Blake Johnston, founder Cronulla Surfing Academy
How long have you lived in Cronulla?
My whole life – 38 years.
Describe your childhood growing up in the Shire?
I was fortunate enough to have parents that grew up here in the Sutherland Shire. My dad was a core surfer in the ‘60s and ‘70s having grown up in Wyanbah Road, just over the hill from the beach. He was a brickie, then a builder, so we moved around a lot doing renovations, always within five mins from the beach.
My most vivid memories are living on Elouera Road and walking over the hill at Wanda with Dad and my two older brothers, surfing until we couldn’t move.
How old were you when you started surfing?
I was dragged along with Dad and my brothers when I was six, but by eight I was frothing … and I still am!
What does a day in the life of Blake Johnston look like?
I wake up at 4am and run along The Esplanade from Oak Park to Greenhills and back, with a swim off the rocks to finish. I then head for a coffee with the old surf lords at Grind. By 6am I’m down at the surf school coaching.
After the first session, I’ll go see my boys off to school. I sneak in brekkie before checking in on the 9.30 am class or coaching the ‘mother frothers’ classes.
I then head up for a healthy lunch at Heart + Soul, Pilgrims, Press or DBowls. After that, I’m back at the beach as the schools arrive for surfing. I’m either in the water or organising the masses. Then it’s on to after-school sessions, where I love driving the bus.
I let the kids DJ and froth them out before they have a quick snack and hit the waves for their session. I’ll surf between sessions and a few times a week go SUP-ing or mountain-bike riding.
How did you get into barefoot running? How often do you do it ?
I started barefoot running after I sustained a nasty reef cut on my heel that I got surfing in Indonesia. The wound wouldn’t heal as I was surfing so much, so I kept running on treadmills barefoot, as I was training for a marathon.
When I returned home it was winter and shoes kept opening the wound and stopping it from healing. I kept up the barefoot running through the winter and ran my first marathon with no shoes, water, food or supplements. I was stoked with that.
About 50 to 60 percent of my training is barefoot. Last week I did a run challenge: to run a minimum 8.5 kms every four hours for 48 hours and I did that barefoot totalling 107 kilometres. Damn, my feet were sore from that one! [Laughs]
You were a pro surfer in the early 2000s. How far did you climb through the ranks and what were some of the highlights from being on the circuit?
I did really well as a grom, winning state titles and multiple events. I had solid sponsorship support from 14 years old right through to the pro juniors until about 22. I got to go on a lot of international surf trips and received a tonne of editorial coverage, which kept the sponsors happy but my WQS ranking wasn’t where I could have been.
I was hard on myself and really struggled with not having the success I had as a junior. I had a fixed mindset and it wasn’t helping. I got in the top 100 a couple of times but when I got the opportunity to take on Cronulla Surfing Academy my focus shifted to helping others enjoy what I love.
My highlights from being a pro were the places I got to go. I filled up a passport with stamps from all corners of the world and I’m so grateful for that. That is what still sparks my sense of adventure. Being 15 on the other side of the world while your mates are at school was pretty cool. That travelling was my education for life.
Your wife Lauren is also your business partner. How did you meet?
Lauren was also born and raised in Cronulla. She went to private schools and I went to the local public schools. I never even saw her or met her till we were 20 and 21, when we met at a friend’s NYE party, which is also her birthday.
Our working relationship is definitely the balance of opposites. Lauren is thorough, direct and organised and I’m high-energy, committed (but a bit scattered). I love what I do and it seems to work well, but I’m sure I’m a bit of hard work.
What do you love about living and working in the area?
What’s not to love? There are amazing waves, a beautiful coastline, national parks at our doorstep, beautiful rivers, a core surf community. We have so many amazing people here making this such a great place to live.
You are one of the most recognised faces in the local area due to being the founder of Cronulla Surfing Academy. What is the best thing about your job?
I get to share what I love and make people happy and stoked for a living. I’m also outdoors in my special place. I’m fortunate to work with awesome people who share the same passion.
Locals who walk The Esplanade most days would have seen you running along it lately, rather than swimming in the water at dawn. What are you training for?
Good Question. I’m honestly training for life and the idea of what is possible! I am a busy dad who values time with my family and the importance of being the best version of myself. I get up at 4 am and it’s my time, while Lauren and the kids are asleep. I can’t surf in the dark so I run.
I plan to test myself in the future and see what I’m capable of. I have some pretty gnarly endurance adventures ahead but will also enter some races that allow me to see parts of the world I wouldn’t otherwise venture to.
What made you start running?
Just to be lighter and help me maintain and improve my level of surfing. I actually believe my best surfing is ahead of me.
How would you describe yourself? And How would others describe you?
I’m full-on! A bit feral, an eternal grom, energetic, supportive, caring and fiercely loyal.
You have been vegan for about three years. What prompted you to switch to a plant-based diet?
I became a vegan for no other reason than to listen to my body and gradually eliminate food groups. I took out processed sugar, then bread and wheat products … which was hard … and then, finally, dairy products. I was feeling great with less inflammation from my excessive training load. I then said to Lauren ‘I’m gonna try no meat.’ And that’s what I’ve done.
What is the most difficult thing you have faced in your life and how did you get through it?
My dad took his own life seven years ago. He was my hero and best mate to me and my brothers. I was broken. My own humble legend Dad?
What I know now is that as difficult as it is, grief is natural and a part of the process and it is a reflection of pure love and admiration. It’s cliched, but adversity is an advantage. A big part of what inspires me and makes me passionate about my lifestyle is that I hope it will maybe prove to others that if a battler like me can go to extremes then they, too, can find the time to get after it and be the best version of themselves.
You have two boys Bobby, eight, and Duke, six. What is the No. 1 life lesson you would like to teach them?
Love with everything you have and always give 107 per cent.
Lastly, what do you love most about the community of Cronulla where you call home?
I love the diversity of people that Cronulla attracts. I have amazing individuals around me. The local surfing community is still so core and the young families we have met since the boys started school have brought together an eclectic crew from all walks of life.
They include a Polynesian doctor, an entrepreneur, Aussie tradies, a Siberian sherpa … and all of us appreciate the beautiful people and place we call home.
Interview By Carla Grossetti