Protest signs before being disappeared.

Signs protesting WSL’s billion-dollar “intensive” housing development and Kelly Slater wavepool on Sunshine Coast floodplain disappeared by mysterious agents: “Trench warfare is a game of inches!”

Andrew Stark, general manager of the WSL and Kelly Slater Wave Co., said they bare no responsibility for the theft but condemned the signs as providing misinformation…

Last week, two dozen signs protesting the WSL’s proposed billion-dollar pool and “intensive” housing development on a Sunshine Coast flood plain were stolen by agents unknown.

The signs, designed by the non-profit Sunshine Coast Environment Council (SCEC), provided Coolum Beach area citizens information about the environmental impacts of the development omitted by the WSL.

(For background read: Longtom investigates WSL’s billion-dollar wavepool development, parts one and two, here and here.)

The WSL/Consolidated Properties plan features a wavepool, over 1,500 “waterfront homes,” and accompanying urban buildup, all smothering parts of the Maroochy River flood plain; it’s a utopian wonder, really, gently drawing its water demands from the river.

The signs represent a dissenting opinion of the proposal, allowing citizens to consider the proposed construction from an ecological stance.

After all, examining multiple dimensions of a tricky issue is ethical debate 101.

So, if the WSL truly believes the development to be an honest net gain for the area, its citizens and environment, why not welcome these multiple perspectives in good faith?

The development is about improving the lives of Coolum residents, yes?

But trench warfare is a game of inches.

Andrew Stark, general manager of the WSL and Kelly Slater Wave Co., said they bear no responsibility for the theft (and we ain’t suggesting it) but condemned the signs as providing misinformation.

Stark noted an image on the sign depicting a high-rise building among the endless homes, saying the proposed structures were only three-stories tall and would be “no higher than a palm tree.”

A clever use of tropical imagery although palm fronds and slender trunks will become brick and tile behemoths in this new utopia.

The SCEC and its allies are not happy.

I interviewed spokesperson Narelle McCarthy about the proposed development.

Narelle, who stole the signs?

We have our suspicions, however without any evidence we can only say we’re extremely disappointed there are those who appear to want to deny the wider community information and a better understanding of what the project is really about. While there hasn’t been any “open hostility” as such (and nor should there be), there has been relentless lobbying to the Queensland state government by Don O’Rorke of Consolidated Properties (CP) and Andrew Stark of WSL to back this proposal despite its myriad of issues and community objection. Some with vested interests who don’t necessarily fully understand (or care?) about the true nature of the proposal and its impacts have also helped perpetuate the ‘spin.’ It’s even had a ‘COVID recovery’ project tag conveniently attached to it when it would not otherwise be entertained. The irony is that any jobs, let alone the fanciful ten-thousand bandied about for this project would be years away and the touted economic, tourism and community benefits grossly exaggerated.

The WSL has a machine behind them, huh?

A slick PR and marketing campaign ―complete with the ‘consultation’ defaulting to ‘register your support! ― has been deliberately aimed at ensuring only the more superficially ‘attractive’ elements of the proposal are promoted i.e. the ‘Kelly Slater Surf Ranch/Wavepool’. Both O’Rorke and Stark have unashamedly used the ‘Surf Ranch’ as the ‘hook’ when it is in fact a Trojan Horse for intensive urban sprawl onto the critically important Maroochy River floodplain and conflicts with numerous and long-standing statutory planning instruments and intent.

Andrew Stark criticized the signs saying you were spreading disinformation, citing that the proposed buildings were only three-stories high. Is this a dodge from the real issues?

Yes, he does deliberately avoid/dodge the real and significant issues by taking this selective and increasingly convenient tack. It’s also a bit rich given their glossy and selective marketing campaign! The illustration style of the graphic design is intended to convey in an artistic visual ‘snapshot’ how any built form on such low-lying rural land would be a visual assault to residents who enjoy scenic views from the foothills of Mount Coolum and surrounds. Furthermore, any development would totally detract from the natural landscape with its significant indigenous cultural values and the magnificent green open space amenity of this area. It’s subtle, but also a play on the ‘Surf Resort’ with the ‘e’ and‘s’ dropped to send a message about what’s really involved with the overall development i.e. this is not just a ‘wavepool.’ Locals also recognise the likeness to a hotel just down the coast road from Coolum that was built in the early 70’s – the beginning of an era of rampant and unchecked development on the Sunshine Coast.

