The Flyer: The Reports of Australian Surfing’s Death are Greatly Exaggerated

Stu Nettle picture
Stu Nettle (stunet)

The reports of Australian surfing’s death are greatly exaggerated.

Recent articles by scurrilous website editors have detailed the shrinking number of CT surfers. From blanket success through the 70s to 90s, where half the tour was Australian, to the current state where fans hang onto the hopes of a lone star here or there. 

Said contemptible editors equated our dwindling success with the general state of domestic surfing. ‘A sorry condition’, they said despairingly of our once mighty heritage, and more damningly, ‘Aussie surfing is developing a soft belly.’

Have we all transformed into lifestyle surfers? Hipsters, tech bros, murfers, happy to dabble on mid-lengths, sunny days and knee-high pointbreaks preferred.

Fun times I’m sure, but dabbling does not a culture make. That takes application, grit, and commitment, and competitive success has been a historical metric for assessing those qualities. Not the only metric, I grant you, but a good one, and the trend is heading south.


Last Saturday saw a band of guys and girls - Go Annie! - sit beneath the cliffs at Deadmans paddling into truly daunting waves; waves that not so long ago were considered unridable. To a person the surfers were unknown beyond their little clique, and largely unsponsored too, but what they did was astonishing.

Many cameras captured the Deadies session, yet similar sessions happen at our other slabs, west coast, south, and east, and the surfing done at these idiosyncratic waves is out there on the pointy edge of performance. I’d argue there simply aren’t many surfers worldwide that can do what’s required at beefed up Aussie slabs.

It takes years of commitment to ride waves of that nature, not to mention a healthy dose of grit. There be no dabblers on the ledge when it’s ten foot and throwing, and I hope those damned editors realise that despite our dwindling contest success, Australian surfing is in a very healthy state indeed.

I think the message is getting through...

- Stu

Gallery: Up Close and Personal

Max McGuigan, Brock Maunder, Harry Steele, Annie Dos Santos, Ben Morgan, and many other surfers you've likely never heard of deep in Deadmans maw. Kudos to Craig for the photography and developer Jono for the wide-screen codery. Read More >

Anne Dos Santos: Five Foot Four and Rising

"Go Annie!" they screamed, and the young pocket rocket went, and went large, during the recent Deadmans session. Later she spoke to Swellnet about the experience. Read More >

Josh Bystrom: Kirra From One Head High

As you read this the fruit of TC Fili is falling on the Gold Coast points and Josh Bystrom is grabbing his waterhousing and taking a few deep breaths. The young fella - son of legendary filmmaker Chris Bystrom - has made swimming at big Kirra his own mission statement. Read More >

Forecast Update: Rip Curl Pro

The Bells waiting period starts this Sunday and as most people know the Surf Coast is in a funk, but that won't stop me from running a classic Bells shot to lure you into reading this forecast.  Read More >

Watch: Deadman Delights

Never mind the raw footage that rushed through on the fly, Tim Bonython took time delivering this totally cooked Deadies edit.

Yeah, boom, boom. Read More >

Behind The Shot: Matt Chojnacki

Stop Press...which doesn't even make sense in the age of online publishing, but regardless, a late addition.

With the help of Bob McTavish, Matt Chojnacki is coming at the modern big wave gun from a slightly different angle. In this photo, Tim Bonython captures Matt pushing the outside of the envelope, so we spoke to him about the wave, the board, and...actually, that was all, just the wave and the board, yet it's more than enough. Read More >


jetson.rover's picture
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jetson.rover Saturday, 9 Apr 2022 at 10:17am

I think it's 'competitive surfing' they're calling dead.
Which it isn't unless it's equated solely to world titles won.
Brazzo's winning 5 of the last 7 title years (remembering 2020 was not run),and Aussies winning none,makes it an easy assumption to make.
And since '92 when Slater arrived,5 titles in 29 years,can reafirm that view compared to the pre Slater era.
Whatever the reason,it's definitely a long way from that glorious '76 to 91' period.

