Photos: Mick Burnside and the Road to Bells - Part 1
I'm a dedicated surf photographer that grew up in Melbourne, where I now live again after a time away. Like many Victorians, I wasn't allowed down to Bells this Easter. It was a frustrating situation, but instead I pulled together some photos from the past to the present to share with other frustrated, dry docked surfers.
Being from Melbourne, I first swam in the surf at age 11. I loved being smashed by the foamy waves.
In 1977, during a school camp to Torquay I caught my first wave bodysurfing out front of Torquay Lifesaving Club. I'd swam in heaps of surf but that one wave was different, it picked me up and pushed me to the shore. Later that trip, one of the teachers walked us along the shoreline at low tide from Torquay to Bells. It was autumn, and when I think about it now it was an awakening for what lay ahead.
Later, family Christmas holidays changed to Pambula, where I had access to a surfmat and boogie boards and got a little more educated in riding waves. I was anything but a quick learner, so board riding was way out of my realm for the time being.
One evening the famous Pambula River mouth was on the cook. I'd recently bought my first Surfing World photo annual mag, and was mesmerised by the perfectly spinning tubes coming towards me as I sat on the rocks watching. At that moment I wished I had a camera, and a seed was sown in my mind: I wanted to photograph it swimming and get pics like in SW magazine.
I eventually got my first camera, a yellow Minolta Weathermatic. An old style pocket camera that I could swim with, taking my first surf pics in the summer of 1981-82, again at Pambula.
At the time, surfing was still an interest, not an obsession. Working as an apprentice chippy and playing Aussie Rules took most of my energy.
We were up at sunrise one morn and I remember being at the top car park at Jan Juc, seeing the gold cliffs and deep blue lines of swell working their way from Bells to Winki to Boobs to Steps to Bird Rock and finally to Juc. We drove to Bells and it was breaking well, so I swam out and took pics with no wetty or flippers. No idea, and no-one to teach me.
Eventually I became more surf oriented by reading Surfing World and Tracks magazines. Some kind Torquay locals, Andrew Flitton and Simon Kellet, recognised my interest, encouraged me, and got me swimming out at the Quiksilver Trials before the Bells Easter comp in 1986.
Being the the different personality that I am, being from the area I lived, and mixing with the sort of people I did, I didn't recognise the opportunity or understand the surf royalty I was allowed to photograph. MR, Simon, Kong, Michael Ho. I was raw. I simply kept working and playing footy. I was small-time compared to some of the wild people at that place.
I continued to scoot down the coast and take few pics when I thought there would be waves. At the time, I was super fit and super durable, and I started realising I'd be spending many more years swimming in the waves with a camera.
In 1987 or 1988, I got my first photo run in Surfing World of Greg Brown at Winki.
Like many bodyboarders I was a barrel hunter and wanted to photograph barrels. Bells wasnt the spot, though I continued to take pics there, especially around Easter. It was a difficult place to nail a good watershot but I always liked being there trying.
By the late 80s, I was thirsting for big waves and barrels, but wasn't in any way a member of a surfing group. In February 1990, I decided to go west in search of big waves and logically found myself at Margaret River where I learned to surf and live the surfing life - which for me included catching big wave and taking big barrel photos.
I had a great time in Western Australia and took a while to return...around 13 years.
By 2002, fate was steering my life away from West Oz. I was swimming big swells, and had been planning to swim Cow Bombie with Damon [Eastaugh] and Corts [Courtney Gray] who I was photographing at that period. It was a heavy call. I was fit and prepared to try....but work was quiet, I'd had a few tough years and I was missing family and, strangely to me, I was also missing the grey skies and cold water.
I discussed with mum about my intentions of swimming Cow Bombie and she said maybe fate is steering me away from danger, thinking my extreme personality traits would get me smashed and drowned taking water pics at Cow Bombie. A year later two fatal shark attacks occured in the Margaret River region. I'd spent so many hours swimming and surfing that coast at that time of year, very often solo. Thoughts about fate are now even more prominent in my mind.
So I moved back east, settled back into Vicco, surfing around Bells, Winki, PC, and the Island, branching out to wherever suited me.
Surf photography had slowed a bit and I'd only swim taking pics around Bells and Winki during Easter when the pros were down.
Part 2 coming tomorrow.