Biggie, Sabre, Sockie.

One day in the life of Sabre Norris!

Where the writer discovers the true meaning of family… 

“Bringing up a family should be an adventure,” wrote the psychiatrist Milton R Saperstein, “not an anxious discipline in which everybody is constantly graded for performance.”

Two days before Christmas, I drove to Newcastle to officially anoint my new favourite surfer with a documentary for our Like Bitchin’ series. I wasn’t going to see Craig Anderson, although he remains in my top six, tentatively given his recent limited output, Ryan Callinan, still top eleven despite discrediting my claim that he would win rookie of the year, nor Matt Hoy, the very first surfer I wrote a long-form profile on.

I’d become hooked on an eleven-year-old surfer/skater called Sabre Norris, dynamite on a board as you’ll see, frontside airs in surf, 540s on a ramp, but…even better… the owner of  a punchy and brilliantly clear mind.

You remember this interview from November, yes?

The interview drove the internet nuts. Millions of views. Worldwide press.

Best of all, an  invite to appear on the insanely popular Ellen show in Burbank, California, and gifts from Ms DeGeneres that included a trip to Las Vegas, five hundred American dollars and tickets to see Justin Bieber on his Australian tour.

In my story, I’d admitted that the kid had become my new favourite surfer and Sabre responded with a hand-written letter thanking me and inviting me to drive up and see ’em, “surf all day” and wrap it all up with dinner at Crinitis, an Italian restaurant famous for its crisp pizza bases and delicious toppings.

Sabre Norris letter

Sabre lives with her two younger sisters and little brother in an industrial estate called Thornton, thirty minutes drive inland from Newcastle. Their dad, the Olympian swimmer Justin Norris who beat Michael Phelps at the 2000 games, built a swim school out there and the family live in a two-bedroom apartment attached to the rear of the compound.

I meet ’em a little after dawn at a reef break called Cowrie Hole, just around from Newcastle Harbour. Mum is Brooke. The four children are Nazzie, who is six, Biggie (aka Coda), seven, Sockie (aka Cerrus), nine, and Sabre. They’re waiting outside of their black Volkswagen Caravelle, doors peeled open, wetsuits on, Gath helmets and little DHD surfboards lined up.

But first things first! Before I came, the kids drew up a list of ten questions about me that each answered. Could I mark ’em? Could I select the winner?

What sort of car does he drive?

“An Audi!” screams Biggie, punching the air.

“Show me your muscles!”

I flex.

“Yes! Bigger than dad!”

(One of the questions: will he have bigger muscles than dad? Later, I’ll see the Olympian and realise the child has been more than a little generous.)

Biggest wave, favourite dinner, favourite dessert, and so on. Pretty sure Biggie wins with four. Maybe it was Sockie.

We surf. The three kids drop synchronised chop-hops. Sabre paddles hard and pushes Sockie into waves. Biggie is all elastic muscle, growling and flexing, plunging down waves, as ripe as a tropical mango. Sabre lines up the water filmer and brings her rail to the correct distance from his wide-angle lens.

After the surf, Brooke gathers everyone to the van and, from a cool box, reveals the ingredients for breakfast: berries, bananas, strawberries, granola, vanilla yoghurt. Brooke constructs each kid, each adult, a cafe-worthy bowl.

Earlier, Nazzie had asked me what my wife did for a living. I said she designed clothes. She runs over and gives me a handbag she’d spent the last couple of hours making with a letter inside. Meanwhile, the kids peel off their wetsuits and reveal suntan socks and gloves.

Sockie Norris
Sockie’s pair of tan socks.

We drive back to the swim school. Sabre rides with me. Biggie’s in the back.

“Don’t put your feet up on the seat,” Sabre warns Biggie.

I tell ’em to do whatever they want.

Real early on, when I had sired a few kids, I realised I needed to make a decision. Keep my car looking good and be a pain in the ass or sacrifice the vehicle to the greater good of family harmony. Childhood’s too short to have it smashed by an eggy parent fizzing at sand in his car.

I explain this to Sabre, who, like the other three kids, has been throwing non-stop questions at me ever since I arrived, and she nods, smiles. I know she likes the theory, that kids are more important than a car, when she repeats the theory to her mum.

We talk about surfing in club contests (Biggie finished second, Sockie, second, Sabre won the open women’s), about travelling to Los Angeles, about eating, about surfing, about cars. Sabre wants a Lambo. I tell her I want a Porsche Macan.

