Mitch Coleborn is a goddamn legend. The pro-surfing native of the Sunshine Coast, Australia, recently took a trip to Pascuales, Mexico with CONVICTS. In between hanging with his new friend Johnny Two Socks, talking spot on shit to the CONVICTS crew, sweating around the bonfire, and slamming Modelo, Mitch found some time to drop some wisdom on the local swell. It was a trip for the ages.
After returning to home base in Venice, California, Mitch sat down with the CONVICTS gang to answer awkward questions about himself. But due to relentless commitment to journalism, we squeezed the wisdom right out of him. Turns out the humble surfer has overcome his fair share of adversity, started his own clothing brand, worked with some of the greatest surf filmmakers of all-time, and most importantly, maintained a sense of humor throughout it all. Mitch Coleborn is a Convict and a half.
Mitch, what’s happening man? To start can you tell us what’s going on right now?
Hey mate, my name’s Mitchell f%$#ing Leslie Coleborn. Shit’s about to go down.
To start, talk about your relationship with surfing. How did it go when surfing transitioned from a hobby to a job?
It’s changed about five times. When you are younger you just have fun doing what you are good at. Then I started getting into a few contests and that led to the Junior Series. Leaving school I was like “Okay, I wanna become a professional surfer,” and once I became a professional surfer it changed again to, which kind of route did I want to take? There were a couple of options so I started working closely with Volcom and Kai Neville and did more trips, so I became a free surfer rather than a contest surfer. Then it changed again and I’ve been trying to qualify for the last five years or so, six years. Now it’s changed again: I’m in a different headspace. What I wanted to do next has always seemed clear to me, but now I’m at a crossroad and trying to figure out what I want to do next.
When did you hit that crossroads?
I start off every year like “OK. F&%$. I am going to qualify this year,” and that main goal drains my whole year. It’s been probably five years since I’ve really put 100% into filming for a part or just doing trips. And doing these contests then coming up short definitely plays mind games with you. So at the start of this year I was like “OK, I don’t give a f&%# if I qualify or not, I am just going to go out and have fun, try and surf the best I can and see what happens.” Which led to a third place off the bat in the first comp, so it put me in a really good position. But I’m still sticking to my guns. Whatever happens happens. It’s not the end of the world I don’t qualify this year.
What’s giving you the most pleasure in life these days?
Just enjoying my surfing and doing trips. I went to Indonesia and have been doing some really fun stuff with Volcom this year. So yeah, trip based stuff and having fun with the boys is just such a good headspace to be in.
What’s the draw toward competitive surfing?
At the moment, the best surfing is going down on tour. There was a certain point when the World Surf League wasn’t the pinnacle of surfing. The internet wasn’t full of videos every single week. Now, someone is dropping a new clip every week. Back then, people would save up their clips and drop hammers, but all the best guys weren’t on tour. So that’s when the best surfing was going down, but it’s all changed and I feel like the stuff that you see on the WSL is pretty damn good.
What are you thankful for?
That this is my job, surfing is a job and I know that it won’t last forever so I’m just thankful that I’ve had this opportunity and I’m still doing what I love doing and I still get paid to surf. It’s the sickest thing in the world.
Does the travel ever get lonely?
Nah, there is always someone around. There’s definitely people that you don’t click with but I have a pretty tight clique that I like to travel with. I wouldn’t just stay with any random dude. I’ve actually stayed by myself a few times and it kind of sucks. It’s not like I’m terminator and just there to win and blitz the comp. I was just bored in my hotel room, slept all day. The bed slug. But even just driving around Europe by yourself is nowhere near as cool as it is with a couple of friends.
What are some of the pros and cons of being a pro surfer?
There’s pros and cons but it’s part of the job. Half the time I pay for trips myself, especially on the QS (Qualifying Series), but half the time surfers don’t even have to pay to go anywhere, so you can’t be bummed on having to sit on an aeroplane.
Any wild stories from the road?
