Per­spec­tives on A us­tralia’s most in tense surf town.

Tracks - - Contents - By Luke Kennedy

Sand has al­ways been in­ter­twined with the his­tory of Coolan­gatta. In 1846 an 83ft schooner sailed south from Bris­bane; equipped with two con­vict labour­ers, the Coolan­gatta’s mis­sion was to load 70 000 ft of valu­able red­cedar at the Tweed River, and trans­port the cargo to Syd­ney. Plans were thwarted when Cap­tain Steele ar­rived to find the Tweed River en­trance blocked with sand and silt and thus in­ac­ces­si­ble. An­chor­ing just north in the lee of Point Dan­ger, the aptly named Steele be­gan doggedly fer­ry­ing his cargo on board via beach-launched rafts. How­ever, on Au­gust 8, 1846, a south­east gale and strong surf dragged the an­chors and washed the Coolan­gatta ashore where a com­mu­nity of cedar-get­ters had al­ready been es­tab­lished. Thirty-seven years later, sur­veyor, Henry Sch­nei­der, named the town af­ter the ill-fated ship. Who knows, had it not been for the build up of all that sand in the mouth of the Tweed River, Cap­tain Steele and his schooner might never have run aground and Coolan­gatta might have been known by some other name. Well over a cen­tury later the Tweed River en­trance, now flanked by boul­dered train­ing walls, was still caus­ing prob­lems for boats. By the late 1990s a com­pli­cated con­sor­tium of state and lo­cal gov­ern­ments (re­mem­ber it’s a bor­der town) de­cided that rad­i­cal ac­tion had to be taken. First, three mil­lion cu­bic me­tres of sand was dredged from the river-mouth and then a ma­jor sand by­pass sys­tem be­gan op­er­at­ing in 2001. It’s hard to say how much more nav­i­ga­ble the by­pass has made life for mariners, but there is lit­tle doubt that it has had a huge im­pact on the lives of surfers. Coolan­gatta al­ways had in­cred­i­ble waves and an in­tensely com­pet­i­tive click of world-class surfers, but there’s no deny­ing that all that govern­ment med­dling with pipes and sand­pumps has dra­mat­i­cally in­ten­si­fied the role surf­ing plays in the com­mu­nity. It’s all those gran­ules of white gold that bring the Quik­sil­ver Pro with its melt­ing pot of pros, par­ties and in­dus­try, back to Snap­per ev­ery year. And as much as they might ma­lign the crowds now, it’s the sug­ges­tively named ‘Su­per­bank’, which helped build the ca­reers of Mick Fan­ning, Joel Parkin­son, Steph Gil­more and Dean Mor­ri­son. The same 1.2 mile man-en­hanced mir­a­cle at­tracts as­pir­ing surfers from around the world who are con­vinced that its mag­i­cal prop­er­ties might de­liver them to the pro surf­ing promised land. It’s also where the hoards of reg­u­lar pun­ters tem­po­rar­ily mi­grate with in­ter­netfed dreams of a per­fect ride, of­ten find­ing an aquatic stag­ing of FightClub in­stead. In the wake of this year’s Quik­sil­ver Pro Tracks caught up with a num­ber of in­di­vid­u­als whose lives evolve around Coolan­gatta. Most were born and raised, but oth­ers fol­lowed the flow of sand from South to North in search of a surf­ing destiny. Each has a dif­fer­ent per­spec­tive, but hope­fully their com­bined sto­ries de­liver an in­sight into what is one of the world’s most dy­namic surf­ing epi­cen­tres.

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