And how it might just be saved by a country boy from the nineties who once threatened Kelly Slater's dominance!
This writer was recently afforded the opportunity for a two-and-a-half-week road trip along Australia’s east coast, travelling from Newcastle in the south to Noosa in the north. A distance of roughly 570 miles each way.
Cusp of spring.
Usually a dormant time along this stretch, wave-wise, but an active La Nina cycle has seen a conveyor belt of easterly trade swells keeping conditions alive. A family holiday, so not dedicated entirely to surfing. But enough time was spent in the water to form a rough contemporaneous sketch.
In that time approximately ten different locations were surfed:
Broken head x 3
Sunshine beach x 3
Noosa (Tea Tree and First Point)
Pippys x 2
Angourie x 3
Such a mix of high-profile and lesser known spots allows the observer a unique transect of the current species of littoral fauna active in the Australian surf biosphere.
This is not a comprehensive list.
I have not attempted to catalogue all species encountered at each location given a) levels of duplication b) some rare solitary surfs and c) some people not being as funny as others.
This is meant purely as a guide. A reference point. A record of a moment in time. Picture a crystal, held in direct sunlight, its many faces beaming.
Let us begin.
Conditions: Glassy, 3-4’ SE swell hitting the inside section on a mid to low tide. Approx 20 subjects in water in total
Mr Go with the Flow
A middle-aged male raised on a steady diet of surf media consumption. Competent without rising above the pack. Likely to follow prevailing trends of board design though generally surfs well enough to understand the nuances of each. Rode a 6’3 x 18 ½ x 2 /14 in the ‘90s, a 5’10 x 19 x 2 ½ in the noughties and is now on a mid length when the conditions dictate. Will generally ride whatever he feels he is being told to. Being a wobbly right point with a flatter face, this particular subject was riding a new looking Christenson tracker, single fin, with no legrope. He subsequently lost his board on his first wave. Board went up and over the cobblestone point with owner catfishing behind it. Last seen heading back to car for said legrope.
Status: Of little concern. Plays an integral role as both predator and prey in the ecosystem. Population steady.
The big Aussie Battler
Usually a 40+ toiler who has been riding the same dimensions for the last twenty years with the motto Give me a 6’1 or give me death. Generally well built but with an expansive middle section, often alternatively referred to as a skinny fat cunt. Takes to a meandering, flat faced point wave with the same gusto he would a heaving Indo wall or a mid-morning pie from the local bakery. Admirable in dedication to the cause despite the overwhelming reality of the situation with which he is faced.
Status: While aggressive in small pockets and an important apex predator in the food chain, the big Aussie battler’s overall sparse distribution, dwindling population numbers and fatty diet mean that this species will soon be classified as protected.
Conditions: wobbly 2-3’ swell with ENE onshore winds. Coupla runners but.
Early-to-mid 30s. Tanned, taut skin. Impeccably built. Eyes to lose yourself in. Mr Friction most often works in the industry or industry-adjacent, and is a highly competent surfer. Most likely has been sponsored at some point. Always ahead of the pack. Rejecting the form and function of traditional high performance equipment, Mr Friction now rides a finless foamy in anything under 3 foot. Yet he still sprays innocent bystanders with the same fury he unleashed on his competitors in the U14s division at the 1998 Rusty Gromfest in Lennox Head.
Status: Steady. Plays an important role in the overall ecosystem, especially in crowded point waves.
An introduced species, usually hailing from European or South American countries. The She-Rahs travel in packs of 3-4, riding those DHD twins with the floral inlays and wearing hi cut Rip Curl wetties. They love good vibes, hi-5s and post-surf gin and kombuchas.
Status: A welcome addition to the ecosystem, though they do need to chill the fuck out sometimes. To monitor and evaluate at a later date.
Conditions: 3’ runners, cleaner than an Inertia afterparty.
I dunno about this one. Was just a guy ripping on a mal at Tea Trees who looked like a cross between Owen Wright and Martin Bryant and had one of the best skullets (long hair with a bald crown) I’ve ever seen.
