Golden State Warriors Head Coach Steve Kerr Talks About His Passion for Surfing

Warriors Head Coach Steve Kerr. Photo by Cyrus Saatsaz

At first glance, the impression Golden State Warriors Head Coach Steve Kerr casts on the average onlooker is probably that of an aging surfer.

Or maybe a ski bum.

With his blonde spiked hair, blazing blue eyes, and Southern California vernacular, the last thing one would think based off physical appearance is that Steve Kerr is an eight-time NBA champion as a player and head coach.

Yet while Kerr’s professional roots are based almost exclusively in basketball, Kerr considers surfing one of his true passions.

I recently moved to Cheyenne, Wyoming to start a new career as a journalism professor at Laramie County Community College.

The previous two years I’d served a similar position at the University of Houston, a shithole of a city and region whose lone positive attribute is socioeconomic and racial diversity.

Two years prior to that, I was teaching in a similar position at San Diego State University. I would’ve happily stayed there, except the position wasn’t full-time, and being a part-time professor (they call it “adjunct”) sucks because there’s zero job security (you go semester to semester, with no guarantees they’re going to ask you back depending on enrollment numbers) and it barely pays.

While I loved teaching at SDSU, and living in nearby Encinitas surfing Pipes and Swami’s on a nearly daily basis was bliss, it didn’t provide financial security. And after nearly 20 years working in the media industry, I was interested to try out a new career as a full-time professor. I absolutely love the enriching and enlightening environment of intellectual curiosity that academia provides.

So when the University of Houston expressed great interest in hiring me as a full-time journalism professor, I reluctantly accepted.

Let’s just say the brown polluted waters of the Gulf of Mexico, religious fanaticism, and utter lack for any environmental concern was enough to drive me away from the region. I gave it two years before I’d had enough of the sweltering, ideologically-backwards region. When a community college in Wyoming offered me a full-time faculty position to live near the beautiful Rockies, I happily accepted.

I maintained a close relationship with numerous members of the Golden State Warriors throughout the years, from my early days covering the team while working in the San Francisco Bay Area sports media industry. And I’ve had this curiosity for a while to interview their Head Coach, Steve Kerr, to talk about surfing.

I’d read numerous stories online over the years where Kerr casually mentions in various interviews that he surfs. There’s no extensive discussion about it, no voluminous details, no minutia of surf information, just random references here and there that among Kerr’s passions, hobbies, and interests, surfing is one of them.

Cheyenne is seven miles from the Colorado state line, and approximately 80 miles from Denver. The Warriors were coming to town to play the Denver Nuggets, so I arranged to interview Kerr to find out just how passionate he was about surfing.

I sat down with Kerr following a team morning shootaround at the Pepsi Center, where the Warriors were set to play the Nuggets later that night. The conclusion of a morning team shootaround is the best time to request one-on-one interviews, which I wanted with Kerr, because it’s one of the very rare moments in the day when players and coaches have some free time.

Kerr initially answered questions from various other media members, most of whom were beat reporters that were either local or traveled with the team. When Kerr was finished answering questions, and the sea of reporters who surrounded him parted, I introduced myself and sat next to him on some courtside chairs.

Kerr answers questions from reporters following the Warriors’ morning shootaround at the Pepsi Center in Denver, Colorado. Warriors sideline reporter Kerith Burke is pictured in the foreground. Photo by Cyrus Saatsaz

The Warriors have the best public relations director in all of sports in Raymond Ridder. Ridder, who is now the Vice President of Communications for the team, reminded Kerr why I was there to interview him. And Kerr, who is incredibly media savvy, didn’t hesitate for a moment to jump right into a conversation about surfing.

“I love to surf,” Kerr said. “I’m not very good at it, but I enjoy it.”

Kerr then surprised me in revealing that over 10 years ago (Kerr didn’t remember the exact date of the issue), Surfer Magazine did a profile story on him that was published in their print edition. The story isn’t available online.

“I was used to being in basketball magazines,” Kerr said. “All my surfer buddies who are way better at it than me, they were all like, ‘You’ve got to be kidding me. You’re in Surfer Magazine? You suck!’ But I love it.”

Kerr laughed heartily while reliving this memory.

Kerr retired from the NBA in 2003 following a 16-year playing career where he won three World Championships with the Chicago Bulls (including the title-winning shot from a Michael Jordan pass that clinched the Bulls’ fifth World Championship in the 1997 NBA Finals) and two more with the San Antonio Spurs. Following his retirement from playing professional basketball, Kerr’s former teammate, Jud Buechler, convinced him to move to sunny San Diego.

