BROFILE: SIMON CLARK FULL CIRCLE
the inception of the sport of surfing into the realm of man, surfers have always fought their demons; those commitments and necessities of life that just seem to get in the way of spending all day lost in our own little pleasure trove at sea. While surfers have forged a reputation in society of being unreliable and uncommitted, there was a time when if you went for a job interview and you wanted that job you never mentioned you surfed in the slightest. Over the last couple of decades attitudes have changed immensely, both of surfers and toward surfers as the professional era was embraced and respected by the wider world audience. For Simon Clark, that very addiction to time in the ocean was ultimately responsible for leading him down the path to where he now finds his destiny, from the lineups of Mt Maunganui as a kid, to a surfer’s dream come true afloat at sea, searching the deepest and darkest un-explored reaches of Indonesia, rubbing shoulders with the best in the business and getting paid to do so. We Brofile Simon Clark on a journey through life coming full circle.
Simon, or Simo as he was affectionately known by his friends and family, was born in Christchurch but at aged five he found himself migrating north to Tauranga where the Clark family raised Simon, his two brothers and sister in the suburb of Otumoetai. Here Simo went about life as most kiwi youngsters do, kicking around the neighbourhood, skating and biking with his older siblings. But at age six Simo was about to have an experience that would have a profound effect on his life when he discovered surfing while on holiday up at his grandmother’s place in Whangamata. His father had never surfed but he had swapped this lawn mower for a surfboard during a bit of a 'bro’s deal', and began pushing the boys into white-water during school holidays and Xmas. The groms had the bug, yet Tauranga, although not far from the waves of Mt Maunganui, for young groms it may as well been a couple of hundred k’s away. Relief soon came when Simo’s eldest brother moved back home, he had a car and that meant after school surfs over at the Mount for the now eight-year-old Simo and his middle brother. While Simo loved his surfing at that point he was simply hooked on the buzz of being in the water, and attempting to master this difficult sport. Yet inspiration was on the horizon when one of the top surfers of the time, Nuku Nash came to stay with the family for a week. Simo’s older brother had gone to school with Nuku back in Christchurch and at that point in NZ surfing Nuku was ‘The Man’. “When Nuku came to stay, that was when he was in his prime going toe to toe with Maz at every event, and he was in every single mag. I had been happy just kicking at the beach, but when Nuku came I was completely buzzed out on what he had achieved with his surfing and it made me want to be like him! So, I decided right then that I wanted to be a good surfer and I listened to everything Nuku said in awe and I used to follow him around all the time, to the point that he nicknamed me ‘Dog’ cause I was always following him, and then I went and practiced over and over”. Back then the Christian Surfers were running a well organised series of events and this was the perfect introduction to comp surfing for a grom, a place where Simo could revel in a competitive environment but where at the same time it wasn’t as intimidating as the national contests. Simon loved the buzz of being challenged and he grew from strength to strength as a surfer. Simon entered his very first scholastics comp representing Otumoetai College and did better than he ever expected. Now he was hooked on this surfing gig he wanted to get better and better but that meant water time was needed. This was the beginning of a long hard battle Simo fought with commitment to other areas of life and it all began with him wagging school, catching the bus over to the Mount and the barge to Matakana Island to work on his tube riding. Simon went on to represent the Bay of Plenty at the National Scholastics and at that event his wildest dream came true. He had qualified for the 1998 NZ Team and he was going to be heading to Bali for the World Grommet Titles and his connection with this foreign land of perfect waves would begin. But first Simo had to find a way of financially getting to Bali.
