PORTRAITS ON ON PORTRA

Like many a surfer in history hailing from the urban Sydney beaches, a relatable affection for North Coast Point breaks runs riot in the heart of most surfers.

Growing up in an area steeped in surfing history, I learnt to surf with the statue of Duke Kahanamoku overlooking the location he performed the first exhibition of wave riding in 1915, in the small, closing out beach breaks of Freshwater Beach. Although not the first surfer in Australia, Duke popularised the sport by famously trimming along a wave on a finless 35 kg solid sugar pine plank of wood, in beach breaks!

February 2017, I received an invite in the mail and it looked like I was on my way to ‘The Bay’ to participate in the McTavish Trim event, held in conjunction with the Byron Bay Surf Festival. I packed my 11-foot D-Fin, tropical bar of wax, my favourite red trunks and meandered my way north up the highway.

The purpose of ‘trim’ in reference to surfing is summarised by letting a surfboard plane along the water in a neutral position, leaving the board to use the waves momentum as the only means to glide forward. In basic terms, it means standing in the ‘sweet’ spot on a surfboard and do nothing at all!

In an era where live webcast quality determines how successful surf contest is, the McTavish Trim quashed that theory for both spectators and participants alike, how refreshing! The aim of the ‘gathering’ as we would casually call it, is to be ‘The Furthest Up The Beach’ with honourable Bob McTavish marking your spot with a flag on completion of your wave.

I was joined by some of the most revered names in alternative surfing: Bexon, Young, Rastovich, Kegel, Roach, Oldfield, Hall, Doughman, Mell, Hill, Prendergast, Donizetti and a couple of legends in Bob McTavish and Rusty Miller. 

As light hearted and friendly as the banter was, the traditional beach start means sprinting off the line and making your way out to the end of the line up like the good old waterman days of the 1960s and earlier… the quicker one got to the tip of the point means first choice of the set waves and when we are talking about 400metre+ rides you want to make sure you pick the right one to glide!

Once out in the line-up, everyone’s plan was quite simple: go really fast on a really long surfboard, and boy did we have fun! Sharing waves, shooting the curl, classic soul arches and cross stepping all in complete trim. Guys like Josh Hall, Bryce Young, Robin Kegel and Jared Mell had specially shaped gliders for the event, with functionality and speed in mind where I chose an 11” Triple Stringer D-FIN which inspired me to channel Mike Hynson at Cape St Frances and heck, I nearly ended up at The Pass one wave from the middle of the bay!

The art of riding these ‘gliders’ was popularised in the 1940s to 1960s in Southern California and can be traced to ancient Polynesian culture when surfing was the ‘sport of kings’ and popularised in Hawaii in the 1800-1900s. With reference to words from Duke and gliding royalty Skip Frye, surf historian Tom Wegener so eloquently put it- “a wave is a gift” and as that wave has travelled thousands of kilometres across an ocean so surfing it as far as possible down the beach or reef and pulling off with control is not only a sign of respect for the wave but an extension of one's waterman capabilities and prowess.

This year’s festival reminded us all of the reason we all started surfing and why we caught ‘the bug’ that is this surfing addiction. The concept of riding a wave ‘The Furthest Up The Beach’ resonates with myself and the other invitees on a much deeper level and to surf perfect the turquoise coloured sand bottom peeling waves of Wategos Beach, Byron Bay with your mates who wouldn’t be stoked!

If only Duke made it north all those years ago…

Matt Chojnacki 22/3/2017