SO­CI­ETY UN­SEEN

SLAB SURF­ING EX­PLORES NEW EXTREMES WITH THE CAST OF SO­CI­ETY UN­SEEN

Surfing World - - Introduction - By Jock Serong

If blood is thicker than wa­ter then the Brown Brothers of West Oz must have rocks flow­ing through their veins. Meet the team be­hind the best slab surf­ing movie ever made.

IT’S SUCH A BRIL­LIANT IDEA AND AMAZ­ING IT HADN’T HAP­PENED SOONER. A TIGHT CON­FED­ER­A­TION OF WESTERN OZ’S MOST REVERED HEAVY-WA­TER TAL­ENT HAVE BEEN QUI­ETLY BUILD­ING A UNIQUE FILM PROJECT, SO­CI­ETY UN­SEEN. THE CON­CEPT BLENDS LO­CAL KNOWL­EDGE AND CIN­E­MATIC SCOPE INTO A HEART-STOP­PING VI­SION OF THE MOST TER­RI­FY­ING WAVES WEST OF THE 129TH MERIDIAN. SLAB SURF­ING LOOMS EVER LARGER IN THE PUB­LIC EYE IN THIS COUN­TRY. AL­READY THIS YEAR WE’VE BEEN BLOWN AWAY BY LEROY BELLET’S BE­HIND-THE-SURFER PER­SPEC­TIVE, AND AGAIN BY THE MAD HERO­ISM OF CAPE FEAR. BUT EARLY GLIMPSES IN­DI­CATE THIS IS DIF­FER­ENT TO ANY­THING THAT’S GONE BE­FORE: THE LIGHT, THE IN­TEN­SITY, THE DISTINCTIVELY WEST AUS­TRALIAN OB­SES­SION WITH RUGGED TRANS­PORT: CHOP­PERS, PLANES, SKIS, ZODIACS, SE­RI­OUSLY GRUNTY BOATS AND 4WDS. WAVES THAT FOR SIZE, POWER AND RE­MOTE­NESS ARE BE­YOND THE PHYSICS OF PAD­DLING. IT’S LIKE SEE­ING CHANNON AND MCLEOD’S ROAD SONG LEAP OFF THE PAGE AND INTO A HIGH DEF­I­NI­TION, SUR­ROUND-SOUND FU­TURE WHERE THE MA­CHIN­ERY MIGHT BE SCI­ENCE FIC­TION, BUT THE AN­CIENT CLIFFS ARE STILL STAR­ING DOWN TIME LIKE IT DOESN’T EX­IST AT ALL.

BROTHER NUM­BER ONE - KERBY BROWN

A man with se­ri­ous miles on his surf­ing clock, Kerbs has been a top-flight ju­nior com­peti­tor, a QS jour­ney­man, and for many years now, at the cut­ting edge of big wave ex­plo­ration in this coun­try. At 33, his rep­u­ta­tion is global, his body in fine shape, and he’s rid­den through the hard les­sons that make great wa­ter­men. For what this project re­quires, he’s at his peak.

The Brown brothers are the sons of a Ger­ald­ton rock muso and cray­fish­er­man, and were al­ready scour­ing the north­west coast for waves be­fore their dad de­cided to re­lo­cate the fam­ily to Kal­barri. Kerby was do­ing runs to Hawaii ev­ery sea­son, and his dad hit him with the ul­ti­ma­tum: you’re not turn­ing up at school. Ei­ther knuckle down and study or make a go of the surf­ing and take it se­ri­ously. The choice was ob­vi­ous.

But there came an­other turn­ing point a lit­tle fur­ther down the road; the QS burned him out. “I re­alised it wasn’t for me, has­sling Brazil­ians in one-foot waves. I was half-hearted, par­ty­ing heaps. And I knew I was miss­ing good waves back home.” At around 21, he started chas­ing big swells with sin­gle-minded fo­cus. But one af­ter the other his spon­sors, SMP and Mambo, went down. Just as Mambo fell, Kerby and his part­ner Nicole were ex­pect­ing a baby. Time for an­other rein­ven­tion.