There was actually one trip, I went with Matt Bemrose, he’s the coach at Volcom, to Europe. We flew from Sydney to Portugal, I was so jet lagged, and we jumped in the car and went for a quick paddle first thing in the morning. We parked on the wrong side of the road for a surf so when we jumped back in the car he just did a u-turn and was driving on the wrong side of the road because there were no cars around. We went up around a corner and bang: head on collision. I was looking down at the camera watching footage and I looked up and a car just smashed straight into us. Head on collision first day in Portugal. Then the next day we headed back to that beach that picks up the most swell and the contest wasn’t set up, but it was set up back in Ericeira, so we raced back. I got there just in time for my heat, lost the first heat, and was like f%$# this. I jumped on a plane that afternoon and flew back to Sydney. We were in Portugal for 36 hours, that was probably the worst ever, sitting on the plane on the way home going what the hell did I just do? But now I can laugh about it.
Do you worry about surfing being such a young man’s game?
It’s pretty daunting but I’m still young and I’ve still got a lot in me. I dunno if age is actually a thing but guys that are on tour doing well now will make you will make you say “F%$# he is only 21. Or, he just qualified and he’s 18, and I’m 30 years old.” You feel pretty old, but there’s definitely something down the track for me so I don’t let it get to me. It’s in your mind, but it doesn’t interfere with the way that I approach surfing and my career.
How often do you feel like you’re surfing for yourself, versus surfing for other people?
Sometimes I have to go and work or go on a trip for someone, which is not a bad thing at all. But the trips that I do with Volcom or Kai Neville are usually trips that I want to go on, not trips that I have to go on. Like the one that I pitched to Convicts haha.
Talk a little bit about Pascuales in Mexico?
It was exactly what I was thinking. Actually, I thought it was going to be a little bit more developed on the beach. There was actually nothing around. A couple of restaurants. I wasn’t expecting it to be that hot. I dunno why but I could barely go outside of my room between like 10 and 4 in the afternoon. Usually I am not a wake up at 6 in the morning to go surf kind of guy, I like to surf throughout the day. The whole place was cool, but the main town is pretty dangerous which we had no idea about. I probably wouldn’t have been running around in my crocs if I had if known that it was the most dangerous city in Mexico.
Tell us about the new friend you made in Mexico, Johnny Two Socks?
I dunno mate, he was on another planet, I don’t think he even knew that he was in Pascuales but he sucked us in on the first night. He played his cards well, we bought him beers, got him dinners and then he just hung around the whole time. He was like a part of the CONVICTS trip himself.
What was his uniform?
We didn’t see him once without his socks on, which was pretty cool. Walking down the road, running on the beach, surfing, at the restaurant, no matter what, he was in his socks. I really want to see what’s under those f%$#ing socks.
Do you stop and take in the locations that you travel to for surfing?
Moreso now that I am older. When I was younger I didn’t, I took it for granted. Going to India and places like that when I was younger, we’d go straight to the surf break, shoot the thing and fly home. People were like “You’ve been to India, where did you go?” And I didn’t even know. I feel like such an idiot, I was just ignorant pro-surfer kid you know? But now I enjoy going to the city or hanging out and taking some time and not leaving straight after the event.
Have you seen the footage of you standing in front of the fire?
It’s not something I would typically do by myself but I had some people egging me on. I was like Khaleesi coming out of the fire, haha the father of dragons. I’m sweating just thinking about it. I dunno it’s a pretty good new Raya profile pic, I reckon.
What’s changed in your life this year?
Well, I live in America now, I’m in Venice. Which is a lot different from the Sunshine Coast where I’m from but it was time to start fresh, get to a new place and try some new things out. I’d lived in the same spot my whole life. I’m just excited for the next chapter of my life.
What do you feel is more intrinsically appealing, watching your section for the first time in a Kai Neville film or winning a prime contest?
They’re completely different feelings. Winning a contest is such an achievement over other people. You have to beat everyone else in the field to be the champion. But a video part is just your own self, you are just working on something and trying to better yourself throughout the section. They are both self accomplishments but that’s a tricky question. Also, It takes a lot longer to build a section than it does to win a contest in a day. They are completely different dynamics.
