Life as Sonic Youth daydream with slabs and ramps and beers and guitars and mates. Life as surf nerd devouring detail about the act and its stories. Life as tins at the skatepark and schooners at the Middle Pub. Life as long drives and unfamiliar zones. Life as ageing soundbites and potty-mouthed philosophy. Life as big, straight airs. Life as bailing the rat race for quieter and quieter zones. Life as a flat tyre in Kings Cross on a Friday night without a spare. Life as the quest for the biggest section you can find. Life as the fuzz of feedback and the deafening drumbeat of rain. Life as the obsession with the minutiae of engaging rail. Life as standing in your house as waters rage around it and valleys tumble by. Life as a closet boogieboarder. Life as sponsor darling. Life as toil and cursing the water and endless tons of flood debris. Noa Deane’s been pretty busy living.
As a fresh-faced, tipsy 21-year-old, Noa Deane infamously shitshowed his way onto the awards stage at the 2014 Surfer Poll in Hawaii and uttered the famous words, “Fuck the WSL”. The oxygen vanished from the room. It’s an awkward topic to start an interview with and whilst prepared for the line to go dead, it’s an obvious starting point for the narrative arc of the maturing of Noa Deane.
The incident still echoes today, even rating a call out from ‘77 World Champ Shaun Tomson on a recent podcast. Somewhat awkwardly, Tomson’s call to see “Guys like Noa Deane, he’s always flapping his mouth, let’s see him [out at Pipe] when it’s ten foot…” neglected the evidence. Noa’s charged out there. He’s even had a heat win over John John out there. It was 10 foot, maybe bigger. An awkward “I got a barrel on, like, a two-footer” in the post-heat interview was as close as Noa went to claiming it. “He must have missed the last five years, because everyone is going so hard at Pipe. There’s random kids that are just so gnarly. I kind of found it hilarious,” he says of the comment. “It’s actually so long ago and it still sticks, which is pretty funny.”
“I wasn’t gonna get another chance to call it out,” is how Noa, looking back, explains it. “Growing up the tour was just different to other sports, not like tennis or golf. It just seemed like kind of a wild operation, people getting in fights after heats and wild shit going on. It wasn’t against the surfers,” he says of the comment, “but some people took it personally. I didn’t mean the surfers, I just didn’t like the rebrand, making it like NFL or something.” He laughs, “And I mean, having the finals at a fat little right in America… the same guys would probably win, but let’s see them do it at fucking Teahupoo. When it came down to Pipe at the end of the year, you’d be like, ‘Holy fuck, who’s gonna win?’ And it was always someone really gnarly because you gotta be. It might not change the result, but it’d definitely be way fucking cooler.” In the years since that night, possibly no figure has been identified more with the divide between freesurfing and the tour than Noa.
For his part, Noa has become aware of the divide between image and self. “I don’t really wanna be worried about what I’m posting or being in this place or at that wave, but I have to put things out for my sponsors and its relatively so easy compared to working a proper job. I just like to travel with a bit of spontaneity and not make a big fuss about where I’m going or what I’m doing. Getting into surfing a bunch of waves that haven’t been surfed too much and trying to work out my own way around ‘em.”
Noa today is physically larger, his gangly frame filled out, the cherubic features cradled in a man’s face and physique. He has not been quoted as saying anything controversial, or much of anything at all, in years. He has long shed his Coolangatta roots for the hills behind Mullumbimby. He does his own thing, which remains largely out of the public eye. His Instagram stories mainly feature cats, horses, and Main Arm hinterlanding, interspersed with shared boog and mates’ clips and self-deprecating humour. He keeps a low-profile surf program, trying to surf by himself or with only a few crew. Has Noa… grown up?
“I guess that’s where I’m more mature now, just trying to do my own thing and not crowd peoples’ waves. All the best surfers have always been kind of mysto. Surfing’s lost that doin’ itthing a bit, where guys are just out there doing it for themselves. Guys like Beau Foster – he doesn’t need to be on every swell, or call someone up to go film him. He’s just out there doing it and he fucking rips… and that’s enough. Or riding slightly bigger boards like this one of my dad’s [the late, great Wayne] who was always into big turns on bigger boards. It just sort of slows it down for you. It doesn’t look slower, but you feel like you have more time for bigger turns. Creed’s doing it too and ripping. It stops me thinking about doing airs all the time,” he laughs.
The approach is evident in his latest B-roll, Cooked Fit. The clip features no shortage of kinky, unusual waves, far from the well-trodden lineups of most edits. Like nearly all Noa’s previous edits it’s been well received, although in amongst the expected slabs, hacks and big, stompy punts, is a surprising amount of silky rail work on his old man’s ‘90s era 6’6”. “You’ve either gotta be riding new waves or riding familiar waves differently. Or just be Mason and do both,” he laughs.
When Covid hit in 2020, Noa moped around for a bit before resetting his thinking toward waves he’d heard of, but never travelled to. Nooks of accessible coast. “I realised that seeing all the same waves meant you were seeing all the same surfing. There was no fresh stuff or approaches, with a few obvious exceptions.” He spent a lot of time on the road, weaving around restrictions and working with photographer Phil Gallagher, who lived nearby.
