Wednesday, February 29, 2012


And I found this cool little film over at the lovely Mar Hirtzel's blog...

MARGAUX. from Shaper Studios on Vimeo.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

'By The Way', by Hayley Gordon

Also, this is pretty great...

By The Way from Hayley Gordon on Vimeo.

Balancing act

When you ride a surfboard that is a bit over 9 feet long, you have to learn some tricks for manoeuvring it around the place.  My board is not only long but is wide so my arm barely stretches to reach around its thickness, and I have to lock in my fingertips and elbow to make sure I don’t drop it. Years ago, when I was fit, this was not a problem and I could happily skip up and down walkways to the beach, a longboard clutched under each arm. Alas! No longer. These days I struggle to carry my heavy board very far at all, so instead I lift it onto my head where the weight and length is more easily managed. Because I ride longboards, I am used to seeing people balancing boards on their heads, and because I carry them this way myself, I guess have come to assume it as a pretty normal sight. But, apparently, it’s not so normal here in Newcastle.

The other day, as I walked along the coastal path to go surfing, I passed a school group. As I passed them playing soccer on the sand, the teacher smiled at me. ‘Gosh, aren’t you clever carrying that on your head’, she exclaimed as I walked by. I laughed. A little further on, closer to the pool, a group of people having lunch stared at me as I approached. ‘Nice work balancing that. Very well done.’ Again, I smiled. But by the third comment – Well, that’s impressive – I found myself bemused by the interest in my board-carrying style - it reminds me that longboards are still are bit of a rarity around these parts.

Since then, I ‘ve kind of embraced the continuing interest in the spectacle I create on my short sojourns from the edge of the city down the sea. But yesterday, when I was in the water, I discovered that my board-carrying walks might act as more than an amusement for passers by. I was sitting in the water when one of the local guys paddled out, ‘Hi’, I greeted him. ‘Hi’, he replied and then asked the requisite, ‘Getting some?’ I replied with the equally requisite, ‘Bits and pieces. It’s kind of fun, the tide is still moving though.’ This break is heavily reliant on the tide, but I love surfing here so I’ve come to know exactly when to arrive to get the most time out of it. He smiled, ‘Yeah, but I know it’s time to surf when I see you walking past with your board on your head!’ Amused as I was, I have to admit that I felt a little proud of having become a tiny part of surfing life, tides and times in this bit of Newcastle.

Friday, February 24, 2012


My sister sent this photo of my niece to my phone a couple of days ago.
Little miss continues to love the beach and the ocean, which continues to fill my heart with joy. And I love, even more, that it is my sisters and I who are central to sharing all that with her.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012


The first time I visited Newcastle, I remember being taken aback by the sight of coal ships queued along the horizon. I had only ever really seen ships one at a time off in the horizon, and had never before visited an city where industry is such a part of the fabric of the landscape itself rather than hidden away from view, like a dirty little secret. But here, as you walk along the coast, you can see the hulking silhouettes of these enormous ships lined up in the distance, waiting their turn to be ushered just inside the harbour to be filled with coal.

As you can imagine, this industry brings protest and activism, and understandably so. The coal industry is problematic on a number of levels, and for some the continuing connection of newcastle to the mining and export of coal is something to be lamented. I understand this position, and from the position of ecology and sustainability, I support it wholeheartedly.

And yet, what I never expected, were the feelings of affection and excitement that the coal ships have raised in me. I love sitting in the sea or walking along the coast and looking out to see them far away. It still surprises me when I take a photo of the ocean only to find the outline of ships dotting the horizon. And the other day, when one surged through the harbour as I was checking Nobbys Beach, I felt my jaw drop in excitement at the almost surreal way the storie-high, red, steel behemoth dwarfed Nobbys Head, towering above us all as we walked along the foreshore. I felt excited the way a small child gets excited over such things. Then later, as I lay in my bed above the old gaol, I heard one of the ships release its horn into the midnight air. The huge sound was softer than you might think, blasting through the quiet of the night and bringing a smile to my sleepy face.

 (This photo hunted from here)
I have asked a few folk about the ships over the past few days - about what they think about their presence. They have told me about watching them as they surf, listening for their horns to know if they are too close to someone else, explained the craziness of the beached Pasha Bulka. Bar none, they have loved them. Loved watching them. These ships that are guided by equally impressive pilot boats, that are such a part of the Newcastle coastline, landscape, cityscape, of the culture and fabric of this town. They are part of the way that Newcastle is not like everywhere else. The way that people here are connected to the economics and industries that have been such a part of Newcastle's past, and which continue to be, in a multitude of unavoidable and intertwined ways, a part of its present.

