GARRETT PARKES IS READY FOR ACTION
Hidden away at the bottom of the hill is a lone bivouac; a one-man swag, a wettie, towel and a couple of boards. Garrett Parkes has been sleeping down there alone all week. It’s symbolic. About a year ago he walked up the beach at Manly after losing a heat and he kept on walking, then driving, then flying, then driving again before finding himself alone in the South Australian desert. He stayed out there for two months, forgot about the tour entirely, surfed his brains out, had a good think about life, and decided some change was a comin’. He hasn’t surfed a heat since, but instead has surfed the biggest, slabbiest, sickest, emptiest, remotest, longest and funnest waves of his life. It’s been a pretty wild old life swing – with a wilder one yet to come that he’s keeping under wraps – but for now it’s 4am, the boards are in the car outside while he’s sneaking around the kitchen alone in the dark, quiet as a mouse, making toast without waking a living soul.
SW: So Garut, were you doing crawling around the house alone at 4am this morning?
GP: I was up in the dark. I was too cold in my swag. I’ve put a couple of years in down here hanging out with the boys surfing and doing it the right way and trying to somewhat earn my place in the lineup. Not just blow in and blow out. I snuck off and did my own thing, but it was the old south coast thing – chase it all day and end up back in town.
It can be the best place in the world to check waves all day without surfing.
Just about. West Oz is pretty wild to drive the miles but there are so many spots to check here and different reefs and angles of swell and winds and degrees that you never know what’s around the corner so it’s always worth checking.
Is it sometimes easier here just committing to one, driving there and paddling out?
The old, just get one under your belt and see what happens then. But if you spend enough time getting the reefs dialled in you tend to do okay. The local guys seem to know it all right.
So your connection to the area is your girl living down here?
Yeah, but probably more so Wrenchy, Sam Wrench. I grew up doing contests with him pretty much my whole life and we’ve always kept in touch and the last four or five years… my Dad used to bring me down here heaps actually, I’d hang with Wrenchy and surf all the reefs in town. Then once I got old enough to chase something with some more juice – especially after surfing in Hawaii – I was straight down here. I was using the waves around here as my training ground to ride bigger boards and bigger waves and learn how to surf slabs. The last year has been pretty good. The last three years I’ve been spending half my time here and half in Byron. I’m paying rent down here so I guess… I really want to live here. Maybe in the future.
Is the whole concept of home changing for you? You were born and bred in Byron.
I’ve spent a lot of time on the road, but that’s where I’m from, it’s where I was born and raised, doing ratbag stuff as a kid. But every time I went away for a ‘QS leg I’d come back and another little thing had changed, goddamn. Then all of a sudden it’s been five years and you realise there’s big changes happening. It slips away so quickly.
The pace of change there is incredible.
It’s exponential. From when I was 10 to when I was 20 it went from a small surf town, still kind of core, when you walked down the street you knew most of the people now you’re lucky to know anyone… if you can get a park. It went through the roof. I don’t know what it was. Money I suppose, but it was so popular. It happened so quickly.
Did it piss you off?
I think so. If you grew up there people feel like the town they knew had been ripped out from under their feet. We’re all guests on this planet and unless you’re indigenous Australian this place isn’t really yours anyway, but it stopped being a surf town and became a tourist town or a fashion town or a food town. And there is so much money it’s ridiculous.
Do you own a place there?
I was lucky, I got that booming surf industry before the financial crisis blew it up. I had my time with Quiky and my parents made some smart decisions with my money, they made me get a house, so I was grateful to them and grateful for the opportunities surfing gave me. I can’t really talk about the property thing because I benefited out of it as well, but I’m sad none of my friends I went to school with and the crew younger than us will ever be able to own a house in their hometown. You could maybe work a job you hate to buy in, but then you’re not even being able to enjoy the lifestyle of living up there.
It self defeats.
Exactly. That sucks. I was so lucky. I could sell up and move somewhere a bit quieter but if I do that I pretty much I leave my whole youth and childhood behind because I’ll never be able to buy back in. Once you’re out, you’re out.
Your girl is from down here?
She’s from Jervis Bay. We’re moving in together in Byron. It’ll be good after being on the road for so many years doing the ‘QS to stay home and enjoy what I have.
It’s an odd story, to come out of the ‘QS actually with something and not being bitter at the whole experience. That’s like one in a hundred.
I think I might be the only one. To not make the ‘CT but own a house. I had my bitter times when Quiky ended. Everyone goes through their ups and downs with competitive surfing but I’ve come out the other side and I’m stoked. I’ve got no regrets. I travelled the world for free, I met heaps of people, I partied, went to awesome places and got a house out of it. I’ve got great friends and now I get to reap the rewards from all of that. It’s a new chapter.
Tell me about when you knew it was over.