The result was Upda, an interesting pivot away from screen to page – a self-published journal that started as somewhere to put all the shots they were accruing, and finally ended up a cool little capsule that sits somewhere between surf mag and coffee table book, somehow personal yet full of all your favourite surf porn. “I’ve always been frothing on print,’ says Noa. “I love the insight aspect of it, like this is an insight into a period of your life. I always thought it was cool as, the eras of a surfer when I was growing up. Like when a guy was running those sprays or wearing those coloured wetties and you remember that era of their surfing and what you were doing at the time. You don’t get that with Instagram. I can’t believe it. You see guys get the sickest shot, like hands down the best shot of their life, and they put it on Instagram five seconds later. Like, fuck, that could have been in a mag or something or on your wall, and they just straight up put it in a little box, and it gets lost on the internet, just gone. I hope this inspires people, like anyone, to get a few of their shots and a few of their mates and make their own little scrapbooks. It’s actually not hard.”
Noa speaks with a laconic air, as if trying to find his words, until he drops into an idea, and the words gain kinetic eloquence as his ideas form up and he leans hard into each tangent. It’s a bit like surfing a crappy beachbreak with a freakish surfer – they might dabble about the lineup, a couple of half starts, then find a little runner and start belting it. A five-minute discourse on bodyboarder Mitch Rawlins’ down-carve reverse (his current favourite turn) flows through the application of rail, the appropriate release of tail, where to push through turns and ends up, almost inevitably… at Dane Reynolds.
The similarities in physique and approach are striking, and I ask about the extent of Reynolds’ influence. “Massive,” replies Noa, “for me and my generation. His surfing is so sick, and Dane brought it to the table that you can do whatever you want, your way. He just fucking took the whole deal over and kind of switched it up on everyone, and then that was what to do. Showing that you could just go and design your own shit, make your own videos, and edit them how you wanted. He changed the game big time, because not a lot of people were doing their own stuff before that.”
When asked who else he’s been watching, he replies simply, “Occy. Heaps. He’s just fucked-up good. Watching him and how hard he’s hitting it. Dane has that too, but Occy’s just so fucking lead-footed. One hundred per cent on the wave, no face left. It’s inspirational man, just how you can still be ripping after so long, so many mental and physical blowouts and so many comebacks. It’s against all odds how hard he’s still fucking ripping. And the other guy is [Mitch] Rawlins. He’s just U-turning in the bowl, real fast and so on rail, the same reason I like Dane.”
Noa’s affection for a bit of prone-on-foam is well known, and to be honest, he’s pretty good on a boog. “I’m riding a lot of waves that are kind of boog waves so I see a lot of what they’re doing – mostly just surfing five hours until they’re so torched, eating a can of tuna and bolting to the next spot. They go ‘til they can’t, just living on tinned tuna. They’re nuts. I’m looking at the lines they take, the low lines into the pit, and especially the ‘one line’ approach to hitting huge sections. They sit and wait off the takeoff until there’s that one speed line to the giant ramp, and that what I’ve learned. To do the biggest airs, there’s no messing around with little turns before it. Wait, set that line, and hit it.”
If, as alleged, Noa Deane is maturing, he faced a true test of that recently when the northern NSW floods hit. The road in front of his house had a waist-high standing wave, and a whole new river suddenly appeared at the back of their house. Giant boulders and four-wheel drives tumbled down the torrent amongst logs and other chaos. He’d just sold the house, but it was a couple of days off settlement… and in danger of being washed away completely. There was no getting anywhere. By the third day, they were rattled and running out of food.
Days later, when they could finally get out, Noa and his partner, Mariah headed down to Mullum and joined the shellshocked masses, hunkered down in friend’s places or at the bar of the Middle Pub. They had lost a horse and the yurt outside, but the house was relatively intact and the rest of the animals safe. They were given 14 days to restore the property to its original condition. Noa kicked out of shock and into gear. Fences were rebuilt, a driveway re-laid. No road access meant much of it was done by hand and backwoods ingenuity. Gurneys and shovels and brushes and scrubbing. A couple of old timers, their own properties destroyed and cut off for weeks, told me they were a tad surprised at how hard the “surfer new guy” got into the task. [In them hills, you’re not a resident until 20 years, a local, about 30] I stopped by an hour after the inspector had been and given the all-clear. Noa seemed to stare off into the middle distance as he spoke – exhaustion, adrenal fatigue and a whole bunch of unprocessed stuff blanching his face. Mariah hugged him at his side, supporting him and leaning on him in equal measures. “He hasn’t stopped. I’ve been worried about him,” she added softly.
When we next speak, Noa’s comfortably ensconced in his new place – a ways down the coast, even further away from any kind of scene. He’s just back from his first [fruitless] surf hunt. He’s still landing. “I just did like, probably 18 days of shit that I don’t really know how to do. It feels good though, new learnings and stuff. I didn’t end up surfing for like four or five weeks. By the time it was done I was so fucked. I was also so guilty that I hadn’t been able to get out and help anyone else, because we couldn’t get anywhere.”
Life with Noa Deane recently has been real life… but it’s been that way for a while. He doesnt really care if people think he’s matured or not – a sign of maturity in itself. What is evident is his passionate engagement in the act, his ability to look both forward and back, and the authenticity of what he’s doing. But most of all, he’s just doing his own thing. Just doin’ it, and it’s nice to know that surfing hasn’t actually lost that.