SOME SURF CRIMES NEVER GO UNPUNISHED : BY LUKE KENNEDY
Seven young Australian surfers are poised on a threshold. No longer can they rest on their reps as junior over-achievers. They must now become WQS warriors and world-class free surfers. If Kalani Ball, Monty Tait, Cody Robinson, Jared Hickel, Quinn Bruce, Shaun Manners and Reef Heazlewood want to keep the pro surfing dream alive this is the challenge they face. sends them on their maiden trip to the Mentawai Islands to get an insight into the crew who are striving to carry a torch that has been passed through several generations of Australian surfing. From the likes of Peter Townend and Rabbit Bartholomew to Mark Richards and Cheyne Horan to Tom Carroll, Occy and Damian Hardman to Mick Fanning, Taj Burrow, Dean Morrison and Joel Parkinson and finally Owen Wright and Julian Wilson. Will this crew of grommets be part of that lineage which has made Australia the most dominant surfing nation?
On the trip, the favourite after-dinner pastime for the young pros is to check the clips and shots from the day's surfing. It's the kind of instant gratification a digital world can deliver. The young crew soon learn that there's nothing like a little immediate feedback on your performance. It’s fun to see yourself on film, but it’s also confronting when much of your career hinges on whether or not the camera likes you. For an aspiring young pro reviewing the footage and checking the shots means inviting the self-critic to start screaming in your ear, ‘That turn didn’t look as good on film as it felt?’ ‘I thought I was way deeper in the barrel.’ ‘I really need to do something different with my hands when I do a forehand finner.’ Then there are the automatic comparisons between what you’ve created on a wave to the dizzying achievements of the Danes, the Noa Deanes, the Matt Meolas. If the footage does make it to the small screen you know there’s an army of keyboard-surfers who feel more than entitled to pass judgement on your skills and a sponsor keeping an excel spread-sheet on how many views you get. All this equates to pressure.
Watching your waves with six of your peers gathered around the screen also has its pitfalls because you can bet they'll be scrutinising everything you do. And amongst this group of young Australian surfers it seems there is still one surf-crime that never goes un-punished – claiming. Every head-flick and hand jive is ruthlessly analysed for the presence of excessive showmanship by this bunch.
When filmer Dom Sullivan flips open his laptop and lets the action roll Cody Robinson is pinned for a suspect case of hands through the hair after a barrel exit at Greenbush. "I swear I was just wiping the water from my face," bellows the accused Robinson. However, when Dom replays the moment in slow-mo, like a judge on a football tribunal, the evidence is irrefutable and the boys erupt in laughter. Guilty as charged. Shaun Manners, who is a bundle of sardonic wit beneath a mop of curls, rubs salt into the wounds with a dramatic recreation of the claim that takes the mocking laughter to new levels.
No one is safe from the claims department. Everyone is anxious to see Jared's wave of the day from Greenbush, so Dom obliges the request and lets Hickel relive the glory of the ride. However, despite the fact it's indisputably a gold-star cavern, the footage shows Jared celebrating with a double finger salute. Again the crew are in stitches, making the Cronulla goofy footer aware that even though he scored a stellar tube there was no way anyone was going to let him get cocky about it. Even Reef Heazlewood's delicate roof tickle of a Greenbush drainer has the jury debating whether or not a violation has occurred. The message is clear, claim all you like but anything you do is fair game for the peanut gallery.
Some might suggest that all this is a sterling example of the Australian Tall Poppy syndrome stifling ambition and breeding negativity. However, maybe it’s just that these talented kids on the cusp of adulthood fully comprehend the challenge that lies ahead. By keeping each other honest and laughing along the way at their own earnest strivings it takes a little heat off and makes it easier to return to the task at hand. For Australia to perpetuate its supremacy in professional surfing is going to be tough. That Brazilian storm is fast becoming a tropical cyclone and an 18-year-old Japanese surfer, Hiroto Ohhara, just won the US Open. There are threats coming from every corner of the earth. To read more about seven young surfers trying to fly the Australian flag on the world stage turn to our feature Now and Tomorrow on page 56.