Have you had any interactions with him or the WSL about the development?

The only contact we have had with Andrew Stark was in a combined community group meeting (the ‘Community 6’ formed after this) over a year ago. Any questions relating to the housing and mixed-use development were batted to Don O’Rorke with Stark primarily keeping to the PR script for the ‘Surf Ranch.’ Their position is that there can’t be a wavepool without the urban component, hardly an attractive or sustainable proposition.

Among numerous unsatisfactory responses and unanswered questions in this one meeting, Stark was asked about the source of the water for the ‘wave pool.’ His response? “From the river, where else would it come from?” as if this was absolutely fine. Apart from being completely unacceptable and as far from an ‘eco-friendly facility’ as it could get, the Maroochy River and its tributaries are ecologically significant and have important recreational and social values. An energy intensive (not even powered by renewables) mechanical pumping system would create major issues and environmental risks when it could be avoided altogether. Why even contemplate urbanizing this floodplain?

Does the development look like a done deal?

While we would have preferred to have had the project unequivocally rejected before now, the state government is now in ‘caretaker mode’ until the Queensland State election on 31 October, so any major decisions can’t be taken. We are calling for the government and any incoming government to rule this project out once and for all. So, we’ll keep up the campaign until this happens. Science and proper process should prevail!

After the wipeout pictured, Mathews was put in a full-body brace and taken by helicopter to hospital.  “The first op was an artery transfer. After the surgery the doc came out and told my girl he wasn’t sure I would keep my leg,” he says.

Feature-length film: Big-wave surfer turned motivational speaker described as “world’s most breakable man!”

"Fear is static," says Mark Mathews. "You can squash it."

Before you fall under the spell of Mark Mathews and his prey-to-predator alchemy as shown in the film The Other Side of Fear, let me describe the appearance of the Fearless Man.

He is, in the long ago summer of 2016, thirty-three years old, of average height, carrying a small covering of red fur across a large domed head, with darker hair tumbling over a small chest before climbing a pot-belly and disappearing into a withered adonis belt and pubis.

We find the Fearless Man living in a Sydney beachside suburb called Maroubra, a once down-at-heel neighbourhood famous for its gang warfare and criminal episodes now being gussied up by developers, a diaspora of Parisians attracted by the nearby French school and creatives driven out of nearby, but dramatically more expensive, Bondi. 

He lives in the rented ground-floor apartment of a beachfront block, coloured yellow, that was built in the nineteen-thirties. 

His two-bedroom domicile features waist-to-ceiling windows, each filled with the startling colour of the Pacific Ocean, fifty metres away. 

The windows don’t frame blue on the hot December morning I visit to examine his latest surfing injury, a right leg that was almost lost to a surgeon’s knife after it was discovered the dislocation of his knee during a stomach churning wipeout had choked off an artery. 

Instead, we find the Fearless Man reclined on a five-hundred-dollar microfibre lounge chair in the same puke yellow colour as the apartment building, blinds drawn, a blood-stained white sheet strewn on the floor. 

On a little fold-out table is a zip-lock bag the size of a Beverly Hills housewife’s purse filled with rectangular blister packs containing government-approved opiates of differing origins and strengths. 

“I can’t stand looking at the ocean and not knowing if I’m ever going to surf again,” he says.  

He grimaces. 

“I’m lucky not to be in a wheelchair.”

A few months earlier, he was working with the Australian photographer Leroy Bellet, who made his name filming surfers from behind, a radical technique that practically invites disaster, on a project for energy drink company Red Bull.

The pair were towed into an three-storey high reef wave on the NSW South Coast. The wave went below sea-level, as the ledges the Fearless Man favours are prone to do, and he jumped off when the lip in front of him started to crumble. 

The physics of water moving vacuumed him from the bottom of the wave to the top and he landed foot first on the reef.

