Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Philip Govedare

I can't stop thinking about these beautiful, beautiful paintings by Philip Govedare (via Wolf Eyebrows)

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Oh, Chanel. You haute purveyor of all things surf!

Remember a few years ago when we talked about Vogue magazine making surfing high fashion? Well, things are getting ever surfier over at Chanel...

Yeah, sure, I guess. I must say, however, that that is possibly the prettiest man I have ever seen. I don't know what it means in terms of surfing, but Pete Bowes would probably have something to say about all of that, I imagine.

(Clip via EBNY)

Tuesday, March 20, 2012


A sick little film from Clare Plueckhahn and Fran Derham, from Cos We Can.

LUNCHBREAK from CosWeCan on Vimeo.

Thursday, March 08, 2012

A swell ending in Newcastle

So, today was my last full day here in Newcastle as resident writer at The Lock-Up Cultural Centre. And I’m sincerely bummed. I’ve had the most wonderful time, met so many great people and found my feet in the surf, so I’m sad to leave. Today Garth asked, “So you must be missing home by now”, and my honest answer was “No. Not at all.” I mean, I miss my loved ones, but Newcastle is great and I have been busy and productive and happy, so I haven’t had much reason to look forward to the end of my time here or feel any home-sickness. In truth, I’d love another month here. I feel like I haven’t had enough time to get everywhere I wanted to go, meet all the people I wanted to meet, surf all the breaks, hang out with crew, to read, think, write. So I’d love another month or two, but I’m off to Sydney tomorrow and then to drive/camp/surf my back up the east coast next week with my friend, Terry, so things aren’t too bad really. But I was hoping that today I would be able to get in one last Newcastle surf (or two or three), to see the folk I have met in the water and to catch some waves at my favourite breaks. But alas! It was not to be. 

 A coal ship was leaving while a cruise ship was entering the harbour, giving a weird kind of perspective on the swell.

The swell here was huge and pumping, and the idea that I could even paddle out into the waves on my longboard is beyond laughable. Instead, I had to content myself with standing on top of the wall by the ocean pool to watch the huge waves swell and surge their way through the sea, peaking as the ocean floor rises, and finally smashing into the rocks near the shore, which was pretty cool and not such a bad thing to witness. I waded through the flooded pool area to climb the stepped, concrete seating overlooking the pool and the Cowrie Hole so I could better see the waves breaking onto the flat rock shelf that extends out into the sea. At the top were a salty, bare-foot, bearded guy and his daughter, both of whom I (of course) got chatting to. He was a longtime local who had grown up in the area and who regaled me with stories of growing up in the terrace houses just back from where we were standing. Stories of waves like this for weeks at a time, stories of long flat periods and the eventual calls of ‘Sets! Sets!’ that would resonate through the thin terrace walls when the waves eventually returned. A story of a freak waves washing through the pool below us when he was young, taking the bathing crowd by surprise and washing away towels, picnic baskets and children. I was (of course) an enthusiastic audience, stoked to listen to his tales as the sets continues to roll through, as crew continued to make and kook critical waves and sections, as guys continued to lose their boards and swim in while avoiding the rocks so close below, as others continued to attempt the rock jump and struggle to make their way out the back. And all the time the rhythmic, cyclical, tidal surge and crash of waves, flooding the pool then emptying it, delivering a spectacle hypnotic in its power and intensity. It was a good day to be on the shore.

 The water would wash and swirl through the ocean pools, so you had to time your passage to the concrete seating closer to the break.
 Despite the massive swell, Tom was still committed to bird-watching. I found this unnervingly adorable.
This guy and his bodyboard caused us some concern as he went to jump off the rocks into the heaving maw of oceanic fury! The lifeguards in the tower were calling over the loudspeakers, asking him to come in, but he flipped them the bird in defiance and continued on his mission to get out. In the end, he took a less terrifying (for us) option further in front of where we were sitting and made it out.

