Sex and love and beauty, in audio, by the noted author Jamie Brisick…
(A note from Jamie Brisick)
I grew up among sexism and misogyny. Not from my father — he’s a first-rate respecter of women — but from my surfer pals. In 8th grade, Ronnie Merkel skated up to me on the basketball court. He grinned sardonically.
“Where you been?” I asked.
He pulled his hand from his OP corduroy shorts pocket, brought his fingers to my nostrils.
“Finger fucking!” he said, and burst into cruel laughter.
When I was 15 and starting to feel things, Steve, a 24-year-old who I looked up to, told me to Never, ever, whatever you do don’t do it! Never tell a girl you love her, for that will be the end of you, Slick! (He called me Slick.) When I was 19 and trying to find my way as a pro surfer, one of my heroes declared in a Surfer magazine interview that “boards and broads don’t mix.”
In the late-‘80s I read the book Diary of a Genius by Salvador Dali. In it he regards his wife, Gala, with tremendous love and admiration and respect. I appreciated this. I recognized a similar yearning in myself, though I lacked the courage or the trust or the right girlfriend to express it.
A few years later I saw Il Postino, the movie about the Chilean poet Pablo Neruda. I couldn’t imagine a better way to spend a life — writing love poems from high up on a hill. For most of my twenties and thirties I gushed to great effect. I was fearless with my heart. But I have since become more cynical, more terrified. Most nights I shiver myself to sleep.
But occasionally it comes and washes over me, unfettered, conditionless Garden of Eden love. It’s in these moments that I mentally rehearse Valentine’s Day. We’re sitting on the stoop, the late afternoon sky is clear. I present my girl with a lap-sized, heart-shaped box. Chocolate, she thinks. She unties the bow, peels off the lid, and out fly a dozen Purple Sapphire butterflies, imported from West Bengal, India.
We just had a re-stock of our Superlative Black Virgin Mary surf trunks. Four extra pairs. Two in a 31-inch waist, two in the 32-inch waist.
BeachGrit places a great deal of emphasis on surf trunks. We believe that a pair of trunks must be flattering, a little sophisticated, has some edge and follows these design principles:
1. It is made from the soft cotton. Nylon is so… retro-future don’t you think? Oh, it doesn’t dry as fast? Do you really care enough to wear the same material factories use to manufacture tents?
2. The leg is short. Do you really desire a muumuu?
3. Button flies. With custom buttons that announce the designer (Rama McCabe) and the puppeteer (BeachGrit). Velcro catches, zips corrode and threaten your vitals. Buttons? A little extra work, at times, but as reliable as the continual victory of capitalistic democracy over facism.
4. It must be designed by the best in the biz, in this case, a Mr Rama McCabe, a Byron Bay-born surfer of impeccable style. How else can we be assured of the perfect silhouette and detail?
Size-wise, they fit a little big. (Forget the other sizes in the drop down menu, it’s either 31 or 32 only. Any questions email [email protected].)
Surf rumors are very good and I have one that might change your next board purchase. 11x world champ R. Kelly Slater is said to be sniffing around Firewire and not just to ride but to buy. Like, the whole company or at least part of it.
Our hero has always been very prog when it comes to his hardware. He was an early adopter of removable fin systems, rode his boards very undersized in very oversized surf and once carved a chunnel in the bottom of his Merrick to make it a hydroplane racing boat.
Firewire has been around for a while now and recently introduced a new, greener surfboard technology called TimberTek which includes…
“…The combination of a lightweight EPS core, sustainably-grown wood deck skins, Firewire’s proprietary parabolic rail construction, and anEntropy bio-resin hot coat yield an extremely lightweight, durable surfboard with ALL of the high performance flex characteristics of Firewire’s existing technologies. Even more impressive, the physical properties of the raw materials involved have allowed us to reduce exterior lamination significantly, furthering the reduction of the board’s carbon footprint.”
A greener surfboard would definitely match Kelly’s elan. I once rode Taj Burrow’s Firewire in Bondi but that was, like, lots of years ago and I only remember thinking I was pretty cool for riding Taj Burrow’s surfboard (thanks Sam McIntosh). But that was long ago and now Taj rides for Matt Biolos.