Kerbs did what many West Aussies in his po­si­tion did: he got into off­shore oil & gas and made a good liv­ing. “It was a huge change from surf­ing and par­ty­ing to re­al­is­ing I need to raise a fam­ily.” The change was a bless­ing in dis­guise – for­bid­den by the em­ployer from drink­ing and par­ty­ing, “It was like I was in train­ing. I surfed more in those years than I did when I was kick­ing round – and I got six months off.”

Now the re­sources party is over, and Kerbs now faces an­other rein­ven­tion. This time he’s piv­ot­ing to­wards his two favourite pas­sions (aside from whip­ping into build­ing-size bar­rels): pho­tog­ra­phy and food. To add just an­other layer of mys­tique to the many hid­den be­hind those whiskers, the man is an as­ton­ish­ingly good cook.

Kerby cred­its Rick Ri­fici as the prime mover of the So­ci­ety Un­seen idea. Rick’s al­ready cap­tured Kerby in some unimag­in­ably dan­ger­ous sit­u­a­tions – snarling lip over his head and dry ledge un­der his feet. But he’s not the loud­est guy in the room by any mea­sure. Why does he do it? “It ful­fils me,” he says. “I’m al­ways look­ing for­ward to that mo­ment, surf­ing a ridicu­lously heavy wave and sur­viv­ing it. I’m not con­tent liv­ing a nor­mal life, with­out ex­trem­ity – I get bored eas­ily.”

He agrees that be­com­ing a dad changed his ap­proach. “I was more reck­less. I didn’t care – ‘If I don’t come home, that’s it then.’ Now, it’s like, ‘I’m not com­ing home to my child.’ I’m not back­ing off, I’m just men­tally more cal­cu­lat­ing. Some­times.” He laughs. “Other times the thoughts come af­ter­wards.”

He’s nurs­ing a knee at present, but so far, the big­gest phys­i­cal dam­age from surf­ing slabs has come in ways you mightn’t ex­pect. “The Right pushes you so deep – I did my eardrum in May and again the other day.” His kid brother Cort­ney has seen him off to hos­pi­tal “so many times. Nicole’s amaz­ing. I know she gets wor­ried for him but she does a bloody good show of hid­ing it.”

The days when it’s worked – the weather, the swell, the tech­ni­cal stuff – make it all worth­while. “One of the first trips we did as a group, we had three skis way out to sea on this wave down south. It was sunny and huge and amaz­ing. Dan­ger­ous, but a good ses­sion. We’ve been chas­ing those mo­ments ever since, but it’s hard to make ‘em align. Es­pe­cially on th­ese waves – they’re evil.”

The project is “all our own time and money,” de­spite the mil­lion­aire vibe cre­ated by Cor­saire’s fly­ing toys. There­fore it’s hard for Kerbs to pre­dict when it will be in the can. “I can’t see an end date just yet,” he says. “We’ll keep build­ing and see where it takes us. The other fac­tor is – how long can we keep do­ing this with­out some­one get­ting se­ri­ously hurt?”

Op­po­site: Thun­der­browns are go. (White). Open­ing: A mu­tant un­loads on the treach­er­ous, shark in­fested wa­ters th­ese lu­natics call home. (White)

MR GOODVIBES - CORT­NEY BROWN

If you were to make a por­trait of the ar­che­typal nor-west surfer, what would you in­clude? A hy­per-stylish bar­rel rider. A fear­less tow-pig. A son learn­ing the ropes of cray­fish­ing from his fa­ther. An easy­go­ing lad you’d share a laugh with over a Red Lead.

