All Photos by Alex Brunton, Jack Barripp, Sarah Christensen & Mark Onorati

Some people and most cats are not thrilled at the idea of water falling from the sky. “Hiss to that!” they hiss whenever rain clouds threaten to disrupt their haughty cushion time in the afternoon sun. However, like frogs, Surfing World campers welcome rain with great excitement and expectation. Why? Because it fills the ponds, brings the swells and, best of all, weeds out the pussy cats who don’t like it. They know that camping in the rain fully rules! Unless your tent leaks, then it sucks like hell. Shoulda got a Poler!

For the two years previous, the Surfing World Camp had been blessed with bluebird days. Cloudless, UV soaked, postcard dreaminess from sunup to sundown with shoulder high swells fanned to perfection by light offshore breezes. In the evenings, unaffected by city-light pollution, the Milky Way would light up like a cracker night from back when getting drunk with your family and setting off explosives in a public park was totally legal – the difference here being that there were no third degree burns or amputations while enjoying the glittering sky show.

At previous years’ gatherings of the tribe, folks would share the fires of strangers to talk surfing, surfboards, adventures, and travels. The vibes ran deep with gratitude and good fortune. “You wouldn’t be dead for quids,” one happy camper would say. “I could say I’ve had better days, but I’d be lying,” would say another. “Does anyone know where my girlfriend is?” Someone might ask. “Yeah, I saw her go into Corbin’s tent,” would come the reply. People danced to the bands, woke up and did yoga, enjoyed the healthy food cooking demonstration, and surfed and surfed and surfed until they could surf no more on the best new board designs in the country. By the end of the weekend, most were struggling to climb into their cars for the long drive home, such was their willingness to try it all.

So it was an unusual feeling to be driving towards the 2017 SW Camp with the weather app suggesting an 80 per cent chance of an eight hour downpour. You couldn’t help but wonder… How would these conditions affect the overall stoke of the weekend? How many pussycats might bail at the final moment? And was anyone building an ark? These questions were quickly put to bed the moment we pulled into the Treach Camp and realised phones had no reception whatsoever. For the next few days, everyone else in the world would have to mind their own business while surfing with friends became the only priority. Deep breath in… Exhale

Shaper’s Alley is fizzing with opportunity. The outlines, bottom curves, rockers, colour tints, and fin setups are freshly squeezed juice for the imagination. So much variety. So many choices. There’s a flavour for every type of wave and wave riding style imaginable, and crew of all ages, shapes, and sizes are lining up to see what they can learn from the masters of the craft.

The mood on the beach is one of celebration. Yeah, there was a bit of rain last night, but all it served to do was bring the campers together under the Katalane Tipi for some chat time with Chippa Wilson, Otis Carey, Doug Lees, Joel Fitzgerald, and the Misfit lads, and also to enjoy a special big screen viewing of the SW Grom Bash flick. It was feel good and intimate, warm and welcoming, a perfect kickstart to another classic surf trip in the great Australian bush.

Back in the water Lachie Rombauts, the big wave legend from the East Coast Swell of 2016, is riding a board that looks longer than the Great Wall of China. He swoops low and arcs the thing masterfully. I wonder if he’s been to China and checked the rail line on the Great Wall? If anyone could surf it, it’s Lachie.

Down the beach the high flyers are in action. Otis Carey, Fraser Dovell, Holly Wawn, and Letty Mortensen shred. Joel Fitz is flying smooth and high on his Dream Catcher twinnie, and fellow shaper Jye Byrnes is ripping the lid off wash-through sets on one of his remarkable quad designs. Jaleesa Vincent from the Sunny Coast is bouncing from board to board like a ball over the lyrics of a Play School song. She’s keen to feel them all out but it’s the big red single that best suits her Reno Abellira inspired flared wettie. Keyo Rhodes – a grom we had in for work experience – dazzles with captivating style in the crunching left shories. It doesn’t stop us from burying him in the sand up to his head and shoving a live crab in his mouth, but he’s earned a new respect outside the office.

Gary McNeill twinnies are shooting left, right, and centre. Art and science together at last. What a masterful shaper, and the smiles from those whipping past sections with barely a wiggle confirms he understands the relationship between foam, glass, and water as good or better than anyone, ever. Richie Lovett turns up with a clutch of high tech GSI 7S, Modern and Creative Army shapes from the future and in the water they zip and zap like Buck Rogers on a space bender. There’s electricity in those jets. Rich is also looking like my long lost doppleganger. We talk about going bald and laugh because going bald never gets old – unless you’re still in the anger and denial stages of losing your hair. Crumpy is here too. What a legend. We love the Crump.