A taster of Jamie Brisick's remarkable new book Becoming Westerly…
The book Becoming Westerly is released in Australia today. It’s the rough-ride of the surf superstar Peter Drouyn as he morphs into the top-tapping showgal Westerly Windina.
It is the best work of Jamie Brisick’s career. His other books include Roman and Williams Buildings & Interiors:Things We Made (Rizzoli, 2012), The Eighties at Echo Beach (Chronicle, 2011), Have Board, Will Travel: The Definitive History of Surf, Skate and Snow (HarperCollins, 2004), and We Approach Our Martinis with Such High Expectations (Consafos Press, 2002).
The chapter extracted, below, is the second-last in the book in which we find the author (a former pro surfer) under the spell of the former pro surfer and writer (so many similarities!) Derek Hynd in the Australian coastal town of Byron Bay.
“I wasn’t necessarily thinking my visit with Derek Hynd would becoming a chapter in the book, I was merely catching up with an old friend and going for a friction-free surf,” says Jamie. “But Derek’s a rare individual, he’s way out there on a limb the way Westerly is. He’s a fine specimen of what’s a big question in my life: Where do you go with surfing in midlife and beyond? Derek’s been a huge inspiration to me for decades. I learn from him. And free-friction surfing is a great metaphor for the unanchored, tenuous life that’s a big theme in the book.”
Derek Hynd rides boards with no fins, which means that instead of a firm, reliable connection with the wave, he slides all over the place, sometimes riding backwards for a spell, often twirling into 360s. On the one hand it’s completely childlike, an eight-year-old sliding down a snow hill on an inner tube. On the other it’s laden with big metaphor: life is out of control; wanna make God laugh, tell him your plans.
Derek personifies both extremes. In the water he is playful, fishlike, a slave to the slide. On land, over a cold beer, he pontificates and philosophizes, he is the quintessence of the thinking man’s surfer. His boards are sculptures, albeit functional sculptures. Like Michelangelo’s “Every block of stone has a statue inside of it and it is the task of the sculptor to discover it,” they are forever works-in-progress. He’ll start with a big plank, test pilot it in the surf, make mental notes, hack away at it with chisels and files, ride it again, make more mental notes, make more hacks, and on it goes. They’re crude. Grooves and gutters and channels feed out the tail, beads of resin stripe the rails. If Fred Flintstone had surfed his boards might have looked something like these.
Derek does not own a cell phone, so when I arranged to meet him in Byron Bay it’s done via email.
Looks like a tiny surf but a surf nonetheless.
See you at The Pass at 3pm –
I’ll be under the shady trees on the new grass by the boat ramp.
I’ll bring a board – of sorts.
The drive from Labrador to Byron Bay takes a little over an hour. I had plenty of time on my hands so rather than get straight on the Pacific Highway I decided to hug the coastline from Broadbeach to the Queensland/New South Wales border. For me, the trip was a sort of revisiting of my teens. JJJ may have been playing the latest alternative rock, but in my head I heard Sunnyboys, Hoodoo Gurus, Mi-Sex, Lime Spiders, GANGajang, and, of course, Jimmy and the Boys’ “Dr. Cairo,” a song about an M-to-F transgender that now, fully immersed in Westerly World, feels weirdly prescient: His name was Wayne/Now it’s Jane; When the knife wipes/Scraps are thrown out/Unwanted pieces down the spout; I’ve got to get to Cairo for my operation
The previous year I’d had a Holy fuck, you’re getting old! moment with JJJ. At 6 am I was driving from a friend’s place in Uki to Westerly’s. I turned on the radio and got sucked into a debate about education. A male voice—urgent, fabulous enunciation—spoke about a national vision and a national curriculum.
“And that was Peter Garrett,” said the DJ when it finished.
Midnight Oil Peter Garrett? Yes. He’d become a cabinet minister.
I remember seeing them play the Whiskey-a-Go-Go in 1983. At 6’4”, Peter Garrett is already a tall man, but on stage—veins bulging from his shiny cranium, monster left hand with splayed, reaching fingers—he was sixteen feet tall. He sang about U.S. Forces, world history, the great survival mechanism that is having a short memory. Prancing across the stage on tip-toes as if sneaking up on a sleeping animal, he sang about the outside world. If Barton Lynch and Cheyne Horan and Richard Cram and Gary “Kong” Elkerton were ushering me into higher self-mining in the water, then the bald, blade-handed, politically-erudite Peter Garrett was spurring my intellectual curiosity. The message: You can shape your life into whatever you want. What does that same inspiration look like at age 50? I wondered.
