Usually during an interview, the interviewee knows that you’re there to talk about him. The hardest part about interviewing Noah Cohen was getting him to talk about himself. His flair in the water is only outshone by his humble attitude out of it. As one of the youngest up-and-comers in the Canadian surf scene, Noah has consistently set the bar for progressive surfing.
In the last episode of The Northern Collective, we focused on Raph Bruhwiler, a man who not only knows the ins and outs of Canadian surfing, but pretty much drew the map. So it seemed logical, for this instalment of the series, to speak with someone who is just starting to find his way around. We caught up with Noah during a quick pit stop between Australia and Costa Rica to talk about his motivation, his thoughts on the tour, and street hockey. Photo: Jeremy Koreski.
So Noah, what were you doing in Australia?
Well, we went to New Zealand first to do an SBC shoot. We went a lot of places that Pete Devries, Chris Burkard, Mike Losness and Jesse Hines went for an article in Surfer. Their trip is running in the Spring issue of SBC Surf and ours in the Summer one.
Who’d you go with?
Kyler Vos was shooting, and a couple of the others that ride for Sitka—Reid Jackson and Leah Oke—were there. After they left, I just hung out with Kyler for another couple of weeks. We actually got the best waves after everyone was gone. And then in Australia, I did a bit of filming with Adam Chilton, just kind of cruising and having a good time. It’s so hard to get used to wetties again. You just feel so heavy and out of sorts.
Do you travel a bunch, or mostly stick around Tofino?
The last few years, I’ve been away a lot. Since I stopped school three years ago, I’ve probably been gone between five and ten months every year. In the last 12 months, I think I’ve been away for eight or nine. I just coast year by year, depending on money and what’s happening. It’s been really good. Since I started riding for Monster Energy, I’ve had a lot more money to travel.
How old were you when you got your first sponsor?
The first company that started actually paying me was O’Neill. When I finished high school, I was already making money. So I never had to really do full time work. I worked a bit in the summers, but I got pretty lucky in that regard.
Did you actively pursue sponsorship, or did they come to you?
I’ve had sponsorship since I was young. I started getting hooked up by Allister Fernie at Storm Surf Shop, and that was my first real sponsor. When you’re a kid, and you get a few t-shirts, you’re frothing. The fact that you’re getting a sticker or a shirt, you’re psyched. He started hooking us up with shop sponsorship, and that turned into me riding for Rip Curl when I was about 15. I think it was more of a product of not having that many kids around here doing it. If a company wants to sponsor a grom around here, it’s either you or the kid down the street.
Oh, don’t sell yourself short.
Well, having Pete and Raph and those guys taking me in their boat when I was young, that was kind of a big thing, too. I’ve been really lucky having all those guys to help me out when I was younger. If it wasn’t for them…you know. Each one of them has been taking it to a whole new level. Especially Pete lately. Internationally, he’s gone nuts these last few years or so. It’s been cool to see guys right in front me surf that good. It gives me something to aspire to.
I read something a while ago where Pete said you inspire him to be a better surfer. How does that feel?
I mean, that’s a pretty big compliment. He was probably just saying that to be nice. He’s definitely the most inspiring guy around here. I think it’s just the fact that we surf together every day. Whenever we see a guy in a video do a new trick, we go out and just try and wrap our heads around it. We talk a lot about progression. If anything, we creatively inspire each other in terms of trying to learn new shit and get better, you know?
So those guys—Pete and the Bruhwilers—had the most influence when you were coming up?
Oh definitely, in terms of getting better. There were also a couple of guys like Wade Moore. When I was really young, he’d take me out. He got me on my first green face waves. He’d take me surfing long before I was super into it. So definitely, all of it to him. And those guys, it was more them seeing that I was out there every day and psyched, and they were happy to help someone that’s younger and happy to be out there.
How’d you meet all those guys?
I used to play a lot of street hockey. Pete used to play just down the street from where I lived, and Sepp [Bruhwiler] used to play a lot, so we’d always play together. That way, when I saw them at the beach, they’d talk to me and take me out. Raph used to live next door to me at the trailer park, and one day he asked me to come out on the boat. We got out to this spot, and I still haven’t seen it that good to this day. It’s frustrating, because I could hardly surf back then. It used to be better. It always used to be better. It took so much less to get stoked. You get one turn, and it’s the best surf ever.
