Thursday, June 25, 2009

How to surf in Byron Bay

A beginner's guide:

Car: A Subaru, Commodore or a bomb
Computer: Mac
Localism: Never play the "I'm local" card - you shouldn't need to
Graffiti: Know who BK is
Fashion: Niche brands - avoid Quicky, Rip Curl and Billabong as much as possible
Quiver: Varied, with at least one longboard and one fish/quad/twinny
Legropes: Not if you can avoid them
Hair: Stylish, but nonchalant
Palette: Colour
The Pass: A passionate position - love OR hate OR love to hate
Warmth: A sleeveless vest
Kooks: Drop-ins, snaking, wave pigs. Otherwise depends
Surf Cameras: A conflicted, contradictory relationship to Coastalwatch
Pubs: Beachy, Rails, Suffo, none
History: An acquaintance (at least) with Bob McTavish, George Greenough, Rusty Miller, Geoff McCoy, Jim Banks or all of the above. Mex is a bonus.
Passion: A clear enthusiasm negotiated through a desire to appear chilled out
Skills: A well developed ability to manoeuvre your board through summer crowds
Style: Always
Must Haves: Stickers that allow unpaid parking

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Aches and pains

The past year or so has seen me go from being really really physically active to, well, kind of lazy actually. OK, so not exactly lazy, but my life is far from being as physically dynamic and exciting as it used to be.

My physical life used to revolve around surfing and Hapkido, both of which I love and cherish and find hard to separate in terms of how I use my body to perform them. Both challenge me in a variety of ways and have taught me that I can be physically strong, capable, flexible and independent.

And both caused me lots of superficial pains and bruises!!

Hapkido would leave me with a variety of pains including wrists wrapped in bands of black, blue and yellow, broken toes and fingers, and aching leg, stomach and chest muscles. Surfing would see me wearing fin cuts, bruises, red eyes, sore shoulders and weird sun-etched skin markings from the time I spent in the sun and the water.

And I loved them all.

I connected them with the ways I pushed myself and try new things and didn't sit comfortably doing things that I already knew I can pull off. They sat on my body - muscles, bones and skin - reminding me that I can do anything I want.

So I miss my aches and pains. I miss my cuts and bruises. I miss knowing what I can do. I miss finding out what I can't. I miss falling and jumping and turning and kicking and swimming and pulling and pushing and flowing and gliding. I miss moving and bending and stretching and fighting and scaring myself and feeling the fear and doing it anyway. I miss challenging myself through my body.

Last weekend I went down the coast and the surf was mush so I spent a fair bit of time on a SUP, paddling up and down a river. It was so much fun. And now I ache. My arms, shoulders, back and core are dully reminding me of every stroke I made, every inch of river we covered, every tumble into the water, every bough we ducked (tree barrels!), every log we avoided and I revel in the way it hurts to pick things up, to turn my head, to shake someones hand, to sit still.

It is good to feel my body ache again.

Friday, June 19, 2009


I went away camping and surfing up the coast with Noe, Ady, Rob, Sophie and Dave for the long weekend in June. There were tents, fires, soup, rum, Scrabble, bacon and eggs and many witticisms.

The waves were tiny, but clean and so so so much fun! And the company couldn't have been better.

It was perfect.
*All photos by Rob and Ady

Yallingup Surf Film Festival

Surf filmmakers take note!

Yallingup in West Australia is hosting it's very own surf film festival in January next year. I know nothing more about it all at this stage, but it looks like it could be really interesting (if you're into that sort of thing, which I am!).

The call for submissions has opened so what are you waiting for? Get involved!

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Squirrell stance

I logged onto my email account this morning to find the usual assortment of junk and forwards which I variously opened and deleted. One of the ones I opened was The Monday Morning Wave email from The Surfer's Path...

The sloping arc of a wave-face, a humid blanket of broken cloud, and the casual form of a rider on an ancient alaia surfboard, frame the star of the show at The Pass, Byron Bay, Australia. PHOTO: Anthony Walsh

Hmmm... that stance, that style, those arms, those boardies, those legs all seemed very familiar. I looked again, could it be?!! That man on the alaia, that 'star of the show', is one of my all-time favourite surfing companions, Evan Squirrell - shredder, surfboard enthusiast and coffin rider.

Evan is also making me a new board to make up for the recent loss of my others over at Vouch. Stoked.

P.S. That alaia is NOT ancient. It was made last year actually. On the North Coast and all. Ancient... pffft!

A model of women's surfing?

In case you haven't cottoned on, my interest in professional, competitive surfing is fairly limited. To be honest, I don't find it to be particularly inspiring or compelling and would much rather talk about surfing more generally - as something that people do as a part of their lives, not as their career. I don't have an issue with surfing as a sport, but it's just not my thing.

However, it is almost impossible to ignore the centrality of competitive surfing, especially since it's the version that is most regularly shoved down our throats by the media. The characters, the locations, the bodies, the rivalries and the impressive levels of skill and achievement provide any number of threads for writers and photographers to grasp onto and make into a story. It's developed into a dynamic and vibrant plate of fodder and, especially when it comes to the mainstream media, it provides evidence of all the surfing cliches that have been perpetuated since the early days of modern surfing - the brown skin, travelling, drug-taking, anti-social, language, cuteness and health. It all fits, even if it's not always comfortable.

