Nick Carroll On: A Bit Of A Wildcat
BELLS 50 YEAR STORM | EVENT PARTNER
‘A BIT OF A WILDCAT’
Troy Brooks reflects on his big brother Shaun, and the contest to be held in his name
January on the Gold Coast is never great. For one of Australia’s great surfing families, January 2012 on the Gold Coast was as bad as it gets. The once-brilliant Shaun Brooks, after suffering years of torment thanks to mental illness, took his own life, leaving parents Rod and Andrea Brooks, sister Alana and brother Troy to grieve and think about what might have been.
Now it’s June 2017, and it seems we’ll soon see what is: a surfing event in memory of Shaun. The 50 Year Storm will bring together 18 Victorian chargers, most of whom knew Shaun well, to ride as big a winter’s day at Bells as this year can produce. Funds raised will go to two causes in aid of the disease that claimed Shaun. Troy of course will be among the surfers that day. We talked to him on Thursday afternoon between glances at the weather maps.
SEE ALSO: The 16 Day Swell Forecast for Bells Beach here as well as the Indian Ocean Swell Alert for this week's major swell event.
CW: What was Shaun like?
TB: (laughs) He was a bit of a wildcat. When I was young, he was the best surfer in Torquay, the best surfer in Victoria, going head to head with (Danny) Willsy and company. Then he won a world junior title at Capbreton in France. I guess I looked up to him — he was three and a half years older than me and he was cutting a path, and I was a little grommet following that path.
Then around the age of 19 or 20 he started dealing with mental health issues. I didn’t know anything about mental health, neither did my mum or dad. But all of a sudden he changed. It started affecting him, sending him into destructive behaviour, whether it was drugs and alcohol, destroying his room at home, or thinking people were after him. I was just, like, “Snap out of it man.” I didn’t understand it was a disease.
At first he was still surfing good, charging big waves, winning contests. But then he blew out his knee and was sidelined for four months, and that’s when it turned really destructive. He’d lost his outlet. He was hearing voices in his head. Months later he was beginning to get better, then he fell off a balcony and broke several vertebrae in his back, and it all went downhill again. He drove his car into the Bird Rock Cafe… Everyone loved him but his destructiveness and paranoia was driving his friends away. He did the same with me at one stage, just when I was beginning to have some success with my surfing. I just put it aside.
I didn’t know anyone else with a mental illness, but they say it’s one in five of us, so there must have been others in Torquay, whether it be depression or bi-polar or something else.
Shaun was misdiagnosed and mis-medicated for years. Eventually he moved to Avalon with mum and dad when dad went up there to work with Quiksilver. It wasn’t till then that he saw different doctors and was correctly diagnosed, with paranoid schizophrenia, and was finally given the right drugs for treatment. But it was a bit late by then to be thinking about a professional surfing career.
Was it a shock to you when he took his own life?
It wasn’t a shock, and that sounds weird. But he’d made a few attempts on his life beforehand. He’d moved to the Gold Coast by then with mum and dad and he lived a pretty good relaxed life up there, cruising, watching sport on TV and such, but every six months or so he’d spiral. He’d stop taking his medication, and pretend he was taking it, and get worse again. That last week or so, that was a big week.
Where did the idea for this event spring from?
Shaun had been at the top of his game and pioneered a lot of the big wave surfing in Victoria, as far as the kinds of turns you could do on a 15 or 18 foot wave. But when he moved away, he was cut off from the Surf Coast. I think he only came back down once or twice in 15 years.
Then a couple of his mates, Sean O’Callaghan and Gareth Haeberle, called me. Sean was a school mate of Shaun’s and Gareth was just a good surfer of his age. They said, We’re thinking of having a big wave event. Well, when I say big waves, it’s Bells, not Nazare. And could we do it in memory of Shaun?
I said Yeah, I’ll talk to mum and dad, and they said cool. Then a few months down the track we got together and started a committee with a bunch of guys, Carlo and Tony Ray and Michael Ray and the crew. It was funny, most of the committee ended up in the event! But we didn’t mean that to happen. We wanted it to be inclusive, so we sent a voting list out to 150 people in the Victorian surfing community who we knew could make calls like this. We asked for lists of invitees and alternates and we ended up with about 2,000 votes. My dad got to have a say, John Law, Glen Casey, Craig Stevenson, Wayne Lynch. Anyone who we thought had seen a lot of Bells Beach. That was a cool thing in the end.
I can’t really help but feel like there is some kind of feeling around this event as there is around the Eddie event. Both involve life and death and memory. Is there an extra emotional feel among the invitees the way there is at the Eddie?
We had the opening ceremony on the sand at Bells and a whole bunch of the town rocked up. And you could definitely feel strong emotion among all the surfers. We’d miraculously found one of Shaun’s old 8’8”s from down the coast and had that there. We’d scattered Shaun’s ashes at Bird Rock years ago and we didn’t want to make this into another funeral, so we asked everyone to come out and catch a wave together. It was only about two foot and it was great — another cool inclusive thing.
As far as Eddie goes, well it’s two different things — hopefully we can benefit the cause of mental health care through this event.
How do you figure out where to put a charitable donation in that cause? There are so many different charities.
Yeah there are. It took quite a while. There’s two things the family wanted to benefit: helping people directly in the community, and helping find a cure or even just early intervention methods. We teamed up with Surf Coast Shire and came across Headspace out of Geelong. They’re going to run some programs on identifying mental health issues in sporting groups, and managing early intervention efforts. We wanted to give to the local Indigenous community and Headspace is committed to that. Plus there’s One In Five, which is working on early diagnosis and possible cures.
To watch it first hand, see someone with so much energy and skill just turning to think everyone is against him, it makes you realise the importance of this work.
OK so how will the event go down? How are you gonna call the day?
T-Ray’s gonna call it. T-Ray’s the contest director. We didn’t really wanna call it a “big wave event” because there’s real big wave events at places like Jaws and Mavericks. But it’s the biggest Bells gets and our pop culture reference for that was “Point Break”! So it’s the 50 Year Storm. It’ll have a four hour window and you can surf as much or as little as you want. Tides make a difference to the size and consistency at Bells so local knowledge will come into it a bit, when you choose your window. (Greg) Brownie’s making a replica 8’8” as a trophy for the winner.
The Indian Ocean’s been firing. Is T-Ray wigging out?
(laughs) Well, swell’s hitting WA. Cow Bombie was 30-40 feet last week. If that energy hits the Surf Coast we could be on.
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