(Like a small child, I waved at the driver of this pilot boat. No, really. I did.)

Note: Please excuse the dodgy photos taken on my crappy smartphone.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

When the north wind blows from the east

Where I’m from, the mere mention of northerly winds brings much shaking of heads and looks of disappointment and frustration. Our beaches face north and east, so the strong north winds blow out every break except one. When northerlies blow for several days, people start to get a bit batty, the effects of the wind working their way through their hair, skin, minds and levels of tolerance. ‘Fucking northerlies is a common refrain.

Here the word means something else. Something less definitive. Something potential and possible. Here it’s the east wind that terrorises surfers, blowing through their world and destroying waves. Here it is the east wind that sends crew inside with a pile of DVDs. Fucking easterlies.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Nick Gabaldon: history, race, and surfing at Malibu

I just watched this over at The Surfer's Path. You should watch it too...

More than a lovely story of an interesting person and life, it's thoughtful in the ways it touches on a lot of interesting stuff that is only just emerging in discussion of surfing and surfing culture, including risk, place, race, myth and human rights. These are great conversations and I am enjoying learning from them as they emerge and develop and grow.

What is also interesting, is that Nike made this, which does lead to it being a slightly odd hybrid between documentary and promotional clip. I'm not quite sure what to say about that though other than, Yeah, I noticed the product placement and the use of your sponsored "family", Nike. Oh, and the inspiration talk is particularly irritating. Anyway, I'm not sure if I should be, but I'm confused that Nike is able to take a person from the past, someone who had nothing to do with the industry as it exists today in any tangible sense, and brand them. I mean honestly... how?

Nonetheless, take a look.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Surf check

This afternoon, I thought I would go for a drive along the coast and check out the beaches to the south of the city. I took off from Hunter street and headed south, tracing a line along the coast, cliffs and sand. I only made it as far as Bar Beach surf club before I saw a park and thought I’d pull over and check out what the banks were doing along there. I jumped out of my car and walked up to the white fence that lines the top of the dunes. The surf looked, well, whompy. There was swell, but the banks were shit, so it was coming straight in and the lines were closing out in one solid wall of white-wash. I was uninspired

Two guys were next to me, sat on the fence checking the surf. I couldn’t help but notice their tattoos, hats and all-round general style had a ring of home – not a Billabong or Quiksilver logo to be seen. But they had the skin tones and physicality of surfers. Longboarders? Loggers? I wanted to know. Approaching a couple of guys who are surf checking in the middle of a Thursday afternoon is not a usual thing that I would do. I mean, really. But when you are living for a limited time in an unfamiliar city, well, why not! So I introduced my self to them.

Jay and Nathan were really cool guys and added to the growing list of people I have met who are far from the stereotypical Novocastrian surfer I continue to hear so much about. Turns out they are into riding all sorts of boards and are part of the school of ‘riding the right board for the right wave’, rather than sticking to any particular approach. They were super generous in sharing their knowledge of breaks I might want to check, as well as explaining and pointing out the culture of the city beaches spread out in front of us. They agreed that there is often an unfriendly vibe in the water, and Nathan told me how stoked he was when he surfed at Byron recently and found the crew so smiley and nice. I laughed and explained that despite their front, those surfers often used their friendliness as a tactic to snake you or drop-in, and how one of my more quick-witted friends calls them the ‘smiling assassins’. At least when people are unfriendly, you know where you stand. It’s much less confusing. The guys were amused, but told me that it would be worth paddling out on my longboard at Bar Beach or somewhere else close to see what I think. Just out of interest. The conversation ended with an exchange of phone numbers and the suggestion of a trip north. It was such a great chance encounter and so lovely to meet such cool guys.

Having lived so long in one place, I forget what it is like to be a new girl in town. About the courage and effort it takes to reach out and make connections, to gather information, to understand how things work. I feel lucky to have chanced upon such cool people so far, who have been so generous, kind and warm. 


Many thanks to Maia for the surf check and coffee hang. 


Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Locked Up

Underpass mural by Trevor Dickinson

Late last year, I was lucky enough to have my application accepted as part of the 2012 Artist in Residence program at The Lock-Up Cultural Centre. The Lock-Up is an old gaol that has been turned into a museum and gallery space, and which also houses the Hunter Writers Centre. As it turns out, they had a place available for me right at the beginning of this year, and so I find myself living and writing here in Newcastle for the next couple of weeks or so. I'm pretty stoked.

