Shane Dorian and Matt George in Academy Award winning In God's Hands.
Shane Dorian and Matt George in Academy Award winning In God's Hands.

Revealed: “Easier to act than surf!”

Actor/Director Simon Baker says its true! Which of our surf stars should head to the silver screen?

I have never read a Tim Winton book but I think he is kind of a big deal in Australia and writes about surfing… or… surf. Or… you know, something. His novel Breath might be his biggest hit. Should we read its back?

When Loonie and Pikelet started to surf, they cycled from Angelus to the beach with their styrofoam boards, buffeted by the wind and, when they finally get to the sea, the waves. They couldn’t help it: they were terrified; they were addicted.

Among the local surfers, one guy stood out. He turned up alone, when the swell was highest, and left the rest of them for dead. Gradually Loonie and Pike got to know this loner, Sando, who took them under his wing. Half a lifetime later, Pike can’t free himself from where the ride took him.

Does it make you want to purchase? Does it sound erotic? Well, famous Australian actor Simon Baker has turned the book into a film also called Breath so you can watch instead. Let’s quickly read about that now.

“What was I thinking?” jokes Baker, recalling the decision to make his directorial debut with Breath, which premieres in Toronto. The film, which Embankment is selling worldwide, is an adaptation of the 2008 novel by Tim Winton, a coming-of-age tale about teen surfers in 1970s Australia. The movie stars two non-actors in the lead roles, and Baker shot the whole thing in six weeks, mainly on location on Australia’s west coast.

“Here I am, never having directed a film before, dealing with kids who’ve never been on a film set before, and we’ve got the ocean — which can’t be controlled and is such a key factor in the story — and we’ve got almost no time to do it,” he recalls. “I thought, ‘I’m probably going to fail miserably, but I’m going to have a great time trying.’ ”

But Baker did have one advantage: He knew the world described in Breath inside out. Because he lived it. Like Pikelet, the film’s narrator and main character, Baker grew-up amid the “crass machoism” of 1970s Australia with the twin loves of surfing and the arts.

“I’ve been surfing since I was 10,” he recalls. “When I read Tim’s novel I found myself weeping out of empathy for friends I grew up with. I was living in America at the time, and his words evoked the things I missed most (about home), the everyday sights and smells of the growing up in Australia at that time, for those of us who discovered the ocean and surfing played a big part in the formation of our identity.”

For the leads, teen surfers Pikelet and Loonie, Baker cast Samson Coulter and Ben Spence. While neither had ever acted before, both knew their way around a board.

“I needed kids who can handle themselves in the ocean,” says Baker. “It’s a lot easier to act than it is to surf.”

Wait… what? It’s a lot easier to act than it is to surf? That just can’t be true. Simon Baker must never have seen In God’s Hands.

But let’s pretend it is easier to act then to surf. Which of our WSL heroes would you most want to see in a feature film? Gabby? Jordy? Who?

Sherm: “The best photo I ever shot!”

Iconic surf photographer discusses the tragic death of Zander Venezia.

You have most certainly read about the very sad death of sixteen-year-old surfer Zander Venezia in Barbados by now. The young man was surfing the first bands of Hurricane Irma energy off the island country’s east coast with a handful of stars. According to Jimmy Wilson, who was there shooting, he caught a wave, made it out the back and then told people he was going in. His surfboard was later spotted tombstoning and he was pulled from the water unconscious. He was declared dead at the hospital from complications due to a broken neck.

Tragic and also part of this life we live. Shallow reef, slabs, giant monstrous waves, sharks, sandbars… our playground is littered with menace and it is a wonder more surfers are not brought low.

Steve Sherman, the iconic surf photographer, has been in the game for as long as anyone can remember and has seen much glory and much tragedy. He took the last portrait of Andy Irons and at the U.S. Open of Surfing he took the last portrait of Zander Venezia and I think he has a unique perspective worth sharing.

I met him two weeks ago doing assignment  for the WSL. Set up a studio down there to get portraits of all the WQS kids. Got portraits. I remember meeting him. Good looking kid. Real professional. I was shooting 128 portraits and he stuck out because he was wearing a Hurley shirt and because he photographed beautifully. Every shot was perfect. I didn’t put two and two together for a few days.

Jimmy shot his last. I had a conversation with him right after it happened. About a time we were surfing a slab in Bali and how crazy it was. I got caught inside and… its just crazy how close death is to surfing.