Status: a rare and beautiful creature. To be protected at all costs.
Conditions: 4-5 E swell on the open beach with occasional bigger ones. some push to it. Solid wide sets regularly sweeping the line up.
The Board Guide Baron
The littoral zone encompasses not just the sea itself but the adjacent land. This particular species was observed in the Sunshine beach surf club, a popular watering hole that attracts a broad cross species of endemic and exotic fauna. Time was 330pm, Friday afternoon. Peak libation period.
The Board Guide Baron is the Antipodean cousin to the well known Surfline Man. Usually found buying overpriced surf gear and gentrifying coastal suburbs. Similarities to Mr Go with the Flow but two notable discerning features: Board Guide Barons have only recently started surfing and will take anything read online regarding boards as gospel. Kale Broccoli acolytes. Skill level is such that the minutiae of design they discuss make little to no difference to their overall performance.
Two subjects spotted on this occasion. Post surf. Well presented. Early 40s with youthful, soft faces. Dressed in what could best be described as Casual Friday work wear. Well-fitted jeans, unblemished Vans sneakers. Keys to late model SUVs, big-screen smartphone, schooner of mid-strength craft beer by their side.
“Bro I saw you have the new JS, tell me about it?
“Well I felt like it went really well out there today but I probably could have used something with a few more litres through the nose. From what I was reading online I think the Sharpeye would have been a better purchase for my skillset given the lower rocker entry but the online guide at Board Warehouse suggestd the JS with its more forgiving outline was the go. If it continues to disappoint I’ll most definitely be leaving them a bad Google review.”
Status: Already overwhelming certain ecosystems. Targeted cull recommended.
Conditions: lazy 3 foot of E swell resulting in some runners but baby food in between. No sand behind the rock, so takeoff is around little mali. Paddle out is now behind take off zone, meaning anybody can make it out the back. An entire book could be written on this joint alone. Not just a microcosm of the genus surf but an exacerbation of it.
Female version of Mr Go With the Flow, or even the Big Aussie Battler, but infinitely cooler. Usually a little older, still riding high-performance equipment. Practical. Wears a springsuit or utilitarian swimsuit. Could be riding a bigger board to be more competitive, but like the Aussie Battler steadfastly refuses to cede defeat. This makes her an easy mark, but anybody that paddles around or snakes her is a straight up kook. If you know, you know. Subsequently, she still gets her fill.
Status: to be protected, proserved, and promoted
A close cousin to The Board Guide Baron but usually on a mini mal or oversized funboard, wearing below the knees and bright rash shirt. Can surf but exploits extra length and width for own purposes. Talks loudly about how much more relaxed it is up the coast than back on the Northern Beaches as he takes his third set in a row.
Status: Quickly becoming a pest, but the transplant usually disappears once the surf gets over 4’ – as such he can be tolerated / burned in any other conditions.
The Go-Pro-in-mouth-clasping, barely intermediate bro. He writhes his way down the point on his new FireWire, filming content for his Nathan Florence knock off youtube channel with titles like ‘POV surfing crowded Snapper Rocks’ and is likely to sue you for assault when he drops in on you and dings his board.
Status: Cull with extreme prejudice.
Conditions: 4-5’ SE swell, slow but with the odd wrapper
Powelly, man. Wow. He was looking lithe. Healthy. A little less grass on the dome but otherwise fighting fit. A walking contradiction in that he was wearing a camouflage wetsuit with a bright red board. Do you want to be seen or not?
But any chance of staying low-key went out the window on his first wave. Scintillating surfing. Tight, concise lines. Incredible to watch up close. Stylish, swooping turns, the type Angourie loves to tease out of you. But seeing Shane’s approach was mind blowing. There was one insane double tap of a slightly crumbling lip that appeared to defy the laws of physics. Even the Universe couldn’t keep up with what he was doing.
The sun pixellated.
Clocks clicked twice.
A cosmic moment.
Status: Shane Powell