Well there, in a para­graph, is Cort­ney Brown. Five years younger than his bearded bro Kerby, Corts is a dif­fer­ent kind of guy. He’s a neat freak and a hater of filth, where Kerbs is more com­fort­able with stench and muck. Lightly built, clean shaven and out­go­ing, he’s nev­er­the­less as close to Kerby as a brother can be. “I’ve surfed with him my whole life,” he says. “He’s the rea­son I started. I think we used to fight a bit when we were tiny, but we’re the best of mates. I’ve al­ways looked up to the guy.” That level of broth­erly af­fec­tion leads to an ob­vi­ous prob­lem with a project like So­ci­ety Un­seen. How do you ven­ture into se­ri­ously dan­ger­ous ocean with your only brother and your long-term part­ner, or as Cort­ney puts it, half your bloody fam­ily? “It de­pends what we’re surf­ing. I get su­per wor­ried for them if I’m on the ski.” There are no easy go-downs. “Ev­ery time some­one goes down tow­ing those waves it’s a fuck­ing heavy sit­u­a­tion. You’ve got to be there to make sure they pop up. I don’t care how fit you are: if that wave wants to kill you, it’ll kill you.”

He agrees that Kerby and Nicole and their grom­met Phoenix of­fer a model of a life he could em­u­late down the track. “Kerby be­ing down south is the first time we’ve been sep­a­rated since we were lit­tle kids. I miss see­ing Phoenix and Nicole too.” Their de­par­ture from Kal­barri high­lights the need to adapt in the west – both to get the kind of waves they’re af­ter, and just to make a liv­ing. “Kerby’s scored this win­ter, and I’ve pretty much missed out. On the other hand, he has to come up here and get some sun now and then.”

Cort­ney’s more than an echo of his brother’s gi­ant tal­ent: he’s got a world class act of his own (he was picked up by Vol­com at ten years old). He thinks the two of them are very sim­i­lar surfers, al­though “Kerby’s a bit more of a ma­niac. I can hold back in some sit­u­a­tions. He pushes me.” And he’s stoked on hav­ing Imo­gen on board: “I couldn’t imag­ine trav­el­ling with a bet­ter bunch of hu­mans.”

In his self-ef­fac­ing way, Cort­ney’s not sure what he brings to the ta­ble, al­though he help­fully prof­fers his nick­name, “Swiss” be­cause of his abil­ity to come up with an

op­tion for any sit­u­a­tion, like a Swiss Army knife. When he thinks about it a lit­tle harder, he reck­ons it might be his ten­dency to bring on the happy vibe: “they’re all pretty se­ri­ous.”

WILD CHILD OF THE BLUFF - IMO­GEN CALD­WELL

In a tribe com­prised of far-flung mem­bers, 19-year-old Imo­gen Cald­well is the light from a dis­tant galaxy. When she an­swers the land­line in the home­stead at Red Bluff - there’s no mo­bile sig­nal out there – a dog barks in the desert night be­hind her. It’s some­how per­fect.

Imo­gen’s par­ents packed their five chil­dren in the car many moons ago and left the east coast on an open-ended road trip. They wound up man­ag­ing Red Bluff, home-school­ing their chil­dren, and mak­ing the kind of life you find in a Win­ton or Favel Par­rett novel. Imo­gen lived full-time at the Bluff, with Aus­tralia’s most pho­to­genic left­hander roar­ing away in front of her home. The Brown brothers vis­ited fre­quently on surf mis­sions. Cort­ney vis­ited more…and more. “We all knew who they were,” she laughs. They’ve been to­gether for years now.

Imo­gen learned to dive, and to surf, in chal­leng­ing wa­ters. Any­one who’s been to the Bluff knows there’s no easy beach­break to get started on, and there’s a hell of a shore­pound in the bay. It’s the Point or stay dry. She grew up a goofy­footer and quickly adapted to fast, bar­relling waves.

In­cred­i­bly, she’s only been surf­ing for about four years. In that time she’s surfed heav­ier waves than most surfers – male or fe­male – will surf in a life­time. Grad­u­ally she pulled away from the Bluff. “I was trav­el­ling to

com­pete a lot, and I worked out it was eas­ier to travel from Kal­barri than out of the Bluff. I started mov­ing my stuff into Cort­ney’s and… even­tu­ally I was liv­ing there. She found her way into mod­el­ling and picked up a deal with RVCA that re­quires her to go on trips and get in­volved with their de­sign team, as well as model the prod­uct. When she’s not do­ing that, she’s mod­el­ling high fash­ion for in­ter­na­tional clients or just trav­el­ling with what­ever’s on of­fer.

