Surfing World - - Introduction - By Lau­ren L. Hill

Dan Ross is so fit he makes medicine sick. He also knows about how to make change in your life a healthy choice.

Af­ter achiev­ing his ul­ti­mate dream of get­ting on tour, for­mer WCT power surfer Dan Ross was faced with the stress that comes with not only achiev­ing your dreams, but sus­tain­ing them. Af­ter seven years, he'd had enough. With hu­mil­ity, grace and an ex­cep­tional tal­ent for lis­ten­ing, Dan al­chem­ized the unique tools and skills he'd ab­sorbed from tour life. He forged a ca­reer in men­tor­ing young ath­letes to over­come many of the chal­lenges he'd al­ready wres­tled in the face of com­pet­i­tive pres­sures and health com­pli­ca­tions, in­clud­ing a di­ag­no­sis of mer­cury poi­son­ing. As coach and men­tor, Dan works with groms to show them that surf­ing is not only a po­ten­tial way to make a liv­ing, but a pro­found way to make a mean­ing­ful life. SW: It seems like you had re­ally strong male role mod­el­ling grow­ing up in Yamba. Would you say that’s true? DR: Def­i­nitely. It’s been a beau­ti­ful place to grow up in. I’ve been trav­el­ling since I was 16, the ap­pre­ci­a­tion for it gets big­ger and big­ger each year. I had my older brother who’s seven years older than me and all of his mates who I looked up to; they were do­ing ex­actly what I wanted to be do­ing. Many of them were such good role mod­els be­cause they would in­clude me in what­ever they were get­ting up to – not just surf­ing, but loop­ing me in on those con­ver­sa­tions about things they were ex­pe­ri­enc­ing, their trav­els and so much stuff that re­ally set me on the path that I wanted to go down. It was guys like Sam Car­rier, Navrin Fox, Jeremy Wal­ters and Vaughan Blakey. You build these close re­la­tion­ships around surf and surf­ing in a way where you’re get­ting looked af­ter, but you’re also get­ting taught and tested. You’re get­ting pushed out of your com­fort zone to learn about the ocean – not just about surf. That’s what was so beau­ti­ful about grow­ing up in Yamba, the ocean was our play­ground. We had our group of mates and we were free to ex­plore and play.

You’d been dream­ing about get­ting on tour since you were a lit­tle grom and you did it, spend­ing 6 or so years be­tween the WQS and WCT. You’d ac­com­plished the ma­jor dream of your life up to that point. You’d made it. But then you had to deal with the pres­sure of ac­com­plish­ing ev­ery­thing you’d ever dreamed of. What was that like? Amaz­ing – but stress­ful. It got re­ally stress­ful. When I came out of the ju­niors in Aus­tralia, that last year was my most suc­cess­ful year, I’d won that, so I was lov­ing what I was do­ing and I was feel­ing re­ally ready to dive into the QS. It was 3-4 years of do­ing the QS be­fore I qual­i­fied, then I made it on tour, then went back and did the QS for a year, then got back on tour for an­other cou­ple of years. So, it was 6-7 years there. It was amaz­ing and so much fun. But stress­ful. I think most of it re­volved around the fi­nan­cial stress of mak­ing heats and keep­ing your spot on tour.

There’s not re­ally job se­cu­rity, is there? Maybe you have a cou­ple of years on your con­tract, but even that might be tied to re­sults. That’s pretty heavy to have to deal with on a heat-to-heat ba­sis, es­pe­cially if you aren’t win­ning them. Yeah. When this is your liveli­hood, this is how you have to sup­port your­self, you’ve gotta make it count, each heat, each mo­ment. And that can cre­ate a lot of stress and it makes all those heats seem dis­pro­por­tion­ately sig­nif­i­cant.

