Nick Carroll On The Anonymous Scrawl
COASTALWATCH | Nick Carroll
“F*** off with your cameras please bois pronto!!”
Seems pretty simple, doesn’t it? This short anonymous message, finger-written in the dust on the rear window of Matt Wilkinson’s car while it was parked on a NSW north coast beach track last Wednesday, would not appear to leave a lot to the imagination. A vaguely amused Wilko threw it up on Instagram, a bunch of people huffed and puffed in his defence, and life went on.
But damn! I was intrigued.
The Anonymous Scrawl is a modern surfing trope. In the past 10 years or so it’s become increasingly common up and down the Aussie east coast. It regularly affects well-known surfers, by themselves or with mates and/or cameras, and seems to have little or nothing to do with what happens in the water; most of the stories you’ll hear involve everyone having a great time surfing together. It doesn’t even have to be an even slightly secret location — one of the best known recent Scrawls (“F*** off!”) was applied to Kelly Slater’s car at of all places, Snapper Rocks.
Most importantly, the scrawler remains unknown — unwilling, or maybe unable, to simply talk to the target of their concerns.
Many Scrawls are pretty stupid really. (Check the one I had left on my car a while ago, at … guess … Kirra.) But the language in Wilko’s Scrawl seemed to go to interesting places. “F*** off”, that’s anger! But then comes “please”, as if the Scrawler has thought “hang on I’ve gone a bit hard there, he seems like a nice guy”. Then “bois”, which is either hip-hop for “boys” or the French word for “wood”. Which I wouldn’t have considered except for the magnificent “pronto!!”, Spanish/Italian for “immediately”. Anger, uncertainty, and a Latin swashbuckle at the end! Crazy.
Super curious, I posted something on social media: Anyone have any idea who did this? I really truly want to find out what’s going on!
Back came a pile of replies. None from Wilko’s Scrawler, but plenty from various surfer mates around the world with all kinds of theories about the phenomenon. It was almost as fascinating as the Scrawl.
One reckoned Wilko was soft and should harden up. Several made up their own ideas about who it was: a hardworking tradie upset by visitors to his home break, or someone who did it because he or she wanted to make a point but didn’t want confrontation.
A couple of ‘em, Ken “Skindog” Collins and Beau Emerton, claimed to have done it themselves but I swiftly dismissed that, seeing as how Skindog is in Santa Cruz not Byron Bay, and how Beau, a clever and tricky man, would have come up with something more sardonic (though I wouldn’t put that “pronto” past him).
Others wrestled with the idea of localism. Brad Gerlach wrote from his long travel experience, sagely advising Wilko or anyone else to talk with the head local at a spot before you surf or shoot there, and make a promise not to expose the location. Which is good thinking if you’re surfing a remote heavily localised reef or point or whatever … but Snapper, or the Byron back beaches?
They were trying to figure this out as a rational thing. But maybe it isn’t. Maybe the Scrawler doesn’t even really know why he or she is doing it. It doesn’t make sense. If you’re the target, you don’t get this message till AFTER you’ve surfed.
One story I was told in the last couple of days concerned a renowned surf hero who travelled down the NSW south coast to test some new boards with a couple of mates. The three surfed a town break that’s been surfed for at least 50 years, sharing with several local surfers who seemed full of good cheer and surf stoke.
That evening the hero type was lambasted in classic anonymous style on social media. “F*** off!” “Wave Hog!” “Don’t come back!” Etc.
The whole thing was such a radical contrast to the hero’s experience that he called a local surf shop owner to find out what was up. The surf shop owner suggested he bring a slab of beer down and leave it at the spot’s lookout, as a peace offering.
See what I mean? You insult people, then expect them to bring you beer?? “F*** off! Please”?
It’s irrational, it’s very human, and I’d truly love to hear from anyone who’s done an Anonymous Scrawl — on Wilko, Kelly, or anyone else. Tell us about your surfing life, what’s going on, did the whole thing make you feel stupid or did your mates hail you as a champ, had you done it before, will you do it again? Most of all: why couldn’t you just talk to the target? I promise I won’t tell anyone your name.
It’s with great pleasure that Coastalwatch announces the addition of one of Australia’s most prolific surf writers, Nick Carroll to our team. Carroll joins senior writers, Sean Doherty, Jock Serong and Mike Jennings.
Carroll is an undisputed legend of surf journalism heading up both the iconic Tracks and Surfing Magazines as editor and contributing regularly to national news publications, script writing and the authoring a number of books including Tom Carroll’s, TC and Fearlessness: The Story of Lisa Anderson. His laconic, energetic writing style and infectious personality together, are globally recognised, respected and followed. He has the fluid ability to cover any topic in depth including surf history, interviews, investigation, swell, forecasting and the environment across any platform making him an incredible addition to Coastalwatch.
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