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Friday, 10 April 2009

She's Pumping at Snapper Rocks

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.


  1. Loved your photos and posting.

  2. Good Afternoon June..nice day over at your way??
    The first thing that came to mind was: these young people are so lucky to have the sea as their playground what more do you want when young and playful.
    secondly I thought: I could never surf i am so afraid of going any deeper then my knees.
    third I thought: i would like to have somewhere to remember my mum ,a place to go to when I need to but,she loved the ocean not that much..
    Very nice and gentle story about a rough culture they are so courage's to ride the waves.

    have a nice day

  3. Hi Mona
    Thanks for your words.
    I am sure that you would have been better in the water if you had been brought up in the sun on Australian beaches.
    I do find the ocean a good place to go if I feel blue, but it all depends on where your heart lies ...

  4. Thanks for dropping by Frances.

  5. For someone born in the middle of Texas I have a passionate love for the water and it's of the reasons I'm here in the northwest. I started to say that sometimes I'm almost afraid of the water, but it's not fear, it's awe. Like you, when I'm feeling down, being able to go down to the beach and just watch the boats, the water, is very soothing. Great post, June!

  6. Hi June,
    my family are all surfers- well that's beloved, 2 sons and younger daughter. Older daughter and I well...I have tried but I prefer the standup paddling. I noticed on my beach walks this week quite a few stand-up paddlers in the big waves and also the tow in jet skis giving surfers a ride out the back seem to be becoming a nuisance here.
    Lovely photos and narrative - a very good account of surfing downunder.

    P.S. I met my mate through surfing. He had a surfboard factory to subsidise his uni studies - way way NZ

  7. Hi SYLVIA
    Yes. In some of the most puzzling and upsetting times of my life I have turned to the sea for comfort. There is nothing quite like watching from above the swishing and oozing of water upon rocks.

  8. G'day DELWYN
    My children loved surfing too, although my daughter was more the type who sat on her beautiful pink board and sunbaked. My son was, and still is, pretty good.

    The stand up paddlers are intriguing aren't they? And you share the dislike of the stinky noisy jet skis. They spoil things for everyone else.

    I'm pleased my account of surfing life resonated with you - it was a bit different in my day, but I've lived it through others, and observation.

  9. I also loved the body language of the lovers picture. And the rest. I have never surfed...although I have boogie-boarded. Which is like saying I've never raced in the Indy 500 but I once had a tricycle. The memorials in rock were moving too.

  10. Hi Bagman - enjoyed the tricycle comparison. Boogie boards are great fun aren't they?
    That's as far as I have been too - couldn't ever imagine being able to stand upright on a jogging board.

  11. Thank you june for such anice blog. I read about surfing before but it did not appear so much interesting as now. However I dont know whether In india there is any Surfing location or not. At least I have not read so far in any Travel promos luring for Surf. Yes I am lured to Surfing by you but the Chance to go to Austrlia is not possible for me finacial shortcomings.

  12. I have no surfing experiences, June, but I used to love the beach and the water. I would lie in the sun until I was brown as a biscuit for hours on end. This was so interesting. I love the signs posted on the rocks there. June, there used to be a cigarette commercial here for a woman's cigarette that said, "You've come a long way baby!" and it showed women smoking. I could truly say the same thing about you and your blogs. I just noticed all the followers you have!!!

  13. Me again. I forgot to tell you how much I like your new header, too.

  14. Hi June, Just called in to your site and you haven't half made me jealous of your sunbeams and sea-side views Love your header too - must admit I am longing to get away for a few days to Blackpool with Rob but we have had to postpone going meantime as I wouldn't be able to enjoy the hol due to being worried about Dorien ....

    She has a Hospice Nurse calling at her flat today and I have a day off as far as doing me chauffeuring goes ... She will probably phone me after Mrs Love goes away... Mrs Love(great name eh?) works at the Hospice and also does calls to future patients of the Hospice... Her name, when I heard it was familiar - I'm sure it was she who looked after my life-long pal last year during her last couple of months... and all of Moira's family had lots of nice things to say about her.

    D and I had a bit of a falling out yesterday - probably due to us being in each other's company practically all day every day and she (D) was a right narky rascal yesterday so she phoned this morning asking if I was still talking to her... The two pints of blood she was given on Wednesday (today is Friday) has done wonders and she feels a bit better today hence the 'sorry' phone call !

    We have been shopping recently 'cos we are going to 'two' 60 th Birthday bashes next week and so have been shopping - not only for gifts but for something decent to wear to the 'do's! D for something which suits her size reducing body and myself for an ever increasing body ..... I just can't lose weight at all - doesn't matter what I do - just need to smell food these days and the weight piles on ..... arrgghh ! Will just need to suffer it - I shouldn't moan - have a lot to be grateful for!

    OK June, better get a move on and peel the tatties for Rob's tea, he'll be back soon and I'll still be sitting here yacking .

    Cheers for now, Kate x.

  15. Thanks for the great post on surfing. We have some pretty awesome waves on Lake Superior, but the water is always ice cold, even in the summer,and the waves probably don't compare with what you get on the ocean there. When we think of surfers here, we usually think of California.
    I love the rocks and water shots you took even better than the surfer ones! The Retirement Chronicles

  16. Hi June, your post brought back memories of spending weekends at Greenmount, driving down from Brisbane with a bunch of bigger "kids"....I was still in high school. We all slept on the beach...not allowed now!

    While most girls sat on the beach, and kept their hair dry, and fetched food and drinks for their blokes, my friend and I hit those waves. We weren't popular, but weren't going to miss out on the fun :) There as a movie out a few years ago, called Puberty Blues, which portrayed this surf culture of the sixties very accurately.

