Sean Doherty On: Land Of Plenty
SURFING WORLD MAGAZINE | ISSUE 386 OUT NOW
The Land Of Plenty
The Australian Coastline Stands And Delivers A Ripper Run Of Swells
Australians love to know what the rest of the world thinks about us. On one hand it hints at some kind of collective cultural insecurity. On the other, I think we know how good we’ve got it, lucky country and all that, but we just wanna hear it from someone else.
If you want some validation that Australia is indeed the richest surfing nation on earth, look no further than the Gudauskas boys. Pat, Dane and Tanner have been coming here for 15 years, living in vans, eating from cans, sleeping under the stars and surfing themselves to a rubbery consistency. Mind you, these three could take a surf trip to landlocked Kazakhstan and still derive some kind of perverse enjoyment out of it, but when you take the boundless enthusiasm for life the Gudangs possess and set it free on the boundless coastline of Australia, you’ve got adventure up to the back axle. Pat Gudauskas has just returned home to California after two months of travelling Oz when SW caught him on the phone...
SW: So Pat, how long this time?
PG: We were there for two months this time. We posted up and stayed for months chasing waves. We got it sooooo good. I was tripping out. We drove up to the Goldy and cruised there for a few weeks. We got good waves at South Straddie, some of the best beach breaks I’ve surfed in a long time, then we had Burleigh pumping, Kirra, and pretty much the whole Goldy strip. After that we went down south to Ulladulla and we scored it so good! I was kinda going out of body. I couldn’t believe it. The south coast, man… Kai Otton and Dean Bowen and those guys must know so many good waves down there. Everywhere you go with them you’re looking at good waves but those guys will always tell you there’s a better wave somewhere down the coast… and they’re willing to take you there.
How different is that kind of attitude to what you encounter at home in California?
I think in Australia is so different to California in that guys are like, “Dude there’s this peak just around the corner, let’s go surf it!” In California it’s a little more territorial. It’s like, “Shhh, this joint’s secret. Don’t go telling anyone.” It’s more guarded and more localised because there are just so many people that you have to be. It’s nothing new, but it’s nice to be on a coast where everyone is that surf stoked and willing to share it.
Tell me about your first trip to Australia.
I was 18, it was 2003 I think and just before New Years, and me and my brother Dane came over for the World Juniors at Narrabeen. We got there though and couldn’t get into the contest cause the American system was so shitty at that time. We were these two American kids with no idea what we were doing in this international event. We were tripping too cause we were coming out of the NSSA where we’d won the main divisions, Dane and I, and it was a big deal. We thought we’d crush it, but we didn’t get out of the trials. It was the year Adriano won after that crazy heat with Josh Kerr. On New Year’s Eve though we caught the Manly ferry over and went into the city in Sydney and it was the first time we could buy beer legally and we were freaking out, going, “How good’s Australia!” We ended up staying for a month, we did the whole month of junior contests at places like Gunnamatta and Bells and Burleigh Heads. There were six events back-to-back and we were freaking. We thought we were on the ‘CT... and we kind of were. That year I think even Adriano did the whole junior series, Owen wright was showing up and even Jordy was doing it. We were tripping.
What kind of preconceived notion did you have in your head about what Australia would be like?
Narrabeen for us was like Lowers with sand and crystal clear water. We were losing it. We just rocked up and the thing I remember is the colours. Australia was a colour to us. That’s what we dreamed of when we thought about Australia. I don’t know if you remember the movie Eight, an old OAM video, and the Nine Lives Billabong Challenge movie they did, but you grow up seeing this crystal turquoise water and these perfect beachbreaks for miles and you think, I have to go there. And that was it, we showed up and it was incredible.
It all sounded pretty idyllic… did you have moments though when the reality of Australia didn’t live up to the billing?
Actually that trip – I don’t know if you ever heard the story – but the last junior events were up on the Gold Coast and the first night we flew into the Goldy all the boys have said, “We’re going out into Surfers Paradise! It’s on!” So we took the bus in drinking all the way and we had a huge night, kicked out at four in the morning and we got a cab back down the coast. While we were in there we decided we’d do the runner. I’m the typical American trying to be all sensible and focus as the cab pulls over and we get out and run.
Anyway, the cab peels out burning rubber from the kerb chasing us, and he’s flying, 50 miles and hour, and I’ve got to the street corner and stepped straight out and the cab’s hit me. I’ve bounced off the windshield and gone flying across the asphalt. Dane had been watching it from across the street and here I am knocked out and covered in blood, the full scene, and Dane is like, “Holy shit!” He thought I was dead. The whole windscreen of the cab was crushed in but I was lucky. I was okay: all I had a bad knee and some cuts. I still tried to surf in the event actually. We got home and were telling people the story, but we told them how they drive on the wrong side of the road down in Australia and I’d walked off the kerb looking the wrong way. I didn’t have the heart to tell people we were carrying on like groms.
Welcome to Australia.
The boys were laughing afterward, and I was so stoked I made it out alive. Yeah, fond memories of the Gold Coast.