“Sell BeachGrit and you’ll be able to buy the Porsche you want,” she says.

“Do you like Mitsubishis?” asks Biggie, so beautiful in his innocence.

Cough. Yup. Cough.

We arrive at the swim school, a handsome, low-slung building emblazoned with JUSTIN NORRIS SWIM ACADEMY, close to the arterial cord that connects Newcastle south and north. Eleven years ago, the family borrowed a million bucks to finance the dream. Be your own boss. Run your own school. No biz plan. A couple of mentors. They made it work. Had four kids. Brooke wants another. Nazzie records the pursuit of the fifth kid in an ongoing journal, documenting each pregnancy test.

The apartment attached to the swim academy is small, maybe fifty square metres. Two bedrooms. In the main, a mattress hits three of the four walls. In the kid’s room, it’s bumper to bumper. Nazzie against one wall, Sabre the other, Biggie and Sockie in the middle. When Sabre gets scared at night (it’s real quiet out here after dark) and she worries that someone’s gonna come in and kidnap ’em, she wraps her arms around her sister to keep her safe.

The main room is an open-plan kitchen and living room. There is one lounge chair, in red velvet, which I’m invited to occupy, rings hanging from the roof that Justin uses to train with, half-a-dozen guitars (the kids busk in Newcastle to raise cash) and the world’s tiniest Christmas tree. The one-foot high tree made of green tinsel delights the kids. It’s the first thing they show me. Then it’s the presents. Each kid has dropped a year’s worth of savings on a mountain of gifts. They grab ’em from the parent’s room, whisper in my ear what each one is, then pile ’em up around the tiny tree.

Time for a tour of the backyard. As we walk outside, I ask Sabre in which park did she nail the 540 two years ago?

“Park?” says Sabre.

We walk a corner to reveal a monster skate ramp the family had bought second hand. They were surprised at its size, too, when it arrived. Two smaller ramps are butted against it.

Sabre Norris
Sabre Norris and her backyard ramp.

Sabre practised the 540 one hundred times a day for a month until she nailed it. She knows exactly how many attempts because after each one she’d line up a little rock to keep count.

Biggie’s debut on the ramp was less auspicious. He snapped his femur. Today, for the camera, he re-enacts the break by laying on the ground, leg bent under his back, weeping.

Under an umbrella on one of the smaller ramps, we interview Sabre for the mini-doc. I ask her what she thinks about when she’s riding waves and she riffs on the exquisite freedom she feels in the surf. No parents telling you what to do, where to be, where to go. An isolation that’s rare in a kid’s life. She’s good. More constrained and thoughtful that the fireworks of the Ellen show or the excited calls on Today.

We go back inside. We play guitar. Brooke makes toasted sandwiches for lunch. Biggie and Nazzie urge me to go and swim in the pools now all the classes have finished. Justin swings over with a pair of goggles. When I’d arrived I’d asked for tips on getting speed in the pool. Not every day you get to peel open the brain of an Olympian.

I jump in. We work on my stroke, my head position, the way I breathe. Justin videos me with his telephone and shows me how crooked my left arm is and the awkward way I lift my head when I breathe.

As I come in, Brooke thanks for listening to Justin. Sockie sits in the red velvet chair and says, “This is the best day of my life.”

I drive away with a sense of family I’ve never felt so acutely. The kids are practical dreamers with that playful sense of nature only a country childhood can give. There is no banality in their lives. There are no video games. Here are children who are inquisitive and blessed with curiosity, empty of any television-infused cool. Open books. Books you want to read.

Sabre tells me she wants to retire from the world tour at twenty-two, after two world titles, and have six kids. She wants to build a series of inter-connected houses for her brothers and sisters, mum and dad. Giant rooms for all the kids. She expects her and Sockie will take turns being pregnant so there’s always a baby around.

They never want to be apart. Family is family, afterall.

Watch One Day in the Life of Sabre Norris in two weeks! 

 


You riding the wild QS!

How to: Qualify for the Dream Tour!

The world is your oyster!

Wow how rude was I yesterday? So Grinchy! So grouchy! So totally depressive! That is NOT the BeachGrit way at all! Rory Parker was a national treasure and we’ll miss him every day of the week but while we’re missing him should one of us maybe qualify for the World Championship Dream Tour?