At that time Simo was living out in Bethlehem and with the Bay of Plenty being the largest kiwifruit producer, Simo scored a job at the pack house next door, so at 15 he would run home from school and head to work every day for a couple of months to get enough coin to head to Bali. Simon had seen the spread in the magazines and the videos of the best waves on the planet but nothing would prepare him for what he was to experience during this first trip, where the seeds of his future
years were planted. “It was like landing on another planet, it was so different, it was totally f%#@ing mind blowing, just everything that was happening, cause back then Bali was a lot different too, now it’s a lot more westernised. To see the streets just jam packed with motorbikes just buzzed me out cause you’d never see that back home in NZ, and to see horse and carts, it was pretty fricken awesome! Although the comp was held at Kuta Beach the banks were pretty good and the comp was epic! I didn’t do very well cause I was pretty freaked out at all the pressure of surfing in front of that many people, I hadn’t done it before on a scale like that. I remember I only needed a small score on my last wave and for some reason I had a meltdown and tried a 360, I mean even back then that was a really weird thing to do”.
The NZ Team spent a week in Nusa Lembongan where Simon had his first experience of live coral reef surfing. Being an inpatient over frothed out grom and not believing that with an incoming tide would bring in the swell Simo headed out on the lower tide and cut his knee open and sat out the rest of the day, all patched up. The next day delivered pumping ‘Lacerations,’ the premier break on Lembongan and Simo scored what was then, the best barrel of his life. The seed was growing! Having fallen in love with Indo, Simon arrived back in NZ where he was picked up in Auckland by his mum and during the drive home some news was delivered. “I was sitting in the car and mum was being all quiet, and I thought she’d be asking me about my trip, cause I was hanging out to tell her all the awesome stuff, but then she said, “your father and I are separating,” which kinda blew me away and it was a sombre mood for a while, but then she said, “but we’re going to move over to Mt Maunganui.” So immediately I was super stoked as I would be closer to the surf and the momentary bumness went away haha”. Simo, upon returning home had sponsors knocking on his door, was living near the beach and just had his first ever pic published in NZ Surfing Mag, that very barrel of his life from Lacerations, it was all a groms dream come true. Living near the beach meant Simo could surf before and after school and admittedly even during school when it was good. “I was beginning to get results and I was being noticed by the magazines who were running photos of me and while that felt good, I wanted more and more and to keep on improving. As soon as I finished school I moved up to Whangamata, aged 16”. The Whangamata connection went way back to when Simo was five and his grandma lived in Whanga right next door to another surf stoked grom named Ricky Parker and along with Chris Speedy the groms had built a friendship and Simo moved in with Ricky and his family. The reason behind the move to Whangamata was Simo had scored a position in a Chef course at a training institute called ‘The Captains Table’ in Whangamata, which had a restaurant out front and in the back was a training centre designed to offer chef/cooking/ serving qualifications. After one and a half years of study, Simo once again had found the call of the surf interfered in his life. He had so many warnings for taking off when the surf was pumping that the head chef refused to let Simo finish the course and kicked him out. At the time Simo wasn’t phased as he had already begun planning a move to Raglan to the more consistent surf of the West Coast, and moved in with Sam ‘Sanga’ Willis up on the hill overlooking Manu Bay. This view to wake up to each day was a deadly ingredient when combined with Simo’s addiction to surf first, work and worry later attitude. Utilising his newly developed cooking skills Simo scored a job at Vinnies where he began his first of many cooking jobs throughout his career. The saving grace and the one element that kept Simo in the job so long was
that his boss Colin was a hard man and on the odd occasion when Simo took off surfing with the boys, he came down so hard on Simo that he learnt not to take liberty of his situa
tion. “That was my first-hand lesson with the consequences of not showing up to things in life, at school I’d hand in a fake note and at the Captains Table also fake notes once again, whenever the surf was good. But at Vinnies, no fake notes, Colin was all over it and he knew when the surf was pumping, so you couldn’t pull the wool over his eyes! That kinda snapped me into line and I realised that in the real world you just can’t just do this or you’re gonna lose ya job”.
