JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – If you ask longtime pro surfer Jason Motes if there is a West Coast bias in surfing, he’ll laugh and eventually admit that yes, there is. But Motes has done his part to give surfing on this side of the continent some serious street cred — or is it, beach cred? Motes was recently named as the scholastic surfing coach of the year — the first from the East Coast to win the award.
Motes coaches kids mostly from the ages of about 10-17. He passes on not only the knowledge about the sport he loves — he began competing in 1978 — but he also passes on that special connection to the water that surfers love.
He says surfers now are doing things he never dreamed of as a pro. But what he enjoys the most as a coach is seeing the first time a young surfer makes the connection with the water.
“I’ve got a kid young man named Athan Robertson, who’s also on my all-star team, but he’s a local here in Jacksonville. And the first time his dad called me to work with him, he showed up with this little beater board, and it’s a soft surfboard. But it’s only about, you know, three feet tall. And, you know, he’s about that same size, a little bitty guy. And he got up on his first wave and started going down the line. And I went, ‘Wow,’” Motes said.
“He comes from a skateboard background, but I could just see an advancement in the way he looked at a wave and understood where to put his body weight. This is the first lesson I ever did with a kid. And now that now he’s one of the top 12 and under surfers in the whole United States. So you see, you know, you can, you can tell, right off the bat. If a kid just has that natural ability, on the first time, he stands up on a wave. It’s pretty cool to see that. It excites me.”
Motes knows the feeling well. As a student at Fletcher High School in the late 1980s, he would often skip lunch to catch some waves. He fell in love with the sport at a young age and began competing before most of his classmates were riding bikes.
“As a surfer, you get excited,” Motes said. “It’s an unbelievable feeling on a local level when you have good waves here. But then, as you get better start traveling to these places. Like we go to Hawaii every February with the all-star team and you get out there and feel the energy and see just absolutely the most beautiful waves in your life. I mean, it’s an unbelievable feeling, man. It’s incredible. I’ve been doing it my entire life.”
Motes has seen a lot of change in the sport since he started surfing in the mid-1970s. Among the biggest changes are the materials used to make surfboards and the focus surfers are putting on conditioning and nutrition.
“it’s mind-blowing how it has advanced, for the better,” Motes said. “Back in my day, we did a lot of partying with the surfing. Now, these kids, at such a young age they are taking it super serious, clean bodies, super physically fit. Not just surfing, the cross-training, stuff like that. The level of surfing, it’s just phenomenal. I mean, it’s crazy what these kids are doing on waves now.”
What comes next for Motes? If he had his way, the sport of surfing would remain largely the same, with one exception.
“I’d love to just see more girls (take up the sport),” Motes said. “It has gotten more popular, but I’d love to see that. Young girls get more involved in it. It has grown quite a bit as far as the young girls go. I get a lot more young girls that are really getting good.”