“Orig­i­nally,” she ex­plains, “I wasn’t part of the So­ci­ety Un­seen loop. Then some­one said – ‘we need a girl!’and every­one looked

at me. Since I’d met Cort­ney, the waves I was surf­ing were get­ting big­ger and big­ger and I’d al­ready started tow­ing, so…”

“Imo’s crazy,” says Kerby. “It’s a spinout to see her in big waves. It’s the last thing you’d ex­pect when you look at her on land. She’s ma­ture and goes hard for her age. She’s start­ing to look now at the slabby waves we surf. That’s go­ing to be re­ally in­ter­est­ing.”

Asked to ex­plain how she finds her­self amongst a crew of diehard slab surfers ex­plor­ing the cold wa­ters of the south, Imo­gen’s at a loss. “I can’t re­ally ex­plain it. I love surf­ing. I’m ready to take on slabs. If Cort­ney’s on the other end of the rope, there’s to­tal trust be­tween us.” She starts laugh­ing again. “I mean, I’m small, I’m tiny. I’ve been get­ting away with it so far, touch wood. Kerby takes all the hits for every­one. It’ll be in­ter­est­ing, but hope­fully we all come out of it al­right.”

THE PHO­TOG­RA­PHER - CHRIS WHITE

“I’m just a stay-at-home dad,” Chris White says dis­mis­sively. It’s not what oth­ers say of him. ‘Pioneer of slabs’ is one term that’s been ap­plied to the 36 year old, who carved a rep­u­ta­tion mak­ing the cel­e­brated Ten­sion body­board­ing vids. Ri­fici calls him a le­gend, and among this group he’s known as The Sen­sei. He’s said to have found The Right, some­thing that you don’t just stum­ble across with­out se­ri­ous ex­pe­ri­ence and the courage to ap­ply it. White did much of his trav­el­ling and search­ing for waves in the days when he was mak­ing body­board movies. He’d known Kerby and Cort­ney from early days, and they called him in as much for his ex­plorer’s soul as for his shots. Shoot­ing wa­ter for a project like this is ev­ery bit as dan­ger­ous as the surf­ing it­self, but White’s pretty un­flap­pable. “We’re of­ten so far out at sea that you’re not swimming any­way, you’re on the back of a ski. Even then you’ve got to keep your wits about you. But sharks don’t faze me – I fig­ure there’s plenty else to eat out there.”

Thus far, he hasn’t gone over the falls at any of the ma­jor lo­ca­tions. “I think you’d die if you did,” he says sim­ply. His only plan is “not to miss any­thing they do”, which makes sense given that many of th­ese ses­sions are worth one or maybe two shots. Some­one risks their life – it’s a hell of a re­spon­si­bil­ity to be the one who has to cap­ture the mo­ment in a highly un­pre­dictable en­vi­ron­ment.

White picks his lenses be­fore he heads out, so he isn’t caught at sea try­ing to change ports in the wind and spray. He says he hasn’t lost any gear yet. But it’s the hu­man fa­tigue, not gear losses, that re­ally mounts up. White’s cov­ered big dis­tances over short time­frames – they all have. Car travel, ski travel, wa­ter shoot­ing in heavy surf. “And the con­stant men­tal fo­cus, the won­der­ing: are we in the right spot? Are we in the right part of the right spot? The whole thing’s ex­haust­ing.” Op­po­site: He may hi­ber­nate for months on end, but when the Kerbs is hun­gry, it feeds. Brother Brown in the bear den. (White)

Work­ing out of planes and chop­pers all over the gi­gan­tic ex­panse of the west is “like noth­ing else. Th­ese trips are some of the best things I’ve ever done as a pho­tog­ra­pher. Some days it seems like a dream. You’re not sure it re­ally hap­pened.” He’s seen spin­ner dol­phins, whales and count­less seals, but the sin­gle mo­ment that’s stuck in his mind came at the end of a long day when they man­aged to lose them­selves way off the coast, search­ing for a half-for­got­ten wave. “Then we found this other wave out there, just nowhere, and it was wrap­ping it­self around a rock and ex­plod­ing, send­ing th­ese mis­sile at­tacks of whitewater into the sky.”

