Storm Surfing

It’s just an hour’s drive north to where Brisbane is in the middle of what is reportedly the worst ever natural disaster in Australia’s history. However, down here on the Gold Coast it has remained relatively rain-free, and all the major storms and floods have passed us by. The only reminder here that we can see of nature’s fury is just in the chocolate brown-tinted ocean, which has been filled with silt, dirt and debris from the runouts of all the rivermouths and creeks.

But all the junk in the water and lumpy, wind-blown swell isn’t enough to deter the avid Goldy shred-head. Yesterday there was only one small strip between Snapper Rocks and Greenmount that was breaking and rideable, and it was amazingly busy. The waves were wild and massive, with the whole of the rocks covered in a bubbling, shimmering foam of brown sand & seas-water scum. There was such a huge drag and no let-up in the smashing waves that some guys were waiting 10 minutes at the Keyhole to find a break to paddle out furiously to the take-off zone. Admittedly, it was well beyond my capabilities, and so I stood in the shallows by the rocks and snapped a few shots into the evening. I hope you like them.

Ride the Written Wave

A few weeks ago I was called upon to write something about surfing. I’ve written lots and lots about snowboarding, but never from a first-person perspective – usually I’m writing some event report, travel trip-diary, or interviewing someone – so it was refreshing to try something new and different. What I wrote was a little outside the parameters of what was asked…but take a read if you have the time and let me know what you think:

Snapper Rocks heavy-hitters session, mid-June 2010:

A rustle of the leaves outside the window. Was that a change in the wind direction? Quick, get on the net, check the cams. Yep, looks like it’s pumping. Tide is right. Quickly, quickly, grab the board, wetsuit and towel, pack the car and race out the driveway. Engine revving, stomp on the pedal, race off at the lights – it will get you there faster, even if those Government TV ads would say you’re a tool. But why oh why are there so many red traffic lights on The Gold Coast Highway between Palm Beach and Coolangatta? Surely, this 15 minute trip must have been closer to 30…today of all days! Bloody Queensland drivers.

Finally, the Promised Land is in sight…but which wave to choose? It really is a wealth of riches on the Southern Gold Coast. Slow down for the pedestrian crossings on the Cooly esplanade. It’s OK, take you time to cross, old man…it just gives me more time to check out the line of peeling aqua barrels coming round Greenmount, a black speck balanced on each face, tucked into a crouch and coiled like a spring, while an arc of white spray flies off the crumbling lip and back towards the horizon.

Mount the rise into Rainbow Bay, slowing down the hill trying to simultaneously check the waves, the crowds, look for a parking spot, and dodge crazy bush turkeys and golden-haired rakes who flap across the road with their wetsuit arm-wings hanging at the waist with stickered-up DHD spears clutched tightly under bare brown arms. Is that a pair of red eyes glinting? Yep, a ute has just started up, reverse lights now on as well…and there you have it, a prime parking position where you can watch the hordes of upturned bare-feet and awkward footfalls on concrete as more and more rubber-clad bodies race away from you towards the pure white sand and blisteringly clear azure water.

Getting suited up seems to take an age. And don’t forget that spare key tucked into the wetty before you slam down the boot. Wow, for a mid-week, mid-winter, mid-June day, there sure are a lot of surfers in the water. Doesn’t anybody on the Goldie have work or school to go to? I guess this is the swell everyone was waiting for, when the days of southern slop finally turned easterly enough to wrap around the Tweed and charge along the crescent coast like soldiers in formation, wave after wave pounding the sand bars with perfect rhythm. It looks about 3 foot plus out there, perfect for someone who up until recently was more accustomed to measuring 3 foot of fresh pow on a mountainside in the morning.

Racing across the flat, hard sand to cut the rocky corner in front of the surf club, leg rope making that strange, hollow “slap, slap, slap” with every stride. Overtaking a black shape, round at the waist, glad that you’ve done enough cardio to keep running without too much panting, even when the wetsuit is already sticking to you back under the mid-afternoon sun. Big crowd off Snapper Rocks…and you can see why. It looks amazing.

It’s fairly sheltered from the south-westerly winds here by the high-rises and headlands, but there is enough of a breeze to hollow the wave faces, and when the reflected sets double-up to well over head-height it is a pure vision. A religious man might say that this is a true sign that God exists, and that he fashioned Man in his very image, just so that he may tame nature’s fury in such a way. Every wave a barrel, foamy to begin with then turning crystal clear and transparent…and every wave being slayed, constant movement of water and man, black bodies, white boards, blue-green water, white foam, and huge plumes of spray flying high into the sky while a thunderous cacophony fills the air.

A long line of shapes bobs in the ebb and flow from round the corner of Snapper, all the way round into Rainbow Bay and even on towards Greenmount, jockeying for position and trying to find their comfortable place in the pecking order. You’ll never be able to snaffle a wave from right off the rocks among the throng all searching for the ride of their life, but if you’re lucky you might just get one of those waves that heads wide from the crowd halfway towards the surf club.

