Inspire me: Renee Coffey

Written by Kara

singer/songwriter, surfer, free spirit, adventure lover, traveller

Renee is a natural people magnet. Open, relatable, a long lost friend kind of person. So down to earth, but usually floating in the clouds, always upbeat and positive.

Surfing, playing her guitar and writing music are inspirational fixes that make this girl tick and she keeps them all high on her priorities list. Renee is a walking example of a life fulfilled by following your passions and doing what you love. During the last year she has achieved a lot. And not because she necessarily set out to. They say that the stars tend to align when you absorb yourself in what you love. In the space of 10 months, Renee has managed to write and record her first album, surf almost ever day, squeeze in live gigs, all while working a full time job teaching.

Renee has endless energy for surfing and prefers to go that little bit further to find waves with more power and less people. And she will still be out there when you’re going for your second surf, fresh as a daisy paddling into every wave that she can.

She would never rate herself as a good surfer. Attempt to complement her on taking a late drop on a 6ft wave and she’ll brush it off with a laugh and make a joke about herself having a poo stance.

She will make the most of every surf, stay out until the last minute, before jumping into her car to make it just in time to play live at a high end wedding, hair still salty, but looking totally glam. A professional class act with a captivating voice one minute, to roughing it on a road trip, living on avocado toast and sleeping in her car somewhere far off the beaten track the next. A people lover and peaceful soul who can be the life of the party or drift off on her own solo adventure, totally happy in her own company. Its the many faces of Renee that make her so unique, so loveable, so Renee.

I caught Renee just before she was leaving her homeland New Zealand for a solo surf trip to South/Central America.

What came first? Music or Surfing?

Music was something I was exposed to from a young age. I started piano lessons when I was about 8 years old, then attempted violen and the drums, but didn’t catch the real bug until I started guitar at 15. Surfing came way later. I first took an interest at 18 after a trip to Oz but didn’t really get into it until I was living on the coast 2 years later. These days I find myself running to my gigs from the surf and finding big clumps of seaweed in my hair later in the evening. Not very glam at all!

How would your friends describe you? 

Ditzy, clumsy, no filter, bubbly, positive.

What you would tell yourself if you could go back and have a chat with you when you were learning to surf?

Just have fun! It can be a very challenging sport to learn. 2 steps forward/ 1 step back. Always keep your mindset focused on having fun. 

What helped you through the learning stage as a surfer? How did you transition down to a short board?

I learnt on a longboard. It’s such a great way to learn. You manage to get the hang of the basics and have fun because you spend so much time actually surfing rather than falling off! When I got a short board I forced myself to take it out every day for 10 consecutive days no matter how shitty the waves/ weather as long as it was surfable. After that I was getting the hang of the basics on a short board and was more hooked than I ever had been. One of the best pieces of advice someone gave me was paddle hard for as many waves as you can. One thing that slows down the learning process is that people don’t catch enough waves. 

“One thing that slows down the learning process is that people don’t catch enough waves.”

Tell us about your album Hummingbird. How did it evolve? How long it took to record / did you hit any walls with it etc 

Hummingbird was an idea I came up with after moving from one stage of life to another. Hummingbird represents finding light heartedness in all seasons. I had planned ten tracks to record on the album but only ended up recording one of them. The rest of the songs were written as we went. The studio can definitely be challenging, especially when your working full time and need to switch from work mode to creative mode. I was so greatful to be working with such an amazing producer. 

Are there more musical aspirations that you want to achieve?

I would love to keep producing music and use it as an opportunity to travel and play music with all kinds of different people from different places. Little,local, outdoor gigs are my favourite kind of gigs.

Do you have a magic formula that you use to get an inspired space to write music? 

I definitely don’t have a recipe for songwriting. The music usually comes first for me and then I find lyrics that fit into the melody. A lot of the time I don’t even have a theme or an idea for a song. I just write whatever lyrics pop into my head! Sometimes it takes me a while to even figure out what a song is about. It’s quite funny when I think about it. 

Who inspires you in the surf? 

John John Florence, Steph Gilmore, Rob Machado….pretty much anyone who’s all style.

Who inspires you musically?

I love old school soul like Ray Charles and artist who are bringing back that kind of vibe with a modern twist (Leon Bridges, Lianna La Havas) mixed in with some funky percussian sounds. It’s always a bit of fun playing around with claps and bongo sounds.

A day spent jaming with Ben Harper vs a day at Kelly Slaters surf ranch?

Haha that’s a very tricky question. I think Kelly plays guitar so maybe I’ll surf with Kelly at the Ranch and then we can have a jam session.

Where are some of the best places surfing has taken you?

I feel there’s a whole world of surfing to experience. I had love/ hate experience with Samoa. It was definitely challenging surfing those kinds of waves. Quite ledgey and on shallow coral reef. It’s not fun falling off and I fell off a lot….However I did manage to find a few diamonds in the rough and they make it totally worth it! I am just about to head to South/ Central America for 6 months so I’m looking forward exploring waves there.

In 3 words tell us your surfing philosophy

Surfing is addictive

What has been your best surfing experience?

Hard to narrow it down to one. Probably would be taking my boyfriends boat up the coast and surfing a perfect reef. Hollow waves but so much time to get into them. Just a few of us out. That was pretty special.

What has been your biggest challenge that you have faced in the surf?

I have had a few challenges. Lots of hold downs when I’ve just had to tell myself to relax. One time my hair actually got tangled on my leash. I was trying to duck dive a solid set that came through. I ended up getting pulled through the water by my hair and some of it ripped out and I couldn’t get my head above the water. Two guys had to paddle over and untangle me, then pull me back up to my board. That was pretty scary. 

Do you have any secrets about overcoming fear in the water?

I think it’s always good to surf with people who are better than you and have a lot of experience in the water. They will always push you but also make you feel comfortable- like its no big deal. Then you just get used to surfing bigger waves and grow in confidence to go out by yourself. If you have a hold down that gives you a fright, try to paddle out and catch another wave as soon as you can to keep your confidence up.

“If you have a hold down that gives you a fright, try to paddle out and catch another wave as soon as you can to keep your confidence up.”

Can you imagine life without your guitar or surfboard? What would you do? 

I have thought about this quite a bit. It’s definitely hard to imagine. I think I could find a way to still be involved. I’d probably take up surf photography and get involved in producing music from the desk.