The day at the dry-ledge left­hander stands out too. “I re­mem­ber go­ing out there and think­ing ‘oh well, we’ve got the wrong day.’ It wasn’t sur­fa­ble. And then Kerby got this wild look in his eye and he goes ‘yeah, I might get a cou­ple,’ and he suited up and went. And you could see the lo­cal knowl­edge – he just al­ways picked the right line. An­other guy came out af­ter him and tried the same thing, and he got an­ni­hi­lated.”

White’s also us­ing the trips with the So­ci­ety Un­seen crew to build up a photo book of his own. There’s ev­ery in­di­ca­tion it’ll be a clas­sic.

“I’M NOT CON­TENT LIV­ING A NOR­MAL LIFE, WITH­OUT EX­TREM­ITY. I GET BORED EAS­ILY.”

THE EN­GINE ROOM – NICOLE JAR­DINE

Kerby Brown’s part­ner of six­teen years is the whip-smart Nicole. Along­side Rick Ri­fici’s wife Sonya, she pro­vides the lo­gis­ti­cal drive that puts the crew on-point for crit­i­cal swells.

Nicole and Kerby have been to­gether since they were six­teen or seven­teen, and it’s clear from a short con­ver­sa­tion that she’s come to terms with the hard-charg­ing ways of her cho­sen life part­ner.

There’s been no start date and there is no end date for the project – it just swirls around them like the weather they’re chas­ing. It’s elu­sive – “a bit hard to wrap it up and put a big bow around it,” she says. She has her own ideas about what the nar­ra­tive arc of the film would be. “To me this is a group of or­di­nary peo­ple do­ing ex­tra­or­di­nary things. We’re not pros with com­pa­nies throw­ing stupid amounts of money at us. We’ve got fam­i­lies, jobs. There’s a strong sense of ad­ven­ture, and dan­ger.” As she ut­ters the word dan­ger, her five-year-old boy Phoenix - Kerby’s son - is hol­ler­ing hap­pily in the back­ground.

Nicole hasn’t men­tioned the epic ge­og­ra­phy, which is per­haps a habit with western­ers. Maybe they as­sume ev­ery­thing’s this far apart. “Oh yeah, sure,” she says. “The fact that it’s WA re­ally ties it all to­gether. Th­ese are lo­ca­tions that are al­most to­tally un­seen – thus the name. Kerby is very strong on re­spect­ing spots – no so­cial me­dia, no iden­ti­fy­ing fea­tures.” She’s proud that the So­ci­ety Un­seen con­cept has grown around a team of peo­ple from the far cor­ners of WA, and with vastly dif­fer­ent back­grounds, mak­ing some­thing worth­while to­gether. “This has been groups of mates, do­ing th­ese trips for years. But we’d never pulled to­gether a team to cover all the bases, That’s what’s changed. It was Kerby, Brad and Cort­ney at first, then Whitey to shoot it. Then Luke and Phil, who’ve been besties since they were kids, and so on. Now we’re two tow teams, a pho­tog­ra­pher, an avi­a­tion and cin­e­matic pro­duc­tion team – with me and Sonya in the back­ground. It’s the com­plete pack­age.”

But she con­cedes it’s very ex­pen­sive, very weather-de­pen­dant and it re­quires sched­ul­ing around every­one’s in­ter­ests “be­cause it’s no-one’s full-time job.”

Kerby’s tweaked his knee on the most re­cent film­ing run. There’s vi­sion in the early cuts that shows him gri­mac­ing in pain on the back of a ski. “Ah, he’ll be right,” laughs Nicole. She con­firms they don’t have the ca­su­alty de­part­ment on speed dial at their place. But then she adds: “Rick feels a heavy re­spon­si­bil­ity for them, es­pe­cially af­ter he filmed the Cape Fear event. Where they’re go­ing, if some­thing goes se­ri­ously wrong, the like­li­hood is they won’t reach help in time.”