My plan while I'm here is to spend time on the beach and in the water, and to think about what belonging to a sub-culture like surfing means when you are out-of-place. As a child of the sub-topical, wetsuit-free, busy, warm water, point breaks of northern NSW - where longboards and women are the norm - surfing and hanging out in Newcastle will prove to be, I think, a very different surfing world. While I like to imagine that sharing a love of surfing can help people connect, I'm interested to see how that plays out when two very different surfing worlds meet. Already today I met a young woman who began to fill me in on the strong local borderlines delineating who belongs where, hinting at an invisible but enforced set of rules, which she reckons I will personally discover with some haste. But, I suppose, we will see.

Even more significant, being out-of-place here in Newcastle is more personal than a lack of connections to local or surfing cultures and identities. The last couple of years have been pretty tumultuous and painful for me, ending in the death of my beloved mother in December lat year, so it is interesting to now be in a space and place and time that is so far from home, work and family, and from the numbness of my still-raw grief. I'm not sure what that is going to be like yet, I'm not sure what that is going to feel like, but I'm leaping into this project with an open heart. Mostly I'm excited at having time to write, to explore a new city and space, and to meet some new people. Newcastle is a pretty cool and beautiful town, so even though I'm only here for quite a short time, hopefully I can find my feet a little.

As a part of this short time, I plan on using my blog as a site to write, to report and hopefully to create a set of memories for myself - a place to store and archive the weeks I spend here. I have always found this blog as a useful way to 'think out loud', and help me remain accountable to the people, places and communities that I write about. Hopefully, by sharing what I do, see, find and feel, there will be something of value (or at the very least, interest) for someone other than myself.

Wish me luck...

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

I think I would fit in here perfectly

I've read and seen a lot about the World Bellyboard Championships at Chapel Porth in Cornwall, but after watching this clip over at wheelsontoast and seeing just how much fun it is, it's now firmly on my 'things to do/places to go' list!

To quote John Isaacs: "It's not as radical. It's possibly not as cool [as standup surfing], but in its own way, in its pure simplicity, it's as much fun as you can get."

Wish you were here? Hell, yes!

Monday, February 06, 2012

Misplaced? Or a mirror?

I found this genius bit of cataloguing at Brisbane airport quite amusing. It was very early in the morning though.. 

Friday, February 03, 2012

'Surfari' by Tim Baker - a review

One of the conversations I increasingly hear amongst surfers - in the surf, in magazines, online - is how to continue to include regular (ie. daily) surfing into lives that include family, work and the inescapable aging process. For many years, it has been surfing women who have sacrificed waves in order to have and raise a family, to keep house, to look after others, and often to build a career. While many men-folk of past days shared (most especially) the questions regarding work, they did not always have the same level of household demands and expectations as women - cleaning, laundry, planning and preparing meals, childcare, organising family events. Certainly, some men did take these roles on, but most were not expected to. But now men moving into their 30s and 40s are shouldering these responsibilities more than ever and so are wondering how they are going to continue a version of the lifestyle of their youth into middle-age. While men today do not necessarily begrudge their increasing obligations to relationships, housekeeping and childcare, it does involve a lot of compromise and they are looking to each other to share their fears, mistakes and triumphs regarding all this.

In this space, Tim Baker’s recently released book, Surfari (2011), is a timely and contemporary surfing story for this growing number for men whose high-performance, free-wheeling, travel-filled, shortboard surfing days are increasingly negotiated by family, work, the aging process and myriad other concerns and commitments. Tackling these questions himself, Tim enlists the support of his wife, Kirsty, to take their children with them on a driving trip around Australia. This trip is Tim’s effort to find a balance between family and surfing, and he has several hoped-for goals including: to explore and learn more about the country he grew up in; to live out a teenage dream of living a surfing life without the constraints, stress and daily-grind of timetabled work; and to include his family this journey and share the experiences together. 

The resulting book gives him a lovely opportunity to write into existence the role that family, friends, partners, wives, children, ageing and work play in the way our surfing lives progress and develop, shift and change. To date, this is still a rare tale. I mean, how often are wives and children included in representations of long and adventurous surf trips? There could certainly be more, but off the top of my head, I can only recall Mick Waters’ wonderful 2009 film, Little Black Wheels, doing this to any degree. However, Surfari is a reflection on the ways that we can include the people we love in our surfing lives, and how this can ultimately add to our experiences. Having said that, even in this around-Australia account few women appear as surfers, other than as wives, girlfriends or daughters. Maybe they just aren’t there? But to me (of course) their absence stood out. The excellent exception comes in the form of the young Macaulay women, Ellie, Laura and Bronte, who have been brought up surfing WA’s wild coastline with their parents, and who are well-known as fearless and curious surfers. How will they tackle questions about balancing surfing and family life as they grow? How will they move through their lives, keeping surfing as a part of their everyday (or not)? Perhaps Tim might have found some answers to his own questions there, or at least some solidarity?