The afternoon saw the sun come out. Newcastle is so very beautiful

And a nice day to be indoors writing, as it happens. And so I found myself sitting once more in One Penny Black, typing away, drinking coffee, and chatting to Huon and Garth. I planned my goodbyes, and figured out how I can fit in another visit here next week. As I cannot say enough, I feel so lucky to have had the chance to spend some time here in Newcastle, and been made to feel so welcome and included. And so some thank yous. Specifically, I must thank Emily and the volunteer staff at The Lock-Up; Karen, Katherine and Candace at the Hunter Writers Centre; Huon and Brenton (via One Penny Black) who have so generously shared their knowledge and stoke with me; Gerry who introduced me to the residency program and who has been a wonderful Newcastle friend; sweet Maia for the girl companionship in the waves and the very early morning coffees; and my dear friend Emma for playing host from day one. I’ve also been stoked by the emails and comments from Newcastle folk via my blog: your feedback has been so great in helping me find my way around and learn more about your wonderful hometown. And of course, my time here has been made extra wonderful by the surfing crew I have met in the water, in particular the people I met at Cowrie Hole, Newcastle Beach and Caves. For a while I worried that I was spending too much time at certain breaks – which I have! - but the fun waves I found and the lovely people I met put paid to those concerns, allowing me – unexpectedly - to feel a sense of belonging during my time here. Although my residency at The Lock-Up is done, I still have stories and words left to write and post about my time here.

Thank you Newcastle. I’ll remember my time here with fondness and great affection and leave here feeling refreshed, renewed and full of inspiration.

Wednesday, March 07, 2012

Surf City - women's surfing

If you live in Sydney, and you aren't locked into any plans for Saturday afternoon, you might be interested to come along to this discussion called, Surfer Girls - women and surfing, at the Museum of Sydney. The event is part of the Surf City exhibition, which is now in its final weeks.

See you there!

Tuesday, March 06, 2012

Ryan Kenny makes fun looking surf films

Watching footage of surfing is usually pretty fun. As you watch the waves, you can feel the movements in your own body, to the point where I often find myself smiling. When music and audio is added into the mix, the whole thing (if well done) can really take off, and I find myself not only smiling but also leaning in towards the screen. This clip (which the very talented Ryan Kenny, made with Shaun Cansdell) drew me into the fun of it all even further by linking tempos, colours, footage, graphics and movements and playing them all off each other. I think it's really clever and fun, and it looks sick! Enjoy!

Shaun Cansdell/ Ryan Kenny from Ryan  Kenny on Vimeo.

Monday, March 05, 2012

Newcastle surf scene?

When I arrived here in Newcastle, indeed even before I arrived, I was told repeatedly that this was a male-dominated, hard-core, localised short-boarding town. That the waves did not lend themselves to anything else, I was told. The couple of chicks I had spoken to told me of unfriendliness and drop-ins, of guys treating them with contempt. I was, understandably, apprehensive.

However, what I have found instead is a growing scene of longboards, eggs, fish and beyond, adding to the established scene of body-boarders, knee-boarders and body-surfers. I have met the most welcoming, friendly and inclusive crew, who have showered me in kindness, maps, invites, company and knowledge, as well as local crew, who are generally stoked to have a chick out in the water with them. People have loved that I love their breaks, that I want to know more about them. Different to Byron, my being new hasn't proved to be a sin or a threat. I found it happening out of the water too; in caf├ęs like One Penny Black and the Bar Beach General Store (on Darby St), shops like Surfhouse and Sanbah Surf, and conversations with the folk who work in these places. Mark Richards' surf shop might have recently closed its doors (at it's dry location at the inland end of Hunter St), but instead you can find a myriad of shops and spaces that are replacing it in a way that reflects the increasingly diverse surfing scene here and the role that surfing plays in Newcastle life.

Please don't mistake me for having stumbled upon some nirvana of wave-riding diversity - absolutely not! The hierarchies are clear, the treatment of women is the same as everywhere (suspicious), and certainly the male shortboarder remains the most common sight in the sea. Longboarding definitely remains marginal to the point that it was often my board, rather than being female that saw me connect with and seek out other non-shortboarders in the water. But there is undeniably more to surfing here than the stereotype that continues to be described by resident surfers (both Novocastrian and newcomers) themselves.

As ever, surfing and surfing culture are shifting and changing and making way for boards, approaches and experiences that are different from the most common. This is all influenced by the particular history, community, culture, coastline and waves of this area, to allow it to emerge as it's own particular brand of, for example, longboarding, but I have rarely been surfing and found myself to have the only longboard in the water. And sure, this has a lot to do with the kinds of waves that I have sought, but I don't think that is a major issue - people aren't going to ride longboards so much on a peaky beach-break, no matter where you are.