THE LU­NATIC - BRAD “CHUCK” NOR­RIS

Perth-based Brad Nor­ris goes way back with Kerby Brown. “I’ve al­ways tow-surfed, hunted new waves. I like find­ing places where peo­ple aren’t around. Kerby and I were surf­ing to­gether a lot early last year, and then Rick was talk­ing about do­ing some­thing, and it all sort of pieced to­gether.”

Brad was run­ning his own busi­ness as a plumber, but re­alised he was los­ing valu­able ex­plor­ing time, so he took a job with a mate who un­der­stood the ob­ses­sion, al­low­ing him more time off to be avail­able for So­ci­ety Un­seen runs. He doesn’t claim to have a spe­cialised role in the group: “Maybe I just bring the youth. They’re all old as fuck.”

De­spite be­ing re­peat­edly la­belled as the res­i­dent lu­natic of the group, Brad claims to be “the most scared per­son out there.” The trick seems to be dis­so­ci­a­tion: “I don’t think too much about my­self. I think about the fun. You can only find out it’s un­sur­fa­ble by surf­ing it.”

His last two surfs with So­ci­ety Un­seen have demon­strated the lim­its of sur­fa­bil­ity. He’s had deep mus­cle dam­age that’s still hurt­ing him af­ter four months, and more re­cently he broke a rib, scored a mas­sive haematoma and nearly broke his pelvis. He fig­ures that, be­ing younger, he re­cov­ers okay from the hits. “I try to keep in shape so I can with­stand more.” In his mind’s eye, he wants to see a high-end fea­ture film come out of the project, “Show­ing peo­ple what they’ve never seen be­fore.” And he’s con­vinced the footage they’re cap­tur­ing has real im­pact. “Non-surfers would think it’s mind-blow­ing. Hell, I think it’s mind-blow­ing. Th­ese waves are so pow­er­ful.”

THE HARD MAN - PHIL READ

There’s few tougher job de­scrip­tions than “EX-AFL player turned big wave charger”. Once nom­i­nated by Ben Cousins as the best surfer among the 500-odd AFL play­ers, Phil Read played for Mel­bourne and West Coast, no­to­ri­ously tak­ing on Dale Kick­ett in the “De­mo­li­tion Derby” (Kick­ett won the fight but got nine weeks to Read’s two).

Af­ter footy, Read part­nered with Mark Mathews, charg­ing his way to a Bil­l­abong Big Wave nom­i­na­tion at The Right in April 2014. For ten years he worked as a surf guide at Kan­dui re­sort in the Ments, hon­ing his bar­rel act on shal­low coral at Ri­fles, Nokan­dui, Bank Vaults and Hide­aways.

Th­ese days Phil works on the Freo wharves as a crane op­er­a­tor. He likes the job – it’s flex­i­ble enough that he can “book off” nine days a month when he sees a swell ap­proach­ing. He thinks that what he brought across from footy to slabs is pre­pared­ness, a ten­dency to re­duce risk by be­ing or­gan­ised.

He’s not sure that he has any spe­cialised role in the So­ci­ety Un­seen mob. “Nah. Just more than happy to be surf­ing with guys like Kerby and Cort­ney. I def­i­nitely learn from them, the way they ap­proach waves.” The com­par­isons are in­ter­est­ing to him: Mark Mathews’s care­ful or­gan­i­sa­tion, as against Brad Nor­ris’s reck­less­ness. “He won’t even look at the surf be­fore he pad­dles out some days.” He loves be­ing un­der the sway of Chris White – “he’s

“SHARKS DON’T FAZE ME – I FIG­URE THERE’S PLENTY ELSE TO EAT OUT THERE.” Op­po­site: WA of the dragon - Chuck Nor­ris’ un­leashes some kung pow. (Christie)

done so much time out there on the south coast. No EPIRB, no map, no GPS. Just one ski and a lot of con­fi­dence. It’s in­spi­ra­tional. You go out with him, you don’t even have to think.”

De­spite his lesser ex­pe­ri­ence than the Browns, Phil’s es­caped so far with­out much car­nage: just “a cou­ple of two-wa­vers at the Right.” But he’s had a taste of how dan­ger­ous it can get. “I pin-dropped last year on a close­out, and com­ing up in the tur­bu­lence the tow board hit me re­ally hard in the cheek. I grabbed the vest tog­gles be­fore I passed out. In the end I got away with a few stitches.”

