On Tour: The Gold Coast of Australia

On Tour With Reef

It’s taken a couple days, but we’re all finally gathering on on the Gold Coast–slowly. We’re supposed to be making our way down the New South Wales coast to Newcastle, but the sand banks are too good and we’re suffering from a disease called indecisiveness. Mick Fanning, Mick Lowe and his wife Amanda, Sam “M.C.” Hammer, Senior Photographer Brian Bielmann, Reef Team Manager Rafael Patterson, and I feel it’s best to stay around the Goldie a couple of days until the time is right to hit the road. There’s a veil of mystery around Dane Reynolds. He’s supposed to arrive at any time. We have no idea when, so we have to stay here anyway.

A tropical cyclone passed off the coast, but for some reason or another, there’re no pulses from it–the surf’s small. Just like home, everybody keeps saying a swell’s on the way, but if nothing’s hit by now, it’s hard to believe anything will show up. It’s a strange coincidence, but there’s another tropical cyclone named Toohey–the same name as a major Australian brewery. It’s gathering strength and should send something our way tonight.

From: Aaron Checkwood

To: Joel Patterson

Sent: Wednesday, March 19, 7:00 p.m.

Subject: On Tour With Reef

We began our mission looking at Duranbah on the Gold Coast and ended up driving nearly three hours until we ended up at a place called Ballina. Ballina’s a notoriously sharky place. It’s an inlet to a river, which in Australian translates to “shark.” With a current in the middle as fast as the Colorado River, there are fun wedges on either side of the two outside jetties.

To get to the south side, we had to take a ferry across a waterway. A Globe crew with Taj Burrow, Nathan Webster, Luke Hitchings, and Damien Hobgood did the same, but before us. As the day wore on, other famous names including Andy Irons, Tim Curran, Fred Patacchia, Ben Bourgeois, Dylan Graves, Brad Gerlach, and Hans Hagen made appearances as well.

Despite miles and miles of coast, it’s hard not to run into the same familiar faces over and over. There’s a swarm of photographers trying to poach images of the surfers left over from the Quiksilver Pro. Everybody, meaning the entire tour, is basically staying in Australia until after the end of the Rip Curl Pro at Bell’s in April with the same thing in mind: photos. Everyone’s tugging on the same twenty guys to shoot, even though the surf isn’t very good.

From: Aaron Checkwood

To: Joel Patterson

Sent: Friday, March 21, 11:30 a.m.

Subject: On Tour With Reef

Desperation isn’t in the vocabulary–yet. The waves are flat, and we’re still not all together. Trips happen. By that I mean there’s always that chance of a black cloud pulling over you and raining on your parade.

It took us a while, but we finally determined Dane’s whereabouts: on a plane to the Goldie from L.A. Thursday morning. He had no idea we’d be waiting for him–neither did the friends he was traveling with. They expected him to be traveling with them instead of us. We literally kidnapped him from the Coolangatta airport and spent the rest of Thursday corralling everyone for a drive south.

Speeding to our next destination, we had a small caravan. At one point, we were the little train that couldn’t keep up with Mick Lowe’s NASCAR-style driving. Despite speed cameras, super-dangerous passing, and tweaked-out truckers on our tail, we somehow made it down the coast to Yamba–home of the famous Angourie Point.

As of today, you can say the trip’s “officially underway.” There’s definitely work getting done–thank god. Yamba’s a fairly small town that, like Ballina, is separated from another town (Iluka) by two jetties a a sharky-ass waterway. There’s even a place called Shark Bay nearby. There ain’t much here in the way of females and things to do, but there are some world-class breaks with a smidgen of surf.

From: Aaron Checkwood

To: Joel Patterson

Sent: Sunday, March 23, 1:12 p.m.

Subject: On Tour With Reef

Locals call it “getting blind.” From what I can remember, we kind of went nuts Friday night at the local hangout. Fanning, as always, was the life of the party. With Mick, there’s never any hesitation to buy a round of beverages or hit the dance floor–even by himself. At first, he comes across as quiet, almost reserved. But that’s a façade–it’s the calm before the frothy storm.

Every cell in Mick’s body is Australian. From the extra Vegemite on his toast to his love for the piss, he follows a countrywide tradition of letting loose. He’s basically a good mate–comfortable with people everywhere we go, and it shows. It’s safe to say he’s already a legend. By the end of the evening, he was arm in arm with the locals, basically lighting himself on fire (going nuts).