“When I retired from the NBA and moved to San Diego, Jud Buechler, my former teammate in Chicago and U of A (University of Arizona), he’s a really good surfer. He lives in San Diego, and one of the reasons why I moved there was because I would go visit him,” Kerr said. “I fell in love with the place. So as soon as I moved out there, we went and got a longboard and he took me out to the ocean. And I’ve been enjoying it ever since.”

Kerr credits Buechler for getting him into surfing.

“Jud picked up surfing growing up in San Diego, but like me he was focused on basketball growing up,” Kerr said. “So he didn’t surf as a kid, but he picked it up I think right out of college. And he’s a really good surfer. So when I moved to San Diego, Jud was the guy who kind of turned me on to it. I really picked up surfing when I moved there.”

Kerr had opportunities as a kid to get into surfing. Despite growing up in Pacific Palisades, California, which is next to the surf mecca of Malibu, it wasn’t until later in life that Kerr started surfing.

“I grew up on the beach in L.A. Body surfed. Boogie boarded. But I didn’t surf growing up,” Kerr said. “I’ve always loved the ocean, having grown up in Pacific Palisades. I was too busy playing sports. It was a little different culture back then too.”

I told Kerr that I’d lived in Encinitas for four years, and he said that’s his favorite place to surf. I asked if he liked surfing Swami’s, a world-class wave just north of Cardiff-by-the-Sea.

“No, I don’t surf Swami’s,” Kerr said. “I’m not good enough for Swami’s. Pipes.”

I told Kerr that Pipes is my favorite wave in the region, mainly because the crowds are more sparse (relatively speaking) while still producing great waves. Kerr agreed.

“Pipes is great,” Kerr said. “I’m a longboarder. If the wave is too fast for me, I’m in big trouble.”

Kerr then rattled off his quiver of surfboards.

“I’ve got a couple of boards,” Kerr said. “I’ve got a 8’2’’, kind of egg-shaped mini-longboard, and then I’ve got a longer longboard that’s nine-and-a-half feet or something. So the nice, slow break is perfect for me.”

While Kerr humbly plays himself off as a novice surfer, he surprised me with some intricate local knowledge of his favorite peaks in Del Mar, which is closer to his offseason San Diego home.

“15th Street (in Del Mar) has a nice reef,” Kerr said, before excitingly adding, “Actually the best is to go down to 11th, because everybody goes to 15th Street. But the reef extends down to about 11th. There’s a nice peak down there, and not a lot of people.”

Kerr mentioned that he didn’t garner significant attention when he went out surfing, which was surprising to me given how recognizable he is. Then again, Kerr does blend in perfectly with the surf crowd.

Kerr had back surgery following the Warriors’ first World Championship in 2015. Since the surgery, Kerr has suffered chronic back pain, and he’s strongly advocated to people with a similar condition not to get surgery unless it’s absolutely necessary. I asked if the pain affected his ability to surf.

“I haven’t been able to play golf, which is my other passion,” Kerr said. “So the last two years, it’s been rough not golfing. But surfing feels good. It’s the salt water. It’s the exercise. I think the paddling is actually good for my back. Not much stress, no pounding. It’s something I’ve still been able to do.”

Kerr hasn’t tried to convince his Warriors players to give surfing a go, but a member of his coaching staff does join him in the ocean.

“My assistant coach Q (Bruce Fraser), he and I surf together in the offseason in San Diego,” Kerr said. “He lives there too.”

Given we were in Colorado, I shifted the conversation to a more apropos geographical topic. I asked Kerr if he ever tried any snow sports, such as snowboarding or skiing.

“I skied one day in my entire life,” Kerr said. “I was in seventh grade. I was in Salt Lake City for the NCAA Tournament. I was a ball boy for UCLA. So it was March I guess. I went to Salt Lake for the game, and there was snow. We went up to Park City, and it was the only day I ever skied.”

In another life, Kerr said he sees himself skiing the snowy slopes of the Rocky Mountains.

“The basketball career does not allow for much skiing, between injury and the fact that the season goes on right during the winter when there’s snow,” Kerr said. “But it’s something that I know, in a different life, I would have loved. Because I love the outdoors. I love the speed. I love the feeling of the wind in your hair. But it wasn’t meant to be for me.”