Sar­dine spills and early Indo thrills.

Tracks - - Contents - By Phil Jar­ratt.

Back when I was a lad, grow­ing up in the shadow of the belch­ing smoke­stacks of the Port Kem­bla Steel­works (not the ones that ap­peared on Tracks #1 cover, that was New­cas­tle) dads used to say (well, my dad at least), “You can’t stop progress.”

This homily was dragged out to ex­plain ev­ery­thing from the smoke­stacks blot­ting out the sun to the rain­for­est of the Illawarra escarpment dis­ap­pear­ing to make way for hill­side es­tates of cream brick McMan­sions. And in the days be­fore we learnt how to lie down in front of bull­doz­ers, you couldn’t stop it. You could only run away from it. And we did. Up the coast, down the coast, then to ex­otic for­eign des­ti­na­tions in search of un­rid­den waves, and the world was seem­ingly full of them.

Never quite in the first wave of early adopters, I dis­cov­ered Por­tu­gal in 1973, about four years af­ter Nat Young and Wayne Lynch had brought it to our at­ten­tion in Paul Witzig’s Evo­lu­tion. We stopped at Nazare as we drove down the coast and swam in the placid deep­wa­ter bay. Who knew? Then we pulled into the dust bowl of a free camp on the south­ern edge of the fish­ing port of Peniche, saw friendly peaks at in­ter­vals along the white sand beach with not a surfer in sight and thought we’d died and gone to heaven.

We pitched our pup tent not quite far enough away from the rats that lived in the rock wall, made friends with the sar­dine fish­er­men who’d hap­pily throw us enough catch for two meals a day, and with Madame Sirly, who ran the tiny café on the har­bor where we ate chips and drank wine from plas­tic bot­tles for a cou­ple of es­cu­dos a day, and spent hours play­ing ta­ble soc­cer.

It was late sum­mer verg­ing on au­tumn and it seemed the swell got more con­sis­tent with every pass­ing day. Van-loads of surfers came and went, but we had the choice of so many beach breaks that it was never crowded. And if the swell wasn’t hit­ting the cor­ner, we’d walk a kilo­me­ter or so down the beach to the bar­rel­ing A-Frame in front of the sar­dine-pro­cess­ing plant, where the work­ers had dug a chan­nel so that the blood from the catch drained out into the break, turn­ing the wa­ter the shade of Madame Sirly’s over-ripe rose. When the wind was straight off­shore, the stench from the fac­tory was al­most over­whelm­ing, and only the qual­ity of those waves kept us in the wa­ter.

Not that my surf­ing travel buddy and I were equipped to han­dle any­thing too se­ri­ous. The rails of my 7-0 Bilbo from Newquay were al­most square and the deck had be­gun to bub­ble. And there be­ing no surf shop in Peniche, we were re­duced to trad­ing sar­dines for wax with the trav­ellers. Sar­dines had, in fact, per­me­ated our very be­ings, be­come a part of us. We surfed in their blood, cooked them over a fire and ate them every day. We stank of sar­dines. It was the best time of my life. And then it ended, and the next ad­ven­ture came along.

Again I was two or three years off the pace. Steve Cooney and Rusty Miller had put Bali’s Bukit Penin­sula on the map in Al­bert Fal­zon’s Morn­ing Of The Earth, but Bali was still raw and ex­cit­ing when I got there in Au­gust 1974, with Brian Singer and a Rip Curl crew from Torquay.

I re­count the story of how I had never used a leg rope up to this time, and had no means of se­cur­ing one to my Chris Henri board (I’d upgraded from the Bilbo) in my re­cent mem­oir, but the first morn­ing that we took be­mos up the hill and onto the Bukit to surf Uluwatu, I was very glad I could now at­tach my­self to my board. Of course I’d seen the fa­mous footage of Steve and Rusty fly­ing down the line on a solid day, but noth­ing re­ally pre­pares you for the re­al­ity be­hind the dream.

There was noth­ing on the hill be­hind the cave ex­cept the kids and fish­er­men who had ex­cit­edly fol­lowed us down from the tem­ple road. In years to come, these lovely peo­ple from the Win­dro com­pound would be­come our friends and surf­ing valets, car­ry­ing boards, pro­vid­ing food and drink, and in re­turn we would sup­port their lit­tle com­mu­nity and teach the kids to surf (our first mis­take, says Dick Hoole) but at this point they watched, waited and won­dered.

We eased our way down the bam­boo lad­der, ne­go­ti­ated the cave and pushed out into the swirling break. I re­mem­ber be­ing smashed by sev­eral sets un­til I worked out how to zigzag into the lineup, where it wasn’t ex­actly vir­gin ter­ri­tory. The he­roes and the cam­era­men were al­ready out in force, but when I look back, we knew so lit­tle about crowded surf. That would come later.

I still go back to both places. The blood-red break in front of the (long gone) sar­dine fac­tory be­came the renowned Su­per­tu­bos, the Bukit mor­phed into some­thing out of a Fellini movie. As Dad said, you can’t stop progress, and I’ve found other places to surf. But lord, it ain’t get­ting any eas­ier, and if there’s one thing to be said for be­ing old now, it’s that I was young then, when par­adise was where you found it.

Photo: Chris Prior

Uluwatu at a time when you could get it with two guys out. That was then, this is now

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