It was a really long night, but everybody was ready for the morning. Eating breakfast, we were deciding where to go when a local pulled up and said a Boogie Boarder was just nibbled on by a shark at the same place in Yamba we were shooting Friday evening. Saturday’s journey led us to Iluka, which is just as scary.

Things are slow today mainly because–this time of year–Sundays are for watching sports in Australia. As soon as we got things together, that all-to-familiar “black cloud” dropped over our heads. It was completely sunny as boards were waxed, cameras were set, and surfers paddled out. A few waves later, clouds appeared from nowhere.

From: Aaron Checkwood

To: Joel Patterson

Sent: Tuesday, March 25, 5:06 p.m.

Subject: On Tour With Reef

Our mission has taken a turn. We checked Iluka and Yamba Monday morning–it wasn’t doing anything and wasn’t going to get any better, according to reports. Fanning decided he could get more done at home and dropped Dane back off with his traveling buddies. Lowe had stuff to do as well and went straight into the eleven-hour drive home to Woolongong. Basically we’ve come back to the Goldie to begin a search for teamriders Fred Patacchia, Ben Bourgeois, and Joel Centeio. They’re now missing in action.

When not listening to Bielmann ramble on about 70s music, a trend kicked in where everybody pulled out their worst New Jersey accent and blew a bunch of crap Sam Hammer’s way. Every now and then you can hear his hometown in his voice, and for some reason or another, everyone began with such phrases as “Get outta heeya,” or “How you doin’?” Thankfully, he doesn’t care. I’d hate for everyone on the trip to end up in concrete shoes.

We’ve thrown the whole idea of driving to Newcastle out the window. For how long, I have no idea. The waves are good, though. If there ever were an all-star freesurf, it would be the session that went down all day today at Snapper Rocks. From Mick Fanning’s demo at sunrise and Dean Morrison’s encore of his Quiksilver Pro win to Kelly Slater’s mind-boggling turns, it seemed like there was a magnet hidden in the sand drawing some of our sport’s biggest stars.

From: Aaron Checkwood

To: Joel Patterson

Sent: Friday, March 28, 11:45 a.m.

Subject: On Tour With Reef

We paid a visit to Australia’s Sin City, the Devil’s Lair–I don’t know, there’re a lot of names Surfer’s Paradise goes by. It’s pretty much a young Las Vegas. Drinking, gambling, and more drinking are the three things you do when you go there. There are also “naughty” clubs, good food, and shopping. Our troops were led by Sergeant Mick Fanning, and once the ball got rolling, it bounced out of control from club to club.

Time is our enemy when days like these come around–the surf dissipates and there ain’t much to do except divulge ourselves in some of these vices the Gold Coast offers up. Thanks to our local hosts like Fanning, it’s a never-ending cycle where creepiness prevails with no end in sight.

Oh yeah, we finally hooked up with Ben Bourgeois and Fred Patacchia on Wednesday. Between contests they’re filming with Josh Williams and Chris Bauman and working on the new Quiksilver video. Brendan Margieson joined them, and they met us halfway between Byron and Coolangatta for a session at a rocky “unnamed” spot. There were beautiful conditions, but the random fish-feeding frenzies just outside the waves freaked them out–just a little bit. It even looked scary from the rocks.

From: Aaron Checkwood

To: Joel Patterson

Sent: Sunday, March 30, 6:04 p.m.

Subject: On Tour With Reef

As usual, flat waves meant nighttime debauchery. Fanning’s horns grow around eight in the evening, and the next thing the crew knows, is, well … I don’t know. Things just happen, and everyone kind of loses each other at the clubs. By the end of Friday night, Sam and I were the lone soldiers battling in a lost war.

Midnight snacking at a local store in Coolangatta, “Hammy Sammer” and I were outside devouring our grub like wild dingos. In happy, touristy place like this, you’d never expect crimes to happen to you–we found out otherwise. Minding our own business, three sketchy, tweaked-out people walked up to us and asked us for money. We denied them, and they immediately became belligerent. We tried walking away, but one girl went straight for Sam’s wallet and held onto him. “Sammy, let’s go,” I said, as the taller guy slowly walked at me saying things like “stab.” When Sammy finally released himself from her clutches, he still had his wallet. We found some security guards and told them what happened. They laughed. They also told us to smash them. We didn’t want to take any chances, so we crept back home with some lost pride, but realized two things: nobody’s hurt, and you should probably watch your back–even here.

