The Mitch Coleborn Pro Spotlight
In an industry of counterfeits, Mitch is staying true to himself
By Zander Morton
Note: This profile, from our August 2013 issue, went to print before Mitch won the ASP Prime in Saquarema, Brazil. At the moment he sits in 20th on the ASP Men’s World Ranking, in a strong position to see his 2014 World Tour aspirations become a reality.
Mitch Coleborn isn’t f—king around anymore. After a dozen magazine covers and a slew of video sections, he’s established himself as one of the best surfers in the world “not on tour.” But now, the tour is exactly where he wants to be. It’s where the best surfing in the world is happening right now, and Mitch realizes as much. So he’s hired a trainer. Dialed in his surfboards. And why wouldn’t he? Qualifying is the next logical step. Winning heats and competing for a world title is the only way to completely legitimize his career. Let’s call it the “post John John Florence” era, a time in surfing history when video sections alone just aren’t going to cut it. These days, a career without qualifying comes attached with an invisible asterisk, a “yeah he rips, but…”
If you follow professional surfing, you’re most likely aware of two things about Mitch: One, he’s a talented Australian goofy-foot. And two, he was once arrested in Canada.
The former is something to be proud of. You’ve no doubt watched Modern Collective, Lost Atlas, and Dear Suburbia. But the latter, well, it’s the one black eye on his otherwise illustrious career, so let’s set that record straight up front. During the middle of a trip to Western Australia together—a week after Mitch secured a keeper result in the opening ASP Prime of the year at Margaret River—we start the conversation.
What’s the biggest mistake you’ve ever made?
Canada. That was a big wake-up call.
On October 14, 2010, Mitch’s good friend Josh Kerr won the O’Neill Coldwater Classic in Canada. Mitch also surfed in the contest, falling to Eric Geiselman in the quarters. At the event’s conclusion, Mitch and crew celebrated Josh’s victory. The following day, he woke up in jail.
That evening, news reports spread across the Internet like wildfire: “Australian professional surfer Mitch Coleborn faces up to six months in a Canadian jail after allegedly exposing his genitals to a group of children and adults near a school. He is charged with committing an indecent act. If convicted, it could limit his ability to travel the world, and he also faces the prospect of being placed on Canada’s national sex offender’s registry.”—Via surfersvillage.com
Can you elaborate on the story?
Yeah, it was just a big misunderstanding. And now, I know to never believe what I read because it was blown so out of proportion. More than anything, it was really embarrassing. I can’t even be down at the pub having a beer without someone saying something about it, and that’s something I have to live with forever. My real good friends, they would never say anything, but those people who don’t know me and that’s the only thing they have on me, they’ll say shit, and that sucks.
It was just a big night out, right?
Yeah, and I was pissing in the middle of the street early the next morning. So it was a big night out. It was after the Vancouver comp ended, and a lady was walking her kid in the morning and I was pretty much in the middle of the street, and she called the cops. I was just mindless. The main street of the town has everything: the school is right next to the grocery store, which is right next to the cop station, and that’s next to the pub. So they grabbed me [the police] and booked me, and that afternoon I woke up in a haze, realized what had happened, and just thought, “Holy shit.”
I figured it was fine, that shit happens in Australia every day, no worries. [He isn’t kidding either. Ever heard of Paul Fisher? If not, let’s just say Australia is a bit more liberal about public nudity]. But the cop was trying to be the hero and ruin my life to make his somewhat better or something. So they took my passport, and I had to stay a few more days to get it sorted out. I never had to go to court—I had lawyers that handled it properly—and it’s no big deal now at all. My lawyer went straight to the court and was like, “Are you guys serious? Do you know how stupid these charges sound?” He had it all thrown out straightaway. They wanted to make an example of me. The cop was a complete f—k wit.
What was the worst thing you read in the papers?
I tried not to read anything—the words getting thrown around about me. They weren’t something I wanted to see. I still won’t read any of it; it makes me feel shitty. It was definitely a massive wake-up call. I was just stupid.
