Friday, April 13, 2012
Saturday, March 24, 2012
Butter would not melt... Felix James McAloon is nearing his 3rd birthday and the boy is growing cheekier by the day. Life. It gets in the way sometimes. I spent the day at Torquay Point, a less than useful member of the (South) West Coast Coolers in the annual Bolt Blowers Retro Surf Charity Event, held in memory of Tim 'Puffin' Pope and raising valuable coin for One In Five and the Mental Health Research Institute. The surf was big and windy, which was not at all suited for my little Strapper twin fin (my lame excuse). Consequently, I sorta sucked, particularly in comparison to the likes of Troy Brooks and Craig 'Crackers' Barker, who wielded their ancient craft like a Samurai sword... bad analogy but you get the idea - the boys ripped it up. In fact, Brooko surfed Torquay Point as good as I've ever seen. A master at the peak of his art... if you don't count his runner-up showing at the Quik Pro in France some years back (I was there, and I reckon today was infinitely more impressive). To cut a long story short, I ran into a few fans of Deep Water and suffered through a few moans about this much neglected blog. With Sydney treating GWS to a lesson, and Martin Flanagan reminding me of the power of thoughtful observation, I decided to revive the blog... some 12 months after my last entry. It will not reach the heady heights of my old pal Jon Frank's weekly musings (who hardly covered himself in glory today aboard a borrowed Dick Voight shaped RAM 6'10") and I can only hope this revival is on par with Occy's DeLorean performance at Margaret River... But I promise it will be something (as opposed to nothing), so please stay tuned (if not, tune into This Station Is Non-Operational by At The Drive-In... was Relationship of Command not the greatest album of 2007?).
Monday, March 21, 2011
The man behind many of the images in Deep Water, increasingly celebrated surf artist Jon Frank, will unveil his collaboration with Australian Chamber Orchestra maestro Richard Tognetti when The Glide hits the big screen in Melbourne and Sydney after performances in Slovenia and New York. Combining Frank’s magic with a live performance by the ACO, The Glide explores the links between music, surfing and the ocean, stemming from Tognetti and Frank swapping notes during the making of award-winning documentary Musica Surfica. “Jon and I have collaborated on this project by choosing different styles of music,” Tognetti explained. “I would send him a piece and see if he would respond to it in a filmic way. Other times he would send me a piece of film without any music to it and I’d respond. Sometimes he’d have an idea for the music and other times I wrote the music.” The end result was recently described as “the best music and vision experience of my life”.
The Glide is on at The Playhouse in Melbourne on April 4 and Sydney’s City Recital Hall on April 7 and 8. For more information visit the ACO website.
And please check out Frank’s new website, where you can buy prints of his work and view his amazing, rarely seen Nineteen Ninety Nine series.
Tuesday, January 25, 2011
Monday, January 18, 2010
I’ll begin with Stuart Nettle’s review on Swellnet. Without swimming too deep in my own shit, it’s my favourite review of the book to date.
“The narrative often veers away from the main trail while the author pulls a thread of his surfing life through the history of surfing and the world at large. And so, one moment you are reading about travels with Ted Grambeau through the Tuamotos and the next a philosophical explanation why human beings have an inherent need to wander, replete with quotes from Umberto Eco. McAloon connects idea and anecdote seamlessly.”
So I read the review, was pretty buzzed to be mentioned in the same sentence as the late great Grant McLennan (singer-songwriter with The Go-Betweens), and then drifted around the ‘net, as you do when you’re draining a sixer of Crackenback Pale Ale. Eventually I ended up on Dane Reynolds’ blog, Marine Layer (his most recent entry riding Yadin Nicol's 5'4" quad is v.cool but I highly recommend the October 14 entry of Dane riding Rob Machado’s 1997-era fish below... among others).
Dane makes a brief cameo in Deep Water, bobbing up in Madrid of all places. I did a few trips with him when he was but a talented and uncertain teenager, a few years before he was anointed as the next American surfing hero. I chaperoned him to the Canary Islands when he was 16 years old and sponsored by Rip Curl. It was one of my favourite surf trips, but I don’t think it was one of Dane’s. The kid was green and the European contingent attempted to force-feed him the local “culture” when all Dane wanted was an In-N-Out Burger. But man, could he surf. Dane was a late replacement for Pancho Sullivan and, despite a fairly respectable line-up of Rip Curl’s finest, the relatively unknown teenager from Ventura stole the show. One morning we scored the islands’ premier wave, a gnarly reef break that does a pretty reasonable impersonation of Pipeline (its name is roughly translated as “the beast”) and detonates on an urchin-infested slab of volcanic rock. It was howling offshore, low tide and uncrowded; considered too sketchy a proposition even by the heavy local bodyboard crew. But Manoa Drollet barely batted an eyelid and, in his typical laidback Tahitian style, sauntered into the take-off zone with Dane and Darren O’Rafferty in his wake. Now the man dubbed the Prince of Teahupo’o had his backside tube-riding down to a fine art – grabbing rail on take-off, side slipping down the face before letting go of the rail at the base of the wave, then casually stretching out inside the tube. It was a hyper-critical approach honed through years of surfing Teahupo’o that Manoa made look all too easy.