Gold Coast point breaks peel from right to left. Rabbit once joked that he’s “got a crook neck, can’t look left,” which was his excuse for dropping in on fellow surfers. At Burleigh Heads I watched a set of chest-high waves cascade across the shallow sandbank. At Currumbin at least 100 surfers dotted the point, but nary a breaker in sight. Kirra more resembled a long rock pool than the spot that dazzled my imagination in the 1976 film In Search of Tubular Swells. Bathers leapt off the groyne and swam languorously down the point. Dads walked their water-winged children into the big turquoise. Superbank—the sandbank that ties together Snapper Rocks, Greenmount, and Rainbow Bay—looked ridiculously fun. The head-high waves zippered machine-like under the blindingly bright sun. It elicited thirst. It was like something you gulp down in a hurry.
It created its own traffic. Cars with boards on the roof puttered, turning signals ablink, searching for parking spots. Surfers changed alongside their cars, a yard sale’s worth of gear spread about the sidewalk. Bare-chested grommets scampered across the road, logo-bedecked thrusters under arm. Cyclists overtook joggers, joggers trotted past power walkers, power walkers shuffled around leisurely strollers.
I passed the Tweed Heads apartment building where twenty-six-year-old, five-time world champion Stephanie Gilmore lives. In 2010, Stephanie—fresh-faced, innocent, eternally smiling—was walking up the steps to her place when a homeless man attacked her with an iron bar. According to news reports, the assailant, Julius Sterling Fox, twenty-seven, “was suffering from paranoid schizophrenia which was worsened by homelessness, cannabis and heroin abuse and a failure to take anti-psychotic medication.” Luckily, Stephanie got away with only a fractured wrist and a cut to the head. On Ten News: “Locals believe a widening wealth gap in the area has sparked increased violence, sometimes deliberately aimed at surfers.” Oh, the stupefying irony! In Peter Drouyn’s heyday, and for the latter third of the 20th century, the Gold Coast was where surfers came to drop out, live on the dole, and surf their way into great joy and deep poverty. Now the surfers are the ones in the shiny SUVs with big houses on the hill.
I arrived in Byron Bay right on time. The streets were packed with tourists. The Great Northern Hotel advertised a gig with the Sunnyboys.
In the late sixties, Vietnam War kicking off, shortboard revolution in full flight, hits of orange sunshine dissolving on the tongues of many an ace Aussie surfer, a movement known as “Country Soul” emerged. Disenchanted by city life, surfers moved to the northern NSW coast, settling in old cottages in Angourie, Lennox Head, and chiefly Byron. The living was cheap and stress-less. The waves were so good you could center your whole life around them. Much has changed in the last half century—crowds, real estate hikes, retro hipsters making a travesty out of the whole enterprise—but vestiges of genuine Country Soul still exist around these parts.
Flicking across the radio, I found a local station. “Step Right Up” by Van Morrison played, and for a moment it seemed as if the sights out my car window could be the song’s video: a braless, dreadlocked woman, flowers in the basket of her pushbike, pedaled across the crosswalk; a Nimbin tour bus, spray-painted psychedelic like the Merry Pranksters’ “Further” bus, rolled down the street; an unwashed hitchhiker stood on a corner, a stoned glaze over his bearded face.
I found Derek on a low wood railing under a pandanus tree, eyes fixed on The Pass. Waist-high waves of light turquoise crashed against the headland and winded down the point. There was something anachronistic about the scene, every surfer on a longboard, wetsuitless, riding in hood ornament fashion. It looked like the late fifties.
Derek’s greeting was the same coldish one I’ve known for nearly thirty years. No hugs, no exuberant great to see yous, little eye contact, just a “Hi Jim” (he calls me Jim) and a limp handshake. “It’s not looking so good,” he said, referring to the waves.