Navigating the flailing legs, arms and floating boards all around me as I paddle out, just off to the right a figure is crouched lazily back into a wave, right foot facing me, front hand gripping the rail of the board near his toes as he smothers himself in the armchair embrace of the little barrel. It’s like an early 90’s Point Break flashback. Then he stands to gain speed, punches two powerful and stylish turns, and I see that it is, of course, Luke Egan.

It’s hard work out here – every wave is taken, and destroyed by all manner of man and craft. Even bloody boogie boarders are getting pitted! Every now and again someone falls off, or a smaller wave goes wide and the jackals around me pounce, darting inside to snatch their small chance at glory. C’mon Sean, you have to get more aggressive and paddle in closer or you’ll never snap up one of these rare vacant waves. Missed that one. Paddle back out. Catch the wild eye of the surfer bearing down on you. Duck-dive this rising mountain in front of you. Surface quickly, rain of slash-spray falls all around and slaps the water loudly. Look just right at the next wave. It’s a snarling, angry sandy coloured funnel, dark black and hollow right off the rock. There is a small puff of spray, like the last breath of a dying man, from out of the vortex of this head-high black hole…and then somehow a figure emerges from the darkness, as crouched and composed as a bronze statue. Then as he enters into the light he explodes, rising up the face and going over-vert to smash the lip in one glorious powerful snap, sending spray 15 feet high. Once again he is composed and coiled, gouging deep into a distinctive bottom turn laid over almost horizontal, and then as the wave passes you are slapped with the full force of a wake, smiling with the realisation of how much water a mere man and board can move. All around the surfers had stopped to watch this magnificence just like you, and two minutes later that broad shovel-headed face is looming up beside you as Parko laconically paddles out and around. You have to say something, but how do you not come across as a complete star-struck kook?

“That was a sick barrel you got there!”

 “Yeaaaah, it was fun little one, eh?” he whines back nasally as he smiles and paddles past.

Inspired, it’s time to move in closer. Wait, wait…the waiting and paddling in circles seems to take forever. Then finally, there it is, the opening you were looking for. Paddle hard, arms screaming to out-paddle that kid beside you, then you are taken, lifted up slightly from behind and propelled forward. Hands instantly push down, legs up and around, crouched down, eyes focussed down the line of the wave. Senses are heightened as you contort your body into a position of fluid tension ready to react to the changes underfoot. The sun catches the rising water beside and in front of you, refracting like a magnifying glass the crystal clear sand below. You feel the eyes of the world upon you, and other surfers paddle hard across the line of your wave to get out of the way.

You may not be able to gouge a turn, cut-back or hit the lip like Parko, but when you’re on the wave this is your own selfish moment to enjoy and be watched…and now, after this moment of pure joy you can truly understand why so many surfers crowd such a small section of water around the tip of Snapper Rocks day after day. They are all waiting for their chance at glory. And if you can only manage to get one wave out there with some of the best surfers in the world around you, make sure it’s the best wave of your life. It’s all worth it, and you’re sure to want to come back for more!

The photos of Rainbow Bay and Snapper above are from a day in June with smaller swell, plus there are some actions shots I took of Parko around the corner at Duranbah back in January. And here’s some footage of Parko and Egan at Snapper Rocks from a couple of months ago – it might just be the day I was out there with them…the crowds sure look about right!

And this is the footage of Parko getting his famous fin-chop to the foot out at Snapper in July – it has skuttled his chances this year, yet again, of winning the ASP championship. But take a look at the first barrel that he manages to make – it was pretty similar the snarling monster I saw him emerge from up close. Yeeewwww!

 

Go Ride a Custom Craft!

Every man should own at least one fully tailored suit in his lifetime, but unless you get some dodgy polyester three-piece from a pushy Indian on Khao San Rd, you’re going to have to save some serious money to get a sartorial suit. Equally, hand-made custom Italian shoes, or even bespoke Australian hardwood furniture will set you back a pretty penny. However, if you want to stand out from the bland crowd and have your own custom fix, all is not lost. Instead of grabbing one of those boring white surf sticks off the rack, why not go to a local shaper and get a custom board?

With the international push for factory-manufactured surfboards, hand-shaping is certainly a dying art. And where it once was a burgeoning life progression for surf bums and failed pro-surfers, lately, small-time shapers have been struggling to even find grommets to come in and sweep away the shaping booth floors. It has become such an issue that lately the surf industry even consorted with Creepy Hitler (ie Tony Abbott) in a push for surf shaping to be regarded as a legitimate recognised trade that can then employ certified apprentices. See the article from Surfing World here.

The Gold Coast is littered with world-class surfboard shapers, with DHD and JS Industries creating boards for a huge proportion of the top surfers in the world. But as these boards are in high demand, the price and waiting list was a little longer than I wanted, and so after seeing how well El Rad rode a 6’1″ Stuart Surf FX1, I few weeks ago I ordered a 6’8″ version…and for just $100 more got an all-over orange spray and hand painted silver lightning bolt! And less than 3 weeks later I picked up my bespoke board, complete with my name along the stringer, handed directly to me by Stu himself. Oooh…how I love the smell of fiberglass in the morning!