Those years in Raglan are fondly remembered as life highlights for Simo, he was having the most epic of times and was surfing on a daily basis with guys like Emmerson Tucker and Daniel Kereopa, who were at the top of their games producing world class surfing
which rubbed off on Simo’s approach. “There were a few of us younger guys like Leon Santorik, Luke Cederman and myself and we were always doing the junior comps together, and to be around being blown away by Emmit and DK’s backhand and the hundreds of epic days a year that went down on the points, those years really developed and refined my backhand”. Simo’s development as a surfer came together at what he considers his pinnacle contest achievement winning the Canterbury Champs and along with the win came more offers of
sponsorship. Once again Simo wanted more and to build on this success and couldn’t see a pathway to do so while he was working so he quit his job in Raglan and spent the next year or so with no fixed abode, cruising the country from event to event, chasing swells and photographic glory, all the while surviving as part of the infamous ‘Government Surf Team’ on the DOL.
Life for Simo took a 180 degree turn when he got a call from a mate who had moved to Sydney saying how “Sick” it was over there and to come over and check it out. This was during the Soccer World Cup and Sydney was fizzing with crazed soccer fans. After a night on the town and walking home over the Darling Harbour Bridge, Simo and a mate came across some skin heads picking on this kid and while trying to stick up for him Simo was sucker punched from behind and
lost all his money. “I woke up the next morning and my eye was all swollen up, I looked like Jabba The Hutt and I had no money and was in a pretty bad place, and I still don’t know why I didn’t just call mum and ask for her to fly me home, but I pulled myself together, walked into a restaurant still swollen and banged up, and the maitre d’ walked up to me asking if he could help me and was being all arrogant, basically telling me I needed to leave their restaurant. The head chef of the restaurant saw me and came over and said, “Are you alright mate? Have a seat man.” He sorted me a feed as he reckoned I looked hungry and to tell the truth I was starving! He heard me out and then asked if I needed a job, but then I don't know why I said it, but he asked if I knew how to cook and I said no! So, he said “well, we can get you in on the dishes.” So I started at that restaurant, which was nuts cause they used to serve 1800 people a day, and it was the creme de la creme, where celebrities ate. And I was the dish pig surrounded by the hottest waitresses. Tim Stanley was the head chef there and the guy who gave me my break, he used to be a personal Chef for Madonna and worked at the Buckingham Palace, and I was just frothing out being near this guy, kinda the same buzz I had got from being around Nuku Nash through my surfing I was now getting off Tim with my love for cooking. But he still didn’t know I could cook. One day he asked me for some help cutting up a few ingredients, and straight away he commented and buzzed out that I was a natural with the tools, but it wasn’t really natural it was just a bit of a fib. But as he thought I was a natural in the kitchen he helped mentor me and before I knew it I was off food prep and on the front line in the kitchen, cooking for people like Sean Connery and the tennis professionals when they were in Sydney”.
Simon was loving Sydney and was deeply immersed in the scene and felt a great sense of independence having worked his own way out of the situation he was in and got back on top of life. But like always the surf was beginning to holla its beckoning call. Simon was working in Sydney City and while he got out for a surf now and then, the challenge of work had him locked in to a routine he was enjoying. Then by chance he ran into a friend from Whangamata on the street who invited him to come and stay with her in Manly rather than living in the city, and you guessed it living by the beach sparked the naughty addiction to pulling sickies at work and going surfing instead, and Simo lost that job he had spent years developing a commitment to.
Simon returned home to NZ hoping to pick up where he left off and his first visit to his surf sponsor proved things would not be as easy as they once were; sponsors wanted commitment and loyalty and unless that was proven after a long hiatus away they weren’t interested in helping Simo out. Feeling down and out back home in NZ Simo had only been home for a week when a friend called him up saying, “Get over to Noosa bro, I have a big house with two sexy blondes living with me, you have to get here and don’t worry about money, you can live here for free and I’ll sort ya food.”
Well it isn’t everyday someone gets an offer like that, so off he went back to Ozzie, and the long right tubing point breaks of Noosa. His mate Nick was super cashed up with his plastering business booming and he simply loved the company and personal coaching advice that Simo offered in the surf. Simo ended up moving down to the Gold Coast with a few mates and before long Nick came calling once again. This time he had a massive mansion overlooking Kirra up on the hill. Simon had scored a job cooking at the Rainbow Bay Surf Club and the two bro’s moved back in together again when another lucky break came their way.
