An interview with Danilo La Mantia
The peoples of the Mediterranean are the result of millennia of contamination, interaction and metamorphosis. Nothing here is pure and indigenous. Nothing is static. Waves destroy, recreate and transport objects and people, individual stories and entire cultures. Danilo’s path is emblematic of this process. Born and raised in the deep south of Italy, a social environment apparently antithetical to the stereotypical image of surfing, all palm-trees and VW vans of the 70s, he had the courage to escape, train, return and enrich with the experiences acquired that same land that fed him. Second level ISA-CONI instructor, tube-rider of international level, Danilo has founded one of the most professional surf schools in Italy. In Palermo. A life-long adventure that deserves an interview.
Tell us about the beginnings of surfing in Sicily. Who were the pioneers and what was the surf vibe in the 90s. What are the people who inspired your growth.
The surf movement started late here, compared to the rest of Italy. Until the 90s we were just surfing in Sicily, a group of friends with a great passion in common and little knowledge of what was happening in the rest of the surf world. Certainly Roberto Romancino and Enrico Perricone were the main sources of inspiration back then. My first trip to Bali marked the beginning of a deep love for ocean waves and the desire to transmit this passion to those around me.
You are one of the best instructors in Italy. I say this because I witnessed part of your professional growth during the ISA courses. What educational background do you have and what does it mean to be a professional surfing coach?
Thanks Nik, much appreciated compliments, especially from a super professional person like you! I decided to become an instructor because of the desire I had to share everything I learned in the water by surfing in the ocean with some of the best surfers in the world. I also saw the professionals surfing small and with speed and power, a style that suits our waves very much. I soon started gaining experience with renowned instructors such as Peter Cook, Martin Dunn, Didier Piter. I think being professional as a coach means having a great passion and knowing how to convey it. You also need to show a good level of surf, your basics (bottom turn, top turn, off the lip, cut back) must be spotless. You also need a personal vocation to dedicate yourself 100% to your students, trying to literally ‘blossom’ their potential.
What are the surfing potentials of Sicily? What are its limits? Tell us about the waves that have formed you most as a surfer and as a coach, in and out of Sicily.
In Sicily we have a wonderful sea, a good wave frequency, fantastic climate and food. Being an island we can surf both north and south swells by driving just a few hours. I think the only limit is the fact that we are not in the ocean and therefore you cannot surf every day like other sports, we make up for this lack with specific ‘dry’ training, gym, skate and SUP. This limit, however, makes surfing here even more romantic, when I see beautiful waves in the Mediterranean it seems like magic! Regarding my training I have always been attracted to bigger waves and powerful and aggressive surf style. I was lucky enough to spend a lot of time In Indonesia surfing spots like Desert Point in Lombok and all the cult waves of Bali. With Desert Point I have a special feeling, that’s where I caught the deepest tubes of my life and that I learned, on my skin, what it means to hit the reef. In France I learned to surf different waves, big shifty peaks, where you get held-down for very long and must learn to manage fear and oxygen deficiency. Both places are frequented by the best surfers and coaches, so I have combined business with pleasure. Although I love big waves (I’m about to start big-wave training in Nazarè) I also have a lot of fun with medium-small waves, especially when I share them with my students.
What role does surfing play in a problematic social context like Sicily? Tell us about the Mana project and your social commitment.
The Mana Project was one of the hardest, most fulfilling experiences of my life. It involved teaching young people from the Palermo prison, involved in a path of social rehabilitation. The sea is a metaphor for life and we have been a guide and an example for them. The results, according to the psychologists, were surprising. At the end of the training period the inmates showed more attention and motivation. I hope to repeat the experience again because surfing is not only an Olympic sport, but also a therapy against depression and all forms of post traumatic stress.
Let’s talk about your school, Isola Surf. How did it start and what direction is it taking? What are its ‘core-values’?
Isola Surf was born in 2011, when I decided to change my life, leaving my father’s job and dedicating myself to coaching. Our mission is to share our passion with those who want to approach this fantastic world. Our core values are the same that you taught us in the ISA course ‘inclusion, respect for the individual, safety, environmental protection’. Our aim at each lesson is to fully realise the potential of each student, and to do it with fun and, above all, safe procedures.
How do you see the future of surf coaching in Italy and Sicily?
I think I will spend more time on the ocean and continue training my best athletes there. We are organising ocean trips to give our students the opportunity to gain experience, perhaps finding their own way to make a living in the surfing world. A path that is still very hard to follow in Italy, despite the many steps forward made in recent years thanks to the ISA and the FIWS.