But the beast was hungry... After a tentative opening, Manoa came unstuck on his second wave and got throttled. Raff and Dane, both yet to catch a wave, watched on in a mixture of horror and disbelief. It was a pretty heavy situation and 16-year-old Dane could have easily been forgiven for taking a backward step. While Manoa barely missed a beat – the Tahitian swapped boards and was soon back in the fray, flying out of a series of incredible caverns – it was the kid who proved the surprise packet. While even now his heavy water credentials are sometimes called into question (I’d suggest they’re simply overshadowed by his fun approach to surfing and ridiculous above the lip act), he was soon mimicking the Tahitian’s hands-free style, albeit a little less casual than the master. The steep learning curve was remarkable to watch.
Over the next few years Dane’s raw talent reached a wider audience. And, while torn between competition and chasing a Dan Malloy-inspired free-spirited surfing existence, he became the focus of a bidding war that saw him part ways with Rip Curl. He initially embarked upon the free-surfing route with new sponsor Quiksilver and produced a mind-blowing movie, First Chapter (the surfing was mind-blowing, the movie itself was pure surf porn), before eventually landing on surfing’s elite tour a much more complete surfer. I talked to him about it when he made his debut on the Gold Coast in 2008.
“I try not to think of surfing as a career-wise,” Dane explained. “To make decisions with a career in my mind, it just loses the fun of surfing. I hate thinking of it like a job. If I get tired of competing, I’ll quit doing it. When I was a kid I remember I did an interview with Rip Curl, I was like ‘I want to be world champion’, because that was burned into my brain, that was what you say. But I don’t really care. I’m not willing to sacrifice as much as you have to sacrifice in order to win a world title. You look at Mick (Fanning) and he dedicates his whole life to competing and winning, and that’s great, he obviously gets a lot of satisfaction out of it. I don’t think I get enough out of it to really give up a lot of the things that I do… well… I’m not ready to not go drink beers before my heats and stuff. My whole goal is to not compromise my surfing for the competitive format; surf heats as if it wasn’t there... I just kind of question my competitiveness when I see people bank their whole emotional state on how they’re going to do in each heat, and I don’t feel that. For me I’m kind of in a fortunate position; to go out there and not care if I win or lose, and really surf the way I want to surf.”
Few would question whether Dane has achieved this – the kid is an excitement machine. But in his second year on tour he’s also achieved a few other things; his quarter-final at Jeffreys Bay was arguably the performance high point of the year, while making the final at Trestles and the semi-finals at Pipeline secured his first top 10 finish. And while there is no doubt that Parko would be a popular and well-deserving world champion in 2010, in my humble opinion, so too would Dane Reynolds.
Wednesday, December 16, 2009
Jon Frank would be considered a successful surf photographer. For the past two decades he’s made a living from expressing his unique vision of surfing and ocean waves, which is quite a feat in itself. He filmed the seminal surf film Litmus in 1995, and a slew of award-winning surf films followed, including Super Computer in 2001, Mick Fanning’s acclaimed biopic Mick, Myself & Eugene, and more recently Musica Surfica. But the still image is Frank’s preferred medium and where he is held in highest regard; he won Photo of the Year at the 2007 Surfer Poll and Video Awards and the 2008 Australian Surfing Awards, and is widely regarded as the artist of the surf image. “What Jon Frank does is ART,” according to grizzled Hawaiian surf photographer Sean Davey.
Despite Divine’s assessment, I am not implying that Jon Frank is “tweaked”. In fact, Frank is one of my closest friends and I admire him far beyond his ability to capture ethereal ocean images. But, as Derek Hynd explained in the introduction to Frank’s 1999 book Waves Of The Sea: “He is not normal. His work is not normal.” A perfect example is his ongoing Frankology series for Surfing World magazine, which is without peer and demonstrates his virtuosity – most are shot over a few days and are brilliant snapshots of people and places, accompanied by Frank’s vivid musings about everything from memories of his much-loved father to riding the tattered sea, “daydreams and life plans hatched under the murky light thrown by a single round porthole”. It doesn’t always make sense and sometimes feels like an unedited invasion into his inner most thoughts, but it is Frank, and brilliant nonetheless.
