WHY I SURF
"My forehead is sunburnt, my eyes have pterygiums, my neck has a rash, I've got staph and one of my shoulders just went again. Sound shithouse? Surfing is shithouse. Here I am sitting in the middle of nowhere waiting for a Valium to kick in, so I can relax before popping my shoulder back where it usually sits, chasing a dream, wondering why I do it. Just kidding, the thought has never crossed my mind, my shoulder sits in place and I haven't just eaten a Valium. That was a few years ago, and though I was rattled, I wasn't questioning what I do or why I do it. So I've been asked why do I surf? It's the one question I can't answer. The one question I have never asked myself. Surfing to me is like arms and legs and shoulders and knees. I can't live without them. After only a week of not surfing I'm at a loss for what to do. That time I dislocated my shoulder I was surfing a wave in South Sumatra, the same wave I'm going to surf at dawn tomorrow. After that incident I spent three months out of the water. I was at a loss. After a while I even went to the gym...if I didn't surf would I be a gym junkie? It's unlikely but so is the next option. I surf because head dips, westerly wind, finners, Phil Edwards, Montaj, nippers, Biddo, Elanda St, Sunshine Beach... I surf because at some point in my childhood I saw a big boy
doing it and thought he was cool. Because every time I'm standing in the pocket dragging my hand along a wave's lip I smile. Because ....
. ... the feeling of weightlessness when I'm hanging ten is like standing on the end of a diving board that's full of flex and tension and lift..... Because the air in a tube sometimes sucks me back before it spits me out. Because every now and then the wind, weather and ocean all come together to create totally unique forms of water that I can stand up on and ride along. I surf because at dawn tomorrow Jimmy's could be pumping and if it is, I want to be there. I surf because I am a surfer and unless some debilitating event occurs, I always will be. Surfing is not shithouse, it's a lifestyle. My lifestyle. And fuck knows what else I would be doing."
who thought deeply about surfing and surfboards.” Although neither of his parents surfed, they were beach people – solid Noosa citizens who worked hard all week (mum in real estate, dad driving a bus) – and the family spent every summer weekend on Sunshine Beach, where Harry would become a star Nipper, and later wash glasses in the surf club bar for travel money. Every east swell and south wind, Biddo would be rapping on his window at dawn for a run to the points over the hill. While it was an idyllic surfing childhood in many ways, there were inherent pressures on anyone who displayed precocious talent, which Harry did in spades. No one really ‘did it all’, not yet. Rasta ripped on retros and looked cool on a mal, and from the older generation Wayne Deane could look good on anything. But the thing was, every kid on the block wanted to be Parko, Mick or Taj. Harry was on the Taj team, but his ‘dark side’ was also taking him somewhere else. He joined the Noosa Boardriders and won junior shortboard titles, but he preferred the company of the old salts at the family-friendly Noosa Malibu Club, where his dad could sit on the sand with a beer and watch him cruise through heats on one of Homey’s old mals. This was the fertile sand in which Josh Constable and then Julian Wilson were nurtured. Harry was next in line, but like Josh and Jules before him, he was conflicted. He says: “I wanted to fuckin’ win contests and get sponsored! No mistake about that, but because of what Noosa is, it was all about longboarding, so as well as riding bodyboards and shortboards, our gang started riding longboards. For me that’s where the realisation of diversity kicked in. It might not have been bonzas or twinkeeled fish yet, but it was the spark that led me to riding however many different boards and designs I could get my hands on.” But, inspired (and often driven by) local mentor Josh Constable, who was having a crack at the QS, Harrison kept his Taj dream alive. Harrison: “By the time Josh was driving me around way too fast in his
Commodore (laughs) he was just finishing his stint on the QS and was refocusing on longboarding. He was this cool dude with spiky hair and a couple of earrings - classic ‘90s pop punk. I looked up to him a lot. He was a great shortboarder – still is – and a great longboarder. But I think his shortboarding talents were similar to mine in that he was being compared to Parko and Mick, and I was being compared to Julian Wilson, who had this freakish talent I could never beat. The only year I won the Queensland (shortboard) junior title was the year that Julian had moved up to the mens!” Up against it, but still determined, Harrison took the advice of more senior surfers and got some coaching: “I was 14 or so and pretty serious about it, and everyone had a coach telling them how to surf. I had Eggie, a good bloke who taught us more than technique. I thought some of the stuff was quite good, like the theory of how to turn the board in different situations, but then I went down to Maroochydore to train with this serious guy, and he’s telling me to do airs in one-foot slop. In knee-high shit, do airs! I said I couldn’t, and he got quite pissed off and said, ‘Well, the good guys can!’ My attitude was, let them do it. “At this time a friend’s dad told my dad that I was going to have to choose between riding a shortboard or a longboard or I’d never be any good at either. Dad was like, worry about your own kid, mine is just here to have fun! I mean I was more serious about it than Dad was, which was refreshing, but it’s probably true that I could have been a lot better at one or the other if I’d focused just on that. But it wouldn’t have been as much fun.” Around the turn of the century there was a nano-second when it appeared that an alternative longboard universe might develop in which the best dozen or two longboarders – like the best fifty or so shortboarders – might be able to make a decent living out of competing and endorsing products. It had already happened to some degree for world champions Rusty Keaulana and Bonga Perkins in Hawaii and Joel Tudor in California. This was the dream that Josh
