KEEPING IT REAL
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.
MAIN: TAHLIJA TAKING ON A CAVERNOUS NORTH COAST SLAB. INSET: ALL-SMILES IN THE LINEUP.
TAHLIJA BICEP CURLING HER CATCH – A MULLOWAY BIG ENOUGH TO FEED A NORTH COAST TOWN.