Throughout Surfari, Tim’s admission of his fears – not only about family, but also of some waves, of isolation, injury and sharks – were refreshing. Voicing such concerns can be quickly labelled as shameful cowardice, especially in surfing cultures, so it takes guts to openly admit that the fantasy of surfing alone can, in reality, carry other internal obstacles. Tim’s internal dialogue was refreshingly honest and often spontaneous, as though he chose not to think too much about the risk of publishing it. However, it was this same kind of introspection and self-reflection that I found to be one of the frustrating things over the course of the book. Many of Tim’s chapters begin or end with tortured lamentations about the difficulties of finding the balance he seeks between surfing and family, of making room for everyone, of fulfilling everybody’s needs. The easy solution seems to stop worrying about his family, stop caring, but he does care. 

And therein lies the dilemma. 

I felt Tim was too hard on himself. care and commitment to those he loves is what makes him different from some of the characters he meets along the way – heart-broken, lost, estranged from loved ones, and finding peace by immersing themselves in a solitary and isolated surfing life where nothing much matters except the swell. But some of Tim's soul-searching could have been sacrificed to allow for more inclusion of other perspectives – those of his family perhaps. His wife Kirsty, and their children are bound up in Tim’s journey, so it would have been great to hear accounts from them about Tim’s dilemma - about how they feel about his surfing, and how they feel about being so deeply considered as a part of it. In particular, Kirsty and daughter Vivi, are central players in making room in their lives for Tim’s ideas and aspirations, and while I don’t think this is a terrible thing – that is after all, the nature of family – it would have added a richness to this book that might have spoken to many surfers of Tim’s ilk, as well as their families. I also found myself wondering how and whether Tim’s kids are interested in sharing waves with their dad and how this itself becomes a newly explored part of Tim’s surfing life, by negotiating the types of waves he can access to share with his kids and their possible desire to accompany him on his surf jaunts. I’m sure the parents of the young Macauley women have much experience and wisdom to share on that particular topic.

I know a number of 30 and 40-something guys who are embarking on or planning a similar trip with their families, and I have recommended Surfari to each of them. There are certainly things that grated (like the pervasive product placement of the sponsoring companies, who made the trip affordable but which became a bit insulting), things that became repetitive (the ongoing branding of Tim Winton as the only writer of the West Australian coastal landscape. What about Robert Drewe? Brett D’Arcy?), and there also are the obvious and unavoidable issues surrounding Tim’s often open discussions and descriptions of places and breaks. There have been high levels of emotion following his publication of this book, both online and in print. Tim has a particular history in surf media, which means that many people have a historical distrust or loathing of his past and present editorial and writing decisions. I have heard him condemned for his readiness to locate waves and, even more taboo, to provide even vague directions to them. I do understand those irritations and the passionate anger that accompanies them, but I’m not quite sure how I feel about all of that. As a daughter of a particularly famous and much-visited surf town, I have a similar relationship as Tim to the thick and competitive crowds of visitors to our much photographed and promoted (by surf media) home breaks in south east Queensland and north east New South Wales. In my experience, surfers from the kinds of ‘secret’ breaks that Tim describes would happily come to our already busy home breaks and paddle into whatever wave they chose, so I always feel there is a certain level of hypocrisy and selfishness in the entitlement to localism and protectiveness at their own breaks. But then, I also live the repercussions for long-term promotion and over-exposure, so I absolutely understand their fears and concerns, and would not wish wholesale development and growth upon their communities.

These questions and critiques are only made because I think Surfari has so much merit and that it will occupy a timely place in the lives of many men who surf. But in the end, it depends on what you decide to take from Surfari – an unwelcome map to a number of Australian surf breaks, or a thoughtful and personal consideration of the concerns of someone attempting to continue to surf as much as possible, while prioritising his relationships to loved-ones. I choose the latter. It’s a tough topic, and I doubt Tim would claim to offer any answers beyond admitting the difficulty and sacrifice of all of this, while advocating for the joy to be found from sharing your surfing life with your family. But taking the risk to think and write about it, is something that will and should resonate with many surfers.

Thursday, February 02, 2012


Congratulations to Aleksi Raik and crew. whose film Finnsurf, just won the Yallingup Surf Film Festival (Jan 20-22).

Surfing in Finland does, indeed, looking 'fuckin' cold, mate'!

Finnsurf Trailer from PABLO FILMS on Vimeo.