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Huntington Beach’s Brett Simpson named head coach of U.S. Olympic surfing team

Huntington Beach local Brett Simpson celebrates his second consecutive U.S. Open of Surfing men's championship.
Brett Simpson celebrates his second consecutive U.S. Open of Surfing men’s championship at the Huntington Beach Pier in 2010. On Friday, the Huntington Beach resident was named head coach of the United States Olympic surf team.
(File Photo)

Brett Simpson’s resumé just got a little more impressive.

The Huntington Beach local already has a list of accomplishments that includes being a former two-time U.S. Open of Surfing winner, a former Championship Tour competitor, and as of late, USA Surfing’s elite national junior team coach.

On Friday, Simpson added the title of head coach of the United States Olympic surf team.

“I’m honored and proud,” said Simpson, 35. “I have great relationships with all four of our athletes. It’s super exciting.”

Selecting the team’s coach was pushed back a few months once the Olympics — scheduled for August of this year in Japan — were postponed by a year. Other candidates for the job included Hawaiian Rainos Hayes, San Clemente’s Shane Beschen, Mike Parsons and Chris “Gally” Stone, who was the national team coach in 2019 but did not have his contract renewed at the end of the year.

Simpson was given the job based on a vote by the four Olympians — Kolohe Andino, John John Florence, Carissa Moore and Caroline Marks — and USA Surfing’s Advisory Committee.

“When we put it to the athletes they unanimously selected Brett,” said Greg Cruse, USA Surfing’s CEO and a Marina High graduate. “We have some of the top surfers in the world on our team. They all have their teams that they work with, year-in, year-out, so they really don’t need coaching in the traditional sense of the word. What they need is someone that they can relate to, that they respect, that they can bounce ideas off, that can calm them, or hype them up, and just get them in the best mindset.

“That’s what you need and that’s what Brett brings to the table.”

Simpson’s rise to Olympic team head coach has been swift. Just a couple of years ago he was helping coach Huntington Beach High School’s surf team under head coach Andy Verdone. Simpson’s competitive career had come to an end and he was trying to figure out what to do next.

Brett Simpson shares a moment with daughter Paige during a 2106 surf event.
Brett Simpson shares a moment with daughter Paige during a 2106 surf event.
(Courtesy of the World Surf League)

“I’m just seizing these opportunities,” Simpson said. “I started out grass roots with coach Verdone at H.B. High. With him being my coach, the way he’s mentored a lot of us over the years, I took a lot of that mentality with me as I went forward with my career. And then coming back full circle and kind of reliving it and taking that juniors role and working with some of our best young amateurs. … All these things tied together.”

Simpson’s day-to-day responsibilities won’t change much in the short term because of restrictions in place as a result of the novel coronavirus. He’s been working with California-based Andino and Marks, while Hawaii-based Florence and Moore have had to interact with Simpson through Zoom sessions.

“I have great relationships with the athletes,” Simpson said. “I’m on the younger side of the coaching spectrum but I think it’s become relevant in a lot of sports. There’s similar views you share and when you’re working with top level athletes like this, it isn’t telling them how to surf. It’s more guidance on conditions, focusing on equipment and the day-to-day preparation, putting them in the best situation to perform at their highest level.”

Cruse agreed that Simpson’s coaching approach is more about mindset than mechanics.

“There are other coaches that could be more the technical coach, like Tiger Woods’ swing coach,” Cruse said. “Tiger’s not keeping it in the fairway and he works with his swing coach to get that nailed down. But that’s not the guy he wants in his corner during a tour event. Brett’s more like a trusted caddie, the guy all these athletes want by their side in this highly intense, all eyes of the world watching them, type of event.”

Both Simpson and Cruse acknowledged that having the Olympics pushed back a year actually has helped everyone involved with USA Surfing get better prepared, even though obviously it’s not the way anyone would have wanted it to happen.

“It actually is a blessing in disguise for our squad,” Simpson said. “We needed more time, we didn’t have a coach. Right now, we’d be two or three weeks away — we have the best athletes in the world, we would have pulled it off — but now it gives us some time to work together, fine tune some things. We want to try to get a trip to Japan. These four have never been to this venue. Getting acquainted with it, bringing their shapers, doing the homework so when this time comes around next year, we’ll be ready. We have to do the groundwork now to be as prepared as we can next year.”

Florence’s availability had been in question last year as he was recovering from a major knee injury. The postponement gives him another year to strengthen the knee. And Andino is currently dealing with a minor knee injury, suffered during the Fourth of July weekend while surfing in Mexico.

And all four Olympians now have learned to deal with the added scrutiny of being an Olympic athlete.

“They were getting inundated with opportunities to be on TV shows, interviews in magazines, new sponsors,” Cruse said. “The demands of being an Olympic surfer caught them off guard. There was a lot of ‘Wow, this is a lot.’ This has allowed them to get their head around what it all means, how it’s going to go and how important it is.”

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