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Solitude Saturday, 9 Apr 2022 at 10:30am

It’s not a difficult one to work out. If you draw a similar comparison to swimming.
Pre 2000 Australian swimming was the pinnacle. To be the best in Australia meant you were likely the best in the world. If not you, some yank, basically the same as surfing.
Everyone swims now, Europeans, African, South American and Asian swimmers win Olympic gold medals.
Can anyone see similarities to surfing?

From what I’ve heard from deep inside Australian surfing development that it is still very highly competitive and it is extremely hard to make it from grommet hood to the elite levels.

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jetson.rover Saturday, 9 Apr 2022 at 2:55pm

I don't think the nationality mix is significantly more than say the 90's.
It's still mostly Aussies,Mainland Yanks,Hawaiians and Brazzo's,with a handful of other Euros and a couple of Saffas rounding out the numbers.
Add in a born and raised American surfing for Japan if you will too.
The main difference is there's less Aussies and more Brazzos these days.
Plus about a half dozen Euros in recent years compared to 1 or 2 a decade and more ago.Still nowhere near an even playing field of new nationalities that never used to be there before.
It's been rare for a long time to get an Aussie that has that steely determined competitive drive that rises above the rest on any kind of consistent basis.
Fanning has been the only one this century,and to a lesser extent Parko.
Taj was there too,but for whatever reasons,is currently down as the best surfer on tour never to win a world title.
Jordy Smith looks like he might be challenging Taj for that title.
Keep it with Taj if Jordy doesn't win more CT's by the time he's done.
Back in the 80's one had to usually win a world title before they started seeing big money,or bigger money anyway,for the time.
Then the 90's started seeing bigger sponsorship deals being inked on profile and reputation alone,without competitive results being in the equation,that continued to grow in the new millenium.
Signing million dollar deals based on being considered one of the best surfers around going off reputation and killer vid segments probably isn't what actually breeds world champs,barring a small club of guys such as Slater and Fanning.
It's almost like being paid before going to work.
One isn't going to be as keen to work as hard if the money is already in their pocket.
To me this kind of thing could be a big factor in the dearth of Aussie world champs for so long,compared to back in the day.
More than a slightly more internationalised playing field compared to 20 or 30 years ago anyway.


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simsurf Sunday, 10 Apr 2022 at 6:24am

Name an Aussie surfer on a million dollar deal? That kind of money aint going round anymore

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jetson.rover Sunday, 10 Apr 2022 at 8:27am

I was talking in reference of about the mid 90's until 2020.
Maybe things have come full circle and it's becoming more like the 80's again.
Don't know what Jack Robbo is on,but i bet it's pretty good and significantly better than all the other Aussies.

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simsurf Saturday, 9 Apr 2022 at 11:09am

Someone had a go at me on here last week when I asked if the "world champion" of surfing should even be considered the best surfer in the world with so many good free surfers out there.

With the lean sponsorships and prize monies on offer is it even a lucrative sport to do competitively anymore or are you better off doing a Dane Reynolds?

Would I rather watch a video of free surfers at large pipe? or watch a couple of guys getting a few waves with a guy in a booth telling me this surfer surfed this wave 0.5 better than the other got?

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wax-on-danielson Saturday, 9 Apr 2022 at 11:26am

I would say the best surfer in the world may not currently be world champ but they have won a title. John John, Kelly and maybe AI. When you look at being an all round surfer - charging, air game, barrel riding, turns, general water skills, innovation, small wave skills - those 3 guys are the best surfers there have ever been and all have won a title. Not sure about how other tour guys are financially but pretty sure Kelly and Fanning are loaded, and I would be guessing Medina is one of the richest athletes in Brazil - with F1 and EU soccer that actually says a lot.

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simsurf Saturday, 9 Apr 2022 at 11:57am

The top few make 99% of the money. The rest fight for scraps and a sticker on the nose.

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wax-on-danielson Saturday, 9 Apr 2022 at 12:54pm

QS yeah for sure. But I reckon if you make the CT with sponsorship and celebrity that comes with it most CT guys do pretty well out of surfing. It might not set them up to never work again but it will give them a pretty good base to run off - provided they don’t piss all the money away.

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simsurf Sunday, 10 Apr 2022 at 6:16am

You are mistaking surfing for a sport mainstream Australia cares about or watches. They don't. 99% of Aussies wouldn't be able to name a CT surfer.

