Willsy’s Little Slice Of North Coast Eden
It wouldn’t be stretching the truth to say Dan Wills’ home is not just his four-bedroom palace nestled all snug-like in the backblocks of Suffolk Park (a five-minute drive south of Byron Bay) but actually the entire Far North Coast of New South Wales.
The agile natural-footer, who was a bottom turn away from clinching World Title glory against Slater in ’98, can pretty much call himself a local anywhere from Angourie up to the Goldy, such is the amount of time he’s spent surfing the area. And if you know anything about that particular stretch of land, then you’ll also know it’s home to some of the best right-hand point breaks imaginable. Little wonder he’s spent his whole life there and has no plans of moving anytime soon.
“We bought the house six years ago,” explains Willsy, who actually grew up and learned to surf in Byron. “At the time I was feeling like Byron was kind of getting out of control. Suffolk had that old-Byron feel to it, which reminded me of the atmosphere I grew up in. It was close to town, but it also felt removed. It didn’t worry me that it wasn’t right on the beach. I spend my whole life on the beach anyway, so it’s actually kind of nice to be inland a little.”
“Inland”? Now that might be stretching. The master bedroom, which sits atop the house like some kind of grandiose loft, allows Willsy the luxury of checking the surf from Tallows (a peaky, swell-sucking, wind-protected paradise on the south side of the cape) all the way down through Suffolk to Broken Head (another right point as good as any on its day) simply by sitting up in bed. Downstairs his two kids Jayden and Symone run riot another couple of rooms (“Sometimes it looks like a cyclone’s blown through the house,” laughs Wills), and in the lounge a new flat-screen plasma television hangs from the freshly painted walls in all its mega-pixilated surround-sound glory. The floors breathe with coated lengths of fine timber board and tasteful tiles through the kitchen and bathrooms. In the three-car garage off the side, there’s enough horsepower to move a cavalry.
Says Wills of the initial purchase, “When we got the bank loan, I was kind of thinking, ‘Oh shit, here we go!’ But the area has grown so fast, it’s turned out to not be too much of a worry.” In fact, Byron and the surrounding towns have experienced the kind of real-estate blowout land owners have wet dreams about. Properties are regularly on the market with seven-figure price tags, meaning Willsy could be sitting on a goldmine. But is he interested in turning the family bunker into an investment opportunity? “Nah, this is where my heart is,” he says.
Like Willsy, surfers from all over the world sense an instant connection with the Far North Coast way of life. Back in the late 60s and early 70s, it was frustrated surfers who ditched the ways of war-mongering conservative governments and Nazi-like law enforcement officials (as well as the Vietnam War draft) in a desperate effort to find an alternative and more organic way of life. Packing up their panel vans, vegetable seeds, dogs, bongs, and girlfriends, they headed north out of the major cities in droves. With its pleasant climate, crystal-clean water, rolling green hills, and incredible variety of waves on offer, Byron became the safe haven of choice. And despite its popularity, the spirit with which the foundations of the town were laid remain today.
Says Wills, “I can drive either way-north or south-and surf waves like the Superbank, Lennox, the walls at Ballina, and other spots right down to Iluka. Even Byron, because it’s (Australia’s) most easterly point, it sticks out and catches any south swell. You can find and surf six-foot waves by yourself when D-Bah is only two foot with 100 guys out. The only wind that really affects the place is a straight east, but even the Pass can still be good when that blows in. Sometimes I get a little worked up about development and whine abbout how the area has changed, but every time I drive through town I get a really good feeling. We’re pretty lucky to live here.”