From despair to FTW: Jughead's tale
"Big wave surfers, I think it must be like footy players who suddenly retire. What they love isn't there anymore and a few years later they slip into depression."
It's not something discussed in the carparks or lineups of the world but Justen 'Jughead' Allport has had depression and mental health issues affect his life on various levels.
One of Australia's most celebrated and loved big wave surfers, Jughead lost his brother to suicide, an event that triggered his own battle with the black dog. The darkest hour is just before the dawn, so the saying goes, and it was during his own darkest hour that Jughead connected with Matty Dee of FTW.
FTW - an acronym for Fuck The World - is surely the most unlikely sounding company to help troubled youth, but as Jughead explains that misunderstanding has been the beginning of many important conversations. Conversations that are invaluable to those people reaching out for help.
What was your brother's name Jug?
Brendan, he was 18 months older than me.
Do you have other siblings?
Yeah. I've got two older sisters that are older than him. I was the youngest of four kids.
Did Brendan surf?
Not really, no. When we were growing up he didn't really surf. Once, when we were about 13 or 14 my Dad brought him a brand new Town and Country back from Hawaii. I was so jealous, but then he left it at the beach one day. That was it. He wasn't really into it. You'd say he was a bit of a loner.
Did you have a close relationship?
At certain stages of my life, yeah, though the last few years I sorta I wasn't super close, you know. I started playing chess with him online the last year that he was alive. He was a merchant seaman so he was away a lot. A lot of the time he'd be on the ship and I'd be playing chess with him online.
Do you think being a loner contributed to his troubles?
Yeah, I think so....yeah, definitely.
How did it all unfold with Brendan?
Ahhh...I've never spoken about this....wow.
Take your time Jug.
Yeah, it's alright...I was away in Bali with my family. We'd been away for three weeks and I came home and my Dad said “Give me a call, it's urgent”. Brendan and my Dad share a house together and they lived together. They were both merchant seaman, often away working.
Brendan was due to go back to sea in a week and that's when we started getting really worried 'cos he hadn't shown up. He made no contact with any of us, which was really really strange, 'cos if I rang him he'd always answer. If I texted him he'd always reply.
But he had rung my old man, I think the day that he left the house, he said he was going to get some milk, but he never returned. He also rang my Nan that day, told her how much he loved her and how....how great she'd been as a grandma.
I think it was about a week later, I was at work and I got a call saying the police had found my brother in Sydney and he'd passed away...and ah, some of family have been in denial ever since. They cant accept it and just wont talk about it.
They don't want to talk about it?
No, not at all. That's why I've never really talked about it, but I want people to know that it effects so many people not just the one that takes their life. So many people suffer. And that’s why I've been doing work as an ambassador for FTW and their affiliated government organisation, Suicide Prevention Australia.
Brendan's death led you to FTW?
Kind of. About eight months ago I had really bad depression, and I didn't know why, and I knew Marti [Paradisis] knew the guys from FTW. So I rang up Marti to ask for their number, but he didn't realise I was that depressed so when he answered he said, “I'm out on the golf course with Chiza. I'll give you a call back later.” (laughs)
“Yeah, no worries,” I said. I didn't want to hassle him. Didn't want to be a burden on him. So later I texted him and asked if he had Matty Dee's [owner of FTW] number. He sent me his number and I rang Matty Dee, had a long chat and it really helped. It really helped.
Matty Dee has been through hell. I didn't know him, obviously, but I felt like I could talk about anything. He's been there, he knows it. He lost a brother and sister, and for years he felt like it was his fault, and a part of him probably still thinks that to this day.
We talk now, and when he's had one of his lows, I've rung him and told him “You're a fucken legend. You pulled me out and you've pulled others out, and just that alone is enough for your brother and sister to be proud of ya.”
Can you explain more about FTW?
Matty just wanted kids that were down, that were from poor backgrounds, to connect with something that could help them. Kids that are vulnerable are going to be kids that can associate with a brand like FTW 'cos its not Lifeline...and don't get me wrong, Lifeline are awesome, but kids aren't the ones ringing Lifeline. I know someone who works there, she's on the phones all night, and she told me most of their clientele aren’t young kids.
