Mono is the para surf GOAT

Mono on his way to a third world title. Photo ISA.

When it comes to para surfing, there is only one person who can be given the title GOAT (greatest of all time), and that’s my mate Mark Mono Stewart.

Mono, who doesn’t get much change out of 60 and has been an amputee since his teens, wrapped up his third ISA World Para Championship title in the freezing cold waters of Pismo Beach in Central California last weekend, spearheading the best ever Australian team performance which saw the Irukandjis take out their first para team gold.

The Byron Bay powerhouse dominated the kneel division from the first heat, pulling off his usual hard rail stump pad turns in mostly clean conditions, but the other Aussies had more of a fight on their hands. Australia’s Sarah Jane Gibson put in a strong challenge for the world title in the VI visually impaired division at her first attempt, finishing a close second.

Losing most of her vision through diabetes at the age of 10, Sarah began surfing late in life. She told reporters at the event: “I didn’t start surfing until I retired, which was in 2016, and a year after that I broke my hip. So I didn’t get much of a good start.”

Her journey to the final of her first ISA World Para Surfing Championship has exceeded her expectations.

“It’s so supportive, everyone’s just unreal, really friendly, really inclusive. I love it, it’s really cool.”

Other Australians to make the finals were Kirk Watson and Matt Farnston, both in the VI divisions.

Class of 2022

Four Aussie men and one woman will join the World Surf League as rookies for the 2022 season which opens at Pipeline in Hawaii next month.

In the men, it’s a mixed bag of the old and the new, with Cronulla’s Connor O’Leary (now based at Lennox Head) making a welcome return to the league he left in 2018, following a late charge up the ranks in the Challenger Series events. The big, powerful goofy-footer will join true rookies Liam O’Brien from Burleigh Heads, Callum Robson from Evans Head and Newcastle’s Jackson Baker.

Overall, as Swellnet observed recently, the men’s will see the year of the dark horse, with nine of the 12 who made the cut never having previously surfed in a WCT event.

In the women’s division, only Torquay’s India Robinson represents Australia in the final six cut, after Molly Picklum missed out on a countback.

Here is the full list of championship tour qualifiers:

Men: Ezekiel Lau (HAW), Jake Marshall (USA), Imaikalani deVault (HAW), Nat Young (USA), Connor O’Leary (AUS), Liam O’Brien, (AUS), Callum Robson (AUS), Lucca Mesinas (PER), Joao Chianca (BRA), Jackson Baker (AUS), Carlos Munoz (CRI), Samuel Pupo (BRA).

Women: Gabriela Bryan (HAW), Brisa Hennessy (CRI), Caitlin Simmers (USA), India Robinson (AUS), Bettylou Sakura Johnson (HAW), Luana Silva (HAW).

Overall, this new class of rookie women will bring a huge generational shift to the tour. At 22, Costa Rica’s Brisa Hennessy is the oldest in the class. Robinson is 21. But the others are all teenagers, with both Sakura Johnson and Simmers only 16.

Miki’s socks depart the drawer

It’s funny how random bits of ephemera can define a surfing life.

Like last week up at Agnes when I pulled on a pair of socks to hike the Red Rock track and pushed my big toe right through the thin membrane of Miki Dora’s last pair of socks. Gone, the end of an era.

Twenty years ago this month, over coffee at the bar tabac below our apartments in the old seaside village of Guethary in the French Basque country, we said a final goodbye to our friend, the legendary Black Prince of Malibu, Miklos Chapin Dora. We were coming back to Noosa for the holidays, Miki was going home to his father’s home in Montecito, California, to die, which he did, from cancer, little more than a month later.

When we returned to Guethary in late January, Harry Hodge, my boss at Quiksilver Europe and the executor of Miki’s will, gave my wife and I the task of packing up Miki’s belongings to send back to his father. Harry envisaged this would take a couple of hours, simply throwing all Miki’s weird bits and pieces in the rubbish, dividing all the unused clothing provided by his sponsor between his friends and putting anything worth keeping for sentimental reasons in a box for Miklos Sr.

I knew better. In the course of helping him handle media requests in his final years, I’d had glimpses of the treasures he kept under the bed in his small flat – stuff like uncashed royalty cheques from the Screen Actors Guild for his bit parts in the beach movies of the 1960s, and the many documents carefully burnt around the edges, said by Miki to have been saved from the house fire in Jeffrey’s Bay that claimed his dog, Scooterboy. And so much more from a life lived on the wild side.

Finally, we got to the clothes drawers. Packed with Quiksilver goodies. After giving away the golf gloves and the tee shirts and shorts that were far too big for me, I ended up with about 20 pairs of sports socks, which I’ve been working my way through at about a pair a year. Until last week.

Now all I have of Miki is a few group photos where he’s trying to dodge the camera, the program for the memorial service we gave him on the cliff above the surf break in the spring, and a chest full of incredible memories.

You couldn’t always love him, but you could never forget him.