"It is impossible to neglect and still be a complete surfer. It’s a must have in your arsenal.”
Picture a white screen: in the middle is a simple circular logo, with a classic one-dimensional curling wave breaking in the middle.
Below the logo, in that soft cursive font favoured by wellness influencers and middle-aged mothers, is written MeSurf online tutorials: become a pro from the comfort of your own home.
Jack Johnson-esque guitar licks accompany the virtual scene.
The screen fades to two men sitting at a simple timber desk, itself positioned in front of a larger version of the aforementioned logo, which looks to be draped from the ceiling of the well-lit studio.
There’s Jordan. Mid 40s. Fit. Beautifully tanned skin. Perfect head of hair. Alabaster teeth. Moneyed English accent common to the eastern suburbs advertising scene. He sits in front of a sheer white Macbook and looks to be an excited ball of corporate energy.
Next to him is Ennis. A vaguely familiar amatuer pro from the ‘90s. Former South Australian state champion. Less well built than Jordan, and a little more weathered. Shaggy blonde hair falls down around his eyes. But he is still well-presented for a surfer who has most likely seen the inside of more than one third-world gaol cell.
Both are wearing tightly cropped meSurf tees with lapel mics clipped to the collar.
The music drops out.
“Thank you everybody and welcome to our latest meSurf livestream,” says Jordan in his perfectly pitched, if slightly over enthusiastic, tone. “Here with me as always I have my good friend, and the surf maestro, Ennis Pieters.”
“Hi,” says Ennis softly, leaning into the lapel mic.
“Just ease back a bit there,” says Jordan, putting a hand to Ennis’ mic. “That’s better.”
He turns back to the camera.
“In fact that’s what I call you in the surf now, isn’t it? The maestro. It’s sort of my surfing nickname for you.”
Jordan’s head wobbles when he says ‘surfing’.
Ennis nods dutifully into the camera. “Yes, it is.”
And what is it that you call me?”
Ennis looks from the camera, to Jordan, back to the camera.
“Come on, you remember it.”
“Well, it’s what you’ve asked me to call you. It’s… Jordy.”
Jordan begins to laugh hysterically
“Yes that’s it. Jordy! Just like my favourite surfer, Jordy Smith. Not to say that I surf like him… yet. I’ll need a few more lessons with the maestro before I get to that level, right Ennis?
He slaps Ennis roughly on the back.
“Ah yep, right.”
Jordan calms himself down and turns back to the camera.
“Now for today’s lesson we’re going to be learning the basics of a fundamental maneuver all surfers should be able to employ. Ennis assures me this is one of the most essential – and exciting – moves there is in the surf world.”
#askmeSurf flashes up on the bottom of the screen.
“As always we will be taking questions from viewers,” continues Jordan, “so please do hit us with a comment in whatever platform it is you’re watching us on, using the hashtag below. Take it away, Ennis!”
Ennis coughs nervously, his eyeline sitting somewhere above the camera.
“Thanks Jordan. This particular move is a tricky one because it can be hard to pull off if it’s not something you’ve learned naturally. But at the same time it is such a fundamental set up, or transition, that it is impossible to neglect and still be a complete surfer. It’s a must have in your arsenal.”
“Sounds exciting!” says Jordan. “And what is this mystery move?
Ennis clears his throat again. Looks directly to the camera. Something changes in his expression. A subtle shift in the lines and contours of his face. The earlier meekness disappears. Replaced by a serious, steady gaze. A gaze not seen perhaps since the final of the State Championships at Ceduna beach in 1994.
“Today I want to talk about the scowl.”
Jordan uncharacteristically misses a beat, as he processes what Ennis has just said.
“The … scowl?”
“That’s what I said. The scowl is absolutely one of my favourite moves in surfing.”
“Okay,” says Jordan.
The laptop begins to beep. Jordan turns his attention to it.
“Oh and it looks like the listeners are engaging already,” he says.
“Reddit user ‘BondiRipper’ asks, and I think this is the question on everybody’s lips, When you say ‘scowl’ are you referring to the facial expression?”
“Yes,” replies Ennis. “The scowl is one of the most fundamental weapons in any self respecting surfer’s repertoire. It’s incredibly diverse. It can be employed in any number of situations. Not just in the line up.”
The laptop begins to beep furiously.
“You see, good surfing isn’t just about what you’re doing on your board while you’re riding a wave. Good surfing starts from the second you wake up right through until you rest your head on your single, mouldy, salt-stained pillow at night.”
“Right,” says Jordan. He turns to somebody offscreen momentarily, and shrugs.
“It’s a commitment,” continues Ennis. “A lifestyle. a state of mind. And nothing encapsulates the spirit of surfing better than a filthy, spiteful, omnipotent scowl.”
Jordan nods his head slowly. He is looking at Ennis as if he is looking at a complete stranger. An alien.
“In the lineup you’re going to run into all sorts of people. Many of them will be on some form of surfcraft. But few of them will be real surfers. It’s important then that you signify to surfers and non-surfers alike that you’re part of the core tribe.”
