Griffin Colapinto’s “Secret Sauce”

At only 20 years old, “Griff” as he likes to be called, has already accomplished the seemingly impossible. After years of impressive wins that allowed him to steadily climb the World Surfing League qualifying ranks, he achieved one of the most prestigious awards in the sport—the 2017 Vans Triple Crown of Surfing Champion. It was the first time a surfer from California had ever claimed the honor.

Today, Griff is the youngest of seven rookies on the Men’s Champion Tour.

In conversation with griff

Despite his quick rise to fame, Griff has not been spared the sometimes-treacherous waters that come along with being a professional athlete. Recently, we sat down with Griff at the Youtheory HQ in Irvine to talk about his meteoric highs and lows, including a potentially game-changing injury that threatened to sideline his success.

Question: Griff, you’ve had an epic last two years, with the high point being your 2017 Vans Triple Crown win. Then, before you could defend your title in 2018 you had a devasting injury. What happened?

Answer: Last August [2018], I was surfing in Tahiti before a contest. I went backside into a wave and bent my knee in and twisted it way more than I should have. It definitely hurt, but by the next day it just got worse. As soon as I got home, I went right into physical therapy, but still surfed another contest and somehow made second place. But my knee was killing me. Finally, I got an MRI that confirmed that I had torn my meniscus, which is basically the cartilage in my knee. From there, I went into surgery and they removed 40 percent of my meniscus.

Q: Tell us about the recovery process.

A: Of course, I was devastated. I had to be out of the water for two and a half months. I did the whole physical therapy regimen and worked on strengthening the muscles around my knee. But also, right at the beginning of my recovery [surfer] Taylor Knox sent me collagen and turmeric supplements, which I really didn’t know anything about. But when a peer of that caliber tells you something works, you do it. Since then, the supplements have been part of my recovery. One of the great things about surfing is that everyone is very supportive. It’s super competitive, but at the end of the day we all look out for each other.

Q: Besides the physical recovery, how did you stay mentally positive that you were going to get through it?

A: You hear this a lot with other athletes who have injuries — that you have to have the mentality that you’re going to come out stronger and better than before. For me, the experience definitely made me want to come back to surfing more than ever. I just kept working hard and taking supplements. Now my knee doesn’t even hurt.

Q: They call you “The Sponge” and we’ve heard a lot about the extra work you put into surfing and training—maybe more than what’s expected. Tell us about that.

A: I think a lot of it just comes down to focus. If you just go out in the water to have fun, you won’t necessarily get any better. When I’m in the water, I surf consciously. I try to always focus on what I need to do better. Outside of that, I have a trainer who helps me work out. The other thing I’m doing that might surprise people is that I’m working with a mental coach, Ben Crowe. Ben was a Sports Director at Nike, and he’s worked with some really famous athletes like Andre Agassi, Kobe Bryant and Michael Jordan.

Q: What has that been like?

A: Ben is teaching me principles called the “Connection Mindset.” He has me practice these techniques where I think about how I feel when I’m surfing my best and write down the five things that stand out most when I’m winning. My five things are “playful, confident, connected, calm and strong.” So right before I get into a stressful situation, I think about those words and get my mind in the right place. I also do an exercise where I separate the things I’m thinking about into categories. So basically, I mentally separate the things I can control from the things I can’t. The techniques I’ve learned from Ben have really helped me feel more confident in the water.

Q: For people who aren’t in the inner circle of pro surfing, the perception could be that it’s a kind of a party lifestyle, that there are a lot of young guys having fun and getting out of control. Is any of that true?

A: Not really. You definitely don’t see the legendary partying you heard about in the past. Mike Fanning has been influential in changing the culture for young surfers by encouraging clean living and keeping the focus on the sport. Now the stakes are really high, and there are a lot of sponsors. There’s no room for error. If anything, you see the parties happening mostly after the competition is over.

Q: You mentioned clean living. What does that mean to you personally?

A: For me, it means eating right and staying lean and light, which is important for surfing. I make smoothies with youtheory collagen and take the youtheory mens joint complex and turmeric. Also, I think I train harder. Doing the extra work makes me feel like I deserve to win.

Q: What’s the next big thing on the horizon for you?

A: Possibly a movie. I’m working with Taylor Steele, a director who’s well known in the surfing world. His films have been very influential in the sport. There’s a recent HBO special called Momentum Generation that features his work among other directors—and how it’s impacted surfing. He and his crew are going to travel with me this year and film me and other surfers in competition and just on the road in general. I’ll have a lot more details to talk about later this year, but I’m super excited about it. But it’s really an honor to be working with him.

Thanks, Griffin. It’s been great working with you. We can’t wait to see what happens next.