There really is something satisfying about the whole process: checking out a bunch of different local shapers, chatting to them about your surfing ability and immediate aspirations, seeing the shaper work on similar boards in his shop, scoping his finished boards and lairy paint schemes, getting quotes and prices, ordering your custom stick, then picking it up and giving it that first careful test drive out in the surf…and strutting along the beach with your new colourful creation with a huge smile on your face afterwards. And as El Rad took advantage of a buy-two-at-0nce discount, we both got bespoke boards for a similar price to an off-the-shelf Studio Italia suit from Myer!

Surfing World Magazine recently had a whole issue focussing on hand-shaped and custom boards, and Base Surfboards (a co-op of DHD, Bourton, Simon (Anderson) and others) has a great page which outlines all the steps that go into making a board. Basically, cutting machines carve down a foam blank to within 70-85% of the finished board shape before the rest is sanded back by hand, then it’s fiber-glassed, artwork is painted, fins inserted and final glassing is done to the board.

And El Rad even went a step beyond the hand painted scheme that I ordered from Stuart’s collection – with modern advances in colour printing any image can be bonded to cloth which is then laminated under the fiberglass. And so taking influence from classic art, and willing to wait the extra week or more to finalise the printing that I wasn’t willing to wait, take a look at his “Liberty” HPX2 (a model which received a great review in ASL’s 2010 Surf Bible)! The half naked woman is in fact the central figure from Eugene Delacroix’s famous revolutionary painting, “Liberty Leading the People”. The board looks amazing, with a great painterly print effect – I’m jealous – it makes my orange bolt look tame, and puts the other boards in our collective quiver to shame. And not only is El Rad bringing some art to the sometimes shallow world of surf…and he gets to rub up against a beautiful topless woman every day out in the water…even if she is 180 years old!

Nature’s Nightly Show

Sunsets still continue to amaze me – the colours and ever changing nature of the light is a truly uplifting sight. I’ve been fortunate enough to spend a lot of time in some really beautiful locations with amazing light, but I think Queensland’s Gold Coast has to get the award for the best sunsets on earth. It must be something to do with the clear azure sea, nearby craggy rainforest mountains and sub-tropical storm zone that provides a nightly overload for the visual senses. Then there is the shrill cry of hundreds of colourful birds finding a roost for the night as the sun dips below the western Hinterland.

Being out in the Southern Gold Coast surf as the sun sets is one thing that everyone should experience at least once in their life: a warm yellow glow illuminating the high rise towers and headlands as dophins breach the water with their fins glistening gold, then soon out across the eastern Pacific Ocean the reflected sky turns a deep shade of violet while the western aspect is aflame with fiery cloud formations over the mountains.

As Clancy of the Overflow might say if he were a surfer:

And the waves hath friends to meet him, and their thund’rous voices greet him

In the murmur of the breezes and the surf on the bars,
And he sees the vision splendid of the sunlit high-rise extended,

And at night the wond’rous glory of the everlasting stars.

Here’s just a few examples of the “visons splendid” I have trid to capture with my little Sony pocket camera.

Roadtrippin’ through the middle…

After the Oz winter, a literal seachange was in order. My brother, El Rad, had moved down from Brisbane to the Gold Coast and had a spare bedroom…so it would have been remiss of me to not take up his offer of a place to stay 150 metres from the beach and within 15 drive minutes of four world-famous surf breaks! If i could handle the heat, it would be a great time to learn to surf better and generally just enjoy the good life the Goldy has to offer.

So back in early November i packed up the orange beast and headed north up the Hume, Via the Newell Hwy through the middle of NSW and into Qld. It was two days, 1800km and 18.5 hours of driving time according to my dashboard. I had my serious camera gear with me, but i always like the flexibility of small, pocket-sized point-and-shoot cameras. I have a little Sony Cybershot 8.5 megapixel camera, as well as a couple of Minolta film instamatics that i often load with slide (transparency) film and cross-process for interesting and unexpected results. It keeps photography fun!

Here are some of the photos i took of all the weird things along the way… Click the heading to see more:

After the Oz winter, a literal seachange was in order. My brother, El Rad, had moved down from Brisbane to the Gold Coast and had a spare bedroom…so it would have been remiss of me to not take up his offer of a place to stay 150 metres from the beach and within 15 drive minutes of four world-famous surf breaks! If i could handle the heat, it would be a great time to learn to surf better and generally just enjoy the good life the Goldy has to offer.

So back in early November i packed up the orange beast and headed north up the Hume, Via the Newell Hwy through the middle of NSW and into Qld. It was two days, 1800km and 18.5 hours of driving time according to my dashboard. I had my serious camera gear with me, but i always like the flexibility of small, pocket-sized point-and-shoot cameras. I have a little Sony Cybershot 8.5 megapixel camera, as well as a couple of Minolta film instamatics that i often load with slide (transparency) film and cross-process for interesting and unexpected results. It keeps photography fun!

Here are some of the photos i took of all the weird things along the way… Click the photos to see them larger: