The Surfing Life of Christian Moutinho
Words by Kim Feldmann de Britto
The richness of someone’s surfing life is not only related to the abundance of surf experiences collected over time but with the discernment and ability to cross-pollinate the acquired knowledge to different areas and aspects of life. Brazil-born, Canada-based surfer, coach, paramedic, and father, Christian Moutinho is someone who, if he hasn’t succeeded in doing so, has come really close to it.
Growing up in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, and spending a lot of time at his grandmother’s beach house in Cabo Frio, Christian’s first contact with surfing wasn’t much different than that of most coastal dwelling youth. At age eight, playing with friends in the surf, he used a foam-board to catch waves; later they stuck a fin on the bottom of a bodyboard, managing to stand-up ride. But it wasn’t until his tenth birthday, when his grandfather presented him a surfboard, that his surfing life began to take shape.
“That’s when I got the taste for surfing; it developed from there and never stopped. It has been 44 years of surfing.”
As a teenager, Christian competed in regional contests, and at age 16 he went to Australia with a group of surfers – a trip that changed his outlook on surfing and his life forever.
“At that time, there wasn’t much coaching in surfing. However, in Australia, this kind of work was already being done, the Australian association promoted a whole development in this area. I had an Australian coach on this trip who gave me a few tips, and I found the work he did very cool. So when I came back to Brazil I thought: ‘I’m going to study Physical Education and create a project that will be based on the biomechanical and physical part for performance in high-level sports, in this case, surfing.’”
After finishing his studies and structuring the project, Christian began to work with amateur athletes, then WQS professionals, until WCT level, mentoring the likes of Maya Gabeira, Heitor Alves, Yuri Sodre, and Lucas Silveira, among other Brazilian surfers. “I did this for nearly 20 years. When I moved to Canada, I ended up working a bit more in this area with a couple of local female athletes who nowadays are doing very well,” he says, referring to Mathea and Sanoa Olin, two up-and-coming Canadian surfers local to Tofino, British Columbia, who Christian coached for about 3 years.
This transition to Canada consequently incited a restructure of his entire life. “It was rather unexpected,” says Christian. “My wife got a job offer and went there before me. She was there for a year, during which time I stayed in Brazil, visiting her every two or three months. It was a difficult transition. I decided to end everything I had been working on in Brazil – at that time I was coaching several athletes, a really fruitful project. But I decided it was time to change horizons.”
Arriving in Canada without a job lined-up, Christian stumbled upon an opportunity to represent Rip Curl as a free surfer. “I was surfing one day and, by chance, a representative from Rip Curl Australia was there, trying to set things up in Canada. He saw me surfing and offered to sponsor me.” After living off the sponsorship for a few years, Christian realised it wasn’t sustainable, that something was amiss, and began to look for other things to do. He decided to study to become a paramedic; spent 4 years on the degree and another year specialising, and nowadays works as Advanced Care Paramedic.
“I’ve always been interested in the human body and the physiological aspect of things, and I thought that this was a career that fit my personality and curiosities. After working with this for over 10 years, it becomes clear to me that it’s a line of work which requires a strong emotional structure. And I guess I brought this from surfing and the knowledge I acquired throughout the years working with athletes of different levels, both technical and emotional. After all, one of the challenges in coaching is to conciliate the emotional side of things with the physical, the personal goals, and even the natural talent of that person. So I believe I brought this to my personal life as well, after having lived it from the outside with the athletes, trying to structure it for them, nowadays I do that for me.”
Although his primary work is as at the ambulance in Victoria, he uses the flexibility of schedule, in which he can often choose when and what to do, to conciliate his coaching projects. With Mahalo Surf Experience, Christian develops a customised training programme, focused on technical aspects of surfing. His understanding of biomechanics is highly beneficial to more advanced surfers who are looking to optimise their performance, whereas his presence as a paramedic on the trips adds to the safety of everyone involved.
When asked about the framework behind his coaching, he compares it with a cake recipe: you can serve it to anyone, but you have to make sure all the ingredients are there.
“The training will vary according to each athlete, but there’s a general line which is important to be followed. I always try to incorporate technical, physical, mental, biomechanical, nutritional aspects and make my athletes understand that training is not only in the water. When we talk about technique, I believe it’s important to begin with the type of surfing that person has and from that begin to polish his/her surfing according to their objectives. If you aim to join the world elite, we obviously have to refine your technique to meet the tactical and judging criteria. Yet, it’s crucial to remember that each athlete has his/her individuality and to work around this is really important.
It’s tricky to put it into words, but I often use an approach that involved letting the athlete develop himself/herself naturally during a free-surfing session for around 30 minutes. Then I’d pull them out of the water (I was always filming them) and make an analysis to make them aware of what they were doing and should be doing in those conditions, without watching the footage. Only when we finished the training session we would go through the footage, and I’d once again comment on the movements so as to give more directed feedback and explain what I had in mind and what we were aiming at.”
Now settled in Canada, Christian is living a kind of Renaissance of his surfing life.
“Canada is not a surfing country – but the waves are amazing. Where I live in Vancouver Island, on the south part, there’s an array of good waves from September till April, then during summer, it’s mostly flat. There are several secret spots, lots of potential for surfing. However, these secret spots are difficult to get to and you really need to want to surf. Nowadays I’m more focused in other things, so surfing for me is secondary: I surf throughout wintertime and travel a lot to surf, but I don’t surf even one-third of what I did before, and sometimes it can be hard.”
Living a non-surfing-oriented lifestyle and going days, sometimes weeks without waves is something easier said than done, especially for someone who’s been so deeply involved with the sport for so long. But instead of letting the lack of brine get to him, Christian has been able to spot a silver lining in this process, opening himself up for what this new phase brings him.
“How I’ve managed to cope with this? I think there’s a lot to do with the fact that I have two sons who are quite active; we are always travelling and doing things together. Your life changes when you have children, especially if you want to be there for them, you have to give up certain things. I didn’t give up surfing per se, but I gave up surfing every day. At the same time, I spent many years of my life surfing a lot, the best spots in the world, so I guess that having this experience helps to lift the weight off my conscience. Surfing for me today it’s more like a meditation: I catch three or four good was and come out of the water stoked, and can stay weeks without surfing, whereas before my mentality was different.”
This mentality he speaks about is something that both changes and consolidates with experiences that leave a kind of scar, invariably inciting a reflection, a shift of perspective or approach…much like a wipe-out.
“One of the most mind-blowing experiences I’ve ever had as a surfer was my first time in Hawaii. I was 16 and naturally wanted to surf Pipeline. I caught a big wave in a stormy sea that was rising, without big-wave experience nor idea of how a 7’8” would work under my feet. I went down straight, the lip landed on my shoulders and I was washed to the inside. After taking a few sets on the head, Tahitian surfer Vetea David saw that I was struggling I came to rescue me on a jet-ski (which wasn’t common back then). It was a life-or-death situation, I was traumatised. There and then I learned to respect the sea: one moment it can be amazing, the other complete darkness.”