Australia’s legendary surf culture ‘on the brink of total collapse!’ says the anthropologist after a two-week tour of coastal towns!
And how he could possibly be saved by a 90s country boy who once threatened Kelly Slater’s dominance!
This writer recently had the opportunity to take a two and a half week road trip along the east coast of Australia, traveling from Newcastle in the south to Noosa in the north. A distance of approximately 570 miles each way.
End of winter.
Usually a dormant period along this stretch in the direction of the waves, but an active La Nina cycle saw a conveyor belt of easterly commercial swells keeping conditions alive. A family vacation, so not entirely dedicated to surfing. But enough time has been spent in the water to form a rough contemporary sketch.
At that time, about ten different places were surfed:
Broken head x 3
Sunny Beach x 3
Noosa (tea tree and first point)
Pippys x 2
Angouria x 3
Such a mixture of well-known and lesser-known spots offers the observer a unique transect of current species of littoral fauna active in the Australian wave biosphere.
This list is not exhaustive.
I haven’t attempted to catalog every species encountered at each location given a) levels of duplication b) some rare solitary surfs and c) some people aren’t as funny as others.
This is only a guide. A point of reference. A recording of a moment in time. Imagine a crystal, exposed to direct sunlight, its many radiant faces.
Conditions: Ice, 3-4′ SE swell hitting the inner section at mid to low tide. About 20 subjects in the water in total
Mr. Go with the Flow
An upper middle-aged man with a steady diet of surf media consumption. Competent without rising above the pack. Likely to follow mainstream board design trends, but generally surfs well enough to understand the nuances of each. Ridden a 6’3 x 18 ½ x 2/14 in the 90s, a 5’10 x 19 x 2 ½ in the 2000s and is now on a medium length when conditions call for it. Will generally drive whatever it feels it is told to do. Being a wobbly straight point with a flatter face, this particular subject was flying a new Christenson, single fin, no legrope tracker. He then lost his board on his first wave. The board came up and crossed the cobblestone point with the owner catfishing behind. Last seen going back to the car for said legrope.
Status: of little concern. Plays an essential role as both predator and prey in the ecosystem. Stable population.
The great Australian drummer
Usually a worker over 40 who has been riding the same dimensions for twenty years with the motto Give me a 6’1 or give me death. Generally well built but with an expansive midsection, often referred to alternately as a lean and fat pussy. Takes a curvy, flat pinpoint wave with the same gusto as it would an Indo wall or a mid-morning pie from the local bakery. Admirable in his dedication to the cause despite the overwhelming reality of the situation he faces.
Status: Although aggressive in small pockets and an important apex predator in the food chain, Australia’s great fighter’s sparse overall distribution, declining population and fatty diet means this species will soon be classified as protected.
Conditions: wobbly swell of 2-3′ with ENE offshore winds. Coupled runners but.
Early to mid thirties. Tanned, tense skin. Impeccably built. Eyes to get lost in. Mr. Friction most often works in or near industry, and is a very proficient surfer. Most likely was sponsored at some point. Always ahead of the pack. Rejecting the form and function of traditional high performance gear, Mr Friction now rides endless foam in anything under 3ft. Yet he still pulverizes innocent bystanders with the same fury he unleashed on his competitors in the U14 division at the 1998 Rusty Gromfest at Lennox Head.
Status: Stable. Plays an important role in the overall ecosystem, especially in congested point waves.
Introduced species, usually native to European or South American countries. The She-Rahs travel in packs of 3-4, riding these DHD twins with floral inlays and wearing high cut Rip Curl wetties. They love good vibes, hi-5s, and post-surf gin and kombuchas.
Status: A welcome addition to the ecosystem, although they sometimes need to relax. To be monitored and evaluated later.
Conditions: 3′ skates, cleaner than an Inertia after.
I don’t know about this one. Was just a guy tearing up a Tea Trees evil that looked like a cross between Owen Wright and Martin Bryant and had one of the best skulls (long hair with a bald crown) I’ve ever seen.