Derek’s hair was long and tangled. He wore a white T-shirt that draped loosely over his wiry torso, black knee-length boardshorts, and no shoes. He has the short, knock-kneed legs of a lead guitarist who mid-solo drops seamlessly to the floor, say Hendrix or Prince.
In front of us a couple of bush turkeys pecked at the grass. A few seconds later a goanna, gnarled and ancient-looking and about two-feet long, dawdled past. It took its time, paid no mind to us sitting just a surfboard’s length away.
“He’s a local,” said Derek. “I haven’t seen him in at least two years.”
It crawled across the grass and across the boat ramp as if it were a crosswalk. A sunburned surfer, exiting the water, stopped and watched. After the goanna disappeared into the bushes he continued on, looked at us.
“We don’t get much of that in England,” he said with an English accent.
“That was the Byron Bay version of The Beatles’ Abbey Road cover,” said Derek.
The English surfer laughed.
A sturdy, Hawaiian-looking girl walked up, dripping wet from the surf, powder blue longboard under arm. Derek and her were pals. He introduced us. Her name was Izzy.
They talked about mutual friends, the best burrito in Byron Bay, and sharks. Judging by their nonchalant tone, it seems they see sharks pretty regularly at The Pass. Derek talked about a shark he actually had a name for—“Wobbegong”—that rides waves the way dolphins do. Izzy said she sees schools of sharks, and recently paddled way outside the break to warn a pair of unsuspecting swimmers of the dangers lurking below.
“One afternoon I paddled out, took off on a wave, looked down and saw this shark right under me,” she said. “I rode to shore and thought, ‘That’ll be my surf for the day!’ I drove home with dry hair.”
“How big was it?” I asked.
“Bigger than my board,” she said.
Her board was 10’6”.
Derek and I decided to pass on the surf. We drove into town to the Mexican takeaway place he and Izzy had talked about. We took Derek’s mustard yellow van, a 1981 Toyota HiAce. The back was full of surfboards and a box of shaping tools. Hanging from the roof was a military coat and a dress shirt, should Derek go from the surf onto, say, a nice dinner. On the dashboard was a little stick figure made of dreadlocks Derek pulls from his hair. At my feet was a packet of flea bombs and a surf leash. Hi-Lux rode half on my lap, half on the center console. Traffic moved slowly. Probably one in five cars had surfboards on the roof, and that’s not counting the ones that rode inside. In the last decade Byron Bay has exploded into one of the world’s great surf destinations. It’s beginner friendly—the water’s warm, the waves are soft. Artists and fashionistas love it. The lineup at The Pass is full of pretty girls.
We got two large burritos each (one chicken, one vegetarian, “My shout,” insisted Derek) and drove back to The Pass. Derek parked in what I would learn is his usual spot: under a canopy of trees on a verdant little side street. He got out, dropped a towel on the pavement, and sat down on it. I joined him. Into the burritos we wolfed, chunks of tortilla and rice and beans falling on the leaf-strewn ground. We were like something you’d have seen in the parking lot of a Grateful Dead show, circa 1974. Derek is vehemently anti-drug, but he can be stonerish in his trippy quirks, his rose-sniffing digressions.
“A little Hercules,” he said, pointing to the pavement.
An ant carried a flake of tortilla at least three times its size.
The chicken burrito was better than the vege; the chicken was charbroiled and crunchy at the tips, the vege was bland. Derek sat with his knees tucked into his chest, the way a child watches cartoons. For as long as I’ve known him he’s surprised me with his elasticity, his freakishly loose and electric movements (he dances spasmodically, like Ian Curtis from Joy Division). We chewed in silence, me in awe of Derek, Derek in awe of the tortilla-hoisting ant. Birds chirped in the trees. A butterfly flitted above our heads. Derek put his hand on my calf.
“Watch out for the little guy, Jim,” he said, nodding at the moving flake of tortilla, which was now within dangerous proximity to my foot.
In the golden sunlight, passing beach cottages and cyclists and dog walkers, I followed Derek back to his house in Suffolk Park. It was a two-bedroom prefab, bare bones and lackluster. We pulled along the side and around the back and parked in the crabgrass. Derek, it turns out, lives not in the house but in an adjacent shipping container that doubles as sleeping quarters/surfboard laboratory. He unlocked the bolted door, flicked on a light. It was densely packed. Two-thirds of the windowless shoebox consisted of stacks of pillows and rugs topped with a tatami mat—his bed. The other third was a mess of boxes, tools, wetsuits, and boards short enough to stand in the corner of the low-ceiling space. From the roof hung his longer boards.