Speaking of the Gold Coast you’ve spent probably more time up there than anywhere in Australia. What do you make of the place as a visiting American?
When I think of the Goldy I think of Disneyland for surfers. You can’t miss. We were laughing the first day we came back this year. I said, “One wave out there was like a hundred waves back home at T-Street.” It’s almost like you’re surfing in a pool with the water so blue and mechanical waves. It doesn’t feel real when you’re surfing out there.
What about the vibe in the water? Your home break is Lowers so you’re used to bodies in the water, but is it a different crowd?
I think the first thing you notice in Australia is the level of the average guy in the water. Guys working nine-to-five, the local tradies, they all rip. Like rip. They could be pro level at home and they’re just building houses in Coolangatta. It probably has a bit to do with how good the waves are, but the average surfer in Oz is a borderline pro and that’s pretty rad. With the crowds, like you said we’re from Lowers and we surf Rincon and we’re over in Hawaii a lot, but you guys have such a high frequency of waves that we lose our marbles because you can catch 20 waves in an hour whereas back home in California it’s super long period swell so we do a lot of waiting. The lineup just clogs with people cause there’s such a long interval between waves. That’s why it doesn’t seem real out at somewhere like Snapper or D’Bah because there’s wave after wave. It’s a machine. East coast America and Puerto Rico has those short swells, but on the west coast we’re used to long lines. Even if there are a hundred guys out on the Gold Coast it feels like your next wave isn’t too far away.
Describe the change of pace once you cross the border and start chasing waves on the North Coast...
I fell in love with that zone. Once you leave the Gold Coast you immediately feel the difference and you get down to Lennox, Byron and Ballina and it’s really cool. It has more of Santa Barbara vibe, a slower pace of life. It’s like a gold mine. There are so many waves and a lot less people so you feel like there’s always that opportunity to find something secret, a bank no one else is onto. That’s where you first get that feeling and that feeling is pretty much everywhere you go in Australia. Hidden corners everywhere. We surfed Yamba and Iluka a lot with Dan Ross and Wade Goodall and we trip on how good those waves are. Angourie is mental. That’s like going back in time.
Driving the Pacific Highway is a rite of passage for Aussie surfers, chasing cyclone swells or posting up on the North Coast. Do you recall your first road trip up there?
When we first started coming to Australia we were renting RVs. I think my first year on tour we did two months and road tripped down that whole coast. It’s my favourite stretch of coast in Australia because it feels like California just with ten times better surf. We surfed all sorts of waves, beachbreaks, points, breakwalls, backbeaches, and you always feel like there’s still more you haven’t seen yet despite all the miles we’ve done over the years. This trip we ended up at Avoca, where we’d never been before. We were with Glen [Hall] and we sat there looking at Box Head with him and we were just freaking out. I’m going, “This thing looks like Chile!” And he goes, “It’s not that really that good today,” and I’m like, “What! That wave just broke for a mile!” But that stretch with an RV, just surfing and camping, man… my wife and I were talking about doing that trip with a Defender next time so you can get off road and on the sand and do the full camping out on the beach deal, surfing, trying to not get to get bitten by a shark.
Camp on the beach at South Ballina.
You know, a few weeks ago I got fully buzzed by a shark in of all places Manly. It was only a baby, maybe six feet, but the thing was coming right at me and I saw it and the fin was just below the surface and I took the first wave I could get out of there and it swam right under me as I was surfing. It was a scary, lurky, hungry little doormat.
You guys have got a pretty solid network of contacts here… who are the best tour guides for you?
The sickest guy from day one has been Mark Mathews… and still is. We’ve been friends a long time and he’s always pointing us in the right direction. The first time we surfed Ours and Shipstern he was like our coach. That first time we surfed Ours we were up at Forster when he called and told us to get down to there. We drove overnight and camped outside the national park and we were stressed out of our heads, couldn’t sleep, cause we didn’t know what to expect. Mark has been one of the most generous friends we have there, always trying to look after us with good waves. He knows how to read all the swells and is kinda like the Greg Long of Australia in that we ring Greg all the time at home asking what he thinks a certain swell will be doing, and if Greg says it’s on, it’s on. We’re going. Mark’s the same. Wade Goodall is another good friend and it feels like we’ve made so many good friends on tour over the years that wherever we go in whatever town there’s an old friend we can visit and go surf with.
How was surfing Ours?
We were shitting ourselves, but it’s one of the raddest waves we’ve ever surfed. I went down on this last trip I and watched it for two days. I didn’t surf, it was too gnarly, although a few boys towed it and were charging – Kirk Flintoff, Perth Standlick, Evan Faulks. Koby had a broken back at the time but got whipped into three waves. I was tripping out. Those guys are so gnarly! I was just comfortable watching them whip it. But the first time, getting in and out of the water gives you pretzels in your stomach. They’re like, “Jump off over there and come in down there,” and I’m just seeing eight foot sets surge over the rocks where they’re pointing and I’m like, “There?” But we got great waves and being there in the car park, let alone surfing it, is one of my favourite surfing experiences in Australia.
And surfing Shipstern Bluff?
