of the Surf Simply family. We want to celebrate the characters of Surf Simply a little more often on here, and can’t think of a better way to start that than with a curtain call for Asher.
As a coach at Surf Simply and a competitor at international invitational longboard events, can you talk us through your surfing CV? Where you started surfing, and the role and impact it’s had in your life?
My surfing CV’s probably not nearly as exciting as the role that surfing’s had on my life. Growing up, I think I was just the prototypical East Coast grom; pretty much all I thought about was surfing. I did all of the ESA contests which was a really strong programme back then; it’s pretty much just what every kid from the East Coast did. The biggest thing I ever achieved in the ESA or on the amateur circuit was I think (Surf Simply co-owner) Jessie and I actually won East Coast titles in the same year, which would have been over ten years ago now. I think it was 2008. That was pretty much as far as amateur surfing and I went, and I kind of got to that age where if you wanted to keep competing it took putting a lot of eggs in that basket to do so. I was like sixteen or seventeen, and I was obviously not going to be a Joel Tudor, so at that point I went to college instead and luckily good fortune brought me back to surfing through Surf Simply.
That’s a good destination to have ended up in! Clearly at a young age you were pretty singularly focused on surfing, but could you talk us through your time at college and then did you, when you took that job at Surf Simply, have any idea or ambition for surfing to become so all encompassing again?
No, when I started at Surf Simply I didn’t expect that to happen. Obviously when I moved there I was super interested and excited, thinking “I’m going to go to paradise and get some waves”, but I had no idea of the impact that it would have on my life. It really reminded me that I did want surfing to be a central theme of my life – both from a perspective of something that I wanted to structure my time around, and the actual competing. When I came to Surf Simply I did not think at all that I would be competing or going down that route.
Did you take time out at college, not on purpose, but because when you went to college you were pretty landlocked, right?
Yeah I was super landlocked. I basically did one or two surf trips a year – I would go down to Nosara or somewhere else in Central America and that was the extent of my surfing. I basically thought when I went to school that that was sort of the end of how central a role surfing was going to have and I missed it so bad. I missed it more than I expected and even realised. I feel like it was such a good outlet and there was a lot of discomfort and anxiety stemming from not having that bit of release. When I was at school I totally thought that that was the end. I was going to school for finance, I thought that I was going to be working in an office. It turns out that I was able to come back to the coast.
It’s quite interesting how a lack of surfing can sneak up on you, and you realise the physical and mental impact of not surfing much.
Yes! And I’m sure that everyone has their own thing – for somebody it might be playing tennis or going and playing golf with their buddies, but as you said it’s both the physical and the mental space from your everyday life. Surfing for one is great exercise. When I went away from the coast I packed on pounds like no other. I didn’t even realise! Now that I’m not coaching every day I’m like “ok, I’ve got to actually make myself surf for 45 minutes every morning, definitely”. But it’s also a great mental separation from the rest of your day.
What was it like growing up as a surfer in Florida? It seems to be a place that has developed a reputation for inconsistent surf, but that’s produced a disproportionate number of high-level competitive surfers.
Growing up in Florida’s funny, because I cannot overstate how low the quality of the waves are, generally. The waves are not consistent in Florida, and you never know… it’s very different from season to season. You can have a really good season in Florida, and then you can have a terrible season in Florida – you have no idea what’s coming next. A lot of the surfers there, when we do get swell, they treat it like the last waves they’re ever going to surf. There is that motivation for when there are waves, to really put a lot of hours in. As you mentioned, when we do have waves, the style of waves that we have I think are really conducive to improving your surfing. We have super short swell periods and not much interval in between the waves so you can get wave counts that are super-high, which obviously increases your repetition. Because of that short swell period that sort of sneaks under the continental shelf, a lot of our waves are really steep – they’ll kind of have that classic low swell period shape where there’s a lot of steep sections that are separated so it includes a lot of connecting the dots and finding those powerful pockets of the wave. It’s about generating speed in powerful sections and then actually finding them. A huge factor is the “all ships rise with the tide idea”, where there is a shit ton of good surfers in Florida; although it’s not the surfing hub that you immediately think of in the United States, there’s been really good surfers in Florida for a really long time. I mean, you can draw world class surfing back to the 1950s when we had Mike Tabeling was one of the first guys to really perfect riding a fish, Claude Codgen who is basically the east coast’s answer to David Nuuhiwa in noseriding. Everyone always thinks about the Slaters and the Hobgoods because they did have a huge impact, but they are not the first. There have been really high-level surfers on the East Coast for ever. When surfing came to the West Coast, it came to the East Coast shortly after. There is that history there. When you go out and surf on a normal day at the Jackson Beach pier, the number of high quality surfers rivals anywhere I’ve ever been. Just unknown people who just surf the pier after work – the level is just absolutely crazy. That played a really big role in the era that I grew up in. I’m only 26 but when I was a grom you didn’t have as consistent access to surf movies – you weren’t watching web clips online – whereas now you can analyse what other people are doing from scrolling Instagram. Back then it was really just whom you saw out in the water so being able to see high level surfers really helped.