But there is something afoot here in Newcastle. Something surfy and subversive and fun. Something driven by the large numbers of students who move here from the mid-North coast, where riding a diverse range of boards is the norm. Something that is connected to broader interests in wave-riding experiences, and being able to enjoy surfing even on the smallest days, when thin, light, thrusters aren't so great. Something connected to broader shifts in Australian surfing culture, but also Newcastle-specific - the crew here aren't in the 'scene' the way that those in Sydney, Byron and Noosa are. I mean, people do have good hair, moustaches, tattoos and nonchalance, but not all at once! Surfing here remains something that you do, as a big part of your life, but it doesn't seem to define people or make them feel more special than the rest of humanity. Surfing here is something you have to work for - looking for waves, understanding breaks and conditions, drawing on knowledge and resources. Surfing here has taught me a lot and given me a new way of looking at the ocean and waves and my place amongst them. I'm stoked to have had the chance to spend a little time here.

Saturday, March 03, 2012

Shark Alarm. A good try anyway.

The other afternoon, my friend Emma, and I drove down the coast to check out a couple of breaks I had heard are really lovely. By the time Em finished work and we got our crap together, time was getting on, and rain clouds had gathered to threaten the afternoon sun. Nonetheless, we persevered and headed south, out of town.

We stopped at the first of our destinations, to a carpark filled with utes and old cars, which I thought probably bode well for the state of the surf. As we walked down the short, sandy track to the beach, a panorama of soft sand, clear water and peeling waves opened up before us. A reef was breaking down the way - a flotilla of bodyboarders enjoying it's fruits - and there was potential at a breakwall at the end of the beach. But the peaks along the beach itself were inviting enough, with more surfers than I had expected out in the water. Hailing from Byron, however, to me anything less than 50 people seems pretty reasonable, so I was keen. Also, I hate surf-checking and know from experience that things are likely to be worse further along and I didn't want to drag non-surfing Em along on an extended and boring trek that ends in (my) frustration. I turned to Em, 'We could keep driving, but then we might get there and there aren't any waves, and I'd hate to do that to you because I know how annoying surf-checking is and that you're keen to get in the water. So shall we stop here? The waves look fun to me!' Em was keen, so we hot-footed it back to the car, chucked on swimmers, I grabbed my longboard and we made our way sea-side.

I decided to surf down the beach a little, where the waves looked cleaner and more consistent. There were more people there too, but more meant about sever or eight, so I figured that was okay. I threw myself into the rip and sailed out through the whitewater. It was an energy efficient idea but... it left me deep on the inside, exactly where I didn't want to be. I needed to paddle across a bit further but what that meant was paddling across the entire lineup of guys. It was an amusing way to arrive, which I acknowledged with a 'So, um, hello everyone', as I passed. I mean, as a chick in one-piece swimmers on a longboard in an all-dude shortboarding lineup, you are already going to stand out, so luckily my comments brought smiles and smirks and let them know I wasn't here to ruin their afternoon. I took my place on the outside and a guy in a blue rashee laughed with me about my not-at-all-subtle arrival. And that's the thing about Newcastle - everyone is so darn nice!

Even when within 5 seconds of arriving, a lovely wave came right to me. Like, right to me. I was in the perfect spot and no-one was close enough to paddle for it from the inside. Stoked. The, as soon as I got back out, it happened again. And people were still nice to me! I got talking to a couple of guys - Tony and Michael - finding out about this spot and hearing about others. There were waves for everyone, so I guess that takes a lot of the pressure off, but again, what lovely people! Then, as when I paddled out, this beautiful set wave came right to me. Michael started to paddle, but I decided he was too deep so I took off, speeding along the clean right-hander almost all the way into the beach. When I got back out Tony was looking around in the water,

You know, there's lots of sharks around here, right? And it just started to smell fishy too.

Oh I hate that! I replied. Noticing the dark shapes of seaweed floating at the bottom of the clear sea.

Yeah, and you know a guy got attacked recently?

My brain clicked. I was getting too many waves. Yeah, I know. Not here though. I smiled at him. I know what you're doing, dude. Talking about sharks. It's not going to work. I'm not going in. 

