Wallet Droppers Jam Pockets For Icon Shapeshifter At Burleigh (Japanese Wagyu Council Scout In-House Rock Band On Gold Coast)

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17th Annual Burleigh Boardriders Single Fin Classic; Burleigh Heads; 11-12/1/2014

“…a throwback to a time when surfing was more sensual and less technical, about feeling and flattering a wave rather than dancing on it.”

Report by Nicholas Turner

Burleigh is the first in a trio of headland points that run toward the southern end of the Gold Coast.  From a map these points look like the result of something stretching over the Pacific to pinch the shoreline between its fingers. As the most significant natural disturbances on the otherwise long, slightly concave and completely open coast, they do strange and sometimes agreeable things to currents and swells and (by association) waves, which is why (when the winds and whatnot are right) surfers tend to swarm in the waters around them like flies around shit.

The 17th Annual Burleigh Boardriders Single Fin Classic falls on one such weekend when the swell is considerable and the point is just the right place to make the most of it. It is also a quintessentially nice summer’s day, the stuff of big glossy coffee-table books and tourism commercials. The grassy headland is glowing its radiant green and the water is a near-neon blue, and beneath the cliff that divides them is Burleigh’s characteristic clutter of smooth, black volcanic rocks, on which children are walking as confidently as crabs and photographers are sitting behind tripods.

You’d have to leave the lens cap on to get a less than spectacular photograph of the place.

Out on the water the surfers are going through heats and battling with the regressive charms of pre-1985 boards. Apparently and indeed by sight, old single-fins take a bit of convincing to turn and/or go, mulish by comparison to the ultra-nimble, multi-finned fibreglass arrows they use today. It’s a throwback to a time when surfing was more sensual and less technical, about feeling and flattering a wave rather than dancing on it. On the ample but capricious waves breaking off the point today, it’s an opportunist’s game. Few rides are particularly long, and barrels are rare and then uncooperative. Through the rounds and semi-finals, the best riders seem to be able to talk to the board, convincing it to stop or go as the ocean makes up its mind; there’a something almost equestrian about it. Room for error is near-none; high-quality and much favoured riders find themselves eliminated in handfuls. The reigning title-holder (indeed, the world’s preeminent free-surfer) doesn’t even manage to make the final.

The headland is packed with spectators spread out along the cliffs, huddling for shade or else madly lathering up with suncream. As accords the festival vibe, everyone has been promised a post-competition cranking-out of tunes by a band called either ‘Tokyo Heat’ or ‘Tokyo Beef’, depending on which commentator is on the microphone.  Popular fare includes soft-serve ice-cream, beer and the match day burgers that are being served up by the local scouts club. There’s a bunch of household-blender-sized dogs sitting around that seem never to like other household-blender-sized dogs that pass them by. And lots of motorised foot-scooters. 96% of sunglasses are black.

The footpath through the headland park provides something of a catwalk for the young locals to prowl/parade. Riding big, curvy fixed-gear bicycles, they hang in small groups and move at speeds that indicate neither destination nor timeframe; the same unchanged and fairly expressionless faces pass so often through the afternoon that they quickly become motifs. There’s a trio of colour-coordinated young women on low-riders with 50’s hairstyles and rolling, bubblegum-busy jaws; undoubtedly the Pink Ladies of Burleigh. Likewise a pair of enormous, shirtless lads with over-the-head handlebars, those ultra sharp haircuts and plenty of ink.  In these impressive sorts of figures and the more than occasional sight of the Burleigh postcode (4220) on both clothes and skin around the place, it’s fair to say there’s those who consider this little bit of paradise a territory worth defining.

For someone unfamiliar with both the contestants and the finer points of surf competition, the commentary over the loudspeaker becomes a kind of blurry lens through which the event and its final are witnessed. It’s full of surf-talk and dopey, hung-over humour and endless ribbing that inevitably becomes infectious. Combined with the scenes out on the water, one soon grasps the meaning of terms as initially perplexing as, ‘float that section’, ‘jam in the pocket’, ‘find a sneaky little wedge’,  ‘slip into a barrel’, ‘drop the wallet’ etc, etc. The most popular words to come over the loudspeakers, in no particular order, are ‘bump’ (meaning: an approaching, but as-yet unformed wave), ‘reckon’, ‘hay’, and ‘frothing’ (pronounced froffing – this word has replaced ‘stoked’ in the surfing lexis as the principal term of excitement. Its bonus utility is possibly the available noun form ‘froffer’ – as in ‘Mike is such a froffer for surfing’ – for which ‘stoke’ never provided an equivalent. i.e. one was never a ‘stoker’ for surfing).

The thirty-minute final therefore comes through the prism of this woozy, ‘Amber Sports Drink’ (Mexican beer) fuelled consciousness, infused with tall-tales of the previous night, apparently also much influenced by ASDs. Each of the six surfers in contention has a nickname and is referred to by it and nothing else. ‘Hog’ (pun on real name), ‘Office Body Kelly Slater’ (shaven head like the famous surfer, but more loosely conditioned), ‘Highlander’ (bastardisation of real name), ‘The Wicket Keeper’ (parody of real name), ‘The Ibis’ (gawky-limbed) and ‘Bottle’ (?) paddle out for the decider. They’ll be riding among the scattered ashes of Allan ‘AB’ Byrne, the recently passed local board-shaping icon of whom this year’s competition is held in honour. Before the starting hooter, AB’s family and friends sit on their boards and form a circle of hands and toss water over their heads; AB is committed finally to Burleigh and trusted to grant it good conditions, in accordance with surfing mythology.

By showtime the swell has flattened out a little bit and the wind’s more confused, so the rides get even shorter. Aerial moves are pretty much off the cards. As are barrels (though ‘Bottle’ seems determined to get in one). It’s all about finding sneaky wedges and jamming it in the pocket and maybe dropping a few wallets. ‘The Ibis’ (perpetually, “on the bin, looking for scraps”) has the eye for good bumps early on, and is the most effortless rider out there. ‘Office Body Kelly Slater’, by comparison, opts to force himself through the conditions, digging hard into turns and generally throwing the kitchen sink at waves that ultimately don’t push back hard enough. OBKS’s aggression makes for some spectacular one-off moves, but he doesn’t quite find a way to string them together. The waves turn out to be just a little unfriendly.

But with a minute to go it’s the unassuming ‘Highlander’ who finds a few tons of nature that hold shape where others had been falling to pieces.  Combining six or seven deep turns that trace the full face of the wave and leave him toying in the whitewash, he just keeps finding sections to exploit. We finally get to see one of these old boards really sing; the single-fin puts on a show, its heavy, earned movements somehow bringing surfer and wave closer together, a more bodily negotiation between man and water. The temperament of the board, indeed its stubbornness, look for a moment like a virtue.

Fairly obviously, this is the wave of the final. AB, apparently, left the aces at the bottom of the deck.

Match Day Burger Score: 6.0

MDB Service Atmosphere: 7.5

MDB Cost: $6.00 (w/ the lot)

Results: 1st, Tim Hyland; 2nd, Chris Bennets; 3rd, Fabs ; 4th, Damien Healey; 5th, Nathan Hedge; 6th, Jay Thompson

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