Not only that, but the surfers are available. They need to promote themselves and so they're ready to interview, to be photographed and to put themselves up for exposure as a consequence of their chosen career path.

So it's no surprise to see a major American magazine taking hold of the delightfully photogenic and most marketable breed of surfers - teenage girls.

The latest edition of US Vanity Fair has published an article about women's surfing called 'Tubular Girls' (that's bad - even by my standards!) which features a quiver of stunning young women who surf, who are cute, sweet and most importantly look hot. Effectively, it's Hollywood surfing, it's Blue Crush* come to life - it's Blue Crush Illustrated!

A fleeting consideration of such an article and photo shoot (which I've only had online access to) may move you to declare "That's great! Isn't it wonderful that women's surfing is being recognised and promoted in such a big and widely-read magazine!" and to carry on with your day, warm with the knowledge that, at least intellectually, we are evolving as a species!

And it is great! In terms of opportunities, money and recognition women's competitive surfing still has far to go when compared to men's. Exposure in widely read magazines can be helpful in promoting not only the sport, but the women who participate. Obviously, there is also the bonus of exposure for the sponsors too, as evidenced by the centrally displayed logos of the girls' sponsors at every opportunity!

But articles like this one can be a little uncomfortable as well.

VF has created an illustration of surfing that plays into the Little Blonde Surfer Girl ideal that sometimes can be the case, but often is not. But let's not be naive here because VF is a major, mainstream, international, fashion and entertainment glossy - I mean Johnny Depp is on the cover!! The magazine most usually trades in beautiful people and they clearly managed to keep that agenda intact here by ensuring that anyone who doesn't fit the stereotype is omitted. It's difficult to critique who was and was not included in some ways because I don't know (nor am I interested in) the politics behind the shoot. Obviously photographing teenage girls (some as young as 14) will involve parents and sponsors as well as the magazine and lord knows who else.

This isn't really about women's surfing - not in Vanity Fair. This is about explaining the lifestyle that is meant to match your Chanel surfboard. This is about perpetuating stereotypes using the prettiest versions around. This is about selling magazines and selling product - the promotion of women's surfing and the girls themselves is consequential to that.

It's possible to over-analyse these scenarios to within an inch of their life, but in the end I neither judge nor blame the girls for snatching up an opportunity to promote themselves and their sport. If I was that hot I would too! It's just a shame that it's rarely actually about their surfing!

*Let it be known that I love Blue Crush. I really do! I think it's fab!

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

3 days

dry skin
chapped lips
red eyes
salt dried face
crusty hair
aching shoulders
bruised ribs


Friday, June 05, 2009

Out of Office Autoreply

I'm off up the coast to spend a few days camping with friends in a spot where there's no phone reception or internets. Yipppeeeee!

So while I'm out of the online loop, please direct all your reading here to Kurungabaa. You can check out the latest issue that is soon to take flight and think about subscribing so you can have a copy all of your very own! Sic.

Get involved, people! Get involved!!

Thursday, June 04, 2009

A simple girl.

When words fail me, Axel never does!

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

'The Present' by Thomas Campbell - a response.

As an already established lover of Sprout, I went to see Thomas Campbell’s latest offering, The Present with a good idea of what I was in for and a fair certainty that I would like it.

Right on both counts.

The barrow that T. Campbell continues to push in this film is an enthusiasm for riding both a variety of surf craft and waves. The point is to keep yourself open to different wave riding experiences without trying to privilege one over another, and which is an approach that continues growing to be increasingly popular and accepted. And it’s hard to fault an idea that advocates both riding the right board on the right wave as well as promoting mixing things up to keep them interesting.

What I thought might be a bit problematic for the film was how to weave such a diverse array of wave riding approaches together into something that makes sense in terms of ‘surfing’ - an idea that I find problematic. I am sceptical that surfing can be so cohesively discussed as one thing or one idea and I have become increasingly convinced that as surfing diversifies more and more in both the media and in the water, it grows to be segmented the same way that skateboarding seems to be. So I was interested to see just how Mr Campbell and co were going to try and link longboarding, shortboarding, bodyboarding, bodysurfing and so on and on as aspects of the one same experience.

Come on Thomas! Show us your hand!

Well, he does this pretty much immediately with a brief discussion of the film’s title, The Present, creating the link in a way that even I found endearing and convincing. The Present suggests that surfing waves, that riding waves, is an experience which places us firmly in the now, in the world, in the day, in the moment. Such a premise argues a removal from the complex networks of our lives and brings us back, ultimately, to enjoying the world around us, in this moment, through ourselves.

To get even more philosophical and conceptual about it, such an experience and connection breezily plays with notions of time itself, because from this surfing perspective we’re forced to focus on one thing, one wave, one moment. And it is in this way that the aspirations of the title are clear – The Present, the moment, the gift, the immediacy, the time, the now, the you, the me, the us.