“At first, I thought my leg was broken,” says the Fearless Man, whose nickname “Chalk” references his innumerable injuries including a shoulder injury on a ten-storey monster in Hawaii that had kept him out of the water for the previous nine months. 


“I’d only just started surfing again.”

After this year’s wipeout, he was put in a full-body brace and taken by helicopter to hospital. 

“The first op was an artery transfer. After the surgery the doc came out and told my girl he wasn’t sure I would keep my leg,” he says. 

He kept the leg.

Now he ain’t so sure he’ll ride a wave, any wave, not even one foot, let alone the twenty-foot monsters he’s built a career on. 

As the morning sun tries to penetrate the dark material of the blinds, he drags himself off the easy chair and scoops up his aluminium crutches. 

“I fucking hate these things.”

A look. 

“I hate these more.”

He tosses his zip-lock bag into a plastic bin, ties a knot in the liner and hobbles out to the building’s rubbish bins.

The Fearless Man chooses pain over addiction. 

He knows injury, the inertia that follows and a reliance of opiates will poison his mind as much as his body. 

“It’s gonna be tough, but I’m not going to be a junkie.” 

It’s a piece of theatre I’ve seen before. 

When the shoulder was torn from its socket on that ten-storey wave in 2015, a body of water described by the very famous Hawaiian big-waver Shane Dorian as “one of the biggest and heaviest waves I’ve ever seen”, his surgeon said the view from inside his deltoid was an “explosion” similar to the mess he’d seen on a motocross rider he’d operated on two months earlier. 

The Fearless Man had come back to Maroubra to recover. 

Then, as now, the blinds were drawn, easy chair wheeled out from the garage and the zip-lock bag opened. 

But as pain relief turned to need and his mind began to run along dark tracks, the drugs were binned and the shades opened. 

The road to a healthy, non-dependant recovery from catastrophic injury ain’t easy nor is it pretty. 

It’s a fear of a pain so deep it feels like your bones are being eaten from the inside; a fear that those hundreds of humiliating rehab sessions are pointless and your leg or shoulder is never going to function in any meaningful sense. 

As easy as it would be to float on a synthetic cloud, the Fearless Man doesn’t look away.

On both occasions, I was there for the dumping of the drugs in the outside bins and the squinting of his eyes as the blinds were opened and sun flooded his living room.

His eyes adjust to daylight. I see him literally grit his teeth. 

He tells me he’s been scared of everything: small waves as a kid, big waves as a teenager, permanent disability because of some dumb wipeout and, most of all, and comically given what he now does for a living, public speaking. 

And how he has spent the last fifteen years studying whatever he can find, self-help books, peer reviewed medical studies examining the behaviour of the brain in stressful situations, philosophical dissertations on the meaning of life and the frameworks, from the classic religions to the cosmic, to help him create his own road-map to living a life liberated from fear.

He knows being crippled doesn’t always mean a broken leg or twisted spine. 

“Want and determination is dynamic,” he says. “Fear is static. You can squash it.”

“How?” I ask, looking at the swelling of flesh and tissue on his leg, coloured purple behind a loose bandage. 

“That,” he says, “would fill a book.”

Click here to watch film. 

"Welcome to Costco. Wavestorms on aisles 1 - 76."

Pop the Champagne: We’ve officially made it to the long-promised, highly-anticipated, surf dystopia!

We're home.

When I was but a young surfer, alone, awkwardly plying the Pastime of Kings in Oregon’s freezing cold waters, I would become infuriated by classmates who wore Quiksilver, Billabonic, Gotcha to school and seethe to anyone who would listen that they were poseurs.

“Zach is a poseur. Doesn’t even surf.”

“Look at JJ. Such a poseur.”

“Hey, did you know that Shane is a poseur?”

Little did I know that being alone in the water and surrounded by people, on land, tossing their hard-earned money at the surf brands to simply look the part was the apex. Those brands would, in turn, sponsor surfers, sponsor contests, advertise in magazines, make VHS tapes etc. and everything shone.

Well, the surf industry apocalypse has been upon us for a while, now, but this morning I woke up realizing that it is over and that we have officially made it to the other side.

The long-promised, highly-anticipated, surf dystopia.