Now that thought gives me wiiiings!

I read a piece this morning by Ben Mondy, who is very very funny, on Grind, which still magically exists, about Portugal’s Fred Morais.

This particular piece is not funny. It details the rigors of the 49 event qualifying series and how “difficult” it is etc. etc. etc.

“The ‘QS is so damn hard and can take a toll on your confidence,” Morais is quoted as saying. “You just have to keep plugging away and competing the right way. In the end, if you are good enough, you’ll get there.”

But I was thinking… what if you or I just entered every single QS contest, flying non-stop from Huntington to Maroubra to Israel to Hawaii to Queensland then we can stay in Australia for six contest, to French Polynesia to Florida to Tahiti to Argentina to Basque country to Martinique to Indonesia to Brazil to Indonesia to Bali to South Africa to Japan to South Africa to Hawaii to South Africa to Spain to Japan to Mexico to Chile to Japan to Portugal to Huntington to Cornwall to France to Virginia Beach to France to Spain to North Carolina to Portugal to Morocco to the Philippines to Cascais to Costa Rica to Japan to Hawaii to Brazil to Taiwan to Hawaii?

Oh our travels alone would lead to a global warming extinction event but…. for sure we would qualify right? Maybe not year one but probably year two. It is a joy of professional surfing that heats are not won by the best surfer. There are just so many variables from the ocean going flat to the judges being gently encouraged to screaming in the ear of a young 15 year old that he is not good enough.

And then you or I would be in the Big Dance!

Doesn’t that give you wiiings?

Should we try?


The great, the beautiful, Rory Parker, gone but never forgotten.

Transparent: Why Rory left the building!

The BeachGrit way!

Ok.

Without fluff or lead in… many of you want to know why Rory Parker left. I love BeachGrit, I really truly do, and and I love that we are transparent, that our disagreements play out in public, that we don’t hide, that we shoot first and question later. I love that you demand that from us. I wanted Rory to come back and answer why he left for himself.

The BeachGrit way!

But apparently he ain’t so I’ll explain as best as I can.

I don’t really know.

I mean, it had something to do with making fun of his damned Cori podcast, something to do with not being included in Derek and my conversations in the way he wanted to be, something about not being valued the way he thought he should be valued and not financially either just, I guess, emotionally.

All fine points but fucking hell. Not to peel the curtain back unnecessarily but Dez and I are both heads down on this thing from sunrise to sunset. It is very fun, fulfilling, etc. etc. but also relentless and at the day’s close I barely have energy for my own family. I definitely don’t have enough to soothe a manchild who refuses to use a phone.

Some of you wanted me to coddle the sensitive artist but that’s not what I do and Rory Parker didn’t deserve it. Maybe someday he’ll be a great Pulitzer prize winning author but today he is a quintessential millennial featuring a spark of talent but loaded with unearned entitlement.

I’ll miss his absence for you but I won’t miss it for me.


“I Gave Up Surf For EDM Dance Scene!”

Surfer gives up the ocean for the clubs and drugs of Colorado.

(Editor’s note: The writer M. Andrew K is a surfer who moved from the Californian coast to Denver, Colorado, to find himself in the electronic dance music scene. It’s a story with little to do with surf except to demonstrate, perhaps, that once you take yourself away from the ocean you lose more than just the sharpness of your skills, the sun on your skin, saltwater in your hair. This is part one of a series.)

The end of all things.

As the four detective vehicles pulled up behind me I knew this wasn’t a normal traffic stop. Samantha looked at me, with terror writ on her face, and squeaked at me that she had never even been in a traffic stop, let alone whatever this was. She asked me what to do, how to deal with this unexpected wrinkle, and my simple response was “keep your fucking mouth shut, let me the talking.”

We had been driving to Red Rocks, planning on attending a concert, carrying numerous different substances on us, both to sell and for personal use. I, a thirty-one-year-old man from Alaska, recently moved to Colorado, exploring the rapid downfall of a midlife crisis. My passenger, Samantha, was 18, blonde, beautiful, and would have more of an impact on my life than any person I had met before. She had been dating my friend Steven when we met but that fiasco was long since over. We spent every waking minute together to the point that she had to move 4 hours from Denver to try and get her life back on track. Being in my orbit during the hurricane of my downfall wasn’t the most mentally safe place to be. That morning we had made an expected stop at my sister Sally’s house, a house it later turned out was under surveillance, in order to receive a small number of necessary items. It was an unplanned stop, an unneeded distraction, and what would end up being the ultimate case of wrong place, wrong time.

