SHADE THROWN: WADE GOODALL IS A HUMAN PALM TREE
Ask any Australian pro from the past decade about Wade Goodall and you’ll get roughly the same answer: raw talent, smooth style, and humble to the point it’s almost self-defeating. In other words, he is the pro surfer’s surfer; a guy whose actions do the talking and whose influence spans more than he realises, or would ever admit.
“I grew up on the Sunshine Coast watching Wade surf. I always wanted to be like Wade. Everyone does,” affirms Sunny Coast talent, Harry Bryant.
Or this from Creed: “It’s crazy, every time we go shoot together he’s always bagging up clips. His surfing is so stylish and unique and creative, and he fucking charges.”
And finally, from Ozzie: “He’s a cool guy with good style and mad technical skill. He’s always on point with a deep bag of tricks he nails effortlessly. He puts his waves together in a nice subtle continuous line with good speed, like a hessian ballerina with an anti-establishment hairdo and checkered flag wetsuits.”
It’s shocking to think then that a short time ago, after two broken legs, with another still to come, Wade was unsponsored and living off savings at his parent’s house with his newborn child and partner, trying to figure out a future that wasn’t surfing. In this wide ranging chat we peer back down into that darkness, find the light at the end of the tunnel, and examine the joys of fatherhood as well as an unlikely though deserved late-career resurrection.
SW: I feel like this is the third or fourth or even fifth time I’ve interviewed you over the years and one thing I’ve learned is that you don’t like talking about yourself.
WG: No, not really (laughter). Not at all actually (laughter).
Why is that?
There’s so many other good topics in the world and, I dunno, actions speak louder than words.
So let’s go back to the start. You beat the likes of Julian Wilson and Owen Wright to win the Australian Junior Series way back when. They’re still leading contenders on the World Tour. Do you ever wonder what could have been?
Yeah sometimes. Sometimes I watch those contests and think it would have been pretty cool to be there. Seeing guys like Julian and guys a bit older than them – I’m somewhere between Kerrzy and Julian – and seeing how long they’ve been on there I kinda think what have I been doing? But to be honest I had a lot of success in the Juniors and a lot of it was pure luck and I never really had the mental capacity to get real straight and stay level headed for competitions. It got to the point where I was a really sad and angry person. The pressure got to me basically, a lot. Just out of want of happiness, I stopped doing it ‘cos it made me a happier, better person not doing it. And it’s fine in hindsight to look back and be like, “Oh, maybe I could have (made the Tour)” but maybe I totally couldn’t have and I might have burned out and been all bitter and angry so I’m super stoked with where I went for sure.
Looking back at your career with feature films like Passion Pop and the Creative Destruction series, countless cameos in videos and web clips, cover shots, tonnes of magazine coverage, you really found your own path.
Yeah, I’ve had a heaps fun time. Apart from my injury set backs, which were huge, huge stops in the road with my ability and what I’ve been able to achieve film wise – apart from that it’s been really fun and an epic journey. What I’ve always liked to do is get better at surfing and travel to new places and I’ve had the chance to do that.
What were your first impressions of the surf industry?
I’ve been in it for a long time. I got sponsored pretty much first contest when I was 11 and I was straight in that whole scene of being a sponsored grom rat. When the Junior Series happened there was a fair bit of money being thrown around back then, which was pretty good, plus all the travel and everything, everyone was splashing out a bit. Once it got to that stage where I was getting the call up to do absolutely amazing stuff that’s when it hit me, like, this is actually pretty amazing.
What about the other side of it? The shmoozy, glitzy trade shows, film premieres, parties etcetera?
When I was younger and had the energy and had really close ties within that whole surf-party-industry stuff I found it really fun and it was good. But as I get older I don’t really like that as much and I don’t really feel the need to be around everything constantly. And I just feel so seperate from it now living up in the hills with a small family. And through my injuries not really being around surfing as much, even though I’ve been surfing as much as possible, I haven’t really been around the surf industry for a while so I feel really separated at this point. And it’s fine.
