By Dan House
Photos: Bryce Johnson
Surfing isn’t easy. Anyone attempting the sport for the very first time is going to be gassed in under an hour. Surfing greenhorns will use muscles they didn’t even know existed and spend huge amounts of energy navigating the big blue washing machine. To surf professionally on the North Shore requires elite levels of physical fitness, stamina, and mental fortitude. From paddling to the lineup through giant surf, to finding one’s place in the pecking order, to finally catching a wave, and at that moment performing a series of body contorting maneuvers across the face – professional surfing is a whole other ball game. Once that first circuit of the above routine is completed you need to get back into the lineup and do it over and over again.
Evan Valiere has had considerable success on the North Shore with an event win at Sunset and major magazine covers at Pipeline. The 31-year-old has been one of the standouts on the North Shore year in and year out for quite a while now. To surf at Evan’s level takes major dedication. Being physically fit, finding the proper boards for a wide range of conditions, eating clean, and learning how to compete in premiere events against the best surfers in the world are just a few of the challenges pro surfers have to face.
One of Evan’s most endearing qualities is that he is a really good guy and full of aloha. Evan was gracious enough to answer a few questions about how he is preparing for the North Shore winter season and contests. While Freesurf has covered Fit For Surf topics on things like jiu jitsu, cross fit and yoga in the past, this is our first interview with a surfer who practices Qi Gong, which is a Chinese health practice that integrates physical postures, breathing techniques and focused intentions.
How did you get into Qi Gong and yoga?
Someone mentioned that I may like Qi Gong so I took a seminar and practiced it ever since. Yoga has always been around my family and it is just something that I have liked since I was young.
In what ways do Qi Gong and yoga help you stay fit for surfing?
Qi Gong is a lot of stretching and breathing. But overall I feel it mostly helps me to be mentally sharp and focused, it’s more meditative. This helps me remain calmer when the waves are critical and helps keep my heart rate lower when I am paddling fast. It also makes my recovery times quicker. Yoga also helps in that way, but I get a more physical work out and strength in yoga than in Qi Gong. In yoga a lot of the poses strengthen hips, lower back and legs that ultimately support lots of the positions that you get into while maneuvering your board. It just feels good, they are both great lifestyle practices with overall benefits.
What is your regiment with these types of cross training?
Daily Qi Gong routine and lately just about every other day with yoga.
Do you still have a training program going? I remember your little “Wild Hair” program you had going with Keale Chung and some of your other friends a while back. Are the “Wild Hairs” still getting together and training?
Team Wild Hairs was a short lived run over at Barca’s gym, just doing exercises and boxing drills. I feel like my lifestyle is training and preparation on its own. Seeking out good food and supplements, daily Qi Gong and yoga practice. Spending time in the water surfing, or teaching surfing at my surf school, and riding my mountain bike all help to keep me tuned. But right now is a good time for me to take it next level again!
Do you ever work with a coach for competition or ironing out technique for different maneuvers or waves? Or have you just always figured it out on your own?
Coach Russell Lewas has given me many insights in the past on technique and heat strategy. I have also used my own experience to notice certain things that work for surfers in general and certain things that work for me personally.
What drives you to keep doing these events?
Are you looking for a paycheck or do you thrive on competing and testing yourself?
I just like to compete with the best surfers. It lifts my level of surfing and I hold myself to a higher standard of living and preparation before the events. It’s motivation. I also feel that this is my best platform to show my abilities, as I have not participated on too many photo or video travels or big wave ventures.
What advice would you give someone who is surfing Pipeline for the first time and is looking to get a good wave? What is the best way to prepare for surfing Pipe or some other heavy waves for the winter?
Pipeline is always there. There is opportunity for those who seek it. Always be respectful of the pecking order, and the danger and power of the wave. It could take your life. That being said, put in your time, build your confidence on small ones, and when the bomb comes don’t hesitate. Surfing a wave from Pipeline has to come from within. You have to desire it, you have to love that excitement and commitment of taking that risk.
What advice would you give to someone competing in the Triple Crown for the first time?
Learn and understand the ocean and the waves. The ocean is powerful, you just have to learn how to work with it and get into rhythm.
When the waves aren’t good during the competition season it seems there is quite a bit of down time. What do you do to fill that time?
I have plenty to do running a small business, spending time with my family, I can almost always find a way to ride waves or get in the water. I am always moving.
You have a family now. How does that change your approach to the North Shore season?
The things that I once wanted from the surf industry in acceptance and recognition are no longer important to me. My family has been taking me to the North Shore of Oahu since I was two years old to enjoy the ocean and play in the waves. All I want to do now is surf and enjoy the North Shore and get the biggest barrels and best waves of my life. That’s all that is important to me, just for the fun of it. My wife Brittney and daughter Jaya have helped put that into perspective for me.
If the waves go flat leading up to winter how do you stay active and in surfing shape so that you can remain sharp and surf to your fullest potential?
I surf almost every day at home, or I am in the water teaching surfing. I also have my Qi Gong and yoga routine. I am always ready. I do the fine tuning for a specific wave or event when it’s on my radar.
Is it more difficult to progress as a surfer as you get older?
I have improved throughout my entire surfing life. I know more about technique, surfboards, waves, and myself than I ever have. Keeping it exciting is everything. You have to keep learning and stay creative.
Diet is very important for any athlete. When you are training and working on getting more fit, what kind of foods or drinks do you gravitate towards?
Does your diet change during the actual events? My diet is always stable. I like GMO free, organic foods, I was raised that way. I will boycott anything else if I possibly can. The next level is eating specific foods that help with certain things that the body needs. Nothing specific really.
In your experience what is the best cross training for surfing?
Qi Gong has helped me mentally, spiritually and physically all in one practice and that has helped to put me in alignment with the ocean and focused when I am riding waves. I have been practicing on a regular basis for almost 12 years now.
Is there any more wisdom or advice you can impart on our readers that will allow them to be more fit and improve their surfing or longevity in the sport?
Yes. Always surf after a warm up. For longevity in this asymmetrical sport it is good to do activities to physically balance your lower back and legs and neck.