“You can sleep in here,” he said, opening the rear down to ventilate the space.
“Where are you going to sleep?”
“I’ll sleep in the car,” he said, pulling a mosquito net from behind one of the boards.
He set up my bed then went outside to set himself up in the van. I followed. The sun had just gone down, the backyard was cast in shadow, you could smell the ocean just a few blocks away. He pulled the boards out. Underneath was a cushion.
“You sure you’ll be OK sleeping here?” I asked.
“I do this all the time,” he said.
He arranged pillows and blankets, hung the mosquito net over the cushion. He pulled out a rolled-up kilim, spread it out on the ground, and fed Hi-Lux on it, scraping every last fleck of food from the tin. I asked him where he got Hi-Lux. He looked up to the stars.
“When Tony Abbott became prime minister I had to go for a drive to find out if Australia still existed. I had to go out and touch the earth.”
He went on a tirade about how horrifically conservative Australia has become. He delivered his words in a way that felt final, indisputable. He talked about his cross-country trip.
“That’s where I picked up this girl,” he said, nodding at Hi-Lux. “Hi-Lux was a junk yard dog in Halls Creek, in WA. She slept under the shade of a Ford Hi-Lux.”
When Hi-Lux was finished eating Derek strapped a surf leash to his collar. “We’re going to go on a little walk-y, Jim. See you in the morning.” They walked off into the darkness. I lay down in Derek’s bed. It was awfully hot in the shipping container, despite the fan on full-blast. The smell of resin and surf wax reminded me of my teenage bedroom. I kept a little wooden box full of wax on my desk (banana or coconut or, later, in the mid-eighties, bubble gum). My boards, stacked regally in the corner atop a pillow to protect the tails, were forever being fixed with marine resin—the nicks and chips and spider dings. Marine resin has a strong, brain cell-killing chemical smell. I thought about Derek’s passion, how he can talk at length about a single ride he’d gotten ten years ago, how at age fifty-six he still travels halfway across the world to chase a swell. I looked up to the brightly colored boards hanging above my head. They were like a mobile in a baby’s crib. I was tempted to touch them, spin them, suck on a tail.
In the late seventies Derek was ranked in the Top 16. His knock-kneed carves and zingy 360s featured prominently in surf magazines and movies. He had a reputation for being a shrewd, merciless competitor. He was vying for a spot in the Top 5 when the tour rolled into Durban for the 1980 Hang Ten International.
Derek held a solid lead in his crucial quarterfinal against the gentlemanly Mike Savage of South Africa. He took off on a glassy waist-high wall and proceeded to tear it apart. In the shorebreak, as the wave dashed across a shallow bank, he pumped his orange and yellow twin fin with all his might. Suddenly he was on dry sand. He jumped off running, as if from a skateboard, his urethane leash stretching taut behind him. When he turned around the tail of his cocked board leapt at him. He saw a flash of orange and yellow and felt a horrific pain in his left eye.
Knowing that he was seriously injured, but knowing also that if he held his opponent off the good waves he could still win the heat, Derek paddled back out. He sat as close to Savage as possible. Savage was forced to look at him. The ooze running down his face was not blood. And while another man might have responded to Savage’s recoil by going into shock, Derek was hoping it would work the other way around. He moved in closer. Only after Savage and water photographer Paul Naude screamed at him to go in did he do so.
Derek was rushed to hospital and taken straight in to surgery. He had severed his optic nerve. There was no recourse. Two days later he stepped out on to the street with a patch, countless stitches, and a glass eye.
He returned to competition the following year and finished 7th—the first one-eyed surfer in ASP history. Disillusioned by poor judging and a system he was at odds with, he retired from competing, but continued on tour, this time as a coach/journalist. As a coach he employed a heavily tactical approach, and took great pleasure in watching lesser surfers outsmart giants. As a journalist he wrote snappy, contentious pieces that often enraged the pros in question. His column in Surfing World was called “Hyndsight” and bylined with a Cyclops logo.
