Feb 18, 2018

John (Johnny) Gannon grew up near the beachside suburb of Maroubra, where he was part of the revered and feared tribe, simply known as the Bra Boys. Johnny is one of the many Bra Boys who has evolved into an inspiring success story. He travelled the world for 6 years as the strength and conditioning coach for two-time ASP World Champion championship runner-up Taj Burrow. Today he has a thriving coaching business in Sydney, where he is well known and highly regarded as a surf coach to the likes of big wave legend Mark Matthews and a growing army of individuals, corporates and professional sports teams. Johnny is also an accredited Foundation Training instructor, motivated by his passion for making stronger, taller humans. And just for tricks, he’s a professional lifeguard, ripping surfer, husband and dad to two busy little kids. One busy, humble and likeable man.

I constantly remind myself that as long as I’m following my heart, I can walk the tightrope of danger that surrounds every milestone I embark on. – Robbie Maddison

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Don’t argue with it: Maintaining relevance is a card Taj Burrow has played as well as Kelly Slater. Amazingly, Taj is now the second oldest surfer on tour (Kelly’s oldest), and yet, he seems like he’d be somewhere in the middle of the age bracket. If you took away the anomaly that is Kelly, then Taj instead would be the catalyst for all those “unprecedented fitness and ability at his age” conversations. In recent years, this has been largely influenced by Johnny Gannon. Johnny is Taj’s trainer, who came from a challenging beginning in Maroubra. He’s the gent who you’ve seen giving continually improved interviews on the webcast since 2008, and who’s disciplined diet and strict self-maintenance has, when applied to Taj’s world, given TB a prolonged ability to stay at the top of his game.

Stab was perfectly shocked, and appropriately sad, to learn that Johnny will not be Taj’s full-time trainer and travel partner in 2015. But once we found out why, it’s kind of the perfect, cyclical way for it to come to a close. One relationship ends, another begins: Johnny’s having a kid. When Taj spoke with Stab about the transition, he and Johnny were boarding a plane to LAX. Both men were in high spirits, given Johnny had been upgraded to biz class for the first time since 2008.

Stab: So, one of the more successful trainer / surfer dynamics we’ve seen is winding down?
Taj: The relationship is ending primarily because the old boy (Johnny) has finally decided to pump out a grommet, and he won’t be able to do as much time on the road. The last few years he’s been whinging about being on long flights and travelling so much, but I reckon next year he’s going to be whinging about a screaming grommet (laughs). He’ll be wanting to leave home!

2008 was his first year with you. It doesn’t seem silly now, but back then it was certainly a strange coupling. Yeah, I guess so. I’ve had a few cracks at travelling with a support team, someone taking on the role of a coach / trainer type thing, but never had as much success as I did with John. It just kind of worked, we just clicked from the beginning and the rest is history. I couldn’t be happier, it’s been incredible. When it comes to a travelling partner, you never know until you give it a go. And I couldn’t have asked for a better one.

When you were much younger, you were a lot less fit and less agile than what you are now. I mean, being younger I’d say I was more agile, but definitely now due to John’s influence I’m stronger and more switched on when it comes to looking after myself. Like, a lot more switched. I didn’t know much about that stuff. My parents would tell me a lot about food so I knew what was good, but never applied it. And then when I started travelling with John, I had no choice but to apply all the healthy things. Now that I see the results of looking after myself, I’d never turn back. I was a lazy lump until 2008, basically. My parents tried to drill it into me for years, eating from the earth, not that processed shit. And I was like, “Yeah, that’s great but I’m on the road and it’s hard.” But now that I’m doing it and a lot more interested in what they tell me, they’re so proud that I’ve actually taken it on board.

If you’d never got Johnny, what do you think would’ve happened to your career? I would’ve probably got a major injury and fallen off tour. Maybe not fallen off, but I’m sure of the fact that I’d be in nowhere near as good a shape. But I just know I would’ve been a lot more prone to injury if I didn’t do what Johnny’s taught me. I’d be much worse-off physically. Not as healthy and happy and positive, I guess. Eating shitty food, it just radiates from you. It gives you negative thoughts and negative feelings. Good food changes everything.

The top three things you’ve learned from Johnny?

  1. The 80/20 rule. It’s hard for people to go 100 percent cold turkey on all the naughty, nasty little treats that we find ourselves getting into. So, I just stick by the rule of doing 80 percent good stuff, and 20 percent bad. You know you occasionally need a little treat so I don’t totally deprive myself of a chocolate every now and then, something that tickles your fancy. So yeah, 80/20 is a good rule.
  2. Eating from the Earth. Not that processed shit. So important.
  3. Stretching and really good breathing. Hugely. That’s one of the biggest things along with food.

So, Johnny’s gonna come back to Sydney and he’s got some personal business on the boil? I don’t exactly know what he’s got planned, but he’s got a couple things in the works. It will certainly be training based but he’ll probably have his hands full having his first child, so I don’t know exactly what he’s got planned. It’s not going to be the total end of our relationship, though. I think we’ll still travel to a few events next year. I’m going to give him the option of just weening his way off tour and coming to some events still. I think it’ll be a perfect transition.

Well yeah, you’ve got an obligation to the webcast guys – they won’t know what to do once he’s gone. (Laughs) I know. He gets so much airtime.

Some funny memories from working together? He’s so embarrassed about signing autographs, and one time someone in Brazil asked for his autograph – I took a photo of it and he went white, like he’d seen a ghost. He was like, “Are you kidding, you better not do anything with that photo.” He was so spooked. Another time – actually his first ever event with me – I’d given him the run-down of just, “Ok, this is my spare board, and if anything happens to the board I’m riding, you’ve gotta run this one down.” It was midway through the heat, and I don’t wear a watch, so I was waving for the time call and a heat update. They didn’t give it to me for a while so I started waving a little more frantically, like, gimme me some info here! Johnny just panicked and started running down to the rocks, to the water’s edge, with my spare board. Just to find out that all I need was a time call. He was a bit embarrassed about that one.

And, you’re not gonna get another trainer, are you? No, no chance. I could never top the relationship I’ve had with him. It’s been incredible.

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