In praise of westies
There’s an old adage that the further a surfer lives from the ocean, the more surf stoked he (or she) is likely to be, and in my experience it’s true.
Those of us who are fortunate enough to live in close proximity to good surf are wont to get a tad sniffy about the presence in the line-up of “westies”, “Brissos” and all the other snide epithets applied to people who actually have to drive a car to get to the waves, and yet I see evidence every day that you can often measure the depth of the stoke in direct proportion to the distance between home and the beach.
In my neck of the woods, the shining example of this is the Brisbane Boardriders Club, which began back in 2004 on the opening night of the Noosa Longboards store in Brisbane, when a bunch of old mates decided to car pool to the beach. The city surf shop is long gone but the club remains strong. You’ll often see stalwarts like Mick Henderson, Barry Davis and the Stewart twins, Bill and Tony, surfing Noosa’s point waves or sipping on a latte at the Bean Drop. But you are just as likely to find them at Currumbin Alley or Burleigh or Moffats or The Bluff. Coming from nowhere, they are at home everywhere! And in a nice little nod to their Brisso roots, the boys ride old mals by Ray Woosley, the original Brisso board builder in the ‘60s.
Growing up on the street closest to the mountain and therefore furthest from the beach, I was technically a westie, even though I could see the surf (and the Port Kembla steelworks) from our front deck, and the surf was only a 10-minute shuffle through the three Sturmey Archer gears of my Speedwell Special Sports. Ironically, our local break was invaded every weekend by surfers who said they were escaping the westie hordes at Cronulla, but on closer examination, most of them actually lived in Rockdale or Bankstown or points even further west. But they could surf, no doubt about that.
My future wife was a certified westie who never surfed but minded the towels for the crew at Cronulla every summer weekend. She’d often share a carriage of the Revesby train with schoolmate Graham “Sid” Cassidy, who went on to run the ASP, and remains the most stoked grom in the Sandshoes line-up. But Sid was by no means the only westie to make a name in the big game. Bob McTavish grew up a Brisso, Quiksilver founder Alan Green was a Melbourne westie from Moonee Ponds, Rip Curl’s Doug Warbrick a Port Phillip Bay storm rider from Brighton, and Shane Stedman got his start building surfboards in Sydney’s landlocked Eastwood. And moving swiftly through a couple of generations, let’s not forget that Mick Fanning hails from Penrith.
The same rule applies on the other side of the Pacific. Former Quiksilver boss Bob McKnight was the best known of a large posse of committed surfers from landlocked San Marino, east of LA. When I spent a couple of years living in California, my most surf-stoked buddy was a weekend warrior who worked in Pasadena and lived in Los Feliz, 40 minutes from the nearest surf with a good run on the freeway.
The nearest surf happened to be a forlorn beachie at the end of the east-west runway at LAX. Sometimes we’d drive up for a Friday night barbeque, and the rule was, no weather checks, no surfcams, just get up at dawn and go, and then get your board off the car and go out. Regardless.
Strangely, some of the best surf sessions I’ve ever had in California were on those cold, grey – don’t look, just paddle out – mornings at El Porto, caught up in the whooping, hollering enthusiasm of surfers for whom surfing is a pleasure, not a right.
These days so-called “resort surfers” are not uncommon. Cash rich, time poor, they’re the ones that want every wave at Cloudbreak and Nihiwatu because they only get to surf four times a year and they damn well paid for them. Pain in the arse really, and just as likely to be FIFO workers as stockbrokers. Speaking of which, I knew a stockbroker in London who would check the swell charts every Thursday night and decide whether he’d catch the Ryanair sardine can to Biarritz or Shannon for the weekend.
Personally, I prefer the common or garden westie. They’re hungry but they’re happy. And if they’re getting wet, they’re stoked. //PHIL JARRATT