Luck is what it’s all about for Phil. “I just feel lucky to be men­tioned with those guys. I see Rick in the chan­nel and I can’t be­lieve that guy’s wait­ing for me to catch a wave.”

THE PI­LOT - LUKE WYLLIE

Luke Wyllie’s a happy guy. He ra­di­ates breezy good hu­mour. And why wouldn’t he? He’s got the best job in the world: owns his own avi­a­tion com­pany and uses the money from the good jobs (min­ing, and tak­ing tourists from Perth down to Leeuwin Es­tate) to sub­sidise mad dashes to Gnar­aloo with peo­ple like his mate Taj. Some­times he shoots down to Margs be­fore dawn for a surf and he’s back at the desk by 10:30. But there’s plenty go­ing on be­neath the sur­face: Luke’s a hard-charg­ing nat­u­ral footer, and he’s the guy who has to re­main cold-blooded when every­one else is amp­ing.

He’s get­ting a kid from kinder when we call. Every­one on this thing seems be wran­gling a child. He’s turn­ing his busi­ness, Cor­saire Avi­a­tion, from min­ing to­wards tourism as the min­ing slows down. He came into the So­ci­ety Un­seen project through his life­long friend­ship with Phil Read, also from Perth.

What he brings to the project is se­ri­ous aerial firepower: a yel­low Euro­copter 130 that will carry six surfers and their boards, a ten-seat Cessna Con­quest Twin Tur­bo­prop, a cou­ple of skis and ac­cess to plenty more air­craft. “Luke’s an amaz­ing as­set,” says Cort­ney. “Not only is he a good mate, he’s got ac­cess to the most ridicu­lous toys you could think of. Ev­ery time we go to Cor­saire and set foot in the hangar and look at Luke’s he­li­copters and planes, you just know it’s gonna be the sick­est trip.” Un­usu­ally, Luke has both fixed-wing and chop­per quals, and reg­u­larly uses both. The north­west is an hour and a half by Cessna, door-to-door from Perth. It’s fif­teen bru­tal hours by road - the ad­van­tages are ob­vi­ous. Some­times they’ll get to Gnar­aloo, jump in the old 4WD they leave at the airstrip and find the surf’s not up to scratch, or some­one in­jures them­selves. Luke says Kerby once flew all the way to eat a sandwich and fly back. No one minds. But they’ve got it di­alled now and ac­cord­ing to Luke, they usu­ally score.

He uses the chop­per to get to Walpole be­cause there’s no handy airstrip. “We land on the beach some­where and get picked up by ski,” he says ca­su­ally. He uses in-flight info to dodge around the storm cells that so of­ten ac­com­pany epic swell: “You try to pick the gaps. It keeps you on your toes.” He never lets the hell­rais­ing rub off on his ap­proach to fly­ing though. “I wouldn’t put a ner­vous trav­eller through what I do to th­ese guys, but they don’t pres­sure me ei­ther.

“I DON’T CARE HOW FIT YOU ARE: IF THAT WAVE WANTS TO KILL YOU, IT’LL KILL YOU.”

Op­po­site: Nor­ris Texas Ranger in a good ol’ western shootout. (White)

There’s lots of ban­ter in the head­sets, but the first cou­ple of good bumps usu­ally shuts ‘em up pretty quick.”

Putting down the two and a half tonne chop­per at The Right is in­tense. “It’s moun­tain­ous,” says Luke. It’s tricky to find some­where flat enough. On the beach is okay, but you have to watch for fine sand get­ting in the fil­ters.”

He took the mu­sos from Me­tal­lica up to Kal­barri for a day’s surf­ing – the whole town came out to see them. Late in the evening they tax­ied down the un-fenced run­way and Luke was turn­ing the bird to power up for take­off when a big red roo bolted straight into the land­ing gear. “There was blood splat­tered all over the win­dows,” he re­calls. The Me­tal­lica guys were scream­ing “WHAT THE FUCK! WE JUST HIT SKIPPY!”