Don’t let one overblown incident fool you: Mitch is no dummy. He’s not one to waste his cash drinking and making bad decisions, and he sure as shit isn’t letting an ill-fated piss in Canada define his career. He was raised better than that.
He grew up riding horses (and in a pony club!) with his two sisters (one older, one younger) 20 minutes from the beach on the Sunshine Coast of Australia, and when he started surfing at age 10, he quickly realized he wanted to make it his career. Three years later he convinced his parents to move closer to the beach. “We had this sick, renovated house and a bunch of land, but all I wanted was my parents to buy a shit heap on the beach so I could surf.” A year after moving, at 14, he was picked up by Volcom, and he’s been with the brand ever since. “Thank god my parents listened. They did what was in my best interest and I’m forever grateful.”
Four short years later, at age 18, his junior career took off, and after securing his first decent contract, he made a down payment on a house of his own on the Sunshine Coast. In the years since, Volcom’s loyalty to Mitch has paid off in spades. His name is synonymous with every high-profile film of our generation. His success allowed him to recently purchase yet another home, and he didn’t stop investing there. Along with fellow professional surfer Dion Agius as well as Kai Neville, Mitch started a sunglass brand called Epokhe.
Where did Epokhe stem from? At 26, you’re young to be starting a company of your own.
Yeah, that began with Modern Collective. We [Mitch, Dion, and Kai] wanted to start something but not clothing because Dion and I surfed for major brands. But we waited a bit too long after the movie to call the brand Modern Collective. We knew we were on to something because after MC we each put 200 dollars in, had 30 shirts made, and sold them off the MC blog for 60 dollars each in a few days. We tripled our money, and it was an indication that we should be doing something bigger.
It took us a while to get our vision for Epokhe sorted, and we landed on sunglasses because it wasn’t a totally flooded market, margins are high, and it seemed like the easiest, most attainable thing for us right now. I’m stoked with our first line, where it’s all at, and hopefully a Volcom or whomever will come along eventually and buy the company. At least that’s the goal.
It’s a smart move. If it becomes the next Electric, that would certainly take some pressure off your career.
I hope so. That’s the thought. Times have changed a bit since Christian Hosoi, who didn’t know the value of a dollar and was just renting mansions in Hollywood [laughs]. I guess I just realize this doesn’t last forever.
And you guys sponsored Creed [McTaggart]. That sure was a good first pickup.
Yeah, it was between a couple young kids, but we landed on Creed. I knew it was happening but hadn’t seen him start to explode. But this winter, during a small day at Backdoor, I was standing on the beach and he surfed this wave, and I just went, “Holy shit, this guy rips.” He did a massive carve, a quick check, and a big finner, and flowed it all so well. Then, I’m in the airport, and there’s an eight-foot billboard of him in the Billabong store, and I’m like okay, everyone is realizing at the same time he’s going to blow up. And now, having done two trips with him already this year I’m baffled. I was a little more used to it [his surfing] on this trip, but I went on a trip with him in January and he f—king blew me and Dion out of the water, hands down. [Laughs] We’re like, we just picked this kid up and he’s smoking us. It’s crazy.
He should do the comps; he’s a consistent surfer.
I’ll talk to him about it. I am his boss now [laughs]. I’ll sit him down, and say, “Coming from your team manager…”
But he isn’t cut out to be anyone’s team manager. Not yet. Sure, he’s an intelligent guy, one who will certainly have surf industry success when he hangs up his proverbial cleats, but that time isn’t now. He’s too talented on the water to pursue anything other than his own surfing. He’s meant to be an elite World Tour member, meant to be chasing a title. Besides, the freesurf world is indie these days: tight jeans, “vintage” tees, and worn Jack Kerouac books a big part of the culture. Does anyone actually wear their sponsors’ clothing anymore? Mitch does. And he’s far closer to sharing the psyche of AI than Dane Reynolds. It’s obvious: he wants to win contests, not make lo-fi flicks. It shows in his surfing. Every session. Mitch dominated the junior series growing up; now it’s time to dominate the WQS.