You started surfing pretty late, right?
I probably caught my first wave when I was 11 or 12, but I didn’t really start doing it until I could fit in a women’s wetsuit that was good enough to go all through the year. Back then, they didn’t have grom wetsuits like they have now. That was the big hurdle that we all had to overcome. It makes what those guys have accomplished even crazier, just the fact that all the kids that are their peers now didn’t have to deal with anything like that. Most people, by the time you’re 13 or 14 in Australia or California, you’re pretty much doing air reverses these days.
Do you think if you grew up somewhere warmer, you’d be better than you are now?
I hope so, I guess. But I mean, that being said, we have a lot of advantages here. With the crowd levels, when you go surfing here, you’re going to catch way more waves. When we go out for a surf now, if there’s one peak at the corner at Cox, and me, Sepp, Raph, and Pete are out, we’re pretty much trading waves. If you’re born and raised somewhere, you’re going to catch more waves than everyone else.
You’ve had a ton of international coverage lately. Has that changed anything in the lineup at home?
No, not really. You know, friends always cut you down. I feel like I’ve been on a bit of a gravy train, just because of where I am. There’s not a lot of competition.
You’re selling yourself short again.
Yeah, I just feel so lucky to be where I am. I’m pretty driven to get better, just by watching those three guys. We’re pretty much always surfing together, so if they do something good, you’re watching it. If someone’s going off, it just makes you want to do the same. I’m lucky to have guys like that to influence me. And SBC Surf has been a real stepping stone for international coverage well.
How often do you go search for other breaks outside of Cox and Chesterman’s?
I’d say 80 percent of the time, I’m there. There’s the odd day when the wind makes you go to Long Beach, and then you get the boat once in a while, or you drive down to a couple of the reefs that get good when the swell’s bigger.
So you’re going to see Nico Manos in Costa Rica?
Yeah, Nico’s always sick to surf with. He’s like a little kid in a grown up body. He’ll be like “oh my God, it’s the best day ever,” and it’ll be waist high. For a guy that has gotten some of the biggest barrels of any Canadian, he’s still that psyched to surf those punchy beach breaks. He’s a guy that I don’t surf with as much because he’s across the country, but when I do surf with him, he pushes the level. He’s so powerful on rail, which is kind of what I’m working on right now.
Do you ever think about trying for the tour at all?
Yes and no. Seeing Pete have so much success, especially later in his career, to see him at the top of the game now, it makes me think ‘why bother spending all the time and money now, unless I really feel ready?’ There’s no point in doing it unless you can go and make heats. If you’re not there to win, then what’s the point? If I got to the point where I thought I could compete with the guys doing it, then for sure, I’d love to do it.
So you like competing?
I mean, I like winning. It’s a good feeling when you put together two or three days and end up winning. I haven’t won anything other than local contests, and even those feel good. I’ve done a few world junior championship contests, where you’re competing with your country. Coming together with the guys you saw last year is always sick. To make a few rounds there, you feel like you’ve accomplished something, because you’re competing against pretty much the best guys in the world for your age group. I don’t like the stress, though. I have more fun surfing good waves with good friends.
Do you ever think about moving away from Tofino?
I’ve never considered a permanent move, never once. Tofino’s a really good place to come home to after travelling. It’s so much less crowded, and all my friends and immediate family are here. It feels like home way too much to leave. It’s not in the cards for the near future. I never really get tired of it here, and if do, Mexico’s a $500 flight away.
What about waves? Have you got a preference?
I don’t know, you get asked that question a lot. I surfed a wave called Pitstops in the Mentawais, where if it had been a bit bigger, you could’ve gotten a proper barrel out the back. With that wave, it’s a reef take off, and it turns into sand on the inside so you can do airs and turns without worrying about getting chewed up. I guess a wave like that—one where you start off with a big slabby barrel and then you and do a couple of turns and an air on the inside. I want to do it all. We have a couple really good slabs around here—watching guys like Pete and Raph, they have them pretty wired. Pete especially. There’s that one wave in his Innersection part in particular. I was there that day, and it sucked. Then all of sudden, out of nowhere, I see him freefalling into this pit of doom, and then he pops out five seconds later. He seems to have this ability to find good waves on a crappy day.
Thanks to Malcolm Johnson at SBC Surf for his cooperation in reproducing these stories.