Constable had put away his shortboards and his hair dye for, and it had come true with the 2006 ASP world title, so Harrison Roach followed suit. Having won the Australian junior longboard title in 2005 (around the same time he also won the Queensland junior shortboard title) and having picked up several event titles in Noosa and up and down the coast in the year or so since, Harrison graduated from school and decided to make 2007 his gap year and go chase longboard fame and fortune. Sunshine Beach Surf Club, where he worked as a ‘glassie’, put on a fundraiser for Harry and Jesse Jerrems, another local longboarder. Harry’s surfboard sponsor Laguna Bay Longboards, raffled a couple of boards on their behalf, and the boys were off to France. The French company Oxbow had a multi-year contract to sponsor the world longboard titles (normally a one-event championship) at venues around the world, and this year they were at home in Anglet. Harrison’s growing reputation secured him a spot in the trials, where there was just one main event slot on offer. Harry breezed in, then took out his mentor and reigning world champ Josh Constable in the fourth round. He didn’t go much further, but winning or losing at the Oxbow barely even mattered compared with the realisation of what was going on around him. “I realised that these were all older guys and it seemed to me like most of them had been on the tour for 15 years already, that they were just there because it was what they had always done. They just didn’t seem like professional surfers to me. Everyone was either a chippie or had a surf school, because there was no money in pro longboarding. Look, I was 17 and having a great time hanging out with these guys, particularly the Hawaiians. Had my first beer in a pub, smoked my first joint…it was great. But one of the things that struck me at those world titles was that there wasn’t much of a future in it. In my mind, longboarding was going to be my excuse to travel the world, and at that stage I thought competing was the way to do it, but when I was competing in France all I could think was that I would be having a much better time if I’d just come to surf. “And the longboarding I saw in the contest wasn’t where I wanted to go with my surfing. This was soon after Thomas Campbell’s Sprout had been released and had had such a big influence, particularly in Noosa where I’d been exposed to Tom Wegener and Dane Peterson. Nose-riding had become a big deal, so I was moving away from high performance shredding to a more subtle and classic style, while at the world titles in France the Brazilians were
leading the way with a kind of longboarding that reminded me of our grom comps. To be honest, I was appalled by a lot of the surfing I saw. Guys seemed to be surfing with a kind of desperation.” The road forward was becoming clear, but it was not paved with gold. Says Harrison: “I’d just been picked up by (clothing brand) Rhythm and they’d give me like $1500 to go do a surf trip, and I realised that doing that was way better than spending my money to be at Jan Juc when it was onshore and horrible and I was in need of a four-point ride in the last minute to get through to the next round. So I’d turned my back on performance longboarding, and now I turned my back on performance shortboarding. When I got home it was pretty obvious. (American surfer/ photographer) Dane Peterson was lending me his boards, beautiful Scott Anderson logs – single fins, heavy, 50/50 rails, like the old mals that Homey and Biddo would lend me. I’d always loved ‘60s surfing, the accent on trim, and the thing I saw least of in France was trim. So I had my new direction and I was just lucky that Dane would lend me boards and that Tully St John at Laguna Bay Longboards would shape me boards that were just like them.” The gap year was widening. Harrison became a couch-surfing nomad, splitting his time between Noosa and California, where a “tribe of cool kids” was rediscovering old school California longboard culture. Says Harrison: “I hung a lot with Robbie Keigel and Alex Knost, but there were a lot of others picking up on the same influences. It was great for me to see what was going on because that style of surfing was perfect for the waves at home, and all the people I stayed with over there would come to Noosa and stay with me. That was important because, to be honest, there aren’t that many places where you can do that kind of surfing.” “That kind of surfing” means logging, a term that Roach avoids like the plague. He prefers to call it longboarding because, in his view, there is only one way to ride a longboard, and that is in the style of the great trim artists who invented it. It was this conviction that led him inevitably to classic stylist Joel Tudor, who was putting together a nose-riding invitational in conjunction with the US Open at Huntington Beach. The Pacifico Invitational, the fore-runner of the globetrotting Vans Duct Tape Invitational series, was held in crunching six foot closeouts, and the no-leash rule meant that invitees were constantly swimming for their boards in dangerous swirling water before they were smashed into the pier. As an exposition of traditional longboarding, it left something to be desired, but Harry didn’t care. He was off up the 405 Freeway in the front of Joel’s van, bound for pumping Malibu. He recalls: “Surfing Malibu with Joel was the highlight, and riding on the freeway with him telling me about California surf history while rolling a joint on his knees and dipping it in hash oil as he drove. By the time we got to Malibu I was out of my mind and it was double overhead and pumping. I just went out and surfed all day. That was the start of a relationship with Joel, and I finished up riding for him for a few years, spending more time in Hawaii. An incredible time in my life. Being a real child of the 21st century and still living at home, I could get by on the small amount of money I got from my sponsors, and Joel would let me stay in his granny flat for months at a time. We went to New York and surfed Montauk, Long Island, surfed Mexico and Central America. Then the Duct Tape series started and I would be