THE GREATEST BELLS STORIES EVER TOLD 2/3
I think I was about 18 or 19, I’d just moved to town. I reckon this was ‘72. In those days Rod Brooks and a bunch of other big-wave guys like Terry Wall were still here, a guy named Steve Duffy… there were a few around. Anyway this day the surf was so big there was no way of getting out, so I followed a bunch of these guys around to Jarosite and paddled out off the beach. It might have been Billy Sims, Browny and Steve Duffy, the guys who went out.
We paddled out with no legropes.. The reason I remember this was because I was shitscared. It was beyond anything I’d ever seen. The boys have headed out and went way out to sea off Centreside. I was lagging and sitting wider than then next minute this set has broken out the back off Centreside, capped off the reef out there and cleaned them all up. That was my first lesson: if you paddle out off Jarosite don’t cut the corner. That bommie off Centreside can break half a kay out on the low tide when its big. Now here I am by myself drifting to Bells and I remember getting to Bells and I had no idea, but to me the cliffs looked 500 feet high and the waves were huge and I remember catching this wave out of pure fear because I knew the one behind was bigger again. I was catching this wave no matter what happened. All I remember is trimming along and the whole thing closing out to Winkipop and I just got in on the beach before the Button. Meanwhile the boys are washing around Centreside looking for their boards. That was the first time I was really scared out there by myself.
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Taz is buried just above the picnic tables up there at the back of Bells. He’s got a lovely spot. It always brings a tear to my eye when I think about him. He was a blue cattle dog; the best dog I ever had. When I went for a surf I’d drop his leash out the back of the car and he’d pick it up and he’d take me down to the beach. The tourists would love it. Then he’d sit and wait for me to come in and as soon as I came in I’d drop the leash, he’d grab it and take me back up the stairs.
Anyway, I had cancer really bad a few years back and Taz was like my best mate. Sometimes I’d be sad driving out to work and he’s sense that and he’d put his head on my shoulder. He’d wait for Anne to get out of bed in the morning and then he’d hop in. Everyone knew him down the beach and I could leave him on the beach at Bells all day. Anyway, the day I found out I beat the cancer, the day I got the all clear, I got home and patted him and felt his neck and there was a lump in there. I took him to the vet the next day and they told me he had blood cancer. They say a good dog will take a bullet for you and I’m convinced that’s what Taz did for me. He lasted six months before we had to put him down, and that day it was pissing down rain and there’s a really special spot up the back of Bells that looks straight out over the Bells Bowl. When I’m out there I often look back in and say g’day to him, and if they ever had to bury me that’s where I’m going.
This was a while ago. We were just kids back then. It was me and Eags [Andrew Egan] paddling out, and it was pretty big. Hard to put a size on it really, but it was macking. Old Man Brooko reckoned it was as big as he’d ever seen Bells. We paddled out from the middle of the beach. I wouldn’t do that now; all us old blokes paddle out on the Winki beach now, get washed down the point and just double back. So much safer than rolling the dice on the Button, but like I said we were kids back then. South swell, west swell, whatever… let’s just get out there. I was on a 7’8”.
Anyway, we paddled out from the corner, Eags and I and we thought we killed it. We made it out into the middle of the bay when we’ve looked out and we saw this set. We were so far out in such deep water and we were wondering, how can a wave even stand up here? It must have been south swell. But this thing was black and it just stood up and closed out across Bells and we were right underneath it. It was a horrible feeling. It was a four or five wave set. Eags got hit by the first one and has swung around in the white water on the second and just managed to make it back to the beach inside the Button. I waited one more wave and it was too late and here I was. Here’s the Button. Here we go.
All I know was that I got dragged across it and pushed in and there was so much water and it’s pushed me eventually against the cliff behind the Button. That’s how big it was. Then suddenly the water has drained out and I was standing up on a ledge underneath the overhang on the cliff. It went from that much water to no water and I’m just standing there. I’ve looked up and here are the Brookos; here’s uncle Rod and Shaun and Troy all there standing on top of the Nose and I’m like, “Fuck, help me up!” But then I’ve looked behind me and there’s another set breaking headed my way and Uncle Rod has yelled out, “Don’t look, just get up here!” They’d linked arms and lowered Troy, who was about 10, down to pull me up. They’ve reached down and grabbed me and pulled me up and I was lucky, because I was gone.