Tony smiled and shrugged. And anyway, I explained, Sharks smell like ammonia, not fish. That's what my marine biologist friend who studies sharks told me.

Really? Ammonia? How do they do that? I thought they smelled like fish?

It was my turn to shrug. I don't know, but that's what she told me.

Another lovely wave came our way. I turned to Tony, Go on then. Tony paddled into the wave (which he would, of course, have done anyway, with or without my theoretical permission) and flicked his way down the watery wall. As he paddled back out, Michael was peering into the water around him. I wish he hadn't started talking about sharks...

Friday, March 02, 2012

Toddy makes me laugh

Tonight has been filled with a trawl through my reader to catch up on my favourite blogs. The Endless Bummer remains a perennial treasure trove of clips, ideas, images and amusement.

Exhibit A:

Thank you, Toddy. Thank you.

Royal Newcastle Hospital (Seriously. Why isn't there a tv mini-series series about this place? Yet.)

Here in Newcastle, there used to be a hospital overlooking Newcastle Beach, right down by the shoreline.

Opened in 1817, the Royal Newcastle Hospital only closed in 2007, to make way for - you guessed it - apartments, and the hospital was moved away from the sea. Although I understand the economics and practicalities of it all, I still think it's a shame our public buildings and services so often get shunted away from the coast to allow for private development. I'm certain that the views and sounds of the ocean were wonderfully healing for patients and staff alike. Indeed, Dianne Taylor and Suzanne (who works here at The Lock-Up and whose knowledge of local history is vast) have both separately told me a wonderful story about the pleasurable proximity of the hospital to the beach.

Apparently, when it was quiet or they were on their breaks, the nurses and the doctors used to go down to the beach, to swim and surf and play. When they were needed back, a towel would be hung from a particular balcony that was visible from the sand, signalling for them to return.

Isn't that a great story! Isn't the idea that the medical staff went swimming and surfing when they could wonderful! And isn't it the perfect setting for a romance novel, with an illustration on the front of a busty, uniformed nurse leaning into a kiss from a strong-jawed doctor whose hair is dripping with salt-water? I think it would be marvellous. It would have to involve a destructive fire with mass rescues or, a disaster in the coal mines, or the steelworks, or, oh I know, the earthquake*! All it needs now is a catchy/cheesy title. Something like 'Salt water remedy' or 'Healing Horizons'. Hmmm...

*In 1989, Newcastle was hit by an earthquake with a Richter magnitude of 5.2. Thirteen people were killed, 160 injured, and many buildings were destroyed. I'd completely forgotten about this event, but obviously it is an important part of Newcastle history, so I have heard a lot about it since coming here.

Thursday, March 01, 2012

Histories of surfing in Newcastle

Yesterday afternoon I was lucky enough to spend a couple of hours chatting with Dianne Taylor. Dianne is a volunteer at Newcastle Museum, who spends a lot of time talking to people and recording their stories as oral histories. She is an amazing lady, who believes that everyone has a story to tell'. By listening to these stories from so many different people in and around Newcastle, she has developed an incredible knowledge of the social and cultural history of the region. I was stoked to have met her.

Recently Dianne has been focused on collecting stories about surfing, and has been speaking with all kinds of people from Catherine Hill Bay to Foster to record their memories and knowledge about surfing in the region - breaks, people, anecdotes, events, understandings, relationships, shapers, shops, music, art and all the things that go into what it means to surf here. Like me, she is mostly interested in 'everyday' experiences and memories - things that are often dismissed as trivial or insignificant - so although she is keen to speak with Newcastle's better known surfers, she aims to include as many local surfers as possible. She has spoken to female, male, professional, recreational,  indigenous, straight, gay, disabled, young, old, long and shortboarding, gathering a range of stories from the region's surfing history and cultural life to develop an archive for the Museum.

If you would like to learn more about Dianne's oral histories, or if you would like to have your own stories recorded, drop me a line and I can put you in touch with Dianne. Dianne is creating an incredible resource and I am excited about the ways it could be used in the future, so I heartily encourage you to consider taking part by contributing your own surfing knowledge, understandings and experiences to this collection - saved for perpetuity in the Newcastle Museum. After all, as Dianne says, everyone has a story to tell.