Who were your early influences as a grommet in Jacksonville?
I got lucky with early influences in Jacksonville, especially for the kind of surfing that I really liked. There were a lot of people who rode everything. I guess when I was a grom was right when The Seedling and Sprout came out, and there were a lot of people watching Joel Tudor surf and early CJ Nelson and Dane Peterson, and that spawned the generation in front of me. Justin Quintal would be the person that most people know, he’s unbelievable. But there were a bunch of unknown guys too – Joe Poledo was a really big influence on me, he still to this day is one of the smoothest noseriders I’ve ever seen, and then a guy named Western Merckel – he was the first guy who even in the nineties when everyone was riding single fins, was riding these big heavy self-shaped logs. Those guys all ended up being some of my closest friends and they’re still my heroes. When I’m surfing with them I still catch myself being in awe of them even though now we’re adults and we’re only a couple of years apart. I got really lucky with influences around Jacksonville, people who weren’t just riding shortboards. They kind of pushed me towards riding a longboard when it’s small, when it’s big ride a thruster…. it shaped what I like to do.
You’ve recently started competing again after a ten-year hiatus. What’s different about it this time around?
When I was a kid and competing, and at surf contests every weekend, all I ever wanted to do was be a professional surfer and win. Like…”maybe if I do well in this contest then I can do well in that contest” treating it like a ladder. Now, a result in a contest is such a low priority. The biggest thing now is that before, I wanted to succeed and I wanted to go to the next event, but now the biggest draw for me doing these events is that I really like watching what everyone else is doing. I lived in Nosara for four years: you just don’t see really high level surfing that much, especially on a longboard. There’s a bit of a ceiling there. Going to these events, it’s been just so cool to watch what other surfers were doing and the lines that they were drawing and checking out the board designs that they were riding or were interested in. That proved really useful for me going back to Surf Simply and doing the podcast; it was hugely beneficial to how I was able to shape my coaching, shape my recommendations towards what someone’s surfing objective was, what kind of board design they should be on and so on. It’s just a really good melting pot of ideas. Before it was more about the competing, and now it’s more about the melting pot.
So it’s like a community and inspiration thing?
Yeah. It’s all these people who all surf really well but they all might be a little bit more isolated because of where they’re surfing. Some of the Brazilians guys like Caio Teixeira, for those guys this might be the one time they see other traditional longboarders all year.
Where has this involvement in specialty longboard events taken you?
I got pretty lucky! I got invited to Mexi-Log-Fest last year because my buddy Justin had to go to a trade show for his board company, so I got his alternate spot. And then, I got to go back to Malibu last summer for the club contest…talk about camaraderie and unknown people who rip! That’s the beating heart of that. I also surfed in a Deus event in Bali two years ago – that was really fun. Last year I also did one of Justin’s events in Florida, and I went to Cornwall in the UK which was pretty cool. Now that I’m working a desk job I’m not going to be able to do many events… this year I’ll go back to Mexico and surf in the Log Fest but once again it’s more about hanging out with friends and watching the surfing rather than the actual nose to the grindstone trying to rip a competitors throat out. The really cool thing about the Mexico event is that it’s a round robin format so everyone that goes to the event gets to surf three rounds. The first round is your average of three heats, so you’re not going to go there, surf one round then get put out and have to fly back. That’s really cool: you’re going to get an hour and a half of surfing Salidita to yourself!
And you’ve picked up a few endorsements to help you along the way?