I was down in Tassie on a surf trip with the boys and they ended up running the first heats of the Australian Open. So I had to get up that morning, fly to Sydney, waves were horrendous, lost first round to guys I should have beaten in my sleep, and I walked off the beach thinking, is this the way to be happy? Then I saw the boys had scored pumping waves down in Tassie and that broke the camel’s back. I wasn’t going to let competitive surfing ruin my whole vision of what surfing is. Something I loved all my life. So I went fuck it, I’m done. I’m going to be happy. I packed my stuff up, came down here for a week then drove to South Oz for two months on my own. I hung out at Heath Joske’s house, mixed cement and stacked rocks with him and surfed. Just like that. Straight to core surf with an old mate and it was clichéd but it felt right. I did five trips out into the desert and surfed some of the best slabs and challenged myself that way. Then I did a trip to Indo with my Dad and a bunch of his kneelo mates on a boat and we got pumping waves. Trading six-foot pits with my Dad and high-fiving each other coming out of barrels, so stoked. I rode Dad’s boards again, without having to ride the most refined perfect boards. I hadn’t ridden Dad’s boards for seven years.
That relationship needs to be business, not family.
You just can’t be a pro surfer and tell your Dad the board he shaped you goes like shit.
Joske had been through the same deal and gone and done his own thing.
It opened my eyes that there are other ways. You will survive after pro surfing. There’s so much more to life. Like Heath, move to the desert, have a kid and build your own house. You’re in control of your own happiness. If it’s not making you happy, fuck it off and change.
Has your Dad been integral in all of this?
At the end of the day they just wanted me to be happy like any parent, especially my Mum. If you’re not happy, change. I always had problems breaking that habit of the ‘QS.
How hard was it to break?
It’s just the ratings. Once it’s gone, it’s gone. Being out in the desert I couldn’t have been happier because I didn’t look at the ratings for six months. I completely forgot about ‘em. I’d rather spend my time and energy on waves, bigger waves, boards, friends, and not being dictated by a schedule. It feels naïve now that I let it run my life for so long. It’s hard when you want to express yourself but you can’t really do it because if you express yourself as someone a little out of the box and a bit edgy then you get ridiculed, chucked in the freak bin, or scored down because your image isn’t a positive professional image. Maybe it was my personality that didn’t suit. My Dad was a kneeboarder and I was from Byron, but I gave it a crack, I did well, I surfed some ‘CTs and won some money, but I just didn’t want to be boxed in till I was 30 doing the same thing.
Who wants to work the same job for 15 years?
Hats off to the guys like Mick and Joel who’ve done it for 15 years, I did it for four. Kelly’s done 25. I don’t even understand.
Tell me about your time in the desert.
Best thing ever. I slept in a tent, sitting in the dirt eating baked beans, surfing with boogers, a couple of mates from Tassie, a mate Kane from South Oz and just letting go and driving around in the dunes, sleeping out, fishing, surfing, it’s exactly what surfing should be about and it was the perfect antidote to what I’d been doing.
How has your surfing changed?
Now for me getting pitted is so much easier. I just take off. I don’t think about it anymore. I used to exhaust myself but now I just dial my boards in a bit more and stop all the noise and go with it. I’ve focused on pintails and slab boards. I’m not Russ Bierke or Scott Dennis but spending time on slabs is rewarding. Pushing yourself in heavy waves does that. It’s becomes like winning a heat. Longboarding changed my life too, learning to longboard with grace and style and ride the nose well was a real challenge for me.
When was this?
I got proper into logging four years ago, and having Wategoes and The Pass in the bay when it’s just raging onshore southerly. You can surf twice as much.
Do you feel you’re a better surfer now than you were on tour?
I think I’m a broader surfer than when I was locked into the contests. Now I’m probably not as good at airs as I was at 19, but I’m more open to other ideas of surfing. I’m more open-minded. Forms of surfing I would have written off before, now I’ve fully embraced. Instead of being angry with one board I’m in love with all of them.
When are you taking up kneeboarding then?
I actually went through that stage when I was younger. I had a 5’0” kneeboard. Now I’m going to hang at home more with Dad and learn to shape. He’s got the factory there and it’d be silly not to learn his trade but he refuses to teach me until I learn how to sand and finish ‘em and get my eye and learn my hands. Most guys jump straight in and butcher a blank but he wants me to go the other way. Start with dings and work up to shaping. But Beau and Ellis rent bays off Dad in his factory, so that’ll be fun.
How was your drive today?
Beautiful. Didn’t surf but it didn’t matter. It’s nice being by yourself, having that freedom surf when you want and not wait for other people to lag around. I heard the boys up late and figured no one would be up early. Getting up is a treat. It’s not an effort.
OCTOBER TOUR DATES:
Thursday 12 – Westside Museum, Costa Mesa, CA USA
Wednesday 18 – The Steyne, Manly, NSW (film only) – Free Entry
Sunday 22 – The Bangalow Hotel, Bangalow, NSW – $15.00 – Tickets on Door
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