East Coast Surf Road Trip With Just An iPhone

Crescent Head beach panorama
Panorama taken with iPhone.

iPhones make it all too easy! In fact nowadays I hardly bother taking my pocket Canon digital camera with me, let alone my new Canon EOS 1D mark IV. So I thought I’d try posting a blog directly from my iPhone with photos from a recent roadtrip from Melbourne to the Gold Coast and edited using just the phone’s auto-enhance & panorama function as well as Instagram, Luminance and Pic Jointer apps.

And the result. Well, WordPress ain’t the easiest beast to tame on a 3 inch touch screen – I couldn’t work out how to change the order of the gallery photos, or caption them. So I think I’ll stick to computer blogging from now on…

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.

Queensland: Beautiful one day…flooding the next!

It’s probably a good thing that Queensland recently changed the State promotional slogan to “Where Australia Shines”, because taking a look at the weather up here the old “Beautiful One Day, Perfect the Next” would get them in trouble with the ACCC for false advertising! It hasn’t been a typical Spring and Summer on the Gold Coast – sunny days, like the one above, have been fairly infrequent. It is the rainy season up here, as South East Queensland gets hit by the remnants of tropical summer storms and cyclones further up north, but I don’t think anyone would have predicted downpours and floods like this!

I saw some pretty decent flooding down in Victoria during winter and spring, but Queensland is sure getting hit harder. I flicked through Brisbane’s Courier Mail today, and it showed that rainfall was up to a foot within 24 hours in some locations across Queensland, and I just heard that Toowoomba received 170mm in one hour! Fortunately, the Gold Coast isn’t affected by floods because the nearby mountain range and numerous rivers flush out all the water into the sea. However, it does turn the waves a murky, dark green which takes a few days to clear up, especially around the rivermouths. Yet even in the rain and gloomy skies you can still find some colour and brightness. You have to be careful, though, as the  rainfall has brought all sorts of creepy-crawlies into urban areas.

But I can’t complain too much: the ocean temperature is 23 degrees celsius,  the waves have been pretty good, you can still find quiet little seaside towns to escape the GC holiday crowds just 25 minutes down the road, and even when it’s teeming down with tropical-style rain, the outside temperature still hovers around 25 degrees. Just don’t count on getting a tan if you come up here for a holiday anytime soon

(Note: WordPress seems to be uploading photos at a very low resolution for the previews, so if you like a photo, click on one of the thumbnails, then click it again on the next screen to see the original higher quality jpeg)

Get your Surf Shots for Free!

Back in the wintry folds of a cold and cloudy Melbourne it’s easy to reminisce about warmer times, and warmer waters…and so here’s a look back a few months to January when I went out one day to take some surf photos at Duranbah on the Gold Coast. The Jim Beam Surf Tag Queensland trials were on – a novel event where the little local boardrider clubs battled out in hour-long heats to find the overall state winner. Each team could have 5 surfers compete within the hour heat, out alongside 3 other teams, but only one team-member could be in the water at any one time. The surfer would score on 2 waves and then run up the beach to “tag” the next team member who would enter the water to get two more wave scores, and so on, for a combined overall score.

But it wasn’t this unique comp format that had me intrigued, but the fact that the newly crowned World Champion, Mick Fanning, would be competing for his old Kirra Boardriders against World Number 2 Joel Parkinson and his Snapper Rocks Team…not to mention ASP top-tenner, Dingo Morrison, and former champ, Occy, also competing for bragging rights round the bar of the Coolangatta Sands Hotel.

I had never really tried taking any surf photos before, but I thought this might be a good chance to watch the best in the business and see how I would go. I was just using my regular 70-200mm 2.8L lens which was a little under-powered in the zoom department (I wish I had the gear I would be using  just a few weeks later in Vancouver) . So while some pro looking photo dude with bikini girls hanging off his arm was comfortably high up on the sand, I had to wade out knee-deep into the water and then crop the final shots. But overall I was pretty happy with the shots, despite the ordinary waves. Shooting surf photography from the beach is not all that difficult I discovered, except for getting sharp focus (either on auto or manual) in lumpy, choppy waves that disrupt the foreground. And when there is a lull in the action out in the surf, there’s always something to look at on the sand. But it was awesome just being able to see the enormous slashes Mick could throw in small surf, and to see how he interacted like a true champion with all the grommets and fans on the beach. (And over the following months I’ve managed to be out surfing alongside Mick and Parko and seen their wave artistry up even closer). And watching all the action, I was struck by the pure aesthetic beauty of a good bottom turn.

I had met another Gold Coast-based surf photog, Simon Muirhead, a few days previously (see his shots from that day here) – he has a fair bit of stuff published on Swellnet and Coastalwatch – and from what he said, surf photography is even more competitive and under-valued than snowboard photography. I guess it is one of those things where the surf lifestyle is even more appealing than the snowboarding one, and there will always be someone out there willing to take surf photos for free, or a couple of logo t-shirts.

So I was a little surprised to hear from The Sunshine Coast Daily a couple of days later wanting to use one of my photos in their paper. Sticking to my business philosophy of no longer ever giving away a photo for free (which I’ve only done once in four years, and which came back to bite me in the arse recently…but that’s a story for another time) I tried to negotiate hard, even though the paper said they had no budget. I assumed it was some little weekly local rag, like the Moonee Valley Leader, and so was even willing to accept a nominal 50 bucks, equivalent to a web shot payment. But when the paper rep was about to hang up the phone and not run the shot, I relented to its free publication, thinking that at least I’ll have one published surf photo out there.

I was fairly happy just to hear that someone liked my shots…but was a little miffed when I discovered that in fact the Sunshine Coast Daily is in fact a major daily newspaper, much like the Geelong Advertiser or Gold Coast Bulletin. And to make matters worse, my shot was run on the back page as a thumbnail as well as quarter-page in the sport section, and on the website! Take a look at the pages, and check out the article and photo on the website here. Surely they could spring a budget to pay for the shots – it’s a legitimate journalistic story, not some local-scene colour piece like I thought it was going to be.

Oh well, at least it solidifies my resolve to never, ever give away a photo for free again…and at least now I can call myself a bona fide surf photographer!

So take a look at the shots I took that day.

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!