Uncle Rod was like our venerable esteemed uncle, and as I was sitting there spewing up salt water and coughing my guts up, he goes, “You have to get straight back on the horse.” He told me to take my time, relax, and paddle out on the Winkipop side. He said, “But you need to get straight back out there and get a couple. Trust me.” And I was looking at him all fucked up, and I was like, “Okay Uncle Rod,” and I did. I paddled out and got a couple and it was the best thing I ever did. Just washed it off. Washed the whole experience right off.
I reckon I was about 13 and it was my first year at high school. The whole deal was the bus to school growing up was the gnarliest experience. We had Jack Perry and Josh Rush who were a few years older than me, then there was me, Tommy Law and Timmy Stevenson, and all four of those guys charged, and when I was a kid I was trying to keep up with those guys who were all maniacs. Anyway, on the bus that week there was all this talk about the swell that was coming on the weekend. We knew Saturday would be big and this talk went on all week: “What are you gonna do? What are you gonna ride? Where are we paddling out from?” There was so much hype about it amongst those guys. I wanted nothing at all to do with it… but couldn’t let on. I was shit scared. Jack is fresh off Hawaii and he’s got this 10-board Hawaiian quiver of Gunther Rohns and he’s on the bus going, “Tommy, you can ride the 7’0” mate. Timmy, you’re on the 6’10”. Casey, you’re on the 5’11” mate.”
Saturday has rolled around and we’ve all met early in the car park and I’m there with Dad and he’s just bolted off and left me, and I’m there with the boys we’re ready to go. It’s eight foot, maybe 10. We walk all the way around to Jarosite to paddle out and I’m shitting myself. I’m so scared. So we punch out and I’m intentionally trying to not get out, just doing these piss poor duck dives so I fell five metres behind on the first wave, then ten metres on the second wave until I could turn around and get washed in at Rincon with no one seeing me. That was my plan and it worked perfectly. I got washed in at Rincon and I’m like, “Ah bummer,” but secretly inside I was overjoyed that I was in.
I’m walking back up going, thank fuck that’s over, but just as I start walking up the hill here comes Josh Rush running down. He sees me and goes, “What are you doing? Come with me, we’re gonna paddle out around the corner! Let’s go!” And I’m like, fuck. I couldn’t say no. Well this time I tried to not get out again but somehow got out anyway and there I was, I’m out the back. I’m sitting wide halfway to Winkipop in a thousand foot of water, and all the time I’m thinking, don’t go near the Button, because as kids that’s all you hear are horror stories about the Button. When you’re 13 and its eight foot that’s all you think about.
Anyway, I’m out there and figure I need to at least make sure everyone sees me out there, so I’m paddling around everyone saying g’day, getting my name ticked off the list, and then I’m like, fuck this, I’m going in. In between sets I bolt in toward Rincon on the inside to get a small one, and of course I turn around and here’s the set of the day, a huge one coming straight at me. I just freeze and I’m shitting myself and here’s Mick Ray dropping in on this huge board. He doesn’t get around the wave, and meanwhile I’ve just thrown my board and headed for the bottom in a full panic attack. I’ve popped up and here’s Mick Ray right next to me. Now Mick is my uncle’s best mate and he’s my favourite Bells surfer ever, full guru status and he’s in his prime here. He’s popped up and looked at me and I’m bawling my eyes out. I’ve got this tiny Gunther and he’s like, “Okay mate, it’s cool,” and I’m crying even more and we’ve been hit by another two or three. Mick has gone, okay, and pushed me into this five-footer, a foamy one, and I’ve gone onto my guts and rode it straight to the beach.
I spent the next two hours walking around the car park in my wettie half off, claiming it. “Yeah, it’s pretty good out there, not too big, coupe of 10-footers.” A couple of my other mates have rocked up and said they’re not going out and I’m like, “Get out there mate, it’s not that bad!” Mick has kept this secret all my life that I was bawling out there that day. He hasn’t outed me which shows the man he is. Timmy and Tommy are riding waves to the Button and I was in tears. I’ve been faking it ever since.