In the Eye of the Storm
Words by Tim Baker
Contest season is upon us. The signs are everywhere, building up like a tropical storm. The pro surfer sightings. Contest scaffolding going up. Tour guides tumbling out of your latest surf magazine. Volleys of surf star tweets about the long distance delivery of boards. For your humble scribe it is also an annual reminder of time’s swift passage. The surfers who were my contemporaries when I got into this strange gig are now escorting their offspring here to compete.
I spot Richie Collins on the D-bah rock wall one windy morn, videoing his young daughter Meah as she determinedly charges the ragged peaks. Richie is constantly posting clips of his daughter’s rapid surfing development. I hope father and daughter actually get to surf together sometimes.
I’ve seen footage of Meah having a solid dig at mid-sized Sunset, so fat high tide D-bah should hold few fears. Yet the lineup is awash with logs and other debris from recent rains, and the wreckage of an ill-fated fishing trawler that came to grief against the groyne just a few days earlier. The carcass of the hull is still wedged among the rocks, along with its fishing nets – a treacherous hazard for the legions who paddle out against the wall everyday, but no one wants to foot the bill for the cleanup.
Around the corner, Kolohoe Andino has already set up camp in the Rainbow Place apartments, with panoramic views of the contest site. Kelly Slater teases him on twitter for arriving so early and calls him a “rookie”. No fewer than 30 of Kolohoe’s Matt Biolos shapes have been freighted in for his debut World Tour campaign. I still think of Kolohoe’s dad Dino (what a sense of humour Mr and Mrs Andino must have had!) as the long, crinkle- haired PSAA star riding the wave of the booming So Cal surf industry, rather than the shaven-headed mentor to his Golden Child he is today.
I figure I ought to get in touch with this new generation and so follow young Kolohoe on Twitter. I am soon receiving tweets about little else. Kolohoe is the most prolific tweeter I have ever come across in my brief social media career. He also receives an alarming number of tweets from young women wanting to do unmentionable things to him. He has already announced his Gold Coast address to the world, a Google map and pin accompanying his every message. I have visions of legions of teenage girls camped out in the lobby, or hiding inside the large cardboard boxes of surfboards that are regularly delivered to him. His board label “Mayhem” says it all.
I find it hard to believe the Cooly Kids are already the seasoned veterans of the tour, now being challenged to hold their place by a marauding new generation of aerial freaks. They are still cherubic, cheeky groms in my eyes. I can recall watching a mo-hawked, teenage Parko jumping off the front of the Snapper Rocks on a booming six foot day that had me intimidated, cackling madly and charging from behind the rock like it was a friendly shorey. Now Joel’s young nephew Mitch is that cackling grom earning his place behind the rock. And so the big wheel keeps on turning.
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
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