    I'm off to walk the beach at Tugun today, rain or not, so I hope the sun stays out for a little while.

    Nanette in M'bah

    I haven't surfed for years now, but can't pass Greenmount without remembering.

  17. Hi again PRADIP
    I know a lot of young Australians go to Goa in India - I think the surfing is supposed to be good there. However, that's a long way from where you live in West Bengal.
    I know parts of Sri Lanka on your side of India are another Aussie surfing favourite - but things aren't too good there politically at the moment of course.

  18. Dear JUDY
    You were the very first person who held out a hand to me when I began 70 Plus last July. Thank you again for that kindness.
    That was certainly a clever advertising ploy with the smoking. Immoral too because the companies knew in those days that smoking was bad for us.
    It's good to see the girls muscling their way into surfing as well - a sign of the times.

  19. Dear KATE
    It's so hard for you to see your sister with such a serious disease. It's plain natural that you'd both get stressed at times and so far as Dorien is concerned, it's not surprising for her to hit out at the person she loves best ...
    When we know that we know not to take such times personally.

    Mrs Love! I wonder if her name in some way got to have a role in her choice of career - it's something to live up to eh?

    I'd love to see you both dressed up to the nines for the birthday parties. Should be fun.

    Lake Superior is so far north, it HAS to be cold!
    Yes, I think California is on the surfies' route.
    And I agree that there's something very special about rocks. Couldn't get any closer to the earth!

  21. Hi BELLE/Nanette
    It's eerie to know that you are so close by. You might be lucky with the walk at Tugun - although there are quite a few clouds around. Enjoy.
    I went on a long bike ride with my sister yesterday and enjoyed that.

    Puberty Blues became a cult movie and Greenmount was Mecca - especially in those days with the guest house et al. Lots of marriages began there apparently.

    Good on you for not letting them put you in the 'girl box'. I avoided that too - especially in my carerer.
    Email me and we'll have a coffee at Cooly some time ...

  22. What a fantastic post June. I love the complete coverage with the info, the photos and the observations all in one. Thank you for this one, I enjoyed it very much

  23. LINDA
    Thanks for the feedback. There's nothing like taking an all round look at things.

  24. I like the way you have written about the cultural, business, and historic development of surfing in Australia. You have brought an ethnographer's eye to the subject. The photos are, as always, fabulous. There is quite a surfing culture here in the U.S., too, mostly centered on the West Coast. There are surfers here in South Florida, but East Coast waves don't compare with those on the Pacific coast.

    Great reporting.

  25. Your photos reminded me of my honeymoon. The beaches and what fun!Remember - honeymoon!

  26. What an enjoyable post, thank you for sharing it with us. I don't have much experience with the ocean, being a mountain girl, but I sure love to hear about it!!

    I don't know about ethnographer - but journalist - yes.
    Thanks for the feedback - it's appreciated. Yes, I hear good things about the West Coast US of A waves.

  28. NSIYER
    I've stirred you up! How romantic of you. Your honeymoon must have been wonderful.

  29. Here in California on the central coast, surfing is definitely the local sport. O'Neill, one of the famous wetsuit makers started here, and still has a very thriving business. Many surfers come from around the world to surf in the Mavericks contest, which is about 80 km north of here. It's grand to read about surfing there too. It's quite an interesting way to get to know the ocean.

  30. G'day Robin
    Yes, I envy those who can ride the waves. I reckon it would be wonderful to have all of that water curl over the top of you ...

  31. Hi June

    Coffee at Cooly sounds good, will let you know when I'm heading that way again. Same here, if you heading for the hills, my email is belleg9 at gmail dot com, would be great to hear from you.

    Just a short walk on Saturday, I watched the black cloud sweeping in from the south as I walked, I was dressed prepared to walk in light rain, but it quickly became so heavy I had to leave.

    Still, a good day, yummy lunch in Tugun, a wander in the antique shop, and home again feeling most satisfied I hadn't let the prospect of rain keep me in.


  32. It's a deal Nanette/BELLE!
    We'll be in touch when the sun shines again.
    I did fear you may get wet on your Tugun walk. It bucketed down didn't it?

  33. I enjoyed your surfing blog although it's nothing new to me as I live at Merewether (Newcastle) which has just been declared a surfing reserve. The day it opened the sea was as flat as a pancake!

  34. Aha Rinkly - it's part of your life too!

  35. Hello June,

    Your photographs always bless my heart and open up a whole new world to me... a world of whatever theme your pictures have taken on. Ms Steph Gilmore is obviously very good and fearless. I think we can all be that too, in our own way and in our own chosen sport or hobby... even in our lives. Stay blessed.


    Thanks for leaving a comment - much appreciated. You're obviously a frquent visitor. I agree that we can all do well when we concentrate on something we love. But I do think Steph Gilmore is pretty amazing ...

  37. I used to live in southern California in the early 70s, where surfing was a way of life for many, even those who didn't surf at all. Lots of businesses sprang up around surfing, just as you describe. I always wished I could swim so I could learn to surf, but I couldn't get past my fear of drowning to do it. But, I'm not dead yet, so maybe I'll get my butt in gear and try my hand at it, after all.

    Guess I'm feeling inspired after watching the video of Steph Gilmore. My gosh, but she is great on that board! And she's a beauty, to boot!

    Lovely post, June.

  38. Hi CROW
    No we're not dead yet, and we don't know what's around the corner ...
    The closest I've come to surfing is boogie boarding - but then there were no surfboards in my young days. I think I'd have had a go ...
    Pleased you liked the post ...


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