Tracks - - Transcending Earth -

The per­son that had the great­est in­flu­ence on my early surf­ing life was not some­one from a poster on my wall, but a lo­cal icon from the south coast.

Damo turned up in town when I was 14 – back in the home­land af­ter five years of gal­li­vant­ing the globe with his surf­board un­der arm. As far as I was con­cerned, he was a blow-in. I’d never seen him in the surf be­fore, and I was out there ev­ery bloody day! I’d pad­dled out into a rough and slightly daunt­ing over­head line-up. Stroking into an ugly look­ing right-han­der, I heard some­one yell: Goooo gi­i­i­i­i­i­irl! I went, where I might have pulled back oth­er­wise, and that set the prece­dent for our friend­ship.

Damo was 27 then, and wanted to start a busi­ness coach­ing in­ter­me­di­ate groms. As such, me and my mate Mitch be­came his guinea pigs. It was a hoot. We’d pile into his Troopy of an af­ter­noon, do the rou­tine surf check, be­fore suit­ing up and hurtling into the line-up. Damo would join us of­ten, be­tween film­ing from the sand, for­ever goad­ing us to go big­ger and deeper, teach­ing by ex­am­ple, with his sig­na­ture style of cal­cu­lated reck­less­ness. He tu­tored us in and out of the water: when we got our L-plates, we’d take turns get­ting behind the wheel of the troopy, Damo barking in­struc­tions from the pas­sen­ger seat.

Later he took me and three mates (two girls and two guys – all of us 16 years-old) to Indo on a three-week surf trip. The itin­er­ary: G-land, Roti, Bali.

A swell hit while we were in G-land. A big one. And we were out there, adrenalin levels through the roof. I was scared shit­less, nav­i­gat­ing Speed­ies on my back­hand, but at that time I’d have pre­ferred to kiss the reef than chicken out in Damo’s com­pany. That swell sent my mate and I panic-pad­dling for the hori­zon sev­eral times – wide eyed and gob­s­macked, won­der­ing whether this was goodbye. We left hav­ing copped a few mem­o­rable beat­ings, with mi­nor reef gashes and hav­ing surfed some of the gnarli­est waves of our lives.

Next stop was Roti, an is­land off West Ti­mor. This was a les­son in cheap and im­mer­sive travel. For a higher price you could take the fast boat from Ku­pang, which got you to Roti in a few hours. Damo booked us onto the slow boat, the big, clunk­ing ferry that all the lo­cals took, which got you there in eight hours. He told us to keep our board bags on the top deck and within easy reach, rather than al­low­ing them to be stowed in the lug­gage com­part­ment, lest the boat sank in the mid­dle of the chan­nel and ev­ery­one went down with it. His think­ing be­ing that, if nec­es­sary, we’d cling to our boards and maybe make it out alive. We got there un­harmed, but as it hap­pens that ferry did sink, on that same route a cou­ple of years later.

On Roti, we en­joyed lots of fun ses­sions, and nav­i­gated a cou­ple of in­tim­i­dat­ing line-ups. When there was a flat spell Damo let us ride mo­tor­bikes on the quiet road that skirted the coast, and my mate came off and grazed her knees. She grit­ted her teeth while Damo squeezed lemon juice into her wounds and scrubbed the gravel out with a tooth­brush.

Back in Bali, on our last night in Indo, we were given the go-ahead to hit The Bounty, where we drank jun­gle juice and danced in the cage – a rite of pas­sage for any 16-year-old who found them­selves in Kuta with­out their folks in the early 2000s right?

Damo man­aged to walk that line be­tween re­spon­si­bil­ity and reck­less­ness which is para­mount to be­ing a pos­i­tive role model for any rat­bag teenager. He was the guy who pad­dled out in a surf cap and a rashie on hot days on the south coast, who bran­dished a surf hel­met on the big days out the Rocks, but he was also the one that charged the hard­est, that got the most bar­relled, that had the best fore­hand whack this side of Ul­ladulla.

Damo took an in­ter­est in my surf­ing at a cru­cial mo­ment – when many of the kids around me were spend­ing their af­ter­noons in Tommy’s garage smok­ing bongs. The mes­sage? That surf­ing was some­thing worth­while, that it was a way of life, and that there were so many in­ter­est­ing places to go and do it. Years later, I’d pack my bags and do some gal­li­vant­ing of my own, surf­board un­der arm. These days, when­ever I get back home, the kids there re­gard me with the same dead­pan look I did Damo. I know what they’re think­ing: Blow-in.


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