The laptop continues to beep. Jordan motions as if he is going to say something, but he is unable – or unwilling – to interrupt.
“There’s a few different ways of doing this – how you carry your board, how you put on your leash, how you subtly splash learners or anybody you don’t recognise as you paddle past them – each of which is worth a tutorial in itself But none of them carry the scornful disdain of a well-deployed scowl. Let’s take a look at this video.”
The screen fades again to a lone surfer out in the lineup. A learner on a Machado Firewire mid length. An ‘A’ appears above his head. Another surfer approaches. Old, weathered, paddling a beat up old thruster. A ‘B’ pops up above his.
“Hi friend! Some pretty pumping waves out here today, huh?” says surfer A to surfer B.
The camera freezes just as it zooms in on surfer B’s face.
“Now you can see here how surfer B is entering the first stage of his scowl,” says Ennis “You’ll notice his head cock backwards, like he’s just opened a dirty nappy.”
On the screen a directional arrow appears, demonstrating the direction of the head’s movement.
“This is important for two reasons. Firstly, the depth of the backwards cocking motion signifies how disgusted he is with the question. Secondly, it gives him a split second to consider his next move.”
“So the depth and severity of it is commensurate with the situation?” asks Jordan.
“Exactly. You are a quick learner, Jordy!”
A small box appears at the bottom of the screen, showing Ennis and Jordan as they analyse the video. A smile begins to form on Jordan’s face.
“Now, for new surfers, the head cock might be quite drawn out and laboured. That’s ok. It’s not until you become an experienced surfer that you will be able to cock back your head and scowl in one fluid movement. But this is what I love so much about it. It’s a set up turn. By drawing it out it gives you time to think about what your response is going to be.”
Ennis begins to pay with the mouse in front of Jordan. On screen surfer B’s head cocks backwards and forwards as he toggles the video.
“I can tell this guy here knows his stuff. Boy I love it. Just watch how smooth this is.”
“Well, moving on,” says Jordan.”
“Yes, sorry. If we skip forward a few frames, we can now see the telltale signs of the scowl itself forming on the surfer’s face. His eyes begin to squint, his mouth and nose are scrunching both inwards and upwards, towards his eyes.”
Circles appear in the relevant areas of Surfer B’s face.
“Yes I can certainly see what you’re saying there,” says Jordan.
“Again, you could say he looks like he’s just opened up a big dirty nappy. And in many ways he has, because the skilled surfer should treat any question or comment put to him in the surf like it is a pile of the most horrendous, disagreeable, stinking shit he has ever encountered.”
The computer beeps again.
“Another one here from Instagram user WSL_Junky. It says, ‘So anything you say to him, he will be disgusted?”
“Yes that’s correct,” says Ennis. “You could be talking about the waves, the weather, the crowd. You might even just be saying hello. All enquiries from any person that you can not readily identify as a core surfer should be treated the same. Observe.”
The video plays again, looping back to the start of the scene. Surfer A says, “Hi friend! Some pretty pumping waves out here today, huh?”
“You’ve got to be kidding me,” drawls surfer B, with a voice that hisses like piss being poured over a fire. “This surf is absolutely horrendous. I haven’t seen a bank this bad since the summer of 1998. Pumping waves. You’ve got to be KIDDING ME. “
The video freezes, so that surfer B’s mouth is contorted mid-scowl.
“Oh I love it. Jeez I love it,” says Ennis. “I can really see this surfer is a natural, he cares about his technique. The absolute distaste with which he responds. The slow and purposeful delivery. The reference to surf conditions from a time when the other surfer most likely hadn’t even been born yet, let alone started surfing. Each of these seemingly minor considerations come together to produce what is, to me, pure poetry in motion.”
“Yes,” says Jordan, whose earlier look of disdain for Ennis has been replaced by one of adoration. Of respect. Of love. “Yes, absolutely.”
The computer beeps again, breaking him from his reverie. He stops, refocusses.
“Twitter user kanoaigarashi asks, is the scowl the only way to engage with fellow surfers?
“Not at all,” says Ennis. “There’s the grunt, the sardonic smile, and even the maniacal laugh. It’s really up to the surfer to use his surf knowledge and intuition as to what technique best suits the situation at hand.”
“Fantastic,” says Jordan. “Well, Everytime we have one of these sessions I learn something new. And today has not disappointed. I hope you surfers at home got as much out of this session as I did.”
Ennis nods contently.
“Well, there we have it, continues Jordan. “Another successful #askeSurf session. I certainly know I’ll be practising my scowl in the mirror tonight when I get home. I hope you will be too!”
The meSurf logo appears on screen, and the homely acoustic soundtrack kicks back in.
Jordan turns to Ennis, not realising the microphone is still on.
“So, Ennis, what are you up to now? Should we head back to my place for a video review session? Maybe stir up a couple of cheeky gin kombuchas?”
Just as the screen begins to fade, we see Ennis slowly cock his head back. His eyes begin to squint, and his mouth and nose scrunch both inwards and upwards, as if he is opening a dirty nappy.