My emotion? Just… sadness. We’re a tribe and when a surfer dies everyone feels it. I’ve been around for too many of them. Shot all of them. Todd Chesser, Donny Solomon, AI…I’ve lost a lot of friends. There’s a lot more I worry about And it’s just this weird feeling of… fuck. To have photographic evidence, it becomes important all of a sudden. This photo of this kid shot becomes important. I got to celebrate his life by barely knowing him. and that makes it way better than anything I’ve shot.

In terms of dying, as a surfer, if you can go doing what you love then maybe that’s better than dying from a car wreck or cancer.

It’s death and glory.

Watch: Volcom’s Osmo Thrombo!

Visit the funhouse again!

I know this is a week old but sometimes it takes me a while to get around to things. You know? I get busy yelling at the neighborhood yard men for going on 45 minute leaf blower binges. Just sitting there with leaf blowers whining away. Just blowing stuff this way then that way then this way then that way.

You know?

So I miss things but late last night I finally got around to Osmo Thrombo, Volcom’s latest offering, and it is fun. It is fun in a classic Volcom kind of way. A kind of way that’s been missing for a while. It made me remember how much I like their team.

Do you like their team? Mitch, Ozzy, etc.? I think Noa Deane fits in real nice, say what you will cruel bastard.

Bruce should still be there.

Sabre Norris
Your favourite, my favourite, tween pro surfer finds snowboarding as delicious as eating a big maraschino cherry!

Sabre Norris: “I just went snow surfing!”

Tiny tot TV superstar takes surf game to the mountains…

I’ve always wanted to go snowboarding but I thought it would never happen because, uh, well, money. There are six people in my family and we only ever go on surf holidays because you don’t have to pay to ride waves.

Never did I expect, not even in my wildest dreams and I do have some wild dreams, that the Olympic gold medallist Torah Bright would invite me and my family to the snow for free.

So for the first time in a long time, I want to say ‘ever’ but maybe that’s being too dramatic our black Volkswagen van left our house without the usual smell of wee wafting thick in the air.

The wee smell is what evaporates off from the wetsuits that live in the boot of our car. But we were going on a holiday to Thredbo, in the Australian snowy mountains, to see snow for the first time and we had swapped our rubber wetsuits for warm snow gear.

The car trip down was filled with excitement, anticipation and sprays of vomit from my sister Naz who always gets car sick when she plays the iPad.

We had just counted our fifth dead kangaroo on the side of the road when I caught my first glimpse of snow. We screamed, clapped and bouncing.

A couple of minutes later we arrived at our accommodation. The car park outside our hotel was stuffed full with Porsches, BMWs and Audis. Rich people country.

Just as I started counting the Porsches I had this feeling that started at my toes and ended at my heart. I couldn’t believe people I’d never met before would pay for not only to come to the snow but to stay in the fanciest accommodation with all the rich people.

What did I know about Torah?

She had an Olympic gold medal and that was two shades better than the Olympic medal my Dad had won. Also, Torah’s medal was from a much cooler sport than the swimming medal we have at home.

The next day my brother woke me up at three am and we both couldn’t get back to sleep. I had the same type of excitement inside me that I get on Christmas morning, except instead of a lounge room full of presents we would get a mountain full of snow and a special gift of meeting Torah Bright.

Finally, the sun rose and sprinted to the free buffet breakfast with the mission of trying to stuff ourselves with that much food we wouldn’t have to buy lunch on the mountain.

Snowboarding vs surf? Hmmm. It’s super fun but it isn’t as easy as it looks. At the beach, I watch the people learning to surf and wonder how they could possibly be that bad.

But in the snow I was a beginner. And a bad beginner. My legs shook with worry. The reason Torah had asked me to the snow was because I can surf. I felt that once she saw me on a snowboard she’d lose all her respect for me.

Torah, of course, has the soul of a mother (and didn’t care if I was a kook) which is weird for two reasons.

Reason 1) She doesn’t have any kids.

Reason 2) Her cuddles feel firm instead of the usual soft fluffy fat feel that mums always have.

Torah’s one of those people that you instantly feel comfortable with and you can just be yourself around. She’s not a judgy person who would tell me that I’m not as funny as what I looked like on Ellen or anything like that.

Torah says she’s going to be more proud of becoming a mum than of her golden Olympic medal. That surprised me because it seems like it’s easy to become a mum. You see them everywhere and most people do it but it seems a fair bit harder to win an Olympic medal.

It wasn’t long till I had cleverly positioned myself right next to Torah on the chair lift. The chair lift was the perfect place to get to know someone as the person you are interrogating is stuck and unable to escape.

