ONE MAN one wave and a few friends

New Zealand Surfing - - Ghetto Blasters - In­ter­view and pho­tos by Cory

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.

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.

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.

The man, the wave, DG in his happy place.

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