Photos: Mick Burnside and the Road to Bells - Part 2

Stu Nettle
Swellnet Dispatch

To read Part 1 click here

I upgraded to a top end digital camera in mid-2011 and started applying myself to capturing epic water pics from Bells and Winki. Having predominantly surfed for the previous nine years - after bodyboarding before that - my awareness and appreciation had sharpened.

The following pics are from this era of my surf photography journey. A big part of this journey has been Bells and Winki - especially around Easter.

A new or different awareness had awoken in my photographic mind. I was seeking different moments. Seeking a different kind of photo. Swimming and photographing more lumpy swells, and even onshore small days, late arvos and evenings with difficult and confusing light - all part of Bells' natural weather cycle.

The ocean is always moving. I've heard people say they can sit and watch the ocean all day, and that's an act I can relate to. Sunrises, sunsets, different clouds, sun breaking through the clouds, continually changing colours. Capturing that at Bells is a serious challenge. My approach and style of photo is now changing. I don't know if it's for better or worse, it's all open to opinion.  

Bells Beach means so much to so many people, and not just surfers nowdays. There's walkers, joggers, day trippers, and international tourists out in force, yet the place is remarkably unchanged, unlike the rapidly unfolding urban sprawl moving from Melbourne toward Geelong and Geelong to Torquay. This is worth observing.

In recent years the waves have been great at Bells for the Easter comp. It's a special time for all surfers and photographers, and a financial boost for many local businesses. I see so many WSL surfers being interviewed stating how special Bells is, how lovely the untouched headland and rural back drop are. Fourteen-year old aspiring surfers making statements with with the maturity of a thirty-year old!

A few years ago alarm bells went off when a tourism development was approved for the Bells area and a community petition against was circulated. I emailed a message to a few contacts I have in WSL surfing circles and received not one reply.

'Disappointed' is the first word that comes to mind. My understanding of the situation is that some people wont speak up because they dont want to upset other business entities. Don't bite the hand that feeds, so to speak.

But the way I see it, Bells is the hand feeding all of us and I believe it's worth preserving. All of it. The beach and the land around Bells. Theres acres of open land to develop on the other side of the Great Ocean Road. That beautiful region of bush, fields, and farmlet could be left, as they are, rather than developing it for more McMansions.

The Surf Coast Shire talks about needing this and needing that, but the only thing the Bells area needs is to be left as it is. Maybe the WSL could speak out against any future development at the Bells region forever?

Please leave the Bells, Winki, and South Side areas as they are.

Like many Australians who are house bound and away from where they would rather be, the restrictions are confronting. I'm missing Bells Beach where I've been fortunate enough to spend so many Easters. But being away from it has given me time to appreciate how important Bells is too me, and hopefully these words and pictures inspire similar thoughts in you too.

//MICK BURNSIDE

Wilko at Winki during a freesurf in 2012

Filipe Toledo arcing perfectly during practice at Bells in 2018

As old as the cliffs - almost. Maurice Cole bottom turning at Winki in 2013

Mick leaning into one of his top turn wraps, Winki 2013

Carissa comes close, shot in 2015 when she won Bells and the World Title

John John flies by in 2016

...and again in 2017

Filipe Toledo boosting at Bells in 2017

Italo Ferreira flies by during practice in 2018 - the year he won

A big layday at Bells with Jack Freestone arcing off the bottom

Winki reeling behind the button under that golden morning light

Comments

ringmaster's picture
ringmaster's picture
ringmaster commented Friday, 17 Apr 2020 at 7:11pm

Great story & great photos Mick!

Spent most of my 40 year surfing life around here so can fully relate.

blackers's picture
blackers's picture
blackers commented Friday, 17 Apr 2020 at 9:00pm

Love that last shot of Jack F, the sense of scale of that bottom turn. Acres of space ahead.

Bnkref's picture
Bnkref's picture
Bnkref commented Friday, 17 Apr 2020 at 10:18pm

x2 for the Jack Freestone one. Love it. Rare to see water pics from there and that one nails it.

Nice one of Maurice, too.

The sunrise one of Bells would look perfect blown up on a wall...

Elliedog's picture
Elliedog's picture
Elliedog commented Saturday, 18 Apr 2020 at 7:34am

Good onya Mick...your a good Australian

Luba

mick-burnside's picture
mick-burnside's picture
mick-burnside commented Saturday, 18 Apr 2020 at 4:57pm

thanks ellie dog

mick b

dinnerdish's picture
dinnerdish's picture
dinnerdish commented Saturday, 18 Apr 2020 at 7:51am

Love them shots Mick... some of the negative spaces captured with the bodies against the backdrops are classic

arohabro

Kham's picture
Kham's picture
Kham commented Saturday, 18 Apr 2020 at 8:52am

Sick Mick. Upside down Wilko Joker and awesome Carissa shralp. Freestone shot really displays the Bells Colosseum in all its glory. Great water shot, you must have been stoked.

