Dane Reynolds steps off the plane in Sydney airport and it feels like surfing’s version of Elvis has just landed Down Under. He is hooking up with Craig Anderson and Dion Agius for a trip they have been planning for months – a mission to an unforgiving frontier of The Great Southern Land.
John Respondek is tagging along to document the journey with his loaded Canon and admits to being a little wowed by the occasion. “I’ve been doing this for over 15 years now, so I don’t really get that feeling around pro surfers anymore, but when I hang out with Dane I do … I get a little awestruck because he’s the best I reckon.”
Craig has been to this scorched-earth region a few times before and words-up Dane about what to expect – flies that will test your sanity, sharks big enough to flip that jet ski we’ve brought along and locals who couldn’t give a damn if your name is Dane and you do biggest the airs in the world.
Why then drag the easy-going American to an Antipodean outback where there are a multitude of nasty things that might prey upon him? Well, the waves of course – big, round, knuckled ones that can swallow you whole and test your surfing in a way that is intensely satisfying. Surfers of Dane’s calibre can spin and glide in any kind of waves but there are times when they need to be challenged by the lumps of ocean they ride.
To his credit, Dane goes with the flow and quickly adapts to the harsh surrounds. The waves turn out to be twisted conundrums where just finding an entry point is a complicated puzzle, and making it out a kind of miracle.
“He’s not really a slab guy and was a little hesitant at first,” suggests Respondek. “But he worked it out pretty quickly and did pretty damn well.”
With sun-torched skin and dust-filled eyes, big Dane takes pleasure in joining the boys for a few Aussie ales at night. He gets his rest alongside the crew in the dingy lodgings out the back of a desolate petrol station and when supplies run low he’s happy to make do with the meagre culinary offerings – baked beans heaped onto bread, cocktail frankfurts straight from the tin. All the while he offers only a singular complaint, which serves to demonstrate a quirkiness of nature rather than a lack of resilience. “I had to laugh,” recalls Respondek. “We were going to a wave to do some punts one morning and Dane was like, ‘I hate doing airs in the morning, airs are more of an afternoon thing’.” In spare moments on the trip Dane can be found following a different muse – aiming his 16mm camera at whatever geographical feature, fading structure or Australian flora piques his interest. “He’s really passionate about his filming,” insists Respondek. “All kinds of random lifestyle stuff, headlands and even flowers.”
The trip reaches a juncture on the day when Dane and Craig both celebrate their birthday. After a week in the desert a kind of stir crazy has set in and any kind of civilisation offers solace from the bleak emptiness. In a backwater hotel, in some forgotten Australian town they share a beer and reflect on the waves ridden. Craig is returning east, but on a whim Dane and Dion decide to continue west across the Nullarbor to rendezvous with Taj Burrow in Margaret River. “We worked out we could just put the hire car on a train and send it back when we got there,” chuckles Respondek in relation to how the hare-brained scheme was hatched.
And so Dane and Dion Agius drive 2000km across the red-dirt abyss of the Eyre highway to sit by a campfire with Taj Burrow. That was how Dane Reynolds did Down Under. He flew in under the radar, disappeared into the desert, destroyed a few lips, ate from a can, drunk VB, rode evil slabs and drove half way across the continent.
At 31, Dane continues to keep us guessing at his next move. Some would like to see the one-time WCT contender pull on a contest singlet again, but maybe that’s akin to asking him to surf with a chain-mail legrope. Perhaps Dane’s particular genius is better served when he’s free to roam the earth as he pleases, following his creative instincts through all of life’s jinks and turns. And if we’re fortunate we’ll catch a glimpse of what happens along the way. This month we got lucky.