The wise elders simply get out of town this time of year. I run into master surfer/shaper Al Byrne one pristine morning at Currumbin, dripping wet, fresh from a session in rifling four to five foot rights. He is off to Hawaii in a few days for his annual trip, right in time for the biggest swell of the year. Al is just the other side of 60 and has a big scar down the middle of his chest from open heart surgery not so long ago. His best mate in Hawaii is none other than head hellman Darrick Doerner. “I just know
Darrick is going to pick me up from the airport and take me straight to some out reefer and go, ‘Here, get on the end of the tow rope.’ My first wave in Hawaii is going to be 30 feet,” Al winces, with a mix of delight and trepidation. Al celebrated his 60th birthday in Hawaii a couple of years ago by tow surfing a 30 foot outer reef, so this is nothing out of the ordinary.
In between these crazed elders and hyper-active youngsters, as a mid-life GC surfer I find myself in an odd quandary. I notice a lot of my peers absent from the lineups. I can’t hope to keep up with the kids. Hell, if AB is anything to go by I can’t even keep up with the old blokes.
After a recent swell, I find my quiver and body in similar states of disrepair. My favourite boards are all creased or snapped and my joints and muscles are tweaked and aching like I’ve just played front row against the All Blacks. I embark on a desperate yoga binge and go looking for a new board. Despite the stereotype of the freeloading journo, I like to pay for my own sticks. God knows, shapers earn it. But I can’t help pulling into the old BASE store in Coolangatta, now Cooly Surf, sensing an opportunistic bargain. There, in the second hand rack, I come across one of big Simon Anderson’s personal boards for sale – a pristine 6’6” by 20 ½” by 2 ¾”. They are my ideal dimensions, and the price almost makes me feel guilty. I cannot believe my luck. Can you imagine walking into a tennis store and buying one of Rod Laver or John Newcombe’s old rackets for a song? As a culture, we still undervalue our legends.
The board gives me a new lease of life. Paddling is a dream. The aches in my body subside. I’m catching more waves and riding them with a new zest.
The waves have been fun for a week – a solid point swell followed by days of peaky beachbreaks as it drops and spreads the crowd the length of the coast. The Breaka Pro is on at Burleigh. The Bleach surf culture festival is depositing old freight containers all over the southern Gold Coast for pop-up art exhibitions.
“Guerilla” music performances are planned at secret surfside locations, where live bands will play on the back of trucks. Gerry Lopez and Wayne Lynch are coming to town to talk story and promote Gerry’s book, “Surf Is Where You Find It.” Then the Quik and Roxy Pros descend on Snapper.
It’s a baffling time in surfing – airs and carves, kids and legends, sport and art, industry shake ups and cultural upwellings. The on-line realm has given voice to a legion of new commentators like never before – a cacophony of hate, abuse, whining, fawning, trivia and the odd glimmer of profundity.
Old friends sometimes ask me how I handle living on the GC. I have actually come to enjoy it – watching the swirling chaos, having the world land on your doorstep once a year, seeing old friends, the ebb and flow. Like anywhere, you can still duck and weave the worst of the crowds.
Amidst the mayhem one simple uncrowded session can still feel like salvation.
- Tim Baker