Gee Cormack: Chix Surf School
First came surfing, then came snowboarding, and Gee Cormack took the sport as far as she could, even aiming for the Winter Olympics, before injury cut that career short.
Returning to her first love, Gee began to surf again and in time opened her own surf school. Chix Surf School caters to students who are absolute beginners up to hard-boiled pros and teaches a connection to surfing that's distinct from all other surf schools. The 'curriculum' is developed from Gee's own exerience as a surf-obsessed grom and professional athlete.
Recently, blindboy sat down with Gee to talk about Chix.
blindboy: So what’s your background in surfing?
Gee Cormack: I grew up in Manly and on Scotland Island. Started bodysurfing with my Pop when I was about three-years-old, then did Nippers and all that stuff and moved on to boards when I was about five or six, basically because my brother surfed. We surfed every single day before and after school, but when I was ten I was selected for a snowboarding development squad so I moved away from the surf for almost twelve years. I was with the Olympic Snowboard Development Team. When I retired from that due to injury I got back into surfing.
What about your snowboarding career?
I was trained as a boardercross and half-pipe rider but at the time boardercross wasn’t an Olympic event so I transferred to half-pipe. I then had an injury which ended up causing a heart condition so I had to retire from that. The doctors suggested that I take up surfing again as part of the rehabilitation after major operations on my leg.
I am a very competitive person by nature so I moved down to the South Coast and was coaching at Gerroa for a couple of years. I then moved to Bali and was based there for nearly ten years, surfing three times a day, doing some competitions and some coaching.
After I had my two children, I moved back home and I noticed that there was something missing in the market so I started looking into an all women’s surf school. I noticed that a lot of women preferred being around other women in the water.
And that was Chix Surf School...?
Yeah. After the injury I was diagnosed with a heart condition and I used the water as a therapy tool and I implement that in my school. So at Chix Surf School we do surf education and ocean well-being, and mix the two together. We teach women to find their own rhythm in the water. Whether it’s a woman who has had a child and is looking at getting back into fitness and regaining her body shape or it’s a young junior athlete dealing with the pressures of body change, emotional change, competing against friends, all that sort of stuff, we help them achieve their goals.
We also do strength and conditioning programs, camps away, and a father-daughter program. The father-daughter program is all about helping them find that connection. I have a lot of male friends who only have daughters and some of them really struggle with teaching their daughters how to surf. The daughter has a bad experience and they connect it to their father teaching them. We teach the father how to actually teach the child.
All our programs are about using the water as an emotional release, empowering women, regaining control in your life through a better understanding of your body’s abilities. So the school has multiple avenues but they all come from my own experiences growing up by the sea, being an athlete, having that injury and having to figure out how to use my body again, and also being a parent.
It's not a normal surf school.
No. We are all about progression and ocean well-being. I am a Level 2 high performance surf coach and am going through a number of other courses at the moment, fitness training and a few other things.
In general do you think women find the atmosphere in the water difficult?
Yeah definitely. It’s that typical thing that women are intimidated to start surfing because it's a male-dominated sport. So if they paddle out they are in a crowd of predominantly men. They don’t necessarily know what they’re doing so they're very nervous; they don’t want to get in anyone’s way but they want to give it a try.
99% of our clients have already tried surfing before with male coaches. What they find is that women coaches are more nurturing and more accommodating to their emotional state. Male coaches often have a 'don’t be so silly, just get out there' attitude and that’s not helpful for a woman because they are not relating to their emotional state.
Before women paddle out we talk to them about their experience and teach them how to read the ocean, how to control their nerves, and how to understand their bodies. So when they do go out there, they have a more positive experience because they understand what is going on. We do a lot of body movement training, we do strength and conditioning, and we do wave simulation.
Do you use a gym?
No we do everything outdoors. We use natural environments. The type of fitness we do is body movement training, teaching balance through slow movement and low impact exercises that, through either repetition or holding for a long period, strengthen their bodies and give them a better understanding of balance. We don’t use weights or things like that, it’s all balance training, how your ankles stabilise your upper body, the core, hip rotation. All that stuff. We also do a lot of SmoothStar training, which is on land wave simulation training, breaking down waves on land, getting people to understand how your body has to move through different sections of a wave.
Do you have men asking to join?
We do. It’s really funny because a lot of men buy vouchers for their wives, then they see the progression their wives make and they call us to ask if we can coach them, and we do. We have about fifteen men in the school. We would never say no to coaching men or boys, but our style of coaching is predominantly focused on women. We want to create a safe space for women to learn and explore their possibilities in surfing.
Do you think the atmosphere in the water is improving?
Of course, there are more women in the water now! The more women, the less testosterone and the happier everyone is, but I think some people are still missing the core of what surfing should be. The younger generation is very much about image and doing the best trick and that core of soul surfing has been taken out of it a little bit. So we want to stop people comparing themselves to the surfer next to them. We ask, “What type of surfer do you want to be?”
We want to make sure that women are in the water for the right reasons, that they are not pressured to do it and they understand what they need to do to stay out there.
On the competitive side, are the same opportunities there for girls as for boys?
[Immediate laughter!] Of course not! We all know that. When a girl earns half the prize-money that means half the support, half the facilities, half the opportunities. You can’t expect a young girl to surf as well as a young boy when they are not funded.
If you put a 12-year-old girl and a 12-year-old boy in the same training the boy will have more muscle mass and so can get a lot more waves and will progress more quickly. But the girl is also going through having her periods and her body is going to change. She will become much more emotional. They are also likely to have male coaches. We need to start developing programs which accomodate these young girls and the shifts they are going through, so instead of having a high drop out rate, we actually support them with coaches who are trained how to deal with that emotional shift so they get equal opportunities with the young boys.
Do you get much support from the surfing industry?
I was never a pro surfer so I’m coming from the outside of the industry. I’ve been coaching surfing for 11 years now and I have seen a lot, and after being in the snowboard industry, which is very similar to the surfing industry, I know what happens behind the scenes. I’ve dealt with sponsorship and the pressures of competition. I would rather let my training and the results with my clients speak for themselves.
Last year my school doubled in size. It’s only three years old and has had immense growth and that’s because I am so passionate about what I do - I love what I do! Sometimes I coach ten hours a day and I know, whether it's a young girl or a 65-year-old woman, I can get them to do what their bodies need to do. I have a good understanding of how our bodies work and if you match that to an emotional understanding, then you can get people to do what you want them to do in the water.
I was just overseas for five weeks doing a Coach the Coaches program for a surf company called SmoothStar. We use their equipment in our program to do all our on land training. It looks like a skateboard but it is an on land surf trainer. They sponsor over 100 coaches around the world and I am their leading international coach so I have been travelling through Europe doing a program with them and we trained about 2,000 people.
I love what I do and I want to help women in surfing.