Gold Coast

Shark bait sessions with Ellie Brooks and Codie Klein…team building and getting it done…

So I had spent the previous day photo shooting with the lovely Ellie Brooks for Reef which had involved not a whole lot of surfing with the swell being flat. Ellie is a fantastic surfer who travels around the globe competing on the World Surf League qualifying tour, and I really wanted to show off her surfing skills because as many surfer girls will state, they are surfers, not models! So when I got word that we would be heading to South Stradbroke Island the next day, I was excited to go. Firstly, because I had never been there and had heard the surf is amazing and secondly, because everyone talks about how beautiful a spot it is!

The night before I asked Ellie what I needed to be aware of for shooting at this location to get prepped, and I felt pretty confident it was going to be an awesome day. Drive to the ferry, catch a water taxi over, shoot for the morning, water taxi home, voila! We also called up another fantastic surfer Codie Klein to join the squad.  We were set! After gathering early in the morning, coffees in hand, we made the drive north and arrived to the ferry terminal, excited for an incredible day of surfing.

Perhaps I should have been more concerned when I saw the confused look on the girls’ faces when we arrived and started to unpack at the ferry terminal. I could see Ellie scanning for the water taxi, but it was nowhere in sight. “Nah girls, he’s on holidays this week!” echoed a local who had just made the paddle back from the island. Our faces dropped. The Gold Coast seaway is a renowned hangout for schools of bull sharks, also known as the 'bull shark superhighway', and the paddle across is a death defying experience at the best of times. Only the week before a close friend of mine had stitches in her face from the entry to the water over the oyster encrusted rocks, let alone avoiding a pack of sharp toothed flesh chompers.  

“What are we going to do?” whispered Ellie hesitantly. She was in no way keen to paddle across. I looked over at Codie, and could see her concern too. “I will swim across,” I said half-jokingly, only then recalling the story from a commercial scuba diving friend who at one time saw numerous bull sharks tracking the surfers paddling above as he fixed a pipe in the seaway. “Let’s do it,” said Codie with a hint of falsified confidence. What the heck. Seriously? Ok. Crap.

Water housing in hand, two surfboards, three humans, we trekked up the groyne of the seaway. And yes, it was a trek. When your head is saying, “What the hell are we doing!!!!” and your heart is pumping so fast that you think it’s going to explode onto the other side of the seaway, I could feel myself start to raise some logical concerns. Quick, snapchat that I love my mum and dad and sister and friends and OMG. What are we doing!!!! Nah. This is completely messed up, but it’s going to be ok. I calmed down. We lowered ourselves down the groyne, and jumped into the Gold Coast seaway.

We started vigorously. I put my housing on Codie’s back, grabbed the side of the board and started swimming. The current was reasonable that morning, and swept us down the seaway. I couldn’t help myself half way across. The girls were looking forward. I put my head down into the water and opened my eyes. It was black. I raised my head back up faster than I could kick. I didn’t say anything. I just kept swimming. Faster. We passed a fishing boat. The crew looked at us perplexed. Three ladies of leisure enjoying a day out on the water, swimming across the seaway. LOL. And then we were there. After the most intense ten minutes, we scaled up the groyne on the other side and were in paradise. Welcome to South Stradbroke Island.

Thankyou to the squad, Ellie and Codie for the epic day. And a big shout out to Chris Brown, who kindly gave me a lift back across the seaway from the island on his jet ski. Legend…

And probably, never again. 

Cyclone Winston

It's a tale of two worlds, and it all depends on your personal perspective. To some, Cyclone Winston conjured up thunderous power, devastating force and unfathomable destruction. To others, it was a tale of untold perfection, fluid lines and heart palpitating adrenaline.

A point of significant importance is that Cyclone Winston left a trail of destruction through Fiji, being the largest recorded tropical cyclone to ever make landfall over the Pacific Island nation. Fiji is no stranger to incredible surf, the consequence of distant storm cells sending long period swell racing towards the reefs there. The perfection we enjoyed here came at a price.

Swell on the Gold Coast is always a contradiction to the ethos of surfing. The lines are long and perfect. The barrels are cylindrical and draining. The light is golden and the water blue. But untimely consequences are always prevalent. Fibreglass misses foreheads by centimetres. Glass fins driven recklessly by lesser skilled pilots miss backs by...well in the case of one world class pro, they didn't miss, but left two tell tale lines through her wetsuit...a fortunate outcome. And egos are left bruised, as competent surfers struggle to find space amongst the herd of hundreds upon hundreds of wave starved carnivores.

Saturday the 27th was meant to be 'The Day'. What that encapsulates though varies depending on who you are talking to. I stood upon Kirra Hill early, alongside legendary photographers Ted Grambeau and Swilly, with faces bemused by the early disappearance of the maxing swell the night before. Some talk of the mass exodus to DI to 'escape' the crowds, only to have found that the news bulletin had been read by everyone and it had been read a little too early. Others, like Darryl Parkinson, surfed perfect barrel after barrel through bottomless Greenmount, as the local boys enjoyed another timeless swell that will be recounted fondly in years to come.

I created a short series of photographs shot over the afternoon of Friday the 26th on my perspective of Winston. The liberty I enjoy taking as an artist is creating what I feel as much as what I see. Winston didn't feel like total perfection to me. Taking a lineup photo of endless perfect waves would be unjust towards my sentiments, even though a perfect lineup is a popular photo. The perfect lineup does not do justice to the suffering of the homeless and deceased in Fiji. The perfect lineup doesn't do justice to the broken bones of the hospitalised maverick, suffered at the hands of a drop in. The perfect lineup also doesn't do justice to the opiate like faces of those exiting thunderous rounded cylinders. All of these incidents came to pass during Winston and many have been recorded as individual occurrences. Winston showed the extremities of human emotion. My Winston collection shows golden joy to dark.

There was perfection on offer. But you had to pay to play...

Click here for the Winston Gallery