There’s two the­o­ries about los­ing in sport – the pres­sure can ei­ther make you choke or make you panic. Chok­ing is when you over­think what’s hap­pen­ing and panic is when you’re not yet ex­pe­ri­enced enough to men­tally han­dle the task at hand. Did you get to ex­pe­ri­ence both of those ex­pe­ri­ences of los­ing? I placed so much sig­nif­i­cance around what I was do­ing in the wa­ter, about peo­ple watch­ing what I was do­ing, around surf­ing and com­pet­ing. This thing that I’d built up into the most sig­nif­i­cant thing in my life, the pres­sure of that re­ally kept me from surf­ing at my full po­ten­tial. The times I let go of that was when I did my best. The re­ally key, in­flu­en­tial peo­ple in my life would help me bring things back into per­spec­tive and re­align where that sig­nif­i­cance lay – how small it all was, surf­ing heats, in the big­ger scheme of things on my jour­ney. There were beau­ti­ful things to be learned within that, but also that this isn’t as big or as im­por­tant as you think.

So you find your­self on this precipice of hav­ing ac­com­plished the dream of be­ing on tour, and then be­ing faced with need­ing to move on from it. Were you dream­ing up some­thing

As in most pro­fes­sional sport, ego is never on short of­fer in the surf­ing world. So, how do you grace­fully bow out from the high of the lime­light when your time is up?

new for your­self the whole time, or did it feel like you were on the edge, not know­ing how to han­dle the end of that dream? It was a bit of both. It was an on­go­ing process. I did re­ally well out of spon­sor­ship and out of the re­la­tion­ships with the com­pa­nies I was work­ing with. It was great, but there was al­ways this un­der­ly­ing ques­tion­ing – how long is this go­ing to last? Where is it head­ing? Is the value that I bring only based around these heats that I’m surf­ing and how I’m surf­ing? I’d have mo­ments where I’d think about pos­si­bil­i­ties for me af­ter the tour. I felt that from the work I was do­ing with my men­tors around emo­tional, phys­i­cal and men­tal de­vel­op­ment that I would pur­sue the right path that was true to me.

There’s a lot of self worth tied up in this kind of ca­reer; when your iden­tity re­volves around your job. And that job is never quite fully on lock down. There is. One side of you is in this space where you’re lov­ing it. You’re hav­ing these mo­ments that you dreamed of and surf­ing these waves that you used to watch as a kid and be like – “Ahh I want to go and do that!” And you find your­self there in and amongst it. And then you also find your­self re­ally try­ing to cling onto it. You’re in that process where you’re try­ing to work through all of that at the same time. It was re­ally great for me be­cause I learned so much about my­self through those pro­cesses. It’s re­ally about the path that you choose when it’s all hap­pen­ing around you.

That seems at the core of the work you’re do­ing as a coach and men­tor. Keep­ing things in per­spec­tive for as­pir­ing ath­lete. Yeah, for sure. Keep­ing things in per­spec­tive when they’re emo­tion­ally en­grained in that mo­ment – again help­ing them to see the sig­nif­i­cance of a com­pe­ti­tion in the big­ger picture.

What in­spired your fas­ci­na­tion with healthy liv­ing? I grew up in a very health con­scious house. Mum was al­ways mak­ing fresh veg­gie juices, cook­ing amaz­ing meals and we ate lots of fresh, lo­cal food, so eat­ing well was al­ways part of my life. You were re­cently di­ag­nosed with mer­cury poi­son­ing. How the heck did that come about? While I was work­ing with Red Bull we had the op­por­tu­nity to take ad­van­tage of a spe­cial­ized blood test that looked at nu­tri­tional pro­files and helped each ath­lete to tune into op­ti­miz­ing diet and nu­tri­tion. When my re­sults came back, the doctor sat me down and said that the lev­els of mer­cury in my body were alarm­ingly high and that I needed to act on that pretty quickly.