Talk about being part of surf culture. There has always been this ratbag culture, the party culture, and it’s moved now into a very job oriented and serious career now. What’s that change been like?
The culture is still there and it’s pretty broad. It’s a good thing for anyone to get into and be a part of at a young age. It feels safe and it’s a good bunch of people.
Is it wild?
It can be wild at times, but it was a lot wilder when I was younger. Like you said, it’s a really professional sport now. I still like to have fun, but I’m not exactly in that headspace right now. But I can still bro-down with any of the guys on tour or free surfing or whatever. It’s a big, big community.
Who do you look up to?
Dane Reynolds has been the answer to that question ever since I can remember. Just as a human, as a surfer, everything he has done.
What character traits of yours have held you back in the past?
Probably the worst thing about me and my headspace is that I either snowball off good energy and good thoughts. If everyone around is like “Oh my god, Mitch is surfing really good” that’ll make me go fucking boom. But if it’s the opposite, it will snowball that way.
What are you looking to get from surfing? If the tour never happens – what are you after?
I want to not just be at peace with everything, but to be stoked on what I’m doing and stoked on surfing. I never wanna be battling myself or bummed on my surfing. Whether I’m surfing for a job or for fun, I just wanna be able to do it for as long as possible.
When you’re not surfing, how do you reset?
There’s not a quick fix. My body will tell me after a trip or something: you’re fucking sunburnt, you’re cooked, you’re sore, you got nothing coming up. So then I’ll have a little cruise and take some time off. But then it’ll just hit me in the face and I’ll be like “Okay I need to get back in the water.” I don’t do anything myself to switch on or off, it just hits me.
What does a good session do for you mentally?
It definitely gives you time to think. Sometimes it’s hard to clear your mind. If I’m thinking something negative, I wanna take it out on a wave. Like if something’s going wrong, I don’t want to punch a punching bag. I want to fucking hit the lip as hard as I can with my surfboard.
Do you still find yourself thinking about dry land issues when you’re out on the water?
Yeah. I can’t channel it all into thinking about absolutely nothing or just the wave. My personal life and things that are going on come into the way that I wanna surf. So I feel like I show a fair bit of emotion when I surf. Good and bad. People can tell when you’re on or off because you can see it. It’s written all over my face.
Do you like to surf by yourself?
Yeah. I like to go out and surf and just do my own thing, catch as many waves as I can and just basically do my own thing. When you go surfing and someone is trying to talk to you the whole time and you could miss a wave, I find myself drifting away and trying to surf by myself again.
Have you consciously tried to build an image of yourself? Not in a shallow sense, but like the sponsors you’ve had, your personal look, artwork?
For sure. That came just after I turned like 20, 21. You see these people around you in surfing, the guys who are getting paid a lot of money, and you think “OK I need go and build my image in America.” But building an image in terms of what I want to look like? I never thought of that. I just wanted to build my profile more so than an image.
What’s your favorite type of wave? Right now, if I said to you’ve got one surf left, what wave would you go to?
Probably Cloudbreak. That’s my favorite wave, but my favorite type of wave…If you said I had one more surf left, it would have to be a big bow.
Is there something special about barrels?
They feel so much more rewarding than airs for me. It’s not a blank canvas like a wall that you can do whatever you want with. The wave is presenting you with only one kind of opportunity and you have to be inside that opportunity.
What are you actually thinking about when you’re in the barrel?
Just going as fast as you can go. When they bend in on themselves and look like closeouts, that’s when you kinda get excited. You could get the longest, best, barrel of your life, but you gotta get in and get going. It’s such a special place. It’s fucking amazing.
What do you love about life?
Laughing. At yourself. Having fun, having a good time. Being around good people, just the good times.
What’s the first thing you do when you knock off?
Crack a Modelo. Sweetest sound of the afternoon.
Couldn’t agree more. Thanks Mitch.