BROFILE: SI­MON CLARK FULL CIR­CLE

New Zealand Surfing - - Behind The Cover - Photos: Dobby

Since

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...

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