Deep, man.

To argue his point, Campbell features an real array of ‘right now’ surfers who (we are constantly told/sold by their sponsors) are relevant to contemporary surfing – Ry Craike, Dane Reynolds, Sofia Mulanovich, Joel Tudor, Kassia Meador, Alex Knost and of course, those multi-board-riding darlings, Dave Rastovich and Dan Malloy. (Because let’s face it - what self-respecting West Coast US surf film would fail to include, nay feature, a Malloy?) And the waves vary from perfect Indo barrels to knee-high peelers to thundering West African “freight trains” (their description) providing a range of waves as varied as the boards ridden. The footage and the production plays with a assortment of waves, boards, riders, styles, places, approaches and aesthetics all the time using the title concept to pull it all into some kind of unison.

The footage used is diverse and beautiful, and plays with colour, light and perspective. It revels as much in the spaces and places of where the waves are as much as it does in the waves themselves. And not in that awfully patronising way that Sipping Jetstreams did with it’s frozen filmic portraits of the locals-who-live-a-simpler-life although, to be fair, there is indeed a little of this going on. (“Hey kid! Can you stand still over there while I film you holding a kite?”) If you want to be involved with a community, then by all means, be involved, but thinking that you’re connecting on some deeper level just because you use their picture for your surf film is a crock of shit. It’s just another way of taking, taking, taking from such communities. Conversations about ‘the simple life of the local people’ in the places visited is a little tired for my liking and I feel it’s time to move on. If you’re trying to make a statement about the unbalanced, problematic, sweep-it-under-the-carpet relationships of surfing to certain locations then fine, do so. You should! But you’re not. In which case, the local people you’re filming with such wonder are simply folk, going about their business, which just happens to be a bit different to your business. Get over it.

Phew! Glad I got that off my chest!

Previous to viewing the film, a friend who had already seen it had lamented the lack of originality and the way that, to his ears, the ongoing voice-over references straight back to Bruce Brown and The Endless Summer films. I can see where he’s coming from and I too found it sometimes a bit irksome as his observation rang in my ears and nearly ruined things for me. The monotony of Campbell, Dan Malloy and Rastovich’s droning narration does get a little irritating at times but at others I did feel that it helped explain the point and to keep the story and context together, so I could forgive it. I much preferred the staged phonecalls. They amused me –haha! - and I thought they worked well in spite of, or perhaps because of, their cheesiness. There are sections in there that are purely fun and silly and I liked it. Surfing is fun and silly a lot of the time.

I also l.o.v.e.d the soundtrack.

The film dipped its toe into an early and necessarily superficial discussion of the environmental reality of boards and the currently unsustainable way they are produced. Not much was really said, but I understand why and a point was made and I think it’s good that it came up at all. Considering the number of boards that Senõr Malloy must go through it’s good to know that he ponders his board-based footprint in any way! And of course, I have to point out not just the inclusion of women surfing in the film (Campbell is good at that) but the way he did it! I liked that there wasn’t a chick section that set women’s surfing up as graceful or charming or great or different or anything in particular. When there were women surfing (and it was only three ladies in total) it was as a part of what was going on in a much more inclusive way that didn’t really need to be pointed out. Like in the real world.

Overall I reckon the film is beautiful and fun and sincere. The sincerity doesn’t emerge from the tried-and-true format of travelling to different countries to surf (but it certainly makes for good viewing), nor does it lie in hangin’ with the locals in each location (I can get those tales from friends as they come home from their year overseas). And certainly big films like The Endless Summer I & II and Step Into Liquid etc etc, have already played with the theme that ‘surfers are all bound by an experience’ but I’ve never really been sold on that. Certainly The Present draws on all these surf film clichés and tools to develop it’s own voice and lacks the modernity of the raw, new-media, YouTube clips that I take such great online pleasure in and which seem to be the way forward at this point, but I think that films like this one retain their relevance. I like the feature-length, the not-always-digital-film, the story, the cohesion, the sense of continuity. I like that people put so much time and effort into something. And sometimes I just like to look at pretty things.

For me the sincerity lies in the sentiment. As both Sprout and The Present show, surfing is a fragmented and diverse spectrum of approaches and aesthetics and I have often wondered how similar it all really is? But Campbell’s film is thoughtful and has clearly been laboured over, and its simplistic conceptual device of ‘the present’ drew me in. Instead of focusing on a specific surfing approach it argued, once again, the case for branching out and making it about wave-riding, re-jigging the focus onto the immediate physicality of surfing and of time…

the present.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Before and After

The coastline I'm from recently got bombarded by a fairly significant storm that caused flooding, uprooted trees and washed away more sand than I've ever seen before! Insane.

I recently posted pictures that a friend took on the Gold Coast during the storm, but the ones I've posted here are from Suffolk Park after the weather had changed. I took a series of pictures of home a couple of months ago that I'll put next to the ones I took last week of the same beaches - it will give you some idea of the damage (and my beach wasn't even the worst hit!).

Nature, eh!

Monday, June 01, 2009

Got any flatter?


Minus the sunshine. And 10 hours south.