“Yeah, this super rich old fella owner called us up one day, and informed us that he wanted to tear the place down and build a huge apartment complex, but told us that we could stay there rent free until they started construction. But it took them two years to get all the permits, which worked out amazing cause I’d just lost my job again at Rainbow Surf Club for the same old shit, going surfing instead of working. I knew heaps of the boys who were working on fishing boats and they’d bring us free fresh fish and we lived on fish and rent free for two years just surfing our brains out! And in that time, we learnt so many different ways to cook fish to make it taste different so it wasn’t the same everyday”. Over the next few years Simo attempted to head back to kiwi life a few times but felt the lure of Australia was too hard to ignore and kept on going back, recognising the bigger range of opportunity and money on offer across the ditch. One job Simo worked was way up in Northwest Australia in Broome diving on a pearl farm for a year where he would work two weeks on and have a week off. Since Broome was so close to Bali, it was grab a quick flight and party and surf hard for a week before heading back to work. Then came a stint scaffolding in the mines. “Working in the mines was epic money but the work was so monotonous and the more money you earned the more you spent. I’d make 2-3 grand a week but then I’d order a new JS or a new Pyzel, which I didn’t really need. what I found working in the mines was you have no sense of saving your money, and you get trapped in this cycle of working two weeks and in the week and a half you had off you’d blow all that money and come back and start at square one again. After a while I learnt how to manage it and I got on a pretty good programme and I’d head out to a site where everything is supplied, I wouldn’t drink alcohol and I’d go to the gym and eat real healthy, and then focus on getting to Bali and just doing nothing else but surfing during my time off”. A chance meeting with another guy working in the mines saw a conversation revolve around this guy flying out to work as a chef of an Indonesian Surf Charter Boat name the Bulan Baru. Simo offered his advice from experience in meal planning and through that chance meeting, his destiny was being written. Three weeks later, as Simo was about to start another shift in the mines, he received a call from his chef colleague, who couldn’t make the next trip and offered the chance to fill in to Simo. “I received a call from the owner of the boat and he didn’t know me and we hadn’t met, but he basically said if you want the job it’s yours, but can you get over here tomorrow? I was shocked I was about to start another stint and I ended up saying hey mate there’s no way I can make it I start work in the mines in three days, sorry I can’t do it and I hung up! Then it dawned on me as I sat there, here was this opportunity I had always wanted and dreamed of, to cruise around the islands, cooking on a boat for ten guests, had I just said no to the dream job? And I was like F%$# that, jumped on the phone and said count me in, I’ll do it!” The next day Simo flew over to Bali and met Todd and Bill the boat owners, and that first trip for Simo was timed perfectly with an all-time swell and Simo was in heaven. The guests were singing Simo’s praises, not only for his cooking skills but also were super stoked to be sharing these empty and isolated lineups with such a good surfer. Ironically it seemed all those years of taking off from work to improve his surfing were about to pay off and land Simo the ‘Dream Job’. With the guests’ feedback to the boat owners, they saw Simo’s first-hand interaction between the guests as an asset to the business and offered him a permanent position.
“That first trip was simply crazy, we scored back to back pumping swells and every day we would anchor up next to one of the most amazing waves you’d ever seen with no one else around. But it was hard work for me, cause if you can imagine it’s pretty hot over here and squeezed into this small boat kitchen with all the heat from cooking, and having to look out
the door at the pumping waves, I couldn’t do what I’d always done and just wag and not show up to work, cause the boat was right there looking at me so I had to come in early to get a start on breakfast. But cooking for ten guests for ten days was a real challenge and I loved it, cause unlike a restaurant where someone comes in for one meal says thanks and leaves, these guests would say thanks and then they’d still be there, so it made me want to prepare them something even better to stoke them out more the next meal”.
