Surfing is such a huge culture among young people in Australia. It's a lifestyle, an economic phenomenon, and mostly good clean fun.
This week my photography walk took in the points at Snapper Rocks and Greenmount - two of the Meccas of surfing on the Queensland/New South Wales border. It was a beautiful sunny day after weeks of wild weather and waves. It was pumping!
For generations. because our country is so isolated, it's been something of a rite of passage for our young to take off on a plane and explore the world, and often these days the search for a wave is one of the central features of these quests. They can be found anywhere where the waves are renowned - including Hawaii, Bali and the more far flung parts of Asia.
Many take time off from studies and work to follow the waves in Australia, living on 'the smell of an oily rag', camping in their cars and vans for sometimes months at a time.
Early on, surfing was unsophisticated and those who took part were often seen as 'beach bums', escaping from their responsibilities. Gradually things changed and these same 'bums' found themselves a niche, building up an industry that's now gigantic.
They are the CEOs of big companies that make surfboards, wetsuits, specialist clothing and other paraphenalia regarded as essential on the sand and in the waves.
For years there has been a dark and shadowy underbelly to surfing - talk of drugs, excessive alcohol and outrageous behaviour. There is now a big effort to change this reputation, with top surfers urged to become role models for clean living.
There is a worldwide network of competitions, where surfers vie for money, fame and adulation beyond dreaming.
Australians have been taking over the spotlight more and more, and surfers of the border zone between New South Wales and Queensland are taking more than their share of success. Coolangatta local woman Stephanie Gilmore is the current world titleholder, becoming the winner for the second year in a row in December.
Another Coolangatta local Mick Fanning has held the male world title.
Stephanie is known locally as 'Happy' Gilmore, and still calls Cooly and Snapper home.
During my walk this week I passed a young blond woman in a pink surf shirt, bursting with obvious health and toting her board towards the tubes. After she passed I realised that Stephanie was there to join the fun.
Here's a short video showcasing her prowess:
Steph Gilmore is surfing's 2 x ASP World Champion
However, by far the largest number of surfers at Cooly and Snapper are not champions, although they are mean performers on their boards.
Many learn to surf here, and professionals hold regular classes to pass on their skills.
It's not long before a learner becomes a 'gromit' and begins to move up the surfing hierarchy.
These guys and gal are on their way to the point at Snapper.
There's a sand culture to the surfing world as well. That's where boy meets girl, a time when the blokes will bypass the waves for a while, doing what comes naturally. It used to be that girls always sat on the sand, waiting eternally for their mate - out there on the crest of a wave. These days once a relationship is cemented (and before) the girls are much more likely to be there vying for space.
I love this picture. There is so much body language on show here.
Maybe they're familiar and comfortable partners and he's holding his beloved board aloft after coming in from the water.
Or is the board a safety barrier while he makes a play? And is she absorbed in other things?
They talk disparagingly about young people's bedrooms. This shot shows that they can be organised when there's a reason ... This van is typical of the homes-away-from-home in the surfing scene.
This sign is an indication of the move towards the mainstream. It's been placed at Snapper by Gold Coast City Council and surfing associations to pass onto newbies the rules of the waves.
These have been built up informally over the years and make for a more orderly and safer surfing experience in times where the waves are becoming more popular and crowded than they have ever been.
It says: Surfers Code: Give Respect to Gain Respect. I would have thought that's a pretty good life lesson generally.
Surfing does not stop with the age of responsibility. You can often see 60 year-olds out there too.
Whatever, the board is generally the surfer's prize possession. It's waxed and coddled almost to extinction. After a session, the board gets washed first, and only then does the owner get the treatment.
And why not? The waves and the rocks are a spiritual experience for so many - and life's difficulties can be unravelled so much more easily in such surroundings.
The many rocks that are there to reinforce the shore bank at Snapper Rocks have become something of a memorial for those who loved this place. Some have even died nearby. The tablets tell stories of people young and old and with a central commonality - a delight in the sea.
What memories found their way to the the surface as you looked at my photographs? Please tell me in a comment.
3 days ago