I told Torah I loved the picture on her snowboard. It was her own custom design that featured a deer and a bear. The bear’s head was on top of the deer and in the background there was snow glistening in the night time. The story behind it is that it represents her love for her husband Angus, she is the bear and her husband Angus is the deer. The animals represent their personalities. When you see Torah and Angus together it looks like their hearts are tied together with rope.

Torah spent the next couple of hours hanging out with us kooks on the  beginner slope called Friday Flats. Her happiness made me feel like hanging out with us on was not painful and that maybe it was even fun.

The day with Torah ended in a blink and so did our special holiday. Soon, enough we were in our black van heading back to Newcastle. In between counting the third and fourth dead kangaroo on the way home I was thinking about something Torah had told me.

Torah says she’s going to be more proud of becoming a mum than of her golden Olympic medal. That surprised me because it seems like it’s easy to become a mum. You see them everywhere and most people do it but it seems a fair bit harder to win an Olympic medal.

But Torah reckons medals don’t give you a kinder heart or make you a better person so they don’t matter that much.

Yemen: The Great Fraud of Danger!

Interlude: A meandering diatribe on the truth of thrill.

(I am writing a series about Yemen because what is currently happening there is terrible beyond. My inaction disgusts me and so I am going to introduce you to to the country because… the place, people, culture all deserve to be saved. Catch up, if you wish, on the links right here… (Prologue, Chapter 1, Chapter 2, Chapter 3, Chapter 4, Chapter 5, Chapter 6, Chapter 7)

Stories that include bits and pieces of danger always feel fraudulent to me if the storyteller is still alive and relatively whole. Or at least this storyteller. Real trouble ends in death or dismemberment. Right? Real trouble leaves jagged scars. I have been in situations where I thought, “This is the end. This is it. I am dead.” Where things were going very sideways and very quickly.

But I have never died and the fact that I am sitting, typing, fully limbed (except for my one limb bending a nice glass of vodka) throws the exact nature of the danger into question. Was I really so close to a shallow grave or did my heart soar to hyperbolic conclusions? The only jagged scars I have are on my nose (from when I yelled a mama joke at a group of toughs) and on my chin (from when I did clapping push-ups in Cairo and my hands slipped on the dust). There are no bullet holes. No post-traumatic stress. Just my memory.

That evening we arrived at a hotel in Ataq, Yemen late and dragged our worn out bones to a room. It was standard Yemeni fare with an assortment of twin beds, one hanging bulb and a television with at least two music video channels. We watched for a while then fell asleep.

In the morning, we got up, maybe watched a few more music videos then pushed downstairs for breakfast. The modest lobby was packed with Yemeni soldiers. Dusty, bloody, tired. Some lay asleep on couches. Others lounged against the wall. They looked exhausted and they looked at us. Not menacingly or angry. Just studying. Some seemed vaguely amused. Others disinterested.

We asked a man who looked to be a commander what had happened. He told us in Arabic that a nest of Al-Qaeda operatives had been in the hill, had heard of our presence in the area and were coming to get us. The military had been alerted and met them some seven-kilometers out of town. They had killed them all and had not suffered a casualty.

I had no way of knowing if that was true. The soldiers were clearly spent. No one was in a joking mood. No one was asking us for anything at all. I felt guilty and elated. Guilty because what to us was a grand adventure put other people at risk. Elated because being in Yemen and having a pile of Al-Qaeda trying to ride us down felt like being in a movie. And because we had cheated the reaper.

But were we really close to death? I will never know because all I have is my memory. My damned rusted memory. If only we had been shooting video then we would all know for sure. Then we would all have definitive proof as to the precise levels of danger.


Ah but here is the rub. Video is as great a liar as memory. Three years later found J., N. and I in Lebanon “covering” the 2006 Hezbollah-Israeli War. It is a long and convoluted tale that doesn’t need fleshing out and especially since we are smack in the middle of another long and convoluted tale but since this is an interlude and since we are talking about the Great Fraud of Danger allow me continue?

We were in Lebanon eating delicious baba ganoush, driving motorscooters because they were lighter than motorcycles and could be carried over bomb craters. J. and I had just driven them to Damascus in order to DHL video tapes back to America and returned to a real Israeli pounding. We decided it was a good time to head into a Hezbollah controlled neighborhoods, almost got hit by a bomb, almost got shot on the way out, crashed, got snagged by the Palestinian Liberation Organization, eventually got handed over to Hezbollah for a long, long interrogation and had the full first part recorded.

It looks like stupid shit.

So what is the point? Danger ain’t danger unless you die and I always feel like a fraud telling these stories.