Crombie: Hanging 11 With The Former Monster Children Editor
In the 1980s my Dad’s best mate, Bugs, discovered two brand-new, single-fin long boards under his house. The previous owner must’ve left them behind in the 60s, so Bugs kept one and gave the other to my Dad. I grew up on the Victorian side of the Murray River, in a town called Echuca. The closest beach was three hundred kilometers away, so in Summer we’d take Dad’s unwaxed nine-footer and get behind a speed boat and ‘surf.’ It was a lot of fun, but I always suspected that the real thing – surfing on an actual wave in the actual ocean–would be better. And so my longing began.
When the movie Point Break was released in 1991 I was impressed, and thought nothing of buying a second hand thruster for $45. ‘Rip Curl’ it said. It was a fucking wreck. It looked like it’d farted at a Hells Angels’ funeral. When I moved out of home and down to Melbourne it came with me, and for years that piece of shit leaned in the corners of various flats, trying to look cool. I resigned myself to the fact that I’d never use it. Then one day my surfer mate, Andrew, said, ‘We should drive down to my parent’s holiday house in Phillip Island.’ Seconds later I’d strapped my ugly board to his roof.
Along for the ride was a burly, Scottish expat named Gerry, who looked like a cross between George ‘The Animal’ Steel and Bruce Willis. He leaned in from the back seat and exhaled a grey plume of bong smoke. ‘Aye boys, ah tell yee, ahm deed keen tay learun tay surf!’
‘Me too!’ I said. ‘Are you really going to teach us, Andy?’
Andrew said ‘Sure’ and stared straight ahead. He wasn’t happy about my shitty board being on his roof for all the world to see. Back in Melbourne he’d said he had a better one I could borrow, but I didn’t care, I wanted to take my board. ‘Aye,’ said Gerry, ‘yur a good sport tae let Jeeson bring his shitey wee board along, Andy,’ said Gerry.
We didn’t learn to surf that weekend. Andrew took us to a desolate break called ‘Shit Can Alley,’ where march flies swarmed and the waves were nonexistent. Gerry and I got in the water anyway. We’d found a couple of shrunken, decades-old spring suits at the holiday house and now we looked like the real deal–we were surfers! And although Andrew begged us, we refused to take our wettys off when we drove into town for lunch. ‘Please take them off,’ he whined, ‘you look like a pair of kook arseholes.’ Gerry wound down the window ‘Wah-hey! Luke at us, ye jessie bastards – we’re the kooks!’ At the bakery everyone stared at us as we lined up for pies. When we got back to Melbourne, I left my water-logged thruster and surf dreams on the nature strip.
Years later I started working at Monster Children and my interest in surfing was given a second life when Campbell, the magazine’s co-founder, offered to give me lessons. We retrieved a ‘foamy’ from his garage and padded barefoot down to Bondi. On the way he explained the importance of carrying your board fins in, nose down, which was good to know. As someone who grew up hurling insults and half-finished Big M’s at people who carried their skateboards around by the trucks, I understood the importance of observing the unspoken rules of cool. ‘Good to know,’ I said. ‘Thanks.’ I was finally learning things.
When we reached the beach that morning there were already twenty people in the lineup. Campbell must have known some of them because instead of giving me tips on how to stand up, he waved at an area thirty feet from the other surfers and said, ‘just paddle out over there.’ He seemed embarrassed. I splashed out to the spot he’d recommended and, after toppling into the water five or so times, I managed to straddle my board as it rose and fell with the passing waves. After fifteen minutes I paddled back in and left my surf dreams on the nature strip for good.
Earlier this year, I was at the pub with Jed Smith. I’d met Jed at Pipeline in 2014. He was there as a surf writer; I was there to worry about getting bashed (everyone, including the editor of this magazine, went out of their way to tell me I would be bashed at Pipe). At the pub I took a sip of my beer and casually confided that I’d always wanted to learn to surf. Jed smiled and looked around the room to see if anyone had heard me. ‘Nah,’ he said. ‘No point now.’ I asked what he meant, and he said, ‘You’re too late, man. Shoulda started years ago.’