Grayson Hinrichs’ victory in the ISA World Junior Championships turns back the clock on Bondi.
When Grayson Hinrichs answers the call from Tracks he’s lying in bed trying to gather himself for another excruciatingly mundane day at school. His last-minute victory in the final of the ISA World Junior Championships held in Huntington Beach, California, recently couldn’t seem further away.
“We were paddling out for the finals and the heat before was the U/16 Girls final. When the chick won she just threw her arms in the air and was screaming, about to cry. I got all these hairs standing up all over me. I was like, ‘Imagine that, that would be the best thing ever!” he recalls.
In conditions that bore an uncanny resemblance to the hometown rip bowls of his native Bondi, Grayson pulled off one of the most dramatic wins in recent memory at the event.
“For my first heat, I wanted to make a couple of rounds and get the experience for the competition and I ended up winning the first round and going through the rounds. It was a long process but I kept pushing through the rounds and then I got to the semis and I was standing there and I was like: Awww, I could do this, I could really do this,” he says.
After opening the final with a 7.5 for a backside belt-to-spin and another belt, he backed it up with 6.8 and claimed a stranglehold on the heat, all within the first four minutes. He’d also managed to hold onto priority, though it would prove a curse, as it so often does, causing him to sit back as the rest of the competitors built their tallies.
As the minutes counted down, Kade Matson, from the USA, took the lead on account of a backside air reverse 8.5 and a 7.5 for a pair of big snaps. Needing an 8.1 for the win, Grayson chased a set wave up the beach but missed it, only to turn and see another coming where he just was. After sprinting back he used his priority to block Matson, gluing two big turns to the outside section before scoring a bonus inside section and gouging two more for an 8.6 and the lead. When the Japanese competitor failed to stick a hail-mary punt on the buzzer, the crown was Grayson’s. He’s been the talk of the town ever since.
“Everyone in school knew. There were three things said in assembly. People I’ve never seen before were coming up to me and saying, ‘good job, good job.’ Even around Bondi people I’ve never seen before were coming and taking photos of me, I was like who are you?” he laughs.
The win also marked a return to form for Bondi, which has been considered the joke of Australian surfing for the past two decades.
“All the commentators in pretty much all the comps I do are writing off Bondi saying how bad it is and when I start pumping to the inside it’s the ‘Bondi bounce’ or something like that,” says Grayson, adding, “I don’t care. It isn’t the best wave but I live here, so you gotta do what you gotta do. I still love the place. It just gets frustrating in summer.”
It definitely didn’t use to be a joke. From the 1960s to the nineties Bondi was a powerhouse in Australian surfing, boasting the likes of four-time world title runner-up, Cheyne Horan, World Tour powerhouses, Richard Cram and Bill Power, and highlyrated pros such as the Corrigan brothers, Webber brothers, and Matt Elks, among others.
In recent years, gentrification forced much of the working class and lower income residents out of the area, creating a vacuum of world class sporting talent in the process. But the tide has changed in the last few years, beginning with Bondi’s third place finish (behind Avoca Boardriders, Snapper and in front of
Narrabeen) in the nationwide Battle of the Boardriders contest. An event where team captain, Perth Standlick, beat the likes of Joel Parkinson, Steph Gilmore, Matt Wilkinson, Davey Cathels and Mikey and Tyler Wright to claim the Most Valuable Player (MVP) award. Grayson attributes much of his success to Perth’s influence.
“He takes me places and helps me experience new waves around home and really pushes me. Fun, little rivalry in (board riders) heats too,” he says .
When the waves turn marginal in the summer and the beach descends into chaos, Grayson disappears under water. Having grown up next-door to Australian Spearfishing Champion, Ian Puckeridge, Grayson is among the best spearfishermen in the country and the current NSW U/16 State Spearfishing Champion. You might also recall having seen splashed across hundreds of websites and newspapers around the world when he became a viral internet sensation for dragging home a Kingfish he’d speared, on the back of his skateboard.
“I had my skateboard and got my floatline and strapped it to the skateboard then used the floatline as a leash and just dragged it back like a pet dog,” he laughs.
“I would have gotten home so much quicker but every single person I walked past was like, ‘Can I have a photo, can I have a photo,’” he says.
The breathing techniques he’s learned spearfishing, meanwhile, have become a big part of his success as a surfer.
“Being able to calm yourself down and hold your breath is the biggest thing in surfing. It doesn’t just help you survive when it’s big, it helps you calm down when you’re under pressure in heats and stuff,” he says.
To a country and media whose memory of Bondi stretches no longer than five years, Grayson must seem some kind of inexplicable anomaly - an alien in a suburb known mostly as a home for the world’s rich, beautiful and famous. To those from Bondi, the real Bondi - the working class Bondi that built the suburb, and still work in its fire departments, on the wharves, and represent its football teams, surfing clubs and fishing clubs - he’s a chip off the old block.
“In Bondi if you look past all the kooks there are some pretty cool people,” he says.
“We’ve had pros grow up here like Cheyne Horan and stuff and if you know the backstory to Bondi we’re not just some city beach that doesn’t have any potential,” he says.
Main: Grayson Hinrichs orbiting towards a better future for Bondi surfing. Inset: Kid’s got wings. Photos: Bill Morris.