Saturday morning we did the inevitable search and ended up surfing small waves back in Ballina with Reef’s resident hellman, Kieran Perrow. Usually, when you see a photo of Kieran, he’s slotted in a tube bigger than a house. We were hoping to catch him in death pits because he’s a freak that way. Of course that didn’t happen–the unlucky train just made a stop at Perrow station.

We’re leaving tomorrow, so tonight we have to get our stuff together. Next stop: Western Australia. Now that the Newcastle WQS is gonna begin, everyone’s down there, and then it’s west for the Salomon Master’s at Margaret River. We grabbed Fred Patacchia, took a seven-hour drive down to Forster (about three hours north of Sydney), and camped it for a night. Although rainy, the place was pretty damn fun–probably the funnest surf yet. It was a nice way to end a long drive.

Trips happen. There’s never any guarantee. Although work was accomplished, the experience was the journey. Just like when you’re checking the waves at home, you’re always worried about whether you made the correct decision and surfed the right spot. Who knows?

naughty” clubs, good food, and shopping. Our troops were led by Sergeant Mick Fanning, and once the ball got rolling, it bounced out of control from club to club.

Time is our enemy when days like these come around–the surf dissipates and there ain’t much to do except divulge ourselves in some of these vices the Gold Coast offers up. Thanks to our local hosts like Fanning, it’s a never-ending cycle where creepiness prevails with no end in sight.

Oh yeah, we finally hooked up with Ben Bourgeois and Fred Patacchia on Wednesday. Between contests they’re filming with Josh Williams and Chris Bauman and working on the new Quiksilver video. Brendan Margieson joined them, and they met us halfway between Byron and Coolangatta for a session at a rocky “unnamed” spot. There were beautiful conditions, but the random fish-feeding frenzies just outside the waves freaked them out–just a little bit. It even looked scary from the rocks.

From: Aaron Checkwood

To: Joel Patterson

Sent: Sunday, March 30, 6:04 p.m.

Subject: On Tour With Reef

As usual, flat waves meant nighttime debauchery. Fanning’s horns grow around eight in the evening, and the next thing the crew knows, is, well … I don’t know. Things just happen, and everyone kind of loses each other at the clubs. By the end of Friday night, Sam and I were the lone soldiers battling in a lost war.

Midnight snacking at a local store in Coolangatta, “Hammy Sammer” and I were outside devouring our grub like wild dingos. In happy, touristy place like this, you’d never expect crimes to happen to you–we found out otherwise. Minding our own business, three sketchy, tweaked-out people walked up to us and asked us for money. We denied them, and they immediately became belligerent. We tried walking away, but one girl went straight for Sam’s wallet and held onto him. “Sammy, let’s go,” I said, as the taller guy slowly walked at me saying things like “stab.” When Sammy finally released himself from her clutches, he still had his wallet. We found some security guards and told them what happened. They laughed. They also told us to smash them. We didn’t want to take any chances, so we crept back home with some lost pride, but realized two things: nobody’s hurt, and you should probably watch your back–even here.

Saturday morning we did the inevitable search and ended up surfing small waves back in Ballina with Reef’s resident hellman, Kieran Perrow. Usually, when you see a photo of Kieran, he’s slotted in a tube bigger than a house. We were hoping to catch him in death pits because he’s a freak that way. Of course that didn’t happen–the unlucky train just made a stop at Perrow station.

We’re leaving tomorrow, so tonight we have to get our stuff together. Next stop: Western Australia. Now that the Newcastle WQS is gonna begin, everyone’s down there, and then it’s west for the Salomon Master’s at Margaret River. We grabbed Fred Patacchia, took a seven-hour drive down to Forster (about three hours north of Sydney), and camped it for a night. Although rainy, the place was pretty damn fun–probably the funnest surf yet. It was a nice way to end a long drive.

Trips happen. There’s never any guarantee. Although work was accomplished, the experience was the journey. Just like when you’re checking the waves at home, you’re always worried about whether you made the correct decision and surfed the right spot. Who knows?