Do you think being able to handle that side of pro surfing is crucial to whether you make it or not?
Yeah, but it’s also just getting to know people and people getting to know you at that stage. When you’re young there’s so many kids that surf good, the way that people want to help you out is if they’ve met you at a party and they’re like, ‘that guy’s cool.’ I guess that’s how things happen for you – if you’re a nice person and people that make decisions like you. That’s why when you’re young it’s a really important thing to put yourself out there and let people actually meet you. If you’re cool, stuff happens. If not maybe you get punched in the face (laughter).
What do you make of the Surfing World house gathereing? Cos it was about as far away from that glitzy schmoozy nonsense as you can get…
It mirrored my life pretty much. That whole trip, everyone that was on it, were pretty much the people I deal with most days up in the hills, relaxed. Apart from being around that many people it was so fun. Sometimes personal space is gold. I really like being myself sometimes.
You broke both your legs, in consecutive years, at the same beach, surfing with the same crew, driven to hospital by the same ambulance, and operated on and cared for by the same doctors and nurses. Was it easier or harder the second time around?
The second time it was really mellow actually (laughter), if you can say that. The first one was a really gnarly break so that took a bit of healing. The second was like, I’ve been here before, I know I can get better. And it was a bigger bone that healed strong and real quick. But this third one (Wade broke his leg again in West Oz three years ago) was kind of a bit more complicated; just the luck of the draw in emergency with a doctor who did surgeries that were pretty outdated and made a bit of a mess with my knee, which I still have a bit of trouble with. Between that and being a bit older and healing a bit slower, this last one has been the most challenging.
And your career was fully on the ropes for a bit, right?
Yeah, I was fully not sponsored. I was out for a while, maybe eight months (after the second break in 2014). Things ended with Billabong and I definitely wasn’t a pro surfer. I’d just had a new family and we were living with my parents, living off savings and trying to make a plan for life. When it got to the stage where I was looking for jobs my surfing and my legs got better and then things started to pick up again. I was like, ‘oh crap, I can surf as good as I did, maybe a bit better. Things picked up and it went from there.
How did coming so close to losing it all change things for you?
I had to transition to thinking about something else that I could totally commit my life to. After doing something for so long and being good at it, to find something else that you equally like and were good at… it’s really hard to transition from your dream job into something you’re not so passionate about, a making-ends-meet kind of job. So I think it was really hard for me to step into something like that. I was searching for something that I could do that I would be good at it or had a lot of passion for and then it just clicked one day that that’s what surfing is. And it still is so I put everything back into it and believed I could still do something good, I guess, and it worked out.
It’s terrifying but it’s also life isn’t it.
It’s humanising and humbling that’s for sure.
Looking back on it all, you’ve been a part of so many great projects and trips over the years. What really sticks out in your mind?
Creative Destruction was pretty fun. Just a different take on surfing that was much more about the whole experience of travelling like someone would travel to see the world, taking the time to see everything. It was a lot more of an experience than a surf trip. I feel like that was the first time since I was little that I was travelling like a normal person would and really seeing stuff properly and taking the time to take everything in rather than just trying to get sun cancer.
Tell me about it. I got a skin cancer check yesterday.
All good man. Fucking scared the shit out of me though…
You don’t want that. There’s nothing cool about a tan.
Yeah, it’s funny how you realise that but it’s almost too late.
Yep. My babies are the gnarliest pale snails so that’s my job as a dad. Half my day is standing in front of the sun to block them. I turn into shade. That’s half my day: being shade.
The human palm tree.
(Laughter) Yeah, literally with my hair. I’ve got the outline.
What keeps you inspired?