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wax-on-danielson Sunday, 10 Apr 2022 at 11:08am

99% of Australia’s population - when 90% live within 100km of the coast - haven’t heard of Kelly Slater or Mick Fanning who’s world famous cause he fought off a shark? Yeah ok. These guys aren’t making their money from Australia anyway. Unlike NRL or AFL surfing is international. Julian Wilson had signed a $2 or $4M contract with Nike before he even made the tour, do you think Nike paid him that because of his marketability to Australia’s tiny population?

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jetson.rover Saturday, 9 Apr 2022 at 3:08pm

There should be a freesurfing comp to see who is best lol.
Medina would be on huge coin for surfing.
Maybe the biggest of all tour surfers these days.
But he makes chump change compared to top F1 and soccer players.
His mate Neynar makes more coin by half time in 1 game than Medina would if he won every CT event in a season.
And their sponno deals would have the same kind of comparison too.

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wax-on-danielson Sunday, 10 Apr 2022 at 10:56am

I saw a Neymar doco and Neymar was hanging out with Medina saying he is the only person in Brazil he is jealous of - not money wise but Medina is a huge celebrity and surfing is one of the fastest growing and most popular sports there. Estimates I read said Medina is worth about $50M US.. I wouldn’t be surprised to be driving through Sao Paulo and see Medina’s head 50 feet high on side of some building selling lightbulbs.

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jetson.rover Sunday, 10 Apr 2022 at 9:15pm

I think that might be pretty high over the reality.
Take it with a huge grain of salt,but going by wikipedia net worth searches,he's at 3.5 to 5 mil.
If he's 50 mil,he's a very savvy investor and much of it would be from what he's done with his money through other avenues rather than all of it earned from surfing.
He's probably still too young for that to have occurred to such a level.
Even Slater is only half that,again though take the wiki networth grain of salt thought process.
But he's definitely been around long enough for investments and business ventures to have made a big difference in his net worth.
JJF had the biggest sponno deal in history until the pandemic crashed that party.
And i believe Julian Wilson had the biggest ever Australian one a few years ago.
Even bigger than Fanning's apparently.
But Fanning's has ended up bigger over a longer time frame,with his world title's making it stay good through the pandemic and the end of his competive career,whereas the pandemic and ultimately an underwhelming CT contest result career crashed and burned Wilson's.

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wax-on-danielson Monday, 11 Apr 2022 at 8:56am

This says 2.2M purely in sponsorship for 2021 - plus it’s a pandemic year.

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wax-on-danielson Monday, 11 Apr 2022 at 9:09am

A lot of those searches have got no idea what they are talking about they say Fanning is worth $8M. His main house is worth $8M and he owns about 10 more plus shares and everything else. Him and his crew sold Balter to Lion brewing or whoever for something like $150M. Medina has been world champion 3 times on tour for 10 years gets paid at least $2M a year in sponsorship only but his net worth is only 3.5-4M - that’s probably how much is in his bank account.

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jetson.rover Sunday, 10 Apr 2022 at 8:54pm

That's true historically,but currently only JJF of them would be.
Slater is too old to be compared to JJF's progressiveness and they're different eras,as was AI.
I think JJF is probably the best surfer in history,for what he can do ranging from 1 foot to 30.
Of course that's taking contests out of the equation.
Slater will own that realm for generations.
When AI was alive,i think he had it slightly over Slater too what with he could do from mush too maxing Chopes.
He was the biggest charger of his time,as JJF is now.

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Halfscousehalfc... Saturday, 9 Apr 2022 at 11:48am

So many reasons why Australia has declined in the competitive seen.…compare Australia’s population to brazil and so on. Type of waves…. Australia has a lot of point breaks that are best surfed on /you get more waves on less performance boards…..some beaches have heaps of groms, some don’t, I reckon compared to when I was a grom in the early 90’s. Eshay culture is alive even in the beach side suburbs…... I mean you used to have to compete with the youth to get best waves now you’ve got to battle some semi retired 50 plus year old rippers….Australia’s a totally different place than 20-30 years ago…

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dastasha Sunday, 10 Apr 2022 at 7:38am

This comment here^
In particular the type of board needed to get waves on the points these days...