Where did the mer­cury come from? I think it came from a few dif­fer­ent sources: from amal­gam fill­ings – I had them re­moved, but they may not have been re­moved as safely as pos­si­ble, from all the mer­curochrome we use to put on our reef cuts – it worked so well to dry up cuts, but we didn’t re­al­ize it might have been poi­son­ing us, and also from eat­ing lots of fish. I ate fish pretty much every day grow­ing up, since my step-dad was a small-scale com­mer­cial fish­er­man, so we were of­ten eat­ing big pelagic fish and some­times black tip shark. And also the weeks we’d spend in Tahiti, we’d have Tuna and other big­ger fish for break­fast, lunch and din­ner. Big fish tend to ac­cu­mu­late lots of heavy met­als, in­clud­ing mer­cury.

Is mer­cury poi­son­ing com­mon? What are the symp­toms? More com­mon than we think, from what I’ve learnt. Its so wide­spread but not of­ten di­ag­nosed. It was about a year and a half be­fore I re­ally acted on the re­sults, then I kind of half-heart­edly com­mit­ted to get­ting it out of the body. I had to find the right tim­ing to re­ally com­mit to detox­ing it out of my body since it’s a pretty in­tense and time-con­sum­ing thing. The process sounded daunt­ing. There are lots of symp­toms, but for me the ma­jor ones were short term mem­ory loss and adrenal in­suf­fi­ciency - chronic fa­tigue etc. I found this whole com­mu­nity on­line, lots of them were par­ents with autis­tic kids who also had high mer­cury lev­els in their sys­tems. They fol­low Dr Andy Cut­lers Pro­to­col and have amaz­ing re­sults with it. Over the last two and a half years I’ve found blocks of time where I can jump in and do the chela­tion process that re­moves the mer­cury slowly over time. If you do it too quickly it can make you re­ally sick, so you can’t rush it. The pro­gram that I’m on re­quires that you do 100 rounds of chela­tion, where you’re tak­ing small amounts of ALA (al­pha lipoic acid) every three hours around the clock for three days, so it’s pretty ex­haust­ing. Then you have to let your body set­tle for 1-2 weeks, some­times longer be­fore you can do an­other round of mer­cury detox. I’ve done about 11 rounds now, so it’ll prob­a­bly take an­other 3 years or so to get my mer­cury lev­els down. Hope­fully maybe only two years. It’s pretty tax­ing since you strip your body not only of the mer­cury, but also of vi­tal min­er­als like potas­sium, mag­ne­sium and B vi­ta­mins and its heavy on your adrenals. So, it’s an on­go­ing process.

So, did your health chal­lenges guide you down the path of men­tor­ing and coach­ing ath­letes? In a way it did. It was all kind of hap­pen­ing around the same time. The big thing for me was be­ing able to chat with a good mate of mine, Andy King who was coach­ing and men­tor­ing a group of QS ath­letes at the time. We’d con­fi­den­tially chat about some of the dif­fi­cul­ties and chal­lenges he was ex­pe­ri­enc­ing with the ath­letes he was work­ing with, and then strip­ping back to the source of those is­sues within them­selves. Be­cause I’d been

"This thing that I'd built up into the most sig­nif­i­cant thing in my life, the pres­sure of that re­ally kept me from surf­ing at my full po­ten­tial."

there on my own jour­ney I re­al­ized I had a lot to of­fer since I’d had to work within my­self on all of the same hang-ups and chal­lenges in or­der to surf to my po­ten­tial. The health side of it has al­ways been a cat­a­lyst – es­pe­cially the nu­tri­tion, it’s such a big part of it. The phi­los­o­phy of my work now is based on six foun­da­tional prin­ci­ples: our thoughts, breath­ing, hy­dra­tion, nu­tri­tion, move­ment and sleep. And so much of coach­ing is based on build­ing a strong re­la­tion­ship, learn­ing, lis­ten­ing and con­nect­ing with the per­son you’re work­ing with so there’s a great un­der­ly­ing level of trust. And then there be­comes no doubt or uncer­tainty around the in­for­ma­tion you de­liver and guide them with.