Competitive surfing for entertainment is a thing of the past as are the surf magazines. Instagram clips have replaced longer form video parts and even those have dipped in quality. Surf branded clothing, accessories, are a retro gag. Nobody poses anymore because everyone, literally everyone, is in the water surfing and the only way to make a dime is to produce plant-based coffee creamer to say nothing at all of Kelly Slater’s Surf Ranch or SUP foils.

And look around. Take it in. Breathe deep.

We’re home.

Rumour: Girlfriend of KSWaveCo’s chief scientist Adam Fincham made offer on Waco pool, “he was walking the pool, feeling the bottom contours. You could see he was kinda measuring in his head.”

Our kinda woman… 

A few months ago, bubbling with optimism, I sat down to watch the now infamous Bumble at the Ranch.

The event was largely forgettable, a delightful typo the only thing worth mentioning, but something else stuck with me.

Trying to navigate the 240-second period, the commentary inevitably drifted away from the Ranch, leading one commentator to briefly mention “a wave system in Texas.”

The pool who may not be named.

I assumed it was some corporate gag rule. A product of the WSL’s regret in choosing the wrong pool to hitch their wagon to, perhaps.

Don’t gift your rival free advertising, etc.

I’m sure Elo wouldn’t let Oprah discuss Ellen either.

Given the Disneyification of the WSL, I wasn’t that surprised.

It seemed logical that the commentators’ inability to criticize their employ would extend to the mentioning of rogue (and better) wave pools.

But it seems that the deliberate non-mention of the Waco pool may have had more substance.

According to a former BSR employee, in the spring of 2019, the girlfriend of Adam Fincham, the architect of Kelly’s pool, and Bruce McFarland, the founder of American Wave Machines, put in an offer for BSR.

“When [Fincham] was there, he was walking the pool, feeling the bottom contours. You could see he was kinda measuring in his head.”

Fincham is known for developing Kelly’s pool, and, according to his LinkedIn, is currently Chief Scientist at the Kelly Slater Wave Company, which, as you may know, is owned by the WSL following a 2016 merger.

Stuart Parsons, the owner of BSR, apparently wasn’t too enticed by the offer, as he (attempted) to sell the park to a separate set of investors later that year.

Still, given the state of our world, let’s just take a moment and imagine a world where the WSL was involved in the Waco pool.

How many photos of Elo SUP’ing BSR would we have been gifted?

How would Kelly have taken credit for the pool’s technology?

And, what historic event would have been cut in lieu of another wave pool?

I’d say Bells, but I think its cameo in Point Break just nudges it over the line.

Meanwhile, a wrongful death lawsuit continues against the owners of Waco. 

More on that very soon.

Teenager films twelve-foot Great White stalking his kayak near popular Australian surf spot; pal watches helplessly via drone from above: “(The shark) was looking straight at me!”

Kid on plastic boat sees life flash before him etc.

It’s the year of the Great White in Australia, to put it mildly.

Over the course of four months,

Nick Slater, dead, killed at the Superbank, Mani Hart-Deville, dead, killed at Wooli, Rob Pedretti, dead, killed at Kingscliff, Chantelle Doyle, maimed, at Port Macquarie, Andrew Sharpe, dead, Esperance, Phil Mummert, disfigured, Bunker Bay.

All surfers. All attacks via Great White.

Two divers also killed by Whites this year. Gary Johnson, Esperance, Matthew Tratt, Fraser Island.

And, then there’s Matt Wilkinson, tailed by an eight-footer, while surfing a lonely stretch on the NSW North Coast. 

Therefore, it doesn’t come as a tremendous surprise that a kid in his kayak was able to film himself being stalked by a twelve-foot Great White while fishing for snapper a mile off Black Head Beach, just north of Forster in NSW.

Matthew Smith was on his little kayak, couple of fishing rods out, when he was visited by the White.

“I just looked next to me and the shark was just gliding past, looking straight at me,” the kid told 9News.

Meanwhile, Matt’s pal, Nick O’Brien, watched it all via his drone.

A demonstration of human vulnerability and a what-if scenario that will find its way, I think, into the kid’s night thoughts.