I met Derek in 1986 on my first trip to Australia. He was an anomaly amid the pro surfing community. He read fat Russian novels, had friends outside the “Bro-muda Triangle” (you get sucked into the surfing whirl, you never get out). For a couple years he was my coach, but mostly he was a mentor, feeding me books, reading me aloud his dispatches from the pro tour. Had the Peter/Westerly story emerged during Derek’s writing heyday, I suspect he’d have been all over it.
For a few years Derek drifted away from actual surfing and into the marketing side of things. He worked on advertising campaigns for Rip Curl, came up with the IS Tour, an alternative contest circuit. For a while he worked from an office in suburban Warriewood, had an actual desk with memos and a calendar and a Rolodex, kept regular office hours. But his pilgrimages to Jeffreys Bay—one of the world’s great waves, in South Africa—won over. He started experimenting with strange and vintage boards, putting in marathon sessions, finding oneness with the water. His hair grew long and unkempt. He wore shoes less often. The weight of adulthood seemed to wash right off him.
He turned his back on the commercialized surfing world. In 2006, in what might be a seen as a kind of surrender, he started riding finless (or, as Derek insists, free friction). I’m fascinated by Derek because he challenges my perceptions of the surfing life. Most of the pros that have had successful middle years have done so by, as Mark Richards put it, “expanding their horizons.” I moved to New York because I was beginning to feel surfing’s diminishing returns. I can remember reflexively running to the beach every morning in my late twenties and feeling a sense of dread. If the surf was good and my friends were there it was uplifting, but on flat days my empty life was reflected back at me.
Derek, meanwhile, has burrowed his way deeper into it; a kind of regressing that has miraculously almost de-aged him. He is the only surfer of his generation who is actually improving. In a YouTube video that got a lot of play a few years back, Derek flies across the freight-train waves of Jeffreys Bay, drifting sideways at long length, spinning drawn out 360s that last for several seconds, exulting in his rubbery, pouncing low crouch. It inspired me and it sparked the seedlings of midlife crisis. When I heard that Derek and a twenty-three-year-old had fallen in love, a surfer girl, an occasional finless rider in fact, I thought, Ah, makes perfect sense.
We woke at dawn, drove to The Pass. Hi-Lux rode on my lap. Along the way we passed a golf course, a jam-packed corner café, a towheaded grommet peddling swiftly on his pushbike, board under arm. The sky was pale blue, the trees aglow in amber light.
“It’s jazz, Jim,” said Derek, a way of introducing what was to be my first free friction surf session. “Good friends of mine basically lead the Australian Chamber Orchestra. Anyway, the deputy chair, her brother, Osmo Vänskä, came up with the Far Field Theory, which is the physics construct of what happens at the point of infinity when it is reached by particles. There’s a mass scattering, before everything is in chaos. Just before the wall is hit, everything comes in and enters in perfect harmony. So that’s the feeling of free friction surfing to a great degree. And I think it applies to life and death also.”
We parked in Derek’s spot, got out. The air smelled fresh and earthy. A symphony of birdsong played overhead. Derek opened the rear gate, pulled out his 11’6”, handed it to me. It was a faded lemon yellow color, plankish. The tail had crude channels and grooves carved into it.
“Let the board lead, just give over to it,” he said. “May be wise to ride prone on your first couple to get the feel.”
“Aren’t you coming out?”
“I’m going to take Hi-Lux for a little walk-y first.”
I took to free friction surfing fairly easily. The rudderless feeling was akin to sliding down a snow hill on an inner tube (“If free friction was an Olympics sport, it’d be in the winter Olympics,” said Derek). With a fin(s), the nose of the board is always pointing the way forward. Not so on Derek’s board, which would just as happily go sideways or backwards. The waves worked in my favor: waist-high, super-forgiving crystalline rollers over a shallow sandbar. Derek’s thick, long, heavy board mowed across the flats like an ocean liner. Rides carried on for what felt like minutes, a surging swell backing off then reconnecting, the wall wrapping machine-like down the point.
Derek paddled out. I watched him high-line along a tiny peeler that grew. He rode so low it was more like sitting. As the wave sectioned he aimed the nose at the crumbling lip and drifted sideways at great speed. It reminded me of the rock ‘n’ roll slides we did on skateboards in our early teens. I felt a burst of vicarious stoke, let out a whoop that sounded more like a giddy-up.
