Paying homage to those who help us decide what surfing is all about.
The person that had the greatest influence on my early surfing life was not someone from a poster on my wall, but a local icon from the south coast.
Damo turned up in town when I was 14 – back in the homeland after five years of gallivanting the globe with his surfboard under arm. As far as I was concerned, he was a blow-in. I’d never seen him in the surf before, and I was out there every bloody day! I’d paddled out into a rough and slightly daunting overhead line-up. Stroking into an ugly looking right-hander, I heard someone yell: Goooo giiiiiiirl! I went, where I might have pulled back otherwise, and that set the precedent for our friendship.
Damo was 27 then, and wanted to start a business coaching intermediate groms. As such, me and my mate Mitch became his guinea pigs. It was a hoot. We’d pile into his Troopy of an afternoon, do the routine surf check, before suiting up and hurtling into the line-up. Damo would join us often, between filming from the sand, forever goading us to go bigger and deeper, teaching by example, with his signature style of calculated recklessness. He tutored us in and out of the water: when we got our L-plates, we’d take turns getting behind the wheel of the troopy, Damo barking instructions from the passenger seat.
Later he took me and three mates (two girls and two guys – all of us 16 years-old) to Indo on a three-week surf trip. The itinerary: G-land, Roti, Bali.
A swell hit while we were in G-land. A big one. And we were out there, adrenalin levels through the roof. I was scared shitless, navigating Speedies on my backhand, but at that time I’d have preferred to kiss the reef than chicken out in Damo’s company. That swell sent my mate and I panic-paddling for the horizon several times – wide eyed and gobsmacked, wondering whether this was goodbye. We left having copped a few memorable beatings, with minor reef gashes and having surfed some of the gnarliest waves of our lives.
Next stop was Roti, an island off West Timor. This was a lesson in cheap and immersive travel. For a higher price you could take the fast boat from Kupang, which got you to Roti in a few hours. Damo booked us onto the slow boat, the big, clunking ferry that all the locals took, which got you there in eight hours. He told us to keep our board bags on the top deck and within easy reach, rather than allowing them to be stowed in the luggage compartment, lest the boat sank in the middle of the channel and everyone went down with it. His thinking being that, if necessary, we’d cling to our boards and maybe make it out alive. We got there unharmed, but as it happens that ferry did sink, on that same route a couple of years later.
On Roti, we enjoyed lots of fun sessions, and navigated a couple of intimidating line-ups. When there was a flat spell Damo let us ride motorbikes on the quiet road that skirted the coast, and my mate came off and grazed her knees. She gritted her teeth while Damo squeezed lemon juice into her wounds and scrubbed the gravel out with a toothbrush.
Back in Bali, on our last night in Indo, we were given the go-ahead to hit The Bounty, where we drank jungle juice and danced in the cage – a rite of passage for any 16-year-old who found themselves in Kuta without their folks in the early 2000s right?
Damo managed to walk that line between responsibility and recklessness which is paramount to being a positive role model for any ratbag teenager. He was the guy who paddled out in a surf cap and a rashie on hot days on the south coast, who brandished a surf helmet on the big days out the Rocks, but he was also the one that charged the hardest, that got the most barrelled, that had the best forehand whack this side of Ulladulla.
Damo took an interest in my surfing at a crucial moment – when many of the kids around me were spending their afternoons in Tommy’s garage smoking bongs. The message? That surfing was something worthwhile, that it was a way of life, and that there were so many interesting places to go and do it. Years later, I’d pack my bags and do some gallivanting of my own, surfboard under arm. These days, whenever I get back home, the kids there regard me with the same deadpan look I did Damo. I know what they’re thinking: Blow-in.