Kind of… I’d call them more support rather than proper endorsements! Birdwell supported me with boardshorts before I actually started working with them, so they would send me shorts that dealt well with surfing that many hours and working in them. Black Rose (Justin Quintal’s company) made my boards for a while, but it was a little hard to get them down to me in Costa Rica so Bing started making some boards for me. I’ve been riding Bings for the last year, specifically their Elevator model, which I really like: it’s a 9’8″ step deck, a really classic model. More recently, actually through the podcast, since I’ve been in San Clemente, Donald Brink has leant me a couple of boards. He’s pretty well known for his asymmetric surfboards. I’ve pretty much only rode Donald’s boards since I got out here; I didn’t get all my longboards out in one swoop so he generously leant me one, and then leant me a couple of twin fins which are really good for the area. I’ve been lucky in having a couple of shapers support me and it’s been fun to nerd out on boards.
Moving back to your work here at Surf Simply; as well as coaching, you were also one of the anchors on the Surf Simply podcast. Did you ever think that going for a job coaching surfing in Costa Rica would lead on to you becoming a respected voice in the world of surf podcasts?
When I started, there was no such thing as a respected voice in the world of surf podcasts – there wasn’t even surf podcasts! Harry, Ru and I started the podcast because we all liked nerding out and listening to podcasts and there really wasn’t anything surfing-wise out there. When we started it, each new episode pretty much just got six listens – Ru’s mum, Harry’s mum, and then my mum four times! There was no audience, no nothing, and it just steadily grew and grew, and I’m so proud of how it’s turned out. It’s been fun; it challenged me to think about a topic in long form and of everything at Surf Simply I think that’s the thing that I’m most proud of.
Are you still going to be involved, as a roving reporter?
Yeah, I’m the satellite podcaster! I’m going back for Jessie’s wedding next week and we’ll record and then I’m going to do an interview with Donald Brink for the podcast when he gets back from Mexico. I’ll be the roving reporter with the San-O report.
What’ve been your highlights from your time on the podcast?
The first thing that comes to mind was definitely having a long-form chat with Matt Warshaw. Growing up as a nerdy surf kid, his writing was always my favourite; I liked how he was and is always objective about things in surfing. I liked how much of a historian he was. Meeting Matt and chatting with him on the podcast, he’s just such a normal person – it was like I was talking to one of my friends. It ended up that he was able to come down to Nosara and I just really enjoyed that experience of befriending Matt and getting his take. Another highlight would be being able to think about and demystify a lot of the aspects of surfing that I really care about. Daily at Surf Simply I’d talk about certain topics, but the more critical ones that we don’t talk as much about at the resort, like intricate longboard design or how fins play into certain different types of surfing, or with that big resurgence of the fish a couple of years ago why fishes do what they do and what aspects to utilise… being able to have a platform that really forced me to think about those things and to think about them in a bigger picture. It really helped my surfing, it really helped my coaching, and it really helped my interest in surfing as a whole. I had a platform that really allowed me to think about the topics that I love.
Another highlight is that I got to be pretty tangential on the podcast. The podcast as a medium as opposed to writing suits my short attention span and my scatterbrain, because when I write it’s very difficult for me to cover all of the topics that I want to and go down all the avenues, but when you’re doing a podcast it can evolve into anything organically that is interesting in the moment. I really liked that aspect of it.
Sadly, after four and a half years, at the end of last year you left your role as a coach at Surf Simply. Can you share with our readers what your next step involved, and where it’s taken you?
My current step that I’m stepping at the moment has taken me to Southern California. I moved to the San Clemente area and I work as a marketing specialist at Birdwell Beach Britches which, if I’m going to leave the sun and sand and coaching of Nosara, it’s a pretty good place to end up. I split my surfing time in half…I guess I won’t mention the waves but I surf a lot of the cobblestone points in the area, some are good for longboarding, some for shortboarding, and I spend a lot of time at Salt Creek. So I still get to surf, and the whole team at Birdwell is such an interesting group of people work with. It’s been an exciting next step.
Reflecting on your time with Surf Simply, what do you think it is that makes surfing such a unique learning challenge?