A few minutes later Derek paddled up. “Tell me about your best wave, Jim,” he said, prayer hands rested on the nose of his board. The surface was all shimmers and diamonds. Derek repressed a smile.
“Well,” I said. “I took off on what was a tiny little foamy thing, and it reeled along the sandbar, and I dropped to low tuck, almost parallel-stanced. And the tail released, and I wanted to grab onto something, like when you’re sliding down a steep hill, you want to grab a shrub or a branch or something. But that’s what’s so cool about the feeling, it challenges all those learned reflexes. And then the drift let up and I was mowing forward, still in a low crouch. And no bullshit, Derek, I farted! I let out a full-on fart! I don’t think I’ve ever farted while riding a wave before. And then I thought, I just farted while riding a wave, a sort of meta-moment. And then it got steep again, and the drift kicked back in, and I slid my way shoreward, almost backward, for the rest of the ride. You know that famous Shaun Tomson quote about time being suspended when you’re in the tube? Well time is definitely suspended when you’re riding finless.”
“Free friction, Jim.”
“But the magic was that weightless, giddy feeling. It’s like when you go over a hump at high speed in a car, it’s kind of orgasmic.”
“Daytona 500,” said Derek, elbows on board, hands a pair of blades. “The leading car, the green car, at best a meter behind the four others. It’s doing about 199 miles an hour, and it lost it on one of the speed banks, and it started going like that.” Derek’s hand slides sideways above the water. “From half a mile away I could see it put a faint gap on the rest of the field, in losing all the friction. That made me just go, Fuck! How was that? I wonder what it’d be like to drift a board?”
We surfed for a couple of hours. The water was bathtub warm. The sun was hot on our backs. Every out-of-control sideways drift on Derek’s board felt like a lesson from a Zen master.
I spent three days with Derek in Byron Bay. Each morning was the same: drive to The Pass, park under the trees, surf in the soft, balmy, cradling waves, discuss the giant philosophical and spiritual connotations of free friction wave riding on the walk back up to the car, hang about Derek’s van for a while, usually sitting directly on the warm pavement.
Derek would change out of his wetsuit and wring it out at the bottom of a steep driveway. He’d watch the rivulets of water (rivers, metaphors, nothing is without higher significance when you’re with Derek), follow them as they wrap around grooves in the cement, cheer on the little surges.
One late morning, dripping wet from a long surf, ambling back up to the car, Derek asked what it was like hanging out with Westerly.
“She’s the most narcissistic person I’ve ever come across,” I told him.
“Well, since I arrived it’s been all about her voice. She believes that it’s divined that she’ll become a famous singer, and so every conversation begins and ends with her voice. It’s as if she’s Judy Garland and tomorrow night she’s got a sold out show at Carnegie Hall.”
Derek talked about Peter’s surfing achievements. “The breakthroughs at Sunset, the big wave at Bells in ‘67—I think he went right down through Winki and walked all the way back, making the comeback post-Wayne Lynch as the ultimate visionary.”
We walked in the shade of trees, cars stacked with boards passing slowly on our left.
“You couldn’t get a greater pinnacle than the Stubbies. That was enough to step back and be satisfied for life,” he said.
I told Derek that Westerly’s both proud of and embittered by Peter’s surfing history, that she often doesn’t want to talk about it.
“Westerly Windina,” said Derek. “In Australia, on the eastern seaboard, the westerly wind rules all. It’s as if she’s saying, ‘Hear me, for I am the westerly wind blowing.’”
“I didn’t know this.”
“Yeah. The westerly’s a clearing wind. It clears away all the humidity.”
“Sounds like our girl.”
“Does she still surf, Jim?”
“Oh, yeah. Really well. Perfect positioning, great style. And she rides every wave right up to the sand.”
Derek laughed. “Perhaps Peter’s sex change is the ultimate metaphor for draining himself in the sand.”
We arrived back at the van. Derek opened the passenger door and out climbed a very happy Hi-Lux. He scratched her back, soothed her with that private language they share. Hi Lux’s tail wagged. She licked Derek’s salty hands. He looped the surf leash through her collar and fastened it to the side mirror. He grabbed his towel, dried off.
