(Tabone)

Creed McTaggart Is Back Where He Belongs

Creed McTaggart is in a good place. The waves are fun, the sun is shining, he’s got his bandmates sitting alongside him (Beau Foster and Ellis Ericson from WASH) and he’s about to ho-down a grain-patty and dijonaise wrap at this vegetarian cafe in the rural south of NSW. Apart from a mysterious ring of weeping sores on his elbow (an undiagnosed staph infection), he’s feeling pretty good too.

“This trip has been amazing. I can’t really believe there’s not more trips like this. It’s so simple: just record, play music and surf all day,” he says.

We’re part way through Surfing World’s bush bash – a gathering of like-minded degenerates on a property in the NSW sticks. The past week has been spent sinking tins, talking story, smokin’ buds, belting sections, and affirming what it means to be an Australian surfer in this confusing year 2017. Better yet, Creed’s headed straight home after this, to Margaret River, where he will settle for the first time in a decade or so of living itinerantly – out of cars, suitcases, couches, hotels, and an interrupted five-year stint in Byron Bay.

“I’m so psyched just to go home and get some good waves,” he says. “You don’t have to travel as much ‘cos the waves are so good. I’m just gonna chill, play music and get as many big barrels as I can,” he says.

Creed is yearning for the simplicity of his hometown right now. The fake people, big egos, warped values and stunning superficiality he’s encountered in the last decade of touring the global surf industry has worn him down a bit.

Between the cover shots, film premieres, fashion shoots, parties, leather jackets, and intercontinental celebrity, it’s easy to forget Creed McTaggart is the wide-eyed kid from a rural core-surf mecca. Located three hours south of Perth (the second most isolated major city in the world), Margs has shaped Creed more than anything.

“It’s just home,” he says. “I have so many good memories of surfing the waves around there.”

Lil’ Creedo fin throw to set it off for the sponnos. (Macfarlane)

It’s a simple rhythm of life that doesn’t leave much room for pretension or egos. Work, smile, say g’day and make sure you get in the water every day. Whether it’s the rip bowl out the front of Prevely caravan park or the bone-dry kegs of The Box out the back, no one really cares. Everyone has been humbled by the ocean around here at one point or another.

The son of a school teacher-father, and a mother whose Irish-convict forebears were the first Europeans to settle in Margaret River, Creed reeks of the frugal attitudes, gratitude and catholic guilt of the Australian working class. He idolises Billy Bragg, the English folk-punk unionist musician (Creed makes his own brand of anti-establishment punk rock with Wash); dresses poor, lives poor and refuses to seperate himself from the angry, oppressed, zeitgeist of today’s short-changed youth. He also loves classic Australian vehicles and Melbourne punk rock. His two favourite things to talk about right now are the yellow panel van he just bought back west and the booming Melbourne punk rock scene.

“I was overseas so I got dad to go look at it and he said, ‘It’s yellow. It’s a panel van. You can’t go wrong!” laughs Creed.

Three grand later it was roadworthy. Now all he needs is a drivers license, not that it’s stopped him.

“I’ve just been driving it around on my own at home, it’s been so sick,” he says, as we speed along the highway in my ’97 Ford panel van, “I’m sooooo psyched on it. I saw your one and it got me fired up to get one.”

Margs can’t come soon enough for Creed. This past decade has been a wild ride. I was there for the start of it back in 2010 when we were stranded together in Johannesburg for a night on our way to the Billabong Pro J-Bay. A naive 15-year-old with a neck-tan and peach fuzz, Creed had the energy of a freshly opened can of Kirk’s (despite having being fleeced for hundreds of dollars at the baggage desk moments earlier).

Creed and Hoy – The masters and commanders of pure rock and roll surfing. (Macfarlane)

Two years later we met again, this time in Sydney, where we were given free tickets to a music festival. We watched Phoenix play, a band neither of us were into, but we’d yelled and laughed and spun around in circles anyway. The glittering technicolour possibilities of youth were just beginning to stretch out in front of him and you got the sense Creed wanted to run mouth open, headlong into it.

It was around then that Creed’s star really took off, thrusting him into the maelstrom of decadence, sycophants and shareholder interests that is the modern-day surf industry. First stop Los Angeles. The southern Californian-surf-industry version of “surf” couldn’t be further from the raw energy and roots culture of Australia’s west. Trips to trade shows, the US Open, and swanky Californian meet-and-greets are the penance an Aussie pro surfer must pay to earn his keep.

The relationship between surfing, living rough, panel vans, Billy Bragg and Billabong’s price on  the stock market isn’t immediately obvious to someone like Creed, but he’s not precious. He knows how hard life in the working class can be, so if alls he has to do is show up, smile, and drink a few hundred beers for his bosses he’ll do it. He has some hell war stories from these days though.

Like the time he was handed an eye dropper full of mystery potion at a party by a guy he thought was his mate. The innocence of places like Margaret River is an uneasy mix with Hollywood and the likes. They’d been talking music for the previous hour before he handed Creed the dark juice. He took a sip without even thinking, wincing at the “weird chemical artificial flavour.” Then he started to feel sick. He went to out of his chair but his body now weighed a million tonnes. He could barely pick his tongue off the floor of his mouth to speak.