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batfink Saturday, 9 Apr 2022 at 12:39pm

Damn those editors, eh Stu. ;-)

I’m with you. If you want to rate ‘the state of Australian surfing’ based on how many are in the top 32, or how many world titles ‘we’ have recently won, then be my guest. Don’t be offended if I politely disagree.

There’s a lot more going on underground though. Clearly.

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truebluebasher Saturday, 9 Apr 2022 at 3:56pm

Days of Future Past...those days are over.

WSL Flow Fountain promises the exact same Wavepool Models with perfectly timed sticker peeling.
Grom: "I'm not play acting Mum....I wanna be a wavepool model & you can't stop me joining the circus!"

Former Gromsearch Chix Finalists have won the last 14 WSL titles +12/18 competitors
Tyler / Carissa / Steph / Sally / Tatiana / Caroline / Brisa / Isabella / Beth / Molly

Former Gromsearch lads Medina / Italo / Toledo / Andino / Kanoa / Jordy / Owen / Morgan / Jackson
4/5 Top WSL Pros + 20/34 on tour.

So wot is a Rip Curl Grom...Is it a new Variant ...Omigrom...must be it!

Rip Curl Grom wavepools are the new breeding ground & acid test for WSL Top 40 Poptarts.
Grom Wave pools are hardly soft...just ask Stu...ouch!
Hey...ouch back...Ok! tbb deserved a little more respect to our #1 Surf Journo!

Anyhow...3,000 groms from 10 nations > 6/24 of each 12/14/16 age group finalists are Insta wildcards.
This is a Grom & this is what they do & these are their creepy local spots.

2017 UK National Grom Camp held in a wavepool

2020 Euro Grom Final to be held in a wavepool

2019 US National Grom Final held in a wavepool

2020 US National Grom Final held in a wavepool

US 2021 US National Grom Final held in a wavepool

2022 US National Grom Final held @ Mum's Mall Fountain...(1st April Fools Day joke?)
Mum : "It's great! Super safe & You can keep an eye on yer pet pro Grom while smashing the Sales!"

2021 Australian National Grom Final held in a wavepool

2022 Australian National Grom Final held in a wavepool

2021 Brazil National Grom Final held in a wavepool

Roary & his pet beast sullied the Covid waves & bullied Huey outta the line up!
Gromz bow to a new Wave God ...All hail Fully Vaxed Roary...we are slaves to your $129 / hr VIP Beast!

Huey's Holy Sticker Album...Chapter 1 - Verse 1
Goodvibes : "A surf brand sticker is worth more than life itself!" All hail the Surf Brand Sticker!
WSL mandate : [ Each & every future Pro Surfer must be christened (Dunked) in a Wave Pool ].
Surely nothing else on earth matters...the Gromz are alright!

Halfscousehalfcockneyfullaussie's picture
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Halfscousehalfc... Saturday, 9 Apr 2022 at 8:03pm

Well I was disillusioned as it was with the wsl and if wave pools are the future of professional surfing, that’s me done.

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No mal half a quiver Sunday, 10 Apr 2022 at 5:57am

Because beach towns are filling up with red neck bogans who don’t surf or even get sand on there feet
They don’t even like surfers favouring non surfers in the work place

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greg-n.williams Sunday, 10 Apr 2022 at 12:27pm

Enjoy watching the CT circus in GR8 waves to good waves ! There are also heaps of underground chargers locally who blow u away every time it's really ON! The level of surfing in Oz is generally pretty high on most beaches that get waves of quality! As far as the CT goes well good luck to those punters that can make a career out of their nxt. level surfing & commitment!

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bigredcouch Sunday, 10 Apr 2022 at 1:34pm

When I first read the headline for this piece - The Death of Australian Surfing - I thought this would be about how the impacts of Covid have totally (hopefully temporarily) destroyed nearly every single coastal town around tue country and the vibe of so many people’s cherished local spots… or am I jaded?

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Yuri Sunday, 10 Apr 2022 at 1:54pm

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mpeachy Monday, 11 Apr 2022 at 6:42pm

It was awesome seeing people charge Deadmans, but nobody said Australian surfing is dead (just that our competitive surfing is in a huge slump).

There's guys charging heavy waves in WA every day of the week.