“What does Westerly dream about?” he asked.
“That’s a really great question.”
“Are her dreams female?”
“I’ve never asked about her literal dreams. Most of our conversations involve the showcase finale.”
I explained to Derek what the showcase finale is, how it came about, the comical proportions it’s taken on. He listened intently, head canted slightly sideways, brow creased. With his knotted hair and wiry frame he camouflaged into the trees behind him.
“Could he get it up?” he asked.
A cockatiel shrieked from a high branch. Dappled yellow light showered down on Derek and Hi-Lux.
“Maybe he fucked himself out and couldn’t get it up anymore.”
“What?” he said, serious-faced.
“Fucked himself out,” I said.
“He very well might have.”
“I’ve just never heard it put that way.”
Derek wrapped his towel around his waist and shimmied out of his boardshorts. He picked up his 11’6’ and slid it into his van.
“How big was his dick?” he asked.
“Never saw it.”
Well, it’s not too late to ask the surgeon, Jim.”
Derek grabbed his other board, shorter, narrower, a pleasing, soft sky blue color. He ran his hands over the grooves in the tail. He talked about his commitment to friction free surfing, how he’s been willing to give everything else up in order to explore it.
“I can really relate to Westerly in that respect, to fully embrace a concept and run it from the conceptual to the completely physical and then beyond to as far as it can possibly go.” He slid the board in the van. “Surfing has become the most conservative activity. The herd mentality has just imploded the lifestyle.” He shrugged, held out an upturned hand. “Where is everyone? Where is the individuality that spawned the Stubbies? ‘Cause without a lot of people thinking that way, the Stubbies never would have been born.”
Derek scooped up his wetsuit, shuffled over to the steep driveway.
“The age of explorers is perhaps somewhere in the 19th century. I don’t know what happened to society to dumb it down so much. Maybe it was sport. Maybe it was family. Maybe drugs have dumbed down people’s need to explore, which is an irony. At any rate, it’s always interesting to find another explorer out there, because they’re increasingly rare.”
He held his wetsuit above his little raceway and wrung it out. The saltwater streamed down the pavement. It bumped into a rise and bifurcated, one rivulet much thicker than the other.
“Ah, look Jim, it’s on, it’s a race.” He cheered for the little one. “Go, go, go, go, go!”
Consensus amongst professional surf aficionados is that Brazil is beginning a long and glorious run atop the World Surf League. Gab Medina, having won his nation’s first title a month ago, is young, hungry and shows no sign of slowing down. But if he falters? How about Adriano de Souza, Filipe Toledo, Miguel Pupo, Jadson Andre? And please do not forget a still young Neco Padaratz. Order and progress!
While Brazil is looking very good and maybe thinking about ways to sabotage John John Florence just a little bit, a menace lurks to their north west. Firm and happy Peru!
Peru’s most famous daughter, Sofia Mulanovich, has recently launched, alongside Swatch, Proyecto Sofia Mulanovich. It is, “…the shared dream of world champion surfer Sofia Mulanovich and Swatch, to create a surfing academy to give young Peruvian talent direct access to the ocean’s opportunities. At the launch of this unique youth surfing project, 10 high-potential kids and their families gathered in the Proyecto Sofia Mulanovich “beach house” in Punta Hermosa, determined to chase and live their dreams. The Proyecto Sofia Mulanovich is a three-year program that combines top-level, competitive surf training with life lessons anchored in the key areas of environmental protection, healthy living and fair play. The 10 residents were selected from 67 hopeful applicants by Sofia Mulanovich and her team of experts.”
It is a superstar factory! Maybe the greatest idea in surf since Pipeline! In a few years, expect to see these kids on the WQS. And a few years after that on the WCT. And then winning. Winning and stealing all glory from their Portuguese-speaking continent mates. Oh, if I could have attended a program like this as a young man, I’d be at least as Ricardo Christie and probably as good as Bede Durbidge. Alas, it was not to be. The future belongs to Peru. When I told the local Peruvian restaurant owner this his eyes flashed and he slammed a nearby table with his alpaca boot while screaming, “Peru will, mañana, smash Brazil!” And then he broke into the national song.