DANE DOWNUNDER

Tracks - - INTRO - BEERS, BEANS AND BAR­RELS DANE REYNOLDS DO­ING THE DESERT MARCH. PHOTO: RESPONDEK

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.

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