Strength lies in the team, in the community. Maybe Huey’s a socialist?
Overheard conversation. Newcastle Beach, NSW, Australia. Afternoon before the Nudie Australian Boardriders Battle (ABB). A surf dad, weathered but lithe, preps his brown-skinned, bright-haired son for a paddle.
“Now remember, let the conditions work for you. Don’t work against them.”
“Yeah,” son says as he waxes up his stickered board.
“Watch your rotation through your top turn. What’d I tell you? Look to where you want to go and your body will do the rest.”
“Yeah.” Son applies invisible zinc to his face.
“And don’t forgot your completions. Completions, completions, completions.”
“Yeah.” Son puts on his black and blue spring suit.
“Now get out there. And Hey.”
“Yeah?” Son looks at his dad.
“Remember to have fun.”
Son shrugs, folds his springsuit over his neck and runs towards the waves.
Newcastle beach. ABB. The Morning Of The Final. I’m standing on the King Rock watching Snapper surf their first team heat of the day. Parko does a roundhouse cutback right in front of me. Must be 10 metres long across the arc. He brings it all the way to shore, runs up the beach and tags Sheldon Simkus in. I think it was Sheldon Simkus.
This is sport. This is team sport. This is good.
King Rock. ~ 20 years ago. 12 years old. Surfing with my Dad, since passed. I had long bright hair, like a Hansen brother, and was wearing a springsuit. One of the old locals, I think he’s dead now too, paddled past me. Looked me up and down and said, “Fuck it’s great seeing young chicks out in the lineup. Good on ya!”
I looked at the local, then at Dad. He said nothing. I shrugged. We kept surfing.
I walk back to the promenade as Sheldon brings one through the end section. There’s people everywhere. Everything is purple with Nudie branding. Purple shirts, purple walls, purple pavement. A drone buzzes overhead. Maybe it’s purple too.
The comp was hammered by Visit NSW on Facebook. Tourists from Sydney or wherever tagged their friends and said things like “Check this out! Newcastle Day trip?!” and their friends responded, “Sure!” Now they’re taking up car spaces and walking around with purple comp flyers asking for the closest cafe.
For the second year in a row the comp’s been blessed with waves. Easterly trade swell with a hint of north under N winds. Not pumping, but highly, highly contestable. Meanwhile Surfest, Newcastle’s six star QS held in a similarly swell-rich window, gets dudded every time.
The format for ABB is magic. All of Australia’s best clubs are there. Each team has an open. A junior. A woman. An over-35. One hour, five surfers (one goes twice for a nominated power wave). Penalties if you don’t get through all of your surfers. Penalties if you don’t make it back up the beach in time. Bonuses if you’re first across the finish line. There’s tactics. Intrigue. Running races upon the coarse Newcastle sand.
It does away with the capitalist model of man-on-man competitive surfing. The best surfer wins not always. Strength lies in the team, in the community. Viva la revolucion-lite!
Maybe Huey’s a socialist?
The February heat hangs thick, so I go to one of the purple Nudie juice stations for a free drink. They’re just handing them out. Everything for everyone and nothing for ourselves, as the socialists would say.
There’s coconut water. An array of chilled juices. The dark-haired girl dispensing them tells me to try the banana, date and berry smoothie. It tastes like rotten fruit. I take one sip and throw it in the purple bin on the edge of the strip.
How is anyone supposed to drink this shit? She looks at me and shrugs. Maybe she looks a bit like Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez.
Everything for everyone, and nothing for ourselves.
This is where my boardriders, the hosts of the ABB, once met for a club weekend away. We were going to Treachery. Boards, tents, eskies. Everything else optional. I was 14 , one of only a few groms allowed to go.
Dad drove my best and mate and I in to the meet. It was 6:30am on a Saturday morning and the streets of Newcastle were dead silent, like they always were then. But as we rounded the bend on King street, out the front of the old Tower Cinemas, a Jeep came careering around the corner at us. Head on. Dad slammed on the breaks, and the driver jammed to the left, smashing into the three metre tall concrete retaining wall on the side of the road.
Keeerrrack. The Jeep front fender smashed in. The driver reversed out, the Jeep making an unholy crunching noise. But he didn’t stop, and continued off round the corner.
Dad made sure we were both ok, shrugged, and kept driving.
That was the weekend we surfed pumping Yagan and Lighthouse for two days straight, and when Mull Up tried to kill Snuff with a hammer. Things have changed since then, of course.
Final time. Merewether v Snapper v North Shelly v North Shore. The wind is up but workable lefts still wrap back into a right rip bowl. Highly, highly contestable.
Merewether are wearing purple rashies for the final. An omen. Shelley and Snapper come out strong, but smart, tradesman-like performances from Jesse Adams and Phillipa Anderson see Newy’s oldest club out in front. Team stalwart Adams has his power wave. One final shot to seal it. He rotates through his first turn. Completes on his second. He gets the score. Not with superior surfing, but superior tactics. He surfs to the conditions. Makes it work for him. Like he’s done a thousand times before.
Merewether wins. All of Newcastle is proud.
“It’s better than Lego” remarks one of the Merewether crew in the post heat interview. They’re having fun, too.
I watch the celebrations on the beach. Merewether. Snapper. Narrabeen. Torquay. Culburra. Margaret River. East End. Each club steeped in its own history. There’s passion that runs thick through generations. Through a sense of belonging to something.
Everything for everyone. Nothing for ourselves.
As the world descends into an interconnected web of emptiness, tribalism will return slowly to the fore.
The WSL sells exclusive packages worth more than a university degree for new audiences to immerse themselves in the surfing ‘experience.’
Meanwhile, the magic of close knit community, and family, and friends, and shared legacy. It’s spilling out onto the coarse Newcastle sand like water through a net. Free flowing, yet impossible to catch.
I think of all the time I’ve spent here. 20+ years surfing in the one spot, mostly. With my friends, with my family. Been taught to surf here by my Dad. Held my own daughter’s arms here as she experienced the ocean for the first time.
Death. Life. All of it.
The cradle rocks above an abyss, and common sense tells us that our existence is but a brief crack of light between two eternities of darkness.
How much would that cost? Speak, memory!
My memory shrugs. That’s for another day, maybe.
Overheard conversation, Newcastle beach, morning after the final.
Well to do couple, late 50s, probably not from around here, sit in one of the shaded areas in front of local cafe, overlooking the surf. The wife points to a lithe young man ordering a coffee.
“I think that’s Adam Jesse,” she says.
“Oh, the young lad that won the comp yesterday?” replies husband.
“Well, he didn’t win. His team did.”
“Oh, I see.”
He thinks on it for a second.
“They didn’t say it was team surfing on Facebook. To be honest it’s all a little confusing. Let’s just stick to the wine tours next trip?”
The wife looks at her husband, then at Jesse, then out to sea, and shrugs.