Status: A rare and magnificent creature. To be protected at all costs.
Conditions: 4-5 E swell in the middle of the beach with sometimes bigger ones. some grow there. Wide solid sets sweeping the line steadily.
The baron guides the board
The littoral zone encompasses not only the sea itself, but also the adjacent land. This particular species has been sighted at the Sunshine Beach Surf Club, a popular watering hole that attracts a wide mix of endemic and exotic wildlife species. It was 3:30 p.m. Friday afternoon. Maximum libation period.
The Board Guide Baron is the Antipodes cousin of the famous Surfline Man. Usually found to buy overpriced surf gear and gentrify the coastal suburbs. Similarities to Mr Go with the Flow but two notable features: Board Guide Barons has only recently started surfing and will accept anything he reads online about boards as gospel. Kale Broccoli sidekicks. The skill level is such that the design details they discuss make little to no difference to their overall performance.
Two subjects spotted on this occasion. After surfing. Well presented. Early 1940s with young, sweet faces. Dressed in what could be described as casual Friday work clothes. Well fitting jeans, spotless Vans sneakers. Keys to the latest SUV models, large-screen smartphone, medium-strength craft beer schooner by their side.
“Brother I saw you have the new JS, tell me that?
“Well, I felt like it went really well today, but I probably could have used something with a few more liters through my nose. From what I was reading online, I think the Sharpeye would have been a better buy for my skill set given the lower toggle entry, but Board Warehouse’s online guide suggested the JS with its more forgiving outline was the choice. , I will most definitely leave them a bad google review.”
Status: Already overwhelming some ecosystems. Targeted felling recommended.
Conditions: 3ft lazy swell from E dragging a few runners but baby food in between. No sand behind the rock, so the takeoff is around the petit mali. The paddle is now behind the launch area, which means anyone can exit out the back. An entire book could be written on this one joint. Not just a microcosm of the surf genre but an exacerbation of it.
Female version of Mr Go With the Flow, or the Big Aussie Battler, but infinitely cooler. Usually a little older, still equipped with high performance equipment. Practice. Wear a springsuit or utility swimsuit. Maybe get on a bigger board to be more competitive, but like the Aussie Battler stubbornly refuses to give up. That makes her an easy mark, but anyone paddling or snaking her is a real kook. If you know, you know. Thereafter, it always fills up.
Status: to be protected, preserved and promoted
A close cousin of The Board Guide Baron but usually on a bad or oversized mini funboard, wearing below the knees and a shiny shirt. Can surf but uses the extra length and width for its own purposes. Talks out loud about how much more relaxed he is on the coast than on the northern beaches as he wins his third set in a row.
Status: Becomes a pest quickly, but the graft usually disappears once the surf exceeds 4′ – as such it can be tolerated/burnt under all other conditions.
The Go-Pro-in-mouth-tightening, barely in-between brother. He’s writhing on his new FireWire, filming content for his Nathan Florence youtube channel with titles like “POV surfing crowded Snapper Rocks,” and is likely to sue you for assault when he lands on you and kicks his board.
Status: Shoot down with extreme prejudice.
Conditions: 4 to 5′ SE swell, slow but with a strange cape
Powelly, man. Wow. He looked flexible. In good health. Slightly less grass on the dome but otherwise in good shape. A walking contradiction in that he wore a camouflage suit with a bright red board. Do you want to be seen or not?
But any chance of keeping a low profile disappeared during his first wave. Sparkling surf. Tight and concise lines. Incredible to look at up close. Sleek, dipping turns, the type Angourie likes to tease you with. But seeing Shane’s approach was breathtaking. There was an insane double tap of a slightly crumbled lip that seemed to defy the laws of physics. Even the Universe couldn’t keep up with what he was doing.
The pixelated sun.
The clocks clicked twice.
A cosmic moment.
Status: Shane Powell