We caught up with technique guru Jem Hall, for an update from Norway where he is at home during the Covid crises. Jem has been spending plenty of valuable time with his family, having some foiling fun and games, and of course staying as positive as ever, ready for when he can return to coaching again!
Photos: John Carter, Clark Merritt, Radical Sports Tobago and Dave White.
WS: Tell us what you have been up to over the past few months?
JH: Since returning from my Tobago Coaching Clinics in early February I have been at home and spent a lot of time with my children, as the kindergartens have been closed here. As I knew I would be in Oslo for a long time I also put a lot of time into my training and fitness. I live in the hills of Oslo, so we have some awesome running tracks here and a brutally steep set of steps at the Holmenkollen Ski Jump spectator area. Fortunately for us during lockdown here we have been able to windsurf, so I have had a few cold sessions on the water and a couple of goes on my new foil board as I want to learn this new sport and am enjoying the carnage and learning opportunities of this!
WS: How do you like living in Norway?
JH: I love it. Sure, I miss my friends and family a lot, and the consistent south coast windsurfing, but everything else is great. It is a beautiful country and the people are fantastic. The windsurfing is also fun and varied and everyone is so positive and committed to the sport when I chat to them. As a father of two young kids it is also amazing for bringing up kids with the kindergarten and school system here, as well as easy access to forests and to the slopes for skiing.
WS: How have you been coping mentally with the crises; does it scare you or how are you dealing with it?
JH: I think like a lot of people it has been very up and down. Some days are bad, and I am concerned for the world but then I think we will have to all raise our game and get through this. A way for me to deal with it is not to think too much about it and definitely to limit the amount of news I take in and also think about when I take it in, so after 20.00, I try to avoid emails and news. Other days are particularly good when I think how much of an opportunity for me this is to be at home and have so much time with my family. My One year old, Johan, changes so much every week and three-year-old Clara has definitely had her very own balance bike clinic with her mum and I! I think we will be all so grateful for many of the things we have been taking for granted once we start embracing a somewhat better and new normal.
WS: How has it effected your normal schedule of clinics so far?
JH: Understandably it has affected my schedule a lot, and the uncertainty makes planning forward difficult. I have had to cancel my May, Punta San Carlos, Baja wave clinics and June Rhodes flat water clinics. Rhodes has been rescheduled to September. I feel positive that my first clinic after lockdown will be Mauritius in August.
WS: Are your clients understanding on your disrupted schedule?
JH: My clients have been great, and it has been really enlightening to hear their concerns and how they feel. I think Windies in general are incredibly positive and flexible and they have inspired me immensely with their attitude. Sportif Travel, my tour operator, only yesterday remarked how amazing my people have been, and they are more at the coal face of customer service.
WS: How did you get started in windsurf coaching?
JH: I was interested in coaching from a young age and undertook a sport science degree and then followed that with a teaching postgraduate, so the hunger so teach was there. My local windsurfing shop in Southsea, Portsmouth, said I should take a RYA (Royal Yachting Association) teaching qualification so I did and ran some lessons there (thanks Pete and Trev). Then I started to do seasons (during and after my time in University) with Sunworld Sailing / Neilson and this was here where I really got into it and got my advanced instructors’ qualifications. It was such an amazing bubble of knowledge and fault analysis that alongside with having the opportunity to coach for months on end my coaching really developed.
WS: What is a typical week like on one of your clinics?
JH: We kick off the week with a group meal, and indeed eat nearly all our meals together. The sessions during the week are planned as to what conditions are forecasted and what targets the clients have. Whilst sailing we meet up for feedback loops after each session where I help people identify their improvements and further actions that need to be taken to further develop. I also coach on the water and video some of the sessions, and feed that back to the group at a suitable time.
However, I would say there is no typical week as we are working with the elements and peoples cognitive and physical abilities, and also the group dynamics. But the group do follow a certain format of coming together and developing a mindset of wanting to improve and then around the middle of the week to the end of the week we all see the fruits of their labour. Even my experienced clients (10 or 20 trips) need to be reminded of the main strategies, and basic techniques, and then after this we can take it down further to more individual and precise coaching points. The funniest part is after the first video coaching session, as up until then everyone is quite nervous and tense but then the group sees that all the levels on the clinic have opportunities to improve and develop and also that I know what I am doing and that we will get it done!
In the evenings we meet for a few sundowners & then dinner together, and also plan some nights out or different restaurant trips.
WS: You have always been one to advocate positive thinking tell us where this philosophy came from?
JH: I have to thank my father and mother for this, to say that I am ‘chip off the old block’ would be an understatement. I feel like a split of ma and pa and they have given me my coaching brain and positive mindset. Perhaps also I must be somewhat driven as I am an only child, so it was me pushing me. I think too that I benefited immensely from the team game of Rugby from the ages of 13 – 21.
WS: What is your favourite clinic?
JH: This is a funny one as my stock answer used to be ‘all my venues’ but my people said that did not cut it so I will say Punta San Carlos, Baja, Mexico. My coaching clinic tour takes me to places that I love, and all my venues are a kind of a home away from home and offer such different conditions that I do genuinely love all of them. A lot of people come with me on the journey from improver or intermediate to wave sailor, so it is awesome to share all these experiences, and venues, with them.
WS: How many weeks do you normally spend away each year?
JH: 13 – 14 weeks at 5- 7 venues and most trips are 14 – 17 days, and one trip, Jeri, is 3 weeks.
WS: What do you love the most about being a windsurfing instructor?
JH: I think the fact people can surprise me all the time and that I really have to think how to get the best out of people and how to go about giving them, and all the group, a great trip. After all it is a coaching holiday, so I must ensure that all aspects are good from the breakfasts to the drinks to the coaches’ humour. In a nutshell I love the fact that coaching is so engaging and never the same day ever.
WS: What do you hate about it?
JH: Well that one is easy, the travel and being away from my family. I could say the weather or conditions on the clinics too, but this is pretty consistent and I am lucky to have good conditions on the vast majority of my trips. That said some days can be pretty dark with no wind and a bit of rain. However, in line with me saying about how people can surprise me it also blows me away how much some people can improve on a week where there are less amazing days, after all what we put in is what we get out.
WS: Why do you recommend that a recreational sailor should come on a coaching course?
JH: This will give them a strong base of how to build moves up, equip them with the trinity of skills that will be with them forever; this is early planning, good speed, and upwind ability. Also, it will help them to learn how to learn and how to develop their own self coaching so the improvement continues in the future.
WS: What do you love about windsurfing?
JH: The constant change and the fact that it is so mentally and physically engaging. I love the fact that we can work with the wind and waves yet never really conquer them. Lastly, as I think many people feel, there is so much still to learn and improve that it really keeps us hungry yet enjoying the journey.