A CURREN FAMILY HOLIDAY : BY THEA MCDONALD-LEE
"You wanna check Sunset?" Tom turns to look at me squished into the back seat of the aeronautical looking rental car. I nod. It's my rst day on the North Shore and I'm not going to say no to anything Tom Curren asks me. "Est-ce qu'on peut se garer ici?" The shared language bounces between the Californian and his French daughter Lee-Ann. They speak about 30% English 70% French to each other. We pull up and Tom parks the car near a handpainted sign that reads, "No Surf Check Parking". Lucky the thing is the size of a smart car and it goes unnoticed.
Nothing along the stretch looks particularly inviting and neither Tom nor Lee-Ann end up sur ng the morning session. We park back up at the Roxy house and wander inside where a collection of musical instruments litters the oor. A few days ago Lee-Ann picked up a bass ukulele at a store in Haleiwa. The strings are thick rubber and it plugs in. She's going to play it on stage in a few nights time at a fundraiser at the Turtle Bay Resort. She's in a makeshift band with her Dad, Steph Gilmore, Japanese composer Hironbu Saito and photographer Steve Sherman.
"I started playing the bass when I was 14," she tells me. "My dad was always playing music and I just really wanted to try it. Between him and my stepdad I listened to everything from Bjork to Snoop Dogg and old school blues and soul."
The musical inspiration of this trip however seems to be leaking from the African continent. I ask Tom if he can speak Afrikaans; he tells me he can't. "But he's getting us to play songs in Zulu," Lee-Ann interjects and Tom throws some of the South African dialect around. "Earlier this year we did a trip to Ivory Coast which was pretty cool," she continues. "But there's so much good music in Africa that most people at the bar were probably better musicians than us!"
Back in Hawaii Lee-Ann has decided the waves are fun out the front. As she comes ying out of a barrel at Off The Wall and stomps a massive roundhouse, Tom is setting up a one-man band overlooking the ocean. There's a keyboard balancing on a pillow assembled on top of a drum. With one foot Tom is using a kick pedal and on the other he's managed to get his toes through a hand held sleigh bell. Around his shoulders is a harmonica brace. He didn't bring a single surfboard to Hawaii but instead a quiver of harps.
The slow melody is broken up only by Tom's vocals and I pick up one of the ukuleles and attempt to pluck along. In 10 minutes he's got me playing chord sevenths and as soon as our session is nished he starts looking for the next person to jam with. It seems the melody never really stops with Tom.
Whether she's chasing tropical barrels or Icelandic point breaks, writing a new album with her band Betty The Shark or editing short lms, Lee-Ann has inherited the Curren creativity. "I think when kids see their parents do something, especially when they see they love what they do, kids want to do the same. If I had been brought up in any other family I'd still be creative, but maybe I'd be creative being an accountant!" she jokes.
During all the jam sessions I've witnessed at the house Tom seems to take the lead role. It gets dif cult when he doesn't always vocalise his ideas clearly to the improvised band and Lee-Ann has to step in with what she calls, "translating the Tom Curren language". "I understand what he's thinking because I know him but even for me sometimes his ideas are a bit abstract. He's the same with sur ng. Once he told me, 'You need to put more sizzle in your sur ng.' It was in the middle of a contest."
With all the musical scribbling of the last few days we talk about a new lm concept. Go away on a family trip somewhere and just surf and record music every day. "It could turn into anything," Lee-Ann gushes. Her younger brother Pat is also a musician and Steph is now a surrogate family member. "But there's only 12 months in a year,we'd have to make it t in everyone's schedules," she smiles, knowing what 2015 already has in store for her.
Tomorrow she ies to Australia where she'll spend the next couple of months playing Betty The Shark tunes with her band mate Philip. Then Bali is a possibility for a musical tour followed by thoughts of Japan. "You don't get the opportunity too many times in life to do this. It's something that you can't do twice."
The artistic air that seems to embody all things Curren has an aura of appreciation. You get the feeling Tom and Lee-Ann would be just at home beating a drum for the Maasai tribe as they would be in a surf contest. And they've gured out how to stay perpetually entertained. The secret is in the music.