Try­ing to run a busi­ness around the very sud­den de­mands of the So­ci­ety Un­seen project is a jug­gle for Luke. “When a swell comes up you might oc­ca­sion­ally shuf­fle a min­ing job,” he laughs. “We’re sud­denly down for main­te­nance.”

“YOU CAN ONLY FIND OUT IT’S UN­SUR­FA­BLE BY SURF­ING IT.”

THE CIN­E­MATOG­RA­PHER - RICK RI­FICI

Though he de­scribes him­self as “by far the old­est mem­ber of this gang”, cin­e­matog­ra­pher Rick Ri­fici is in many ways the glue that binds it to­gether. A 30-year veteran of film and TV, Kerby cred­its him as the driv­ing force be­hind turn­ing some­thing in­for­mal and fun into a cre­ative project with teeth.

As much as he’s based any­where, Rick lives in Seminyak with his wife Sonya, and their 18-month old grom­met. He works be­tween LA, west Oz and Bali – he re­cently did the wa­ter unit work for the film adap­ta­tion of Tim Win­ton’s Breath (along­side SW’S Jon Frank).

He feels a deep sense of re­spon­si­bil­ity for the safety of the rid­ers. “In the deep south, a lot of the time it’s not chop­pers but just skis, and we’re twenty or thirty kays out. The con­se­quences out there could be heavy. Some of the waves are harder than Chopes. At Chopes, seven out of ten are make­able. Out here, it’s more like two out of ten. At Cape Fear I watched Jug­head get an­ni­hi­lated and split the back of his head open. It brings back the re­al­ity that we’re out at sea – how do you get back in? We need to be do­ing this with more sup­port.”

At one deep-wa­ter lo­ca­tion, Rick was hes­i­tant, trou­bled by ex­actly those thoughts. “Then the Fish­eries turned up, miles off­shore, and were fol­low­ing us around. And I thought ‘Aha! This is our backup!’ So they watched us surf for three or four hours, and they were stoked on it.” It was a dou­ble-edged re­as­sur­ance though – it turns out they were tag­ging Great Whites.

The gear Rick’s us­ing is crit­i­cal to cre­at­ing the gi­ant scale they’re af­ter. “It’s as good as it gets,” he says. There’s a RED Dragon cam­era, worth about a hun­dred grand, ca­pa­ble of shoot­ing Hol­ly­wood fea­tures. You could gen­er­ate mag­a­zine-qual­ity stills from among its mov­ing images, the res­o­lu­tion is so good. And there’s a Phan­tom 4K Flex cam­era for su­per slo-mo. Worth a whop­ping 200 grand, it’ll shoot 1000 frames per sec­ond.

Rick’s sit­ting on 24 ter­abytes of film al­ready – lit­er­ally weeks of vi­sion. He be­lieves the project has enough mo­men­tum now that there’s lit­tle chance of it ever dis­in­te­grat­ing back into in­for­mal­ity. “The fact that this is a bunch of friends doesn’t mean it’s any less se­ri­ous. Maybe it’s more se­ri­ous be­cause it’s per­sonal.”

Pre­vi­ous Spread: Kerbs goes psy­cho on the ul­ti­mate shower cur­tain. (Scott). Above: Cort and Imo; big wave power cou­ple, pooch whis­per­ers. (Christie). Op­po­site: Red Bluff’s Imo at home in front of the lens on land and in wa­ter. (Christie)

Op­po­site Right: From the sadis­tic mak­ers of Hot Tub Time Ma­chine comes the an­tic­i­pated pre­quel: Drop Slab Death Ravine. (White). Clock­wise from Top: Ahhh ledges.. More salt, crunch and va­ri­ety than a bag of potato chips. (Gur­ney/white)

Op­po­site: Chop­per pi­lot Luke Wyllie lets one fly. (Gur­ney). Pre­vi­ous Spread: Whether it’s dredg­ing oil­rigs or an off­shore drilling, Kerby’s ready to do the dirty­work. (White)

Be­low: Prac­tice your look­backs in front of the mir­ror kids, it just might save your life one day. Brown Steel. (White)

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