Kham

rooftop's picture
rooftop's picture
rooftop commented Saturday, 18 Apr 2020 at 10:50am

Wonderful shots and wonderful sentiments. Great work, Mick.

gavin007's picture
gavin007's picture
gavin007 commented Saturday, 18 Apr 2020 at 11:27am

Great article, great photos and an even greater message.

zenagain's picture
zenagain's picture
zenagain commented Saturday, 18 Apr 2020 at 11:31am

I can't really add to anything that hasn't already been said but I certainly admire a person who is a master of their craft.

1173

StevieD's picture
StevieD's picture
StevieD commented Saturday, 18 Apr 2020 at 11:47am

Well done Mick, you nailed it!!
Almost brought a tear to my eye.

bluediamond's picture
bluediamond's picture
bluediamond commented Saturday, 18 Apr 2020 at 12:19pm

There's just something about Bell's huh. Love that place and loved reading these thoughts. Agreed on the Jack Freestone photo....that is a classic pic that captures a whole lot of memories.

Tooold2bakook's picture
Tooold2bakook's picture
Tooold2bakook commented Saturday, 18 Apr 2020 at 3:46pm

Amazing photos. Jack looks sooo far away on that one.

Also +1 for speaking up on preserving the area. Too much has been lost in too many places.

I think the indigenous history of the place also deserves a mention.

Thanks

coopers's picture
coopers's picture
coopers commented Saturday, 18 Apr 2020 at 4:25pm

Yep, the Jack F pic is the one. Never seen a shot from that angle on a big day.

mick-burnside's picture
mick-burnside's picture
mick-burnside commented Saturday, 18 Apr 2020 at 4:59pm

thanks all for the kind words.....i appreciate them all.

mick b

rogerdodger's picture
rogerdodger's picture
rogerdodger commented Saturday, 18 Apr 2020 at 7:04pm

Only a surfer knows that view (of Jack Freestone).
Your photography continues to mature Mick. Love it and your outlook on life. I probably met you at Pambula all those years ago. Best wishes to you and your profession.

views from the cockpit's picture
views from the cockpit's picture
views from the ... commented Saturday, 18 Apr 2020 at 10:22pm

Great shots Mick- for some reason Filipe reminds me of Prince on a surfboard in that shot arching off the top.
Fond memories of Jiguma mid to late 70s every May school hols with a mates house in Weemilah Dve.
Including a massive ECL where we groms reckon we saw MP and some "shady" dudes rock up to surf the rivermouth when it was big, brown and perfect.

Spuddups's picture
Spuddups's picture
Spuddups commented Sunday, 19 Apr 2020 at 3:24pm

I like the first one: the sunset shot. It’s a perspective we’re not used to seeing. The fish eye is the icing on the cake. Also, I reckon Maurice looks a bit like Tom Araya from Slayer.

brutus's picture
brutus's picture
brutus commented Sunday, 19 Apr 2020 at 3:52pm

well done Mick , hopefully next year will turn it on...as we had a couple of epic days over the Easter period.....but, the WSL wanted to build a 60m long , 2.6m high viewing platform at the top of winki...ouch the fight continues....

mick-burnside's picture
mick-burnside's picture
mick-burnside commented Monday, 20 Apr 2020 at 9:32am

cheers brutus.....re winki ramp...id agree leave it as it is.......a possible compromise would to cut a goat track.....put down footing pads......drop in tubes n set up a temporary platform each rip curl pro.....then take it down at end of each comp.....work for locals who respect the bush and will take care setting it up and dismantling it.....and temporary eyesore and limited trashing of the bush.....the old saying give a inch--- takes a mile does come to mind.......its ironic that most of my pics supplied are asp and wsl top end surfers.....the wsl is a danger......putting bells more and more in the international spotlight.....wsl, shire and state corporate boys, seeing potential then collaborating.... cooking up ideas for bussiness income and salary justification....in my mind thats how i see it.
when i got to margaret river there was blocks in the main street still with jarrah trees on them ......the town really underwent a international profile lift when a 15 foot swell presented for the 1990 comp..... a few years later the shire changed land title regulations......all the people who had 8 and 16 acre lots were allowed to subdivide x2 or 3 on the beautiful west of town area.....rates were continually jacked up putting preassure on long term residents.....ultimately for shire growth and income......the shire there for many years has had a chequered past....at one stage they had a councilor named FAST $....speaks volumes..... the whole region from busselton down to augusta, a 90 to hundred km stretch of amazing farmland and bush is being continually carved up for wineries, boutique businesses n more bitumen roads ....the whole region being marketed under the margaret river name....... its sad....and i fear for bells and surrounds.....i made the statement along the lines of ....with the intent meaning leave the bush and developement zoning from anglesea scout camp through to jan juc as it is from the coast to the great ocean road.......it is the surf coast shire and they should be willing to cater for the majority of surfers, so the more surfers who maybe need to step on it and 'keep the foot on the shires throat ' can work together to make it happen......getting the wsl surfers on board might create some dis harmony, but they are surfers..... things so commonly stated about bells.....the cliffs and surrounds or environment .....thats for all to enjoy and preferably not for a few to make business oriented decisions on......i dont know what the impact would be at resident level if the comp were lost.......im of the thinking that the environment is more important......ive tried surfrider foundation for updates but cant find any....maybe my lack of tech savvy.....is damian cole the go to person for these issues.....and would you or someone else know if surfing vic or aust has much input re how the coastline and environment are to be used......sorry about the long reply.

