Australia: Surfing Superpower Or Bunch of Beachbreak Specialists
Imagine a surfing landscape where at the top of the World Tour rankings there was only two Australian surfers in the top 50? A surfing hierarchy that would have more English and Portuguese supping at surfing’s top table. A league where Americans, Hawaiians, Mexicans, Chileans, Brazilians and Peruvians are the dominant surfing nations and the Ozzies, so proud of our surfing heritage, languish at the bottom of the food chain, eating the discarded toenails of surfing’s superpowers.
A surreal fantasy, right? Some type of twisted future dreamed up by anti-Australians and cruel Gods who clearly are insanely jealous of our supreme right to rule the waves. Except this isn’t bullshit. This situation does exist, right now. It’s called the WSL Big Wave Tour (BWT). As of the last count there was only two Australians, Jamie Mitchell and Josh Kerr, of the 43 surfers who registered points on the 2016 BWT. And while we are being churlish, we might as well note that neither of those two have lived in the country for nearly a decade.
Josh Kerr spearing towards a win in the 2016 BWT Todos Santos event. Photo: Richard Hallman
So where does that leave us? Are we a bunch of pikers, chickens, curs, cravens, poltroons, pussies, cream puffs, weakling, wimps and milquetoasts? Can we, as a nation, be described in easily surfing’s most passive aggressive term as, and prepare to shudder, 'beachbreak specialists'?
Now you might say the BWT is a slightly closed shop. After all Australia is hamstrung in that we don’t a have contest here. However, if we look at another big wave measuring stick, the Eddie Aikau Invitee list, it is again slim pickings. There is Jamie Mitchell again, plus 50-somethings Ross Clarke Jones and Tom Carroll. A now injured Mark Mathews, plus Ben Wilkinson and Ryan Hipwood make it in as alternates. That remains a minor percentage given the whole invite list tops out above 50 surfers.
Now, of course, Australia is not full of lily livered shoulder hoppers. The local crews at Shipsterns, One Mile, The Right, Ours, South Oz, Cow Bombie, Ulladulla and Gnaraloo, to name just a few, are some of the hardest chargers on the planet. Underground Aussies also always tend to pop up at the big-wave spots (usually with a battered 10’6”) around the world whenever they turn on.
Surely Russell Bierke will get the call up for the BWT at some point?
However the leap to paddling and charging the biggest waves, and more relevantly, taking sets off the very best big wave surfers, be it at Jaws, Nazare or Mavericks, seems to be beyond our crop of big-wave surfers. Now it’s not something that can be fixed easily. Trying to train a kid to one day be a BWT World Champion is about as easy a teaching a chicken how to drive a nuclear submarine. You can’t set up a High Performance Centre at Warrnambool and make 12-year-old groms run 50 metres underwater whilst holding lead injected watermelons. Big wave surfers are born, not bred.
It also doesn’t help that our only bonafide big waves are located in the most remote corners of Australia and break infrequently. It’s also true that most of our elite surfing talents are groomed early to tread the CT pathway. Look, maybe the BWT isn’t a fair reflection of the size of a nation’s stones. However right now it’s the only ranking system we’ve got. And Australia isn’t even in the mix.
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