Frank joined me on many of my expeditions for Deep Water, initially as a hired gun for Rip Curl, and later when his path crossed with the pro surfing circus and he needed a couch to crash on or a hotel room to shower and shave. He appears intermittently throughout the book, and his incredible images of Hawaii’s outer reefs and Icelandic beaches gave the book an esoteric layer that lifted it beyond my imagination. Frank also provided comic relief:
“The boat was island-hopping from Biak to West Papua, searching unsuccessfully for surf. We drifted in the lee of an uncharted bay, a large sea eagle circling overhead. I lay on the top bunk reading, peering out the dirty porthole to check the waves. Again. Waist-high chunks of windswell sloped onto an exposed limestone reef. The jungle swayed. A dead tree stood proudly on the edge of a slender strip of sand. My head went back to the pillow, fumbling to find my page, tempted by my hidden stash of Beng Beng chocolate bars. Frank woke up. He declared: “I’m going on the ‘net when I go home. I’m going on the ‘net to meet a woman”. He slammed the door and stamped down the passage, his footsteps echoing around the wooden hull. I heard the lock on the toilet click.” – Chapter 7, The Curse of the Indo JiwaBut Frank is more than comic relief. He's more like something closer to Kerouac’s Dean Moriaty in On The Road, albeit without the wild exuberance and swashbuckling good looks. And, despite recent forays into the fine art world, documenting classical musical festivals in Slovenia, Frank is still on the road. Right now he is in Hawaii. He sent me an email a few days ago. I could instantly picture him, in his small room tucked in behind the garage of a sprawling Ke Nui Road mansion, bent over the keyboard, Sufjan Stevens crooning in the background, wet footprints and sand at his feet. Right outside the door is his office – the stretch of sand between Log Cabins and Pipeline, where the world’s best surfers spend each December performing on cue for the cameras. Frank will be among them, rubbing shoulders with Davey, Grambeau, Buckley & co. It sounds glamorous. It isn’t. “It’s hard to be 38 years old, having been a professional surf photographer for 15 years, looking down the barrel of 40, wondering whether I can keep doing it,” Frank told me recently. He doesn’t want to sound bitter. He isn’t. “I’m not saying it’s not a great job. I’m used to the insecurity. I’m pretty used to not having any money. The travel becomes more difficult when you have a family but I understand that people would dream of doing it instead of working in an office or a factory.”
I know exactly what he means. I’m back in an office, grinding out the 9 to 5. And while there are elements I really enjoy, I have my moments, dreaming of that boat drifting in the lee of an uncharted bay somewhere east of Sulawesi. I’m no longer Sal Paradise to Frank’s Dean Moriaty. I’m busy conjuring up domestic bliss on a curve of the Great Ocean Road, staring at a sink full of baby bowls and brightly coloured utensils. As Frank once wrote: “Standing, shoulders down, enjoying warm hands, stopping occasionally to watch the moonlit trees bend behind the west wind, all of us together but alone, beneath this vast Bill Henson sky.” Or in my case, an underexposed Jon Frank panorama.
Sunday, October 18, 2009
I moved to Torquay at the tail end of 1996. I moved up the coast from Warrnambool, returning to university to complete a journalism degree I’d been studying via correspondence, and moved into a ramshackle old holiday house in Anderson Street. Russell Graham lived across the road. Russell had arrived in Torquay via different circumstances. Back in the late 60’s Russell was at the heart of the Australian surfboard industry, making surfboards for Midget Farrelly in Brookvale on Sydney’s northern beaches. Embracing the counter-culture of the early 70's, he and a mate (Gary McKenzie-Smith) decked out an old school bus as a surfboard factory on wheels, christening it Change Surfboards. They travelled down the coast, stopping in car parks at surf breaks, doing ding repairs and making surfboards. Eventually they arrived in Torquay, where Russell met his wife Barb, and teamed up with Doug ‘Claw’ Warbrick and Brian Singer to make Rip Curl surfboards – Russell glassing shapes from the likes of Wayne Lynch, Pat Morgan, Alan Colk, Doug Rogers, Maurice Cole and, more recently, Michael Anthony.
Russell has spent the best part of 50 years inhaling resin fumes and consequently he’s a bit of an eccentric. I’ve seen photos of him trimming across the face of six-foot waves at Bells Beach bolt upright in the sirsa-ashana pose, more commonly referred to as a headstand. These days he’s taken to wearing a floppy black beret, giving him the appearance of a French intellectual, with his long grey hair tied back in a ponytail and delicately trimmed moustache and goatee.
Over the years Russell’s factory (Moonlight Laminating) has become a popular haunt of mine. When I worked at Rip Curl I’d often sneak across the road for a few moments of sanity and ever since have enjoyed dropping in for a chat, soaking up the atmosphere, the foam dust and fumes. A few years ago Russell helped me shape my first surfboard; a snub-nosed 6’3’’ that wasn’t a complete disaster but not enough of a success for me to ever shape a second. A keen car enthusiast and multiple Victorian Hill Climb champion, he’s slowed down a bit in recent years. He had a quadruple bypass last year and, while he was back in the factory within a few weeks, these days he spends his time on old-school restorations rather than churning out bleached white shortboards (at its peak Moonlight was producing over 1,000 boards a year). His son Corey is back in the factory, shaping and sanding. I interviewed Corey for an upcoming issue of Surfing World magazine. “I count myself lucky,” Corey said. “I don’t think we’ve ever had an argument in here. He’s hassled me to get more work done occasionally but that’s about it.”
Torquay has changed a lot since I moved to town more than a decade ago. The old ramshackle rental in Anderson Street has long gone, replaced by cardboard cut-out townhouses. The uni students have gone too – holiday rentals a thing of the past. But it’s still a surf town. And there are still people like Russell Graham.