mick b

brutus's picture
brutus's picture
brutus commented Monday, 20 Apr 2020 at 1:45pm

Hi Mick , will need another day to reply , as Bells has never been under attack more than now with the WSL teaming up with SCS to develop Bells/Winki as a contest sight......we/I am fighting behind the scenes in trying to get Bells protected for perpetuity , in the horrible world of politics...but we are winning......we have FOI's for the last 3 years , there is corruption and millions of $'s that have been used in some very dodgy deals .....RC/WSL/SCS...a lot more to come...Surfrider are working hard with us .....Damo has left Bells to me as I have been involved with the fight now, for a decade or more.....

mick-burnside's picture
mick-burnside's picture
mick-burnside commented Monday, 20 Apr 2020 at 5:35pm

thanks for the reply brutus.....if its any possible use you can message me on face book michael burnside.....to share contact details.....stupid to butcher up that land around there when there is so much on other side of great ocean road. cheers.

mick b

Rabbits68's picture
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Rabbits68 commented Sunday, 19 Apr 2020 at 4:31pm

Incredible shots Mick. That one of Carissa is amazing. The light, the colors and Carissa's momentum all captured perfectly. Cheers.

Crystal Clear

mick-burnside's picture
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mick-burnside commented Monday, 20 Apr 2020 at 9:34am

cheers rabbits 68.....that is certainly one of my favorite pics.

mick b

MRsinglefin's picture
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MRsinglefin commented Monday, 20 Apr 2020 at 9:03am

A great read. Excellent photos.

juegasiempre's picture
juegasiempre's picture
juegasiempre commented Monday, 20 Apr 2020 at 10:03am

Really great surf photos. My favourite was the Freestone one, but the Wilko one getting vertical is pretty sick as well, it really puts my shitty little snaps into perspective!

tango's picture
tango's picture
tango commented Monday, 20 Apr 2020 at 10:02pm

Nice one, Mick. I love the fact that you threw yourself in the ocean and went for it.
Having had a few years unable to surf with a crook back a while back and bodysurfing Bells fair bit, you find out quickly that it's a very different experience to paddling a board on top of the water. You notice things you often overlook when you're surfing, and feel much more part of the ocean, and some of your shots really convey that different perspective to me.
If anyone hasn't done it, it's really worth having a crack at swimming out when it's not too heavy at 4-5ft and see how you go. You could even wear fins if you have to.

mick-burnside's picture
mick-burnside's picture
mick-burnside commented Tuesday, 21 Apr 2020 at 10:18am

thanks tango......i swim always with flippers now days.......swim bells each year from 2 ft to 8ft plus on those rare occasions.....i have to be able to know or see something on offer to get me out there.....outside the comp ill swim i bells and winki 3 or 4 times a year......only the last 2 years ive started seeing other photogs swimming bells outside the comp......i hope i get a bigger day there in next year or 2 before im out to pasture!!!! still rekon ill swim it for a while yet.....can be heavy getting out when its bigger.

mick b

ChrisHowe's picture
ChrisHowe's picture
ChrisHowe commented Wednesday, 22 Apr 2020 at 9:58am

Hi Mick, What a great read - thanks for taking the time to give us something to get through our iso and not go crazy
You’ve come a long way from Pambula and the legendary DIVE at the waterhole - crazy or well planned I still don’t know
Grouse to catch up - I still can’t find a pic!

mick-burnside's picture
mick-burnside's picture
mick-burnside commented Wednesday, 22 Apr 2020 at 10:25am

thanks chris......hope your goin well.....will be in touch

mick b