There are a lot of theories on why surfing is so hard to learn, especially as an adult, and from my experience it always stems back to how difficult it is to get repetition on a specific skill. Adults learn really implicitly; we learn by trying things over and over again, through structured learning, and in surfing it is really, really difficult to get that experience. You need to try something again and again and you just might not get the chance out there, especially as you progress. It’s very easy to teach someone to take off on an unbroken wave because you can practice it on every unbroken wave, but as you start to learn how to angle your take-offs, now we’re talking about maybe one out of every three waves you can actually take an angle, and then between those one-in-three, there’s a million different lines or angles that might be correct, so it becomes really difficult to get your numbers up. And then you bring in even more difficult skills, like a cutback – not only does not every wave have a cutback section, but you have to do A and B right to get to C, so the number of reps that you get is super low. It also obviously takes an enormous amount of commitment to actually find waves. You have to be close to a coast, you have to deal with tides, you have to deal with conditions. All of those factors make it more difficult, but then again it makes it sweeter when the stars align and you do get the chance.
And your favourite, or most shared tip?
I’ll preface this question by stating that a tip is very different to coaching. I would define coaching as structured and orderly and specific to you and the steps that are going to address your specific limiting factor, whereas a tip is just a one-off and it could be situational, or it could apply to anything, or anyone. My most shared tip would be, especially for the person who’s not surfing every day in a tropical paradise, take whatever your desired surfboard template is and you need to add over 10% to it. You need to go up 10% of foam right off the bat. That’s true even for myself; I surf every single day, and the biggest learning experience for me in California is that my boards have to be at least 10% bigger. That’s to deal with the crowds – even though I surf every day I surf before work when you might be a little stiff or after work when you’ve been sitting in the office…the downside of going up in surfboard, like what you’re going to limit in terms of the turning radius, maybe how extreme you can take a maneuver, is so far overshadowed by the benefit of catching more waves, being more mobile in the line-up and being able to skate through the flat sections in the imperfect waves that we all surf. So my biggest tip right off the bat would be to go up in surfboard size.
My second biggest tip is: it pays so exponentially to prioritise technique over any other area of what you’re looking for in surfing. So many people watch someone surf and say something like, “I love the way Mick Fanning surfs, I’m going to ride Mick’s boards, I’m going to do all these things” and the thing that you need to isolate is what’s allowing him to do those maneuvers. Surfing technique is going to be the root of everything. When you watch someone like Ryan Burch who can surf anything and everything, he can do so because he is really good at leveraging his lower body and he’s really good at where his arm positions are when on a rail. If you prioritise the actual fundamentals and that technique, you’re going to be able to apply it to infinite situations. You can apply it wherever you want. I think a lot of times people put one before the other when technique is the root.
Finally, the killer question for a board-hoarder like you… If you had to surf just one board for the rest of your life, what would it be?
I’m going to first explain why I answer the way I do… if I was to pick one surfboard for the rest of my life (which I definitely don’t want to do, because I want to surf a lot of boards for the rest of my life) I don’t really know what the rest of my life is going to look like, right? My back might hurt, I might move to a place that has perfect longboarding waves, I might live on the North Shore and surf Pipeline all the time. So, I’m going to go with a very versatile design. So it’s going to be a mid-length, which would give me the ability to trim and surf a high line, or I can surf a bit more aggressively. Right off the bat I’m hedging myself on small waves and big waves. And, I’m probably going to go with a single fin, because a single fin applies really well to a lot of designs. I know that when I’m an old guy and I just need to sort of pivot my way around waves to find my little trim sections then I’m going to be able to, and I know that if I find myself in a place where I still want to surf kind of radical then I know I’ll be able to achieve that as well. I scored a board off Craig’s List about a month ago. It’s a 7’4″ Tudor mind machine, it’s templated off an old G&S, with real modern bottom contours, super thin in the tail, but classic old rails up front, and I can surf that board in anything. It’s the one I’ve put in my car every day if I don’t know whether I’m going to be able to surf or not, or how much time I’ll have – I know that it’s big enough that I’ll catch a lot of waves. It’s got enough rocker and foil that I can surf it aggressively, and I know that I’d have fun on it tomorrow and I know that I’d have fun on it as an old man. It’s going to be a 7’4″ mid length single fin.
Thanks Asher! From all of us here at Surf Simply, thank you for everything and best of luck in California.
If you’d like to keep up with Asher now that he won’t be such a regular fixture at Surf Simply you can follow him @king_asher.