Motivation and inspiration totally comes in waves for me. I have downtimes and I have times where, “Woah!” An idea comes to me. I’m not constantly positive and motivated. It’d be nice but that’s not how I work. All that stuff comes in waves and then stuff happens from that. Because not every idea you have is a good one. I’ve also been taking motivation from always having a want to surf good and get better at surfing. At different points of my life I’m into different things. Like right now I’m really into film and working towards trying to do a film. I’m really keen to direct something myself and have total control, which I haven’t had. I’ve co-directed a bunch of stuff. I really want to have a chance of making something totally through my eyes and shot how I want. That’s what I’ve been really interested in lately. I’ve been really interested in ‘70s and ‘80s Australian Gothic cinema and seeing how that can be made into something surfing related.
It’s interesting you can absorb influences from something as obscure as that and see it in a surfing context…
Yeah, I’m a surfer at heart. There’s a lot of things about surfing that are annoying but I think that’s where my brain and skills lie so everything comes back to that, in film work anyway.
Guys like Reynolds and Ando, Dion, guys you’ve come up with in surfing, have all gone into making films with incredible success. Those films have been fucked up good. Even John John. There’s good precedent for really valid cinematic work when surfers are behind the production. Why do you think that is?
Those guys are just cool people and they surf incredible. They are all super into what they like and they immerse themselves in that. There’s nothing one dimensional about them. Those guys have interests and they act on that stuff. That’s why they are able to make crazy surf sections but have the ability to be able to direct something that’s really good. It’s also cool that people gave them the chance and they probably got to a stage where they were sick of self promotion and that’s where the art takes over I guess. It gets to that point where you just wanna make a cool film instead of show everyone how you whack it (laughter).
From my perspective, what I’ve found most interesting about your career – and you could say the same about someone like Dane Reynolds – it’s that you never compromised. You did it your way, you surfed hard, you committed, and you trusted that either your best was gonna be good enough or it wasn’t and you’d do something else. I respect the shit out of that.
Yeah, I dunno. I don’t really think about it. I just act it and it naturally took its path. It worked out for the best. You can’t really compare anything I’ve done to those guys. I’m kind of at the bottom scale. Well, I don’t want to talk myself down but I don’t feel like I’ve achieved the greatness. I’ve just been fortunate that people like a couple of little things that I’ve done.
I guess so, but what’s greatness? Reynolds hangs out in Ventura surfing fun waves and doing the odd trip. You live the same lifestyle, same career. And I’ve been talking to a lot of Aussie pros about your surfing and there is definitely a level of greatness there. Or at least you’ve influenced a lot of people.
Well, that’s the best thing about it. It’s not an ego thing. I get the biggest kick out of someone just saying they liked something that I did. That’s such a cool reinforcement of what I do.
Back to the troughs and peaks you mentioned earlier. What were the big shifts in terms of body and mind you’ve experienced over the course of your career? Was accepting those peaks and troughs one of them?
Yeah for sure. Awareness is huge. And I guess just going through those waves of emotion and letting things out and then they’re done with and then moving on is a huge thing. I have shit days where I don’t feel good but tomorrow’s gonna be different and I don’t really have that much to be sad about, so I just get through that day and know you’ll have a better day tomorrow. I’m still trying to figure out how not to have those bad days for sure but I feel awareness when it’s happening that it’s not going to be forever, I gotta just get through this day.
That’s priceless wisdom ‘cos everyone has those days I think.
Yeah, it’s so natural and so common as you get older. You see it with all your friends around you, people go through stuff just mentally. The stress of life can affect everyone differently. Just be aware of it.
What’s the plan from hereon in?
Well, I just started yoga again. I’m gonna try and get my body back to where it’s like not hurting. I’m just working on a few things that I’m trying to get off the ground at the moment, still planning to work on a film.
How good is yoga?
So good. It’s the only form of exercise I like. I don’t like going to the gym or anything. It all round makes me so feel much better.
So good for breathing and that all round strength you need to…withstand gravity.
Yep. Yep. I’m no gym junkie or anything. I don’t want to get jacked as fuck. I just wanna be able to support my own body through life (laughter). There’s no need for anything more. I wanna get healthy that’s for sure. It’s not like I’m an ice cream cake, KFC monster.