Surf comps big and small

Winners are grinners. Landen second from left. Supplied.

We’ll get to the rumble in the Java jungle in a minute, but first let’s focus on a small but significant surf comp in the much colder waters of Djarrk, on Wadawurrung Country in Victoria, perhaps better known to most of us as Bells Beach.

I applaud the recognition of First Nations place names at the Australian Indigenous Surf Titles, but I wonder if next year we’ll see the Rip Curl Djarrk Pro on the schedule. Maybe. Something for the forward-thinking Curl chief executive officer Brooke Farris to think about.

In the meantime Rip Curl is right behind this great event, now in its eighth year at Bells … sorry, Djarrk.

Keen readers might remember that I have reported before on the fairly recent discovery of the Aboriginal heritage of Noosa’s high-performing Smales brothers, Landen and Kaiden, largely through the detective work of dad Brent in tracing his West Australian lineage. That meant the two teenagers were eligible to compete at last year’s Indigenous event, unfortunately cancelled due to Covid.

This year, hot on the tail of some great results in local events over the autumn, they were raring to go.

Mum Natalie Smales reports:

Nothing made me prouder than watching my boys immersed in a weekend of surfing and culture, competing together at the Australian Indigenous Surfing Titles. So much support, love and guidance surrounding the competition, and so professionally run by Surfing Victoria. The surfing and the waves were unbelievable on finals day. The boys were challenged, that’s for sure and learnt so much.

Landen was crowned Australian Junior Men’s Indigenous Champion on finals day, locking in a nine plus and an eight plus to take the win. Landen also took out the Open Men’s Longboard Championship, closely followed by brother Kaiden in second.

It came down to the last wave in the final and Kaiden missing the score by a fraction of a point.

Kaiden also surfed strongly on the shortboard, making the Open Men’s Shortboard final and finishing fourth in an extremely talented and experienced field. Kaiden also walked away with Wave of the Day on finals day, locking in a 9.7.

After finals day the crew took the drive to Melbourne Airport’s URBNSURF wave pool which offered competitors a special expression session.

After the smoking ceremony everyone squeezed into their wetties, booties and hoods for one last surf together to conclude the event. Bells Beach now has a special place in our hearts and the boys are already talking about their next trip on country.

Well done boys, and thanks Nat.

The jungle rumble

A couple of weeks back I wrote in this space about the excitement and hype over the return of the WSL world championship tour to Grajagan, East Java, the original lawless hideout of surf adventurers, after an absence of 25 years.

Having been present in Bobby’s jungle camp for the last Quiksilver Pro G-Land in 1997, when the surf was perfect beyond belief, I was as excited as anyone to relive the thrill, watching today’s heroes tackle the insane lefts from the comfort of the living room in Noosaville. Alas and alack, it was not to be. At least, not until finals day last Saturday.

Following a massive pre-event swell, which the competitors who weren’t chasing ranking points in Manly enjoyed, G-Land did what it never does in the dry season – it switched off.

The preliminaries were sometimes excruciating to watch in soft, dribbly closeouts that looked nothing like G-Land’s long and near-perfect reef system, and as it went on, big names fell in marginal conditions, and not much on the charts for the final days.

But G-Land has always had a magical element, since it was discovered in mysterious circumstances by members of the Bukit mafia in the very early ‘70s. And the magic delivered last Saturday, with conditions far better than predicted on a building swell.

OK, I’ve seen it bigger, better and more consistent, but there were moments of magic, matched by patches of brilliance from the surfers.

In the women’s, Bronte Macaulay carried the flag for Australia into the semis and surfed extremely well, but was no match for France’s Johanne Defay, whose Reunion upbringing has left her with a legacy of comfort in left-hand reef breaks. She went on to snatch the final from the fancied Carissa Moore.

In the men’s event it looked like a Brazilian blitz going into the semis, with a renewed and rampant Gabriel Medina up against our Jack Robinson and rankings leader Filipe Toledo facing our Connor O’Leary.

Happy-go-lucky O’Leary gave it everything he had but went down to the most precise surfer of the event.

When Gabby Medina went down to our Jack Robinson in the other semi, it seemed like nothing would stop Toledo. But Robbo was on a roll.

The ice-cool West Australian beat Medina with a brilliant buzzer-beater, and then pulled the same stunt against Toledo. Cop that, you Brazilnuts!

What a great finish, and how the memories came flooding back.