And the Australian Boardriders Clubs Put on a Hell of a Show

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That might well be the best thing we’re going to see in surfing this year… and it was a humble club contest. What happened yesterday at Newcastle Beach was the antidote to sugary and contrived tour coverage. Put it this way, I can’t imagine the term ‘fingered’ making it onto a WSL broadcast any time in the near future, nor anyone running around dressed as a bush turkey.

The Australian Boardriders Battle crowns the best boardriding club in the country. It’s a not insignificant title, as anyone watching on yesterday would have been aware of. The beauty of it of course, is that while the surfers involved would bleed for their club – and some have, who can forget Tyler Wright’s floater into the rockpool at Cronulla a few years back? – when you throw them all together into a closed environment world champs, wharfies, future superstars, faded superstars, mums, grommets and the good old boys knocking back beers on the hill, you get something that’s on the level of every Australian surfer. No danger of any wavepool elitism around here.

The ocean played its part. Newcastle Beach yesterday morning was eight foot, bigger on the sets, and a perfect closeout from one end of the beach to the other. If you were running a full day of team surfing it was a nightmare. If you were watching a full day of team surfing, however, nothing could be more entertaining.

From there though you could take your pick of highlights.

Was it the return of Maroubra to a national final after a decade long ban and some rebuilding of their team on the back of some young shredders? While they surfed out of their skin, they also were the prime suspects when the tyres on the Bondi bus got let down.

Speaking of Bondi, how good was it to see Cheyne Horan surfing for his old home beach? And Rabbit commanding the Snapper Rocks war room like Churchill? How about Kong going ape for his local North Shore club and Bainy’s war stories about the rivalry between Queenscliff and North Steyne, two clubs divided by a stormwater pipe.

How about Trav Lynch’s faceplant while running back up the beach? Has there ever been a funnier moment in a surfing contest? After scorching a left all the way to the beach, he sprinted – for the first time in a few years – claiming the wave to his Merewether teammates with fist pumps, only to get a Chuck Norris rifle bullet to the leg and crash hard into the sand. A decade on from his surfing peak, Travvy starred for Merewether though yesterday alongside Jackson Baker, who gladly declared on air he was off the grog and ready to surf. And surf he did. He went within a whisker of winning the whole thing for Merewether.

Was it the Culburra team not even being there when it was announced they’d made the final? I don’t know what level maths they all did at Culburra High, but they looked at the numbers, thought they had no chance, and took off. By the time it dawned on them they were half a chance of making the final Tyler Wright was an hour down the highway and Jordy Watson was checking in for his flight home. The fact they even made it back in time was a miracle in itself.

What about Macy Callaghan in the final, calling off Cooper Chapman and Ty Watson then shredding the wave all the way to the sand, leaving the lads cursing and a little confused. Has there ever been a clearer harbinger of change in the surfing cosmos? Macy’s wave was the psychological lift that her humble North Shelley team needed. They, like everyone else, were thoroughly rinsed by the end of the day. Their spiritual leader, Russ Moloney had not only surfed all four of the team’s heats, he’d also ducked around the corner to Merewether to surf a local indigenous contest where he’d snapped two boards.

Nathan Hedge is no longer a pro surfer these days, he’s a wharfie. This seems a better fit for his role at North Narrabeen. He would die for Northy. And if he died, he leave instructions to embalm him, put him in the back of the van, and sit his corpse on the beach at every club event with a pirate flag in his dead fingers. Hedgey too went within a whisker of winning the title for North Narrabeen.

In the end it came down to the last surfers for all teams, out there in the dying minutes, best wave wins. By this stage the tide was low, the sets washing through and the wind strong onshore. Finding any wave was tough, let alone a winning one. Jacko Baker looked to have won it for Merewether when he banked a little right with two minutes to go and the beach went nuts. Then Hedgey, who’d been out in the shipping lanes with the coal freighters, managed to find a washy one with a minute to go and suddenly Narrabeen were back in with a chance. Shane Holmes, the concreter from North Shelley, after surfing the house down all day had run out of gas.

And that just left Mikey Wright. The previous day in the individual heats Mikey had nailed a huge forehand air rev on a six-footer, the move of the contest. Only problem was the judges said he didn’t ride out of it, and his nine became a three. From that moment Mikey became Mad Mike, and proceeded tearing the contest apart. Just the sight of him alone warming up before the final, mullet blowing in the breeze, bikie moustache and tatts, lifting rocks and bending metal bars, would have put the fear of god into his opposition. They thought Culburra had gone home. It was the full MP psych out move.

But with under a minute it looked lost. Mikey was in no man’s land when he managed to scratch into an inside reform, reduce it to rubble, and then sprinted up the beach. If he didn’t make it back in time they’d lose five points and any chance of the title. The beach announcers counted down. Tyler, the Watson brothers, and the handful of Culburra crew on hand all ran with him. It was going to be close, and he got there with a whole second to spare and a whole point to spare. When they were announced as the winners, Tyler and her crew lost it. Her world title celebrations were mild by comparison. With a population of just 2000 people – more like 500 once you take out all the retirees and old fishermen – Culburra was the best surfing club in the nation.

It might be a bit rough around the edges, but it was real and it was bloody entertaining. On stage they handed Holmesy the Concreter some power tools. They handed Mikey Wright a big cheque but certainly not the microphone, not with the broadcast going live on Channel Nine and Fox and not after Mikey’s last couple of interviews during the final where he’d dropped a few casual F bombs.

With the sport tying itself in knots trying to work out how best to package it up into something people can understand, let’s hope they were taking some notes. Bottle Thompson, the captain of Burleigh, summed it up best later when he said, “Let’s can the world tour and have a global tag team tour.”

Sean Doherty