It was obvious that surfing was a big influence in Simo’s life, it had basically been responsible for all the ups and downs so far in Simo’s development, but his other passion since that first introduction back in Whangamata had been cooking, so to combine the two, afloat at sea, sailing from wave to wave around the Island of Sumbawa and remote Sumba, deep down this was everything he ever wanted and he wasn’t about to not show up to work on this one!
When the Bulan Baru was first built it was hired for a year by the legendary tube hunter Jim Banks who as part of the deal left all his spots on the GPS, so that gave the boat an instant in to all these secret spots that no one ever knew about and Simo had to pinch himself when they’d pull up to these 800-metre-long rights with big barrel sections, backdropped by lush green jungle and grassy hills that looked more like NZ than Indonesia. In the first year, at the end of the surf charter season, Simo would still go back to work in the mines but it was doing his head in, after all it’s a big contrast between being free at sea and locked into routine in the orange dust of the desert. Aside from the working environment, Simo had begun to be morally opposed to mining practices and couldn’t handle what he saw these companies doing to the earth in the name of money. Another opportunity came Simo’s way to buy into shares in the boat itself and Simo didn’t have any problem seeing the light this time and grabbed it with both hands. Buying into the business saw Simo able to obtain a visa where he didn’t have to leave Indonesia and for the last two years he has been based in Bali at Cangu in between surf charters, watching the swells, surfing locally at a few spots that the crowds haven’t yet found. And for a surfing career that had been inspired by a chance run in with his brother’s mate Nuku Nash all the years ago, Simon now has pro surfers such as Rob Machado, Jack Freestone, Mikala Jones and Tai Graham and more, boarding his boat on a regular basis, where he gets to share the lineups and push his own limits by surfing with the best.
“Having guys that come on board for a trip makes me scared cause I know if we get a 12 foot swell and it’s heavy as hell those guys will be charging it and then I’ll have to go it as well. I’ve definitely become far more comfortable in heavy waves having guys like that to surf with, and I’ve learnt a lot from being around them, like I know now how to handle a two wave hold down, cause I shared my fears and stories with those guys and they offered advice on how to handle it better and now I feel a lot more comfortable in those type of waves. And just in everyday waves their level is so amazing that it pushes you to become a better surfer each session, so while most of our clients are lesser to average surfers, to have the pros on board every now and then is really inspiring”.
While Indonesian surf discoveries have reached a point of maxing out with some becoming so crowded that the buzz has been lost, Simo and the crew of the Bulan Baru are out there still finding new discoveries with every trip and surfing existing known waves with not another human in sight, in the year 2017 they are still pioneering new waves. “Sometimes I might see something that looks like a wave as we sail past a spot, so I go back home and get on google earth and start looking at swell directions and then we all sit down together and have an actual meeting about potential new spots and the other guys are just as buzzed out as I am, and then we make a decision based on the guests needs and sometimes we pitch it to them that we would like to have a look at a possible never before surfed spot and when you pull on up and you are looking at a wave that is just firing, that’s one of the best feelings ever! And everyone involved gets a huge buzz from that”.
From here Simo has his eyes on growing the business and appreciating everyday where his life is at now. While he tussled with his demons early on in life, that very demon in the form of a wave that saw him fail time and time again, ultimately picked him up and allowed him to ride back to the top, where life is full of happiness and contentment. He’d come ‘Full Circle’
Sometimes in life things just fall into place.
LEFT: Years of refining his tube riding skills at Matakana, The Gold Coast, and Noosa saw Simon take to these Indo reefs like a pig in shit.
Simon was always a progressive surfer and age has not dwindled those skills.
Stoked on another pre breakfast session before heading in to get the guests fed.
The Bulan Baru sailing off the coast of Sumba which very much resembles parts of Simon's homeland of NZ. INSERTS: As he was inspired as a youngster by the top NZ pros Simon these days gets to mix it with the best Pros on the planet when they jump...