Ill­ness is al­ways chal­leng­ing, but have you been able to find any gifts in the jour­ney of fac­ing Mer­cury poi­son­ing? I have. I was work­ing on a project re­cently with a group school kids and there hap­pened to be one kid in the pro­gram who also had mer­cury tox­i­c­ity – the fam­ily had just found out about it. I had been rec­og­niz­ing all of the symp­toms within the kid, be­fore I knew what his sit­u­a­tion was – the abil­ity to re­tain in­for­ma­tion, or to fo­cus in on tasks was lim­ited. I’d watch things were not quite sink­ing in for the kid. I re­al­ized that it wasn’t ar­ro­gance or ig­no­rance, it was just these symp­toms of mer­cury poi­son­ing that I was wit­ness­ing. I could see how, from a teacher’s per­spec­tive, it’d be so easy to get an­gry at the kid, to think he was just not pay­ing at­ten­tion. But I was re­ally able to meet the kid in the space that he was in, be­cause I was aware of it and we’d tackle it from a dif­fer­ent an­gle.

What’s your men­tor­ing/ coach­ing phi­los­o­phy? To learn about our­selves through surf­ing. What I do is based on what I be­lieve is the best path within surf coach­ing, or just de­vel­op­men­tally. I use three guid­ing prin­ci­ples: grat­i­tude, re­spect and self­own­er­ship. And through­out the time that I work with an ath­lete, we keep com­ing back to those ideas: grat­i­tude for be­ing able to surf and play in the ocean, re­spect for self, equip­ment, re­la­tion­ships and the ocean, and then us­ing self-own­er­ship to re­late those ideas back to them for self-re­flec­tion. Keep­ing a grat­i­tude diary is part of it, tun­ing into the things that we’re grate­ful for. And then we fo­cus on tech­nique, tac­tics, ocean knowl­edge and the ex­pe­ri­en­tial learn­ing side of it, like meet­ing up with you guys, shar­ing sto­ries and ques­tions around a fire and con­nect­ing with other in­spir­ing peo­ple.

What’s your feel­ing about wave pools as a training tool? Do they align with your prin­ci­ples of coach­ing? I’ve uti­lized wave pools for coach­ing. I did a project with Sally Fitz in Dubai and it was re­ally fun and pro­duc­tive… for a few days. Do they align with my core prin­ci­ples? Prob­a­bly not. Part of what we do is try to have as much fun as pos­si­ble, so the idea of jump­ing in a pool with a group of young ath­letes has some re­ally fun el­e­ments to it. But there’s an un­der­ly­ing core value of con­nect­ing in with what we love to do around surf, the ocean and pris­tine places. You’re re­moved from that in a wave pool. Re­ally, it’s two to­tally dif­fer­ent things. For me, it feels like it’d be fun for a lit­tle while, but the ocean’s been fun for our whole life.

Surf coach­ing of yore seemed to re­volve around heat strat­egy, tech­nique and maybe a bit about travel and diet. It seems like you’re di­rect­ing your pupils to seek out the dif­fer­ence be­tween mak­ing a good life and just mak­ing a liv­ing via sport; how to be happy hu­mans first, then to flesh that into com­pet­i­tive life. Yeah, con­fi­dence and self-worth first. Be­lief in your­self. Work­ing through fears. Fears about what oth­ers may think, fears out­side of the com­fort zone. To learn about our­selves through surf­ing - en­hanc­ing re­la­tion­ships with fam­ily and oth­ers around us. And of course, to have fun.

"so much of coach­ing is based on build­ing a strong re­la­tion­ship, learn­ing, lis­ten­ing and con­nect­ing with the per­son you're work­ing with."

Op­po­site: Said lo­cal An­gourie leg­end Nav Fox of Rossy’s per­for­mance dur­ing this year’s East Coast Low. “The Point was huge and guys were out there, they were hav­ing a dig. But Rossy was on an­other level, mate. He was dead­set tear­ing the place to...

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