As we left the house Sammy decided that she didn’t want to drive anymore. We had been on something of an adventure that morning and she had already driven the four hours from Gunnison to Denver. As I merged on to the highway I was almost immediately pulled over by a patrol car, followed by four unmarked detective vehicles, which leads us back to where we started. At the time I was in possession of a decent quantity of cocaine, ketamine, mushrooms, and molly. Most of the amounts were personal use amounts, everything but the ketamine was a Schedule I or II drug. The officer and detectives proceeded to search our vehicle, finding nothing in the car. It wasn’t until the routine search of me for weapons that they found the sundry substances and I realized just how fucked I was about to be. My only thought at that point was making sure that Sammy was kept out of trouble, her car was kept out of imbound, and that this wasn’t going to grow into a much bigger deal than it seemed like it would be. As they put the cuffs on me I could only stop and reflect on the road that had led me here, the decisions made, the substances used, and the actions taken.

My life began in a small town in Alaska called Eagle River. A wealthy town, a white town, and a town with a laughably low crime rate. Not the kind of place that people like me come from. Not the kind of place that heroin dealers spawn out of. You can’t go home again, but you can tell the story of how home stopped beinng home.

The Frozen North

I was born at 11:56pm on April 27th, 1984. The same day as Ulysses Grant and more or less no one else. I was the result of too much to drink in a small rail town, and the herculean effort of seventeen hours of labor. My father never wanted children, my mother was supposedly barren, and yet there I was, being born. There I was, coming into the light. There I was, starting on a path that would eventually lead me halfway around the world to Iraq and then back to the States for a life of jail cells, parties, and the most devastating and wonderful year and a half of my life. That was still far down the road, though. For now it was enough to be born, dragged screaming and yelling into existence. I didn’t ask to be born, who the fuck was going to pay my bills?”

(Do you want to read part two?)


Tears: “BeachGrit readers bullied me!”

Debut writer thrown to the electronic wolves!

Last Wednesday, I sent Derek a story I wrote about the one time I beat Dane Reynolds in an amateur surf contest. A couple of laughs, maybe some sort of accidental insight into your favourite surfer. A mostly meaningless pre-Christmas treat.

Life’s too serious, right?

I wrote it in one take, didn’t edit it, and knew it ran too long. To my surprise, he liked it. Too my surprise he hardly deleted a word. Too my surprise he said he’d run it live on Friday night to see what the BG readers thought of my work.

Right on!

Let’s just say the comments were less than nice. I had expected as much. BeachGrit commenters are  brutal. And many were still reeling from Rory Parker’s sudden departure.

Also, the piece ran over 1,500 words which rattled the short attention span of those looking for their usual bite sized dose of dirt, of gossip and grit.

A brief sample of the forty-six comments.

“This shit makes me want to kill myself!”

“Rory leaves and the comments turn to absolute fuckery, and the articles become even more so. Not so anti-depressive now. Just a bar full of angry drunks with no pennies left screaming at each other with spittle flying everywhere. Me included.”

It may shock those who described my story as “shite” and that my yarn added “zilch” and “nada” to the Grit, that I have been a surf journalist for over ten years. Print media. I’d been able to make some decent coin writing about surfing so I thought I wouldn’t  care as to what some keyboard warriors had to say about me and my story. Sure, I’m no Nick Carroll. But I’m having a swing, right?

I was enjoying the comments, laughing even, until I…was…triggered.

BG commenter “Chaz Michael Michaels” wrote, “This is like junior English essays I used to grade about ‘My Best Holiday’. You’re 1k words deep, they haven’t got off the fucking plane yet, and when they eventually do it turns out to be the dullest trip ever. Maybe you could try Granny’s Funeral next?”

A good point? Yeah it was.

Yet it brought back memories of my grandma’s funeral, which was recent enough to compel me lash out in the comments. Bad idea. One of my dear editors saw the comment and was kind enough to tell me this, “A lot of writers have a ‘never read the comments’ policy … it’s a rabbit hole!”

Unless, of course, the comments are coming from someone like Nick Carroll, “I’d write short on pieces like this. Too many words, not enough point.”

I’ll take that on the chin too.

Watch for me on slow news days.