ONE MAN one wave and a few friends
As Captain Ahab’s destiny was entwined with that of Moby Dick, the great while whale, so throughout the world there are surfers who are intertwined with their white whale of a wave. There are surfers and waves that become so entangled as to become inseparable and thereby synonymous with the very wave they ride. These surfers have committed themselves too, through the good times and the bad, in times when the fruits of the relationship wear thin, they stand by their wave unmoving and local - it is not about loyalty but a type of watery fidelity, in the knowledge that soon enough the day will come and deliver what has possessed them, what has moulded the way they live their very lives. They chase that wave and all it represents. Unlike other vagrants that wander off spreading their love, like single boys in Bali, these dedicated souls will be ready more than any other when that time comes, cause they have an unrelenting intimate knowledge of what makes it tick. They have spent years studying the moods and temperament, countless hours have been spent forging this relationship in less than ideal conditions, they have been heart broken and let down many times which has only strengthened their resolve to be the man on the pulse when the time comes.
“All that most maddens and torments; all that stirs up the lees of things; all truth with malice in it; all that cracks the sinews and cakes the brain; all the subtle demonisms of life and thought; all evil, to crazy Ahab, were visibly personified, and made practically assailable in Moby-Dick.”
Herman Melville 1851
There has been much reference given in surfing history to these dedicated warriors and the waves they worship with many becoming household legends. Sunset Beach in Hawaii had Michael Ho, Mavericks in California Geoff Clarke, Teahupoo Raimana Van Bolstalear, Bruce Lee at Kirra, Gerry Lopez at Pipeline, the list goes on, all names that have become as iconic as the very waves they sit and wait on. For 2002 National Champion Damon Gunness, his affiliation with this one wave has become an addiction and while many friends join him on the quest for glory, no others have dedicated as much time, finances and pure blood sweat and tears growing this relationship, on any given swell through the rain and the hail squalls you will find Damon either bobbing around out in amongst the swell lines patiently waiting for that one all time wave, or sitting in his car in adverse conditions willing for the elements to come together and deliver a chance. On a sunny Sunday arvo Damon slipped into the NZ Surf Mag office with a few cold brews in hand, opened up his inner soul to the NZ Surf Mag shrinks and poured his heart out, we sat, we listened, we even helped drink his beers, but in the end we had to admit that we couldn't help cure his condition and offered the only advice we thought suitable, "Keep going hard son, cause it's bloody beautiful to watch".
Take us back to the beginning, when did you first hear of this wave, the legends and myths and what was your first experience surfing it
like? That's a hard one... I'd say it was spawned from trips as groms where we went to surf other waves in the region and we would every now and then view this particular wave. It was obvious even back then that the conditions weren't right yet it was never a focus of ours to even entertain the idea of riding that break. There were times when we would see it looking good but never quite perfect and I guess we never really witnessed it showing its true colours. At the time our mindset was also not there, we didn't think we had the ability to surf the type of wave it was. Back then it wasn't really a wave you considered or wanted to surf in a way. A few guys had attempted to surf it and Jimmy Herewini had been surfing it a lot by himself and everyone thought he was crazy, Blair Stewart also had a few cracks at it, but no one had really nailed it. At the time we were focussed on our competition surfing and looking for different waves and there were probably heaps of times when we were elsewhere when it would have been pumping but it wasn't our focus back then, but now it has evolved to be all about surfing good waves and chasing the best waves which can almost ruin your life sometimes. I think the generation before us was held back by the equipment they rode and it is a very daunting wave. But across the board surfing has become so much more extreme these days and that level of what is considered extreme has lifted, what was once thought unsurfable is now totally acceptable. I briefly recall surfing it a few times in not so ideal conditions and getting a few, pretty much making it along the wave on the shoulder being totally naive. But not at all anything compared to how we are surfing it now.
So at what point did this wave become sought after? There was this one day when my good mate Joe Palmer and I went on a bit of a mission, Joe had never surfed it and I'd attempted it a couple of times with very average results. We surfed another break nearby as this wave was all messy. After a few hours we came in and drove past for a check and it looked all right but a bit suss, so we went and visited a friend up the hill and sat back for a chat and a cup of tea and sat watching this wave. Then it just turned on in front of our eyes, it was 6-8 foot and looked like G-Land so we shot back down to the sight of massive clean barrels and were in our wetsuits within 30 seconds and paddling out. We didn't even know if it was makeable but we had to give it a dig, it was too good not to, we didn't even talk on the way out, it was just complete focus on the unknown. That session created this awe and froth like never before and the following week we found ourselves driving there again when the swell wasn't even on, just hoping that it might have been breaking, we began to will something that didn't even exist that's how bad we wanted another taste. A few others that had been trying to score it over the years that had pretty much given up on this break were now reassured that it was the real deal and the proceeding swells got a little crowded as the hype blew up, and then faded again as each visiting surfer soon realised the skill level needed and the consequences of surfing here.
Describe this wave, and how does it compare to other
great waves? It's like waking up in your own bed and driving to Indo and surfing one of the best Indo reefs that exist for three to four hours and then you drive home again, that's what its like! After surfing throughout Indo and the Mentawai's on six occasions I'd say it is easily as good if not more suckier than an Indo reef, the way it pushes you through is second to none The wave was soo extreme to anything we had experienced and it was a massive learning curve for all but to get the fruits of this wave you have to be extreme to get a better ride, if you try and paddle to where the wave looks softer you'll be worse off than if you were on the most extreme spot on the wave. Your emotion is to paddle wider to the softer area but that's actually to your detriment, if your deep in the zone in the nugget, then that's gonna be the wave of your life. The real nasty piece of the wave is only for a split second and everyone gets caught up worrying about that small section but if you've made it that far then more than likely you'll be sweet. There has been soo much learnt about that wave and yet every session we are still learning more, it’s quite cool to surf a wave a lot and not be able to stop thinking how you could surf it better. What was the catalyst behind you decision that this was the wave you would dedicate yourself to? It’s not so much the wave in particular, it’s more than passion for surfing quality waves and let’s face it who doesn't like getting barrelled every wave for an entire session, and I'm not talking head dips, long steep deep barrels where the whole wave is contorting and twisting around you, with reef boiling in the face, spit blowing past you when you haven't even come out of the barrel yet and sometimes twice. What more could you want on a wave? For me it's about passion for surfing quality waves and this wave is quality. And if there were other waves around like that I'm sure I'd be surfing them too, but this wave has me hooked! Everyone that surfs it knows you only need that one wave and every session there is usually one wave that will just make your day, and you don't get waves like that anywhere else other than in Indo or West Oz. That's what makes it special. Obviously not every day has waves, yet you chase any sniff of a possible session there on a whim, how often have you been skunked? After all these years of chasing it we have it pretty down swell wise, but there's always dud trips. But I'd rather have a dud trip and know that I didn't miss out, rather than not going and wondering what it could of being like. I'd definitely rather see it in person and find out myself that it was dud, than not go and find out later that it might have been good. So all those dud trips are usually made up for with a good one sooner or later.
The man, the wave, DG in his happy place.
ABOVE: Maz Quinn was one of the first to push the possibilities of how deep you could take this wave on and still make it.
INSERTS: The financial cost of broken boards is all part of the experience. Damon takes one last look on sunset, still mesmerised by the magic out front. With jagged reef only two feet below a wipeout like this could end in tragedy.