Matt's just trying to be an alternative for the people who aren't gonna ring Lifeline. Matt and FTW are about turning negatives into positives. Resilience despite adversity, I suppose explains it best. Not one suicide prevention organisation is working in the demographic that are most likely to take their own life. Every organisation is doing their best to save lives but who is starting the conversations about mental health at the skateparks or in the lower social circles that are doing it tough? They need inspiration and love too. Sliding down a rainbow and hugging a puppy doesn't appeal to everyone and stats already show that youth are more likely to turn to like-minded movements like FTW as opposed to the conservative services. They're a first response channeling service that are saving heaps of lives.
And you're repping for FTW now?
Ha...yeah. FTW, my wife was like “You can't wear that!” And I said , “You know what, I'm wearing it! You say I can't but I'm going to.” My wife now realises it's a smart movement and because she understands what it is she's backing me and FTW (laughs).
Most people will think it has a negative connotation.
100%. I struggled too, but then I thought, 'No, I'll let people know and then they can tell others what it is about and we can spread the word'. I'm happy to go and buy any of it 'cos I know it's helping people out. People see the stickers on my board and say “Oh you're sponsored?” And I say, “No, not at all. I'm just trying to get the word out.”
I'm not wearing it 'cos someone's paying me. I'm not wearing it 'cos I'm given free stuff, I'm wearing it and I'm putting stickers on my board so I can be talking to you about it right now.
If people aren't talking about it then they're not aware of statistics like every four hours another Australian kid kills themselves.
What did it take for you to finally ring Matty?
I didn't surf for about six weeks just 'cos I felt so down. I don't know, I just thought I'd pride myself on not surfing. I don't know why, it wasn't helping me at all! And that's when I texted Marti to get Matty's number.” And Matty just talked to me about how I was feeling.
At the time I didn't even know it had much to do with my brother, you know, the way I felt so down. It just seemed like there were so many parts of my life that I wasn't accepting.
Another huge thing was that I'd been on all these incredible highs from going and surfing huge waves and, you know, you come down afterwards. You keep looking at weather maps, looking at weather maps, wanting to get another high.
But I'd conceded within myself that my family had to come first. The kids, their sport, their school, it had to come first. So all these times, I'd still look at the maps, and my mates would ring and want to chase this swell or that, but I'd just opt out and say “Nuh, my family comes first”. And I didn't consciously know it but the less that I was surfing big waves the more I was getting depressed. Real depressed.
I don't want it to sound like my family brought on my depression 'cos I made the decision not to chase big waves myself. I wanted to be there for my kids.
But big wave surfers, I think it must be like footy players who suddenly retire. What they love isn't there anymore, and a few years later they slip into depression. It seems they've gotta find something else. Often it's not something you can do by yourself.
You say you put your family first for a long time but recently you've had a resurgence in big waves. All of a sudden Jughead is back on the stage.
Yeah...but you know what?
Much of that time I'd been darting down to Victoria or wherever to get my fix. Places the cameras aren't, and 'cos people cant see you they think you're not surfing big waves. So maybe people think I've had a resurgence 'cos I've had no photos but I've still been chasing big waves.
And you chased big waves to Pedra late last year?
Oh yeah, I was on the phone to Marti for that swell when they were booking the boat. There's only ten spots on the boat and I asked if he could let me know if there was a spot. And he did...he actually pulled out of the trip himself! And I still went! (laughs)
He even gave me a board when I got there, while he went up and surfed the west coast. Marti really helped me out on that swell.
There was a resounding cheer when you won the Oakley Big Wave Award from a wave caught on that trip.
Yeah, well I've got no problem saying that I was stoked to win. I was pumped!
And when you were on the stage you were wearing FTW gear. Did it give you an opportunity to talk to other people?
Yeah! My daughter put it on Instagram that night and someone wrote, “You shouldn't be wearing FTW”, and later on I saw that person and told them it was about suicide prevention. They had no idea and it was pretty cool that I got to explain it to them like that.
If you're feeling isolated or in despair contact FTW. If a friend needs help then talk to them.
Photos of Jughead surfing, including homepage photo, Riley Edwards. Other photo by Oakley/ASL Big Wave Awards.