KEEP­ING IT REAL

Tracks - - BITSA -

I love the fact that the mid-north coast of New South Wales is pop­u­lated by so many lit­tle groups of fe­male retro 70s cool-cat surfers. They look like they’re im­i­tat­ing women from an­other era, while roam­ing the re­gion, harm­lessly, bliss­fully, and thank­fully, not com­pet­i­tively. It’s so nice to see these chilled-out chicks hav­ing so much fun while so scant­ily clad.

They wile away the hours, often pos­tur­ing in their di­shev­elled VW Kombi vans, like lan­guish­ing highly paid fe­lines, in­hab­it­ing their gap-year Ger­man time machines. Most will re­turn to a more con­ven­tional life once this bucket list box has been ticked. Jack Ker­ouac’s On The Road will be re­placed by univer­sity text and all that will re­main of this mag­i­cal time will be their mem­o­ries … oh, and all the GoPro footage and their fas­tid­i­ous In­sta­gram doc­u­men­ta­tion.

Af­ter the NSW State Ti­tles were held in this district re­cently, I no­ticed a fan­tas­ti­cally or­gan­ised ute which I guessed must have been owned by the po­lar op­po­site of this type; a ded­i­cated male fish­er­man/surfer. When I pointed it out to an old surf­ing friend he told me it was owned by “A drop dead gor­geous chick who surfs like Dane Reynolds and is as good a fish­er­man as any­one I have ever met, she came sec­ond in the State Ti­tles, but I had tick­ets on her to win it.”

When the swell picked up and most avoided a sucky, lo­cal se­cret spot on the low tide, I went out to shoot wa­ter footage and was stunned by this young lady’s at­tack of the wave. I asked her what her name was. “G’day mate, Tals, nice to meet ya,” came the re­ply in a broad Aus­tralian, coun­try ac­cent, as she gave me a hand­shake any bloke would be proud of and smiled the most au­then­tic grin of surf stoke I have seen since the sul­try ‘blue steel’ glance of the retro set took over around these parts.

An­other mate was shoot­ing stills from the wa­ter and he too was blown away by her charg­ing and when I asked him to “please ex­plain?” he told me that all he knew was that she was a new ar­rival from down south and had done a lot of train­ing with Mick Camp­bell, and from what he had heard could haul in a big jewy or grouper as well as any man in her home­town of fish­er­men and surfers. Dots were be­gin­ning to con­nect, lead­ing in an in­trigu­ing di­rec­tion.

I went to meet her in her rented car­a­van in the bush not far from the beach and saw that she had a star­tling quiver of immaculate Luke Short De­signs. In con­trast to the usual quiv­ers one sees in a Kombi van now, these were all short-board, state-of-the art rip­ping machines, shaped and glassed for some­one whose pow­er­ful - and often above the lip surf­ing - de­mands cut­ting edge equip­ment; a far cry from the now com­mon six­ties style sprayed fish and mini mals.

It was im­pos­si­ble not to see the neatly or­gan­ised fish­ing gear and lures, or smell the pun­gent stench of a big jewy’s head, which might as well have been on a spear in the ground like some psy­chotic na­tive's tribal ter­ri­to­rial warn­ing. There were also lots of weights and a pull-up bar, hang­ing omi­nously from a paper bark tree, which ap­peared as if it could have been rope burnt by an out­back Olympian.

The “take me as I am” lack of af­fec­ta­tion, from such a stun­ningly beau­ti­ful and openly friendly young woman, whose smile could light up a dark night, cried out like a mem­ory from the real 1970s, as she re­minded me of those first coun­try bred pro surfers. The ones who were so fo­cused on com­pet­ing that they ate up their un­sus­pect­ing city-based com­pe­ti­tion; just like the fish they caught and cooked them­selves over post surf beach-fire BBQ’s.

Af­ter meet­ing her, and see­ing her surf like a de­mon, I de­cided a mag­a­zine ar­ti­cle was in or­der, so I vis­ited with her and asked her “What gives? How did you end up where you are and what are your plans” She put on the ket­tle and in the most nat­u­ral al­most in­no­cent and naïve way briefly told me her story, which rekin­dled my faith in com­pe­ti­tion surf­ing. As she spoke, a de­ter­mi­na­tion I have not been privy to for a long while sur­faced.

“I was born in Bar­gara Beach, which is about 10 kilo­me­tres east of Bund­aberg up north. I had a great child­hood grow­ing up with my brother and sis­ter, mostly just fish­ing and surf­ing. My par­ents sep­a­rated am­i­ca­bly when I was about two and a half and I spent most of my time with mum un­til I started to travel back­wards and for­wards be­tween mum and dad’s.

Dad got me into surf­ing when I was about five at a place called Neil­son Park in Bar­gara, where he used to push me onto waves in the ar­vos.”

“I have such fond mem­o­ries of those days. Dad’s a keen spearfish­er­man and fed the whole fam­ily, seven days a week, with cray­fish and co­ral trout, they are the best mem­o­ries of my life; he even used to take me snap­per fish­ing at night and I’d sleep on the floor of the boat.” We sipped our tea and I asked her about her com­pet­i­tive as­pi­ra­tions. “I used to com­pete a bit in con­tests when I was young, but I in­jured my knee when I was about 15 and stopped, and when I got back into surf­ing I was free-surf­ing. Then I moved down to Port Mac­quarie when I was 17 and met Mick Camp­bell, who I hung out with for ages, go­ing fish­ing and surf­ing to­gether and we moved up to the Sunshine Coast to­gether. Mick worked on a fish­ing char­ter boat and I worked on a whale watch­ing boat and we just surfed and fished our brains out for the next three years.”

“Dur­ing that time we be­came best friends and he helped me get to where I am to­day, he re­ally pushed me to be­come fo­cussed and psyched to com­pete again and he helped me to start be­liev­ing in my­self and taught me about weight train­ing and ev­ery­thing I know to do with fit­ness.

“Right now I am liv­ing in a car­a­van on the Mid-North Coast and surf- ing and fish­ing while I work in a café and am fo­cussing 100% on my com­pet­i­tive ca­reer.”

Tahlija came sec­ond in the NSW State Ti­tles, and also the Ben King Me­mo­rial in By­ron, and third in the Aus­tralian ti­tles at Coffs Har­bour. It’s hard to be­lieve once you see her surf and wit­ness the look in her eye that she won’t be a big part of the fu­ture of Aus­tralian surf­ing, male or fe­male, at some point in the not-too-dis­tant fu­ture.

PHO­TOS: KEE­GAN

MAIN: TAHLIJA TAK­ING ON A CAV­ERNOUS NORTH COAST SLAB. IN­SET: ALL-SMILES IN THE LINEUP.

PHOTO: KEE­GAN

TAHLIJA BI­CEP CURL­ING HER CATCH – A MUL­LOWAY BIG ENOUGH TO FEED A NORTH COAST TOWN.

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