The day moves slowly. People mingle. People talk. People rides waves. The Futures Fins legends are schooling crew on how to get more speed, drive, and manoeuvrability from their current fin setups, and the O’Neill mob enlighten everyone on the next big leap with their outstanding rubber (you can see it on page 105). A dog rides a wave. A man wearing dive goggles and pink budgie smugglers lands a mighty impressive finner. In the Sun Bum tent, CW editor Sally Mac is offering free sun cream application massages. A kid named Nate jams a wicked pocket snap into the pit and is chaired up the beach towards the biggest payday of his life, the $1000 Sun Bum ‘Bum Rush challenge’. Lovers walk down the beach holding hands. Somewhere in the distance, on a wireless radio, Lionel Richie is singing ‘Easy’. Sculpt boards are littered on the sand and through the line-up like a dropped packet of hundreds and thousands. Nick Miles’s ingenious mix of stringerless foam cores and epoxy acid wash sealings make for a riding experience unlike any other. I bought one after a single wave last year.

I wander past the Misfit tent where Chongy is chilling, Oaty is chilling, Lehman is chilling, Cam Stymes is chilling, Bez is chilling and shaper Dave is Howling. He walks over to me. “You should try The Suspended Particle, it’ll work for you, it’s physics,” he says. I paddle out and surf on The Suspended Particle and punch the angriest nooner I’ve done in years. “Dave is a shaping Einstein,” I think to myself. I should nominate him for a Nobel prize.

With the swell still rising, the line-up begins to wash out. The sun is setting on a full day of ripping, experimentation, and genuine froth. Back at the camp refuelling becomes the imperative. Gas stoves at every site send plumes of aromatic spices into the air courtesy of the deliciously convenient Amy’s Kitchen sample packs. Those too lazy to cook are smashing the Mexicano boys’ paella bowl like it’s manna from latino heaven. And while the arms are sore, the belly’s full, the private areas chaffed, and the eyes severely bloodshot, the promise of the night’s entertainment quickly overwhelm any signs of fatigue. The crack of the first Corona a familiar and welcome starting gun.

reed McTaggart, Beau Foster, and Ellis Ericson, collectively known as Wash, turn up an hour before they’re due to play looking like they haven’t slept for days. They’re midway through an East Coast tour with Melbourne’s filthiest rock and rollers, The Dumb Punts. The boards on the roof are hanging on for dear life rather than tied down. While the lads check into their cabin I ask Punts lead singer Jimmy how the gig was the night before. “A guy in the front row lost his front tooth and someone let off a fire extinguisher in the mosh pit mid set. It was pretty good,” he answers.

After a scintillating impromptu opening set by Cronulla Shire’s Ruby Phillips (how many songwriting, genius girls are there in Australia right now?), Wash kick the evening’s entertainment into high gear with a blistering show of late 80s/early 90s pub punk mayhem. Wearing a cowboy hat and loose fitting high waisted jeans, Creed is every bit the legit front man and the boys are tight after a dozen shows a dozen nights in a row. Rain is falling, the tent is at full capacity, but Wash keep the show tight and leave things simmering. Camp faves Mylee and her Milkshakes take the stage for an hour long love-in that is best summed up by the hug pit that forms mid set and lasts long after the final note. That’s right, a hug pit. From there, it’s the loony musical genius of The Ruminaters to see out the night. Man oh man, Australian music is in good hands if these guys are any indication, a riot of smiles, screams, happy guitar, and mad rolling energy has everyone so pumped that by the time The Ruminaters leave the stage there isn’t a soul in the tipi without a big ol’ toothy grin. It’s the best party in the world and everyone’s invited.

The following day, after Nick Laidlaw’s final Balance Studio wellness session, crew buzz up on the Allpress coffee, begin the pack down and ready themselves for the drive home. Every face you see gives you a knowing smile, and every bit of eye contact is saying the same thing: “How good was that?” As cars antline out of Treachery and back towards civilisation, the sun breaks through the clouds for the first time. Like phones, computers, TVs and Internet, most of us had forgotten it existed. A car pulls to a stop outside the main office where Camp guardians Kev and Sally sit saying goodbye to the patrons. A man leans out the window and yells up at them,“Thanks for having us guys. Hope it rains next year, too!”

Vaughan Blakey