On a bluebird morning in the North Narrabeen carpark, Kobi gingerly offers out his tiny hand to say hello. As I shake his hand it’s impossible not to notice his sapphire eyes, even under the raggedy hair that flows beyond his shoulders. He’s shy and quickly scampers off, running circles on the grass, away from the centre of attention. His dad, former-pro Steve Clements, sweeps him up and into his wetsuit. Steve opens the passenger door of his white Ford wagon and pulls out a 4’4’’ by James “Chilli” Cheal that resembles more a cuttlefish bone than a surfboard. Kobi likes the black and white Volcom sticker on the nose but even more so, Steve tells me, the joy of putting it there himself. The connotations of it are irrelevant for now. “I want him to love them just because they’re stickers for as long possible,” says Steve.
There’s sound grounding in Steve and his wife, Sophie. Steve’s done the whole pro-thing before and doesn’t see much point in over frothing. “If Kobi’s got a career on Tour ahead of him, that’s 20 years of competing,” says Steve. “There’s no hurry.” Kobi’s had a handful of starts in competition, mainly the annual BL Blast Off. But it’s not just talent that makes this kid different. Thanks to Kobi’s mum, he speaks fluent French and attends a bilingual school. Kobi says there’s loads of homework but he doesn’t mind and in a well-versed tongue he says, “Bonjour Luca, comment allez-vous?” with a cheeky I-told-you-so smile.
Out in the water at Carpark, a light onshore wind blows as two-foot peaks climb up on a shallow bank. Steve is on the beach. He can’t surf since his appendix decided to shutdown. Kobi’s practicing riding barrels but with the waves standing fast and running quickly, his wafer-thin arms can’t generate the speed he needs to hook in under the lip. Steve asks if I can give him a push just before he takes off. I oblige but Kobi’s got other ideas. His confidence is frightening. He darts back and forth across the small take-off zone, pulling back from closeouts and swooping into the ones with a makeable shoulder giving peace signs to swimming photographer Mark Onorati. He throws whatever weight he’s got onto rail and tries airs on jabbing sections. The way he reads the ocean and his wave selection are beyond his years but the coolest thing is what a blast he’s having.
Back in the carpark, Steve and Kobi have to hurry. He’s got a school holiday surf camp to get to at Long Reef, another three hours or so in the water. But Steve spots a familiar face. “Kobi, come over here,” Steve says. Kobi sprints over, half following Dad but also trying to get his pint-sized body warm. Kobi puts out his hand again. “Kobi, this is Terry Fitzgerald.” Kobi replies with a soft hello and a grown-up handshake. Terry’s heard about him, acknowledging the beginning of another cycle of Narrabeen’s next. Meanwhile, the gravity of the meeting sweeps completely over Kobi’s young head. Kobi will surf Narrabeen for the next 10 years at least. He’ll move from playful Carpark to the North Narrabeen peak. TF will become an even bigger figure than this exchange. But for now, this is just another moment of uncomplicated bliss right on the edge of change.