On another occasion he was dispatched to Cali again for a meet and greet but couldn’t hack it so split for Mexico with Droid, Ford Archbold and the rest of the Metal Neck crew. They scored and in between had what the Americans call a “heater” – a bender of sorts. Then came a call that he was needed back in Hollywood for a Billabong USA Christmas party. His contract was coming up and his manager, former Billabong team rider Mick Lowe, said he needed to be on his best behaviour. Creed hightailed it back, phoning an old flame on the way through. The party was “Hollywood” themed and his lady friend did an uncanny impression of Marilyn Monroe. Creed wasn’t really sure what “Hollywood” meant so he did his best with what he had – a pair of Doc Martens, some black jeans, a trench coat and the girl’s mascara, which he wrote the word “HOLLYWOOD” on his forehead with beneath his shaved-bald skull.

Say what you will about fast nights in wild cities and the hedonistic pleasures of being young in a band with your two best mates. When it comes down to it, none of it means shit for Creedo if he ain’t getting slotted. (Macfarlane)

They arrived to a party of Great Gatsby proportions in a bedazzling Hollywood venue. Creed was surprised to find he was in fact the guest of honour – his name was lit up in giant black and white letters on a sign outside the venue alongside Greyson Fletcher and Curren Caples.

Once inside Creed realised something had been lost in translation. “Hollywood” actually meant rich, or decadent, or something else he knew he nothing about. The entire party was decked out in tuxedos but it didn’t matter. They don’t pay Creed to wear suits and he fell smoothly into the scene, winning over the sea of faces with his core values of respect and humility.

When he was offered a room upstairs to rest he and Marylin retired for the night. But while fooling around, he slipped over and smashed his head on a coffee table splitting it open. Marylin freaked and bailed, giving him a spray as she left.

“She was throwing things at me, yelling ‘you’re fucked up! I just lay there on the ground all confused,” he recalls.

When he finally got up he realised he was covered in blood. It was all over his chest, neck and face and when he reached around to feel the wound his fingers went straight in. Now it was Creed’s turn to freak. He ran downstairs into the party to get help, shirtless, covered in blood, with the word “Hollywood” still written on his forehead. The first person he ran into was the “boss boss” of Billabong. He wasn’t impressed but they got Creed to a hospital anyway where he got ten staples put in the back of his head. By the time he got to the North Shore of Hawaii a few days later a rumour was doing the rounds he was addicted to crack.

“My team manager came up to me and was like, man, I’m worried about you. I didn’t think you’d be the guy to do it…” recalls Creed, still bemused, adding, “It’s like high school. So immature.”

The gentle and open minded young man with passion and creativity to burn. (Brunton)

The surf industry can resemble a bitchy Beverley Hills high school at times. Many of the people who run it are exactly that. After all, what “cooler” job could a no-talent rich kid have than mollycoddling raw talent on behalf of a corporate multinational behemoth?

Creed will endure one more tedious tour of Mordor before he settles in Margs. “They were talking about me spending three months there,” he says. “I was like, fuck. That. I’ll go for a week.”

“That place scares me. I have a recurring dream that I’ll die there,” he says.

By the time we reach the Surfing World ranch the evening jam is on. Jimmy from the Dumb Punts joins Wash for an hour of raw power. In the bush, with a can of beer and a license to make noise, Creed is in his happy place.

“It was really special. I think everyone will remember that forever,” he says, reflecting on the bush bash later.

“It’s pretty daunting and scary at first but by the end of it everyone was coming up with bangers,” he says.

“There were a couple of amazing songs that were recorded. It could be really inspiring for a lot of people. I think a couple of bands will be started because of that trip,” he says.

Music has become an all-consuming passion for Creed. His band Wash just finished touring with the Dumb Punts – one of the great up and coming Aussie punk outfits. It was a big step-up for a band made of pro surfers but they handled.

“It’s something I do everyday and think about all the time. I can’t imagine not having a band anymore now or playing music or making music,” he says.

Primarily, music is catharsis for Creed.

Creed summoning the unspeakable. (Macfarlane)

“It’s almost like going to see a shrink or something. You just kind of spill out all your problems onto your notebook or guitar and it’s just a good way to get any shitty feelings or good feelings out. It’s really nice. It’s helped me a lot when being down or whatever, bummed out, you write a funny little poem,” he says.

The rock and roll lifestyle has had one downside, however.

“I hate how people think I’m like a party dude and that I don’t care too much about surfing because I’m the opposite. I surf so much,” he says.

“I fucken just love surfing, ay. I’m really hooked on it. I’m as obsessed with it as when I was a grommet. I still watch so many surf movies and froth out on Curren and Occy and all those core dudes from the 80s and 90s,” he says.

As dusk turns to nightfall, Matt Hoy, the heavily tattoo’d icon of Australian surfing, corners Creed on the verandah and pulls him in close with his bandmates Beau and Ellis. He’s got a tin of VB in one hand, a Winfield Red in the other, and his breath reeks beers and ciggies.

“Na, but fuck. You guys are fucken doing it…For real!” he begins.

“Na, seriously but.”

“It’s fucken SICK ay!”

Creed is back where he belongs.

*Creed contacted Surfing World prior to the publication of this story to alert us that after a month at home, he went back east chasing waves and his girlfriend.

Jed Smith