We’d made it to Ulladulla when Mark called and said, “Shippies is on. Drive back to Sydney and get on a plane.” Thing is we had no boards for a paddle day at Shipstern so we drove back to Sydney and ended up in Bondi because we’d heard there’d be a surf shop there with boards. We walked in and said, “We’re going to Shipstern Bluff tomorrow, you got any guns?” The guy was looking us up and down, thinking we’d lost our minds. We ended up getting a Surf Tech 6’10”, this 7’6” Puerto Escondido rhino chaser from 1995 with a nose guard on it which Dane immediately grabbed, and this old board of Matt Banting’s, a 6’4” Chilli that was like 15 inches wide and maybe two inches thick at best. We loaded up and flew down and the Tassie crew grabbed us and we went in and it wasn’t huge, maybe 10 to 12 feet, a good paddle size.
The boat ride out there, you’ve got to hit the bathroom before you hit the boat cause we were going up these vertical walls of water freaking out. We get there and it’s all dark and ugly and we’re like, “What are we doing?” I’m looking down at the Matt Banting 6’4” in the bottom of the boat and I’m feeling so small. Dane was the hero though, because it was a little morning sick when we got there and real lumpy and dark with no sun on it, and they started geeing Dane up, going, “You should get out there!” and he’s like, “Is it surfable?” and they’re fully going, “Get out there!” So Dane’s paddled out and took a behemoth and just airdrops and gets splattered. But it was great after that. Such a wild experience. You felt you were like in 300.
What about some off the grid places you’ve trekked through?
We did a lot of exploring in Tasmania, which is a place I’m actually psyched to go back to. It’s really raw and there’s just no one around. We did West Oz but only to Margarets, did Victoria but only to Bells, and there’s still a lot of places I want to go to. I want to go to King Island, I want to go to Gnaraloo, and I want to check out South Oz. Even with all the travels we’ve done, like a couple of months every year for well over ten years, there are so many spots we’ve still got to check out. My wife, Hanalei and I have been talking and we’re thinking over the next few years doing a 50/50 season with half the year in Australia.
The pace is too mind-bogglingly big that most Australian crew don’t get to half these places. Can you remember a moment where it’s dawned on you how much surfable coastline Australia has?
I was flying up to the Gold Coast from Sydney a day trip recently and there was an east coast swell running and the plane tracked along the coast and I’m looking down and it was like seeing Rincon a hundred times. We must have had a surfer for a pilot because he was flying really low and followed the coast perfectly. I’m looking out the window the whole way like a grom, going, “There’s one. There’s another one.”
On your last trip, you based yourself on the Northern Beaches where Hanalei’s family lives. How did you find life in the bubble?
Her family are originally from France, lived in Tahiti for 30 years, and they’ve moved to Sydney three years ago so we posted up there on the Northern Beaches. It was like it’s own little world and we just explored all these little coves and beaches. It reminded me of home a lot, with nobody out midweek. I feel that’s the way you need to explore Australia – you need to pick one stretch of coast at a time and fully explore it. It’s too big to take in all at once.
What changes have you noticed in Australia in the 15 years you’ve been coming here?
You know what, I don’t think it feels any more crowded but the one thing we’ve been noticing is in the attitude of the people and their lust for the good life. We’ll be up at five-thirty in the morning to go surfing and there’s hundreds of people working out or surfing or doing something. It blows my mind. There’s also gourmet organic food and craft beer and good coffee joints everywhere. It struck me on this last trip when we were in Newcastle. When we first started going there Fanny’s nightclub was the place to go. It was dark and dirty and the carpet was sticky and it was like a cave, and now it’s closed down and boarded up and in its place is this hip scene with college kids and good food and everyone is stoked and going surfing. I thought that’s a pretty good reflection of what’s happened on the whole Australian coast.
What about the most Australian person you’ve ever met?
One amongst many was the guy in West Oz named Camel. The goofy who lives in an old Range Rover and surfs with the sharks. That guy is a boss; paddling out to bommies alone on the biggest days. He blew my mind. Like, “Is this guy for real?” There are so many good Australian surfers I get psyched on. It was funny, on our last trip we saw Mick Campbell and we were blown away. For us, he’s like Bobby Martinez and Occy put together. He’s so raw and such a huge character for us. Growing up, when we thought of Australia, we thought of Mick Campbell. When we saw him recently my brother Tanner was losing it. He ran over to me and was like, “Pat! Pat! I just saw Mick Campbell out there surfing!” It was hilarious. He was fully fanning out like a grom.
If you had to live somewhere here, where would it be?
That’s a good question. Last year me and Hanalei came over and were seriously talking about doing it, about moving over, and we thought maybe somewhere up near Byron would be cool. I love Sydney but I see myself living up north on the points. Life up there is too good. I really like the little town where Wade Goodall lives, he’s a little inland from Byron in a town called, what is it… Bungalow?
Bangalow. That’s funny, here we are talking about how vast Australia is and Wade lives ten houses down the road from me.
No way! That’s funny. Man, it’s so magic up there, but seriously there are no bad places in Australia for me. Just drop me anywhere and I could live there forever.
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