Here, we see Taj Burrow throttling an Emu Red on the way home from Quobba Station as the plane stops to disembark the brothers Kerby and Cortney Brown in Kalbarri. Quobba to Kalbarri to Perth via Toyota Landcruiser? Fifteen hours. In a Cessna Conquest 441? How ‘bouts an hour. Photo: Russell Ord
North By North West, with Taj Burrow
Sailing across the clouds on the wings of a bird is just the most sublime way to reach and surf Western Australia's northern finger.
With Taj Burrow...
Private planes are just the most rockstar thing ever. I drive my car to Perth airport, pull up at the airport hanger to the left of the regular domestic terminal, grab my clubs (Mayhems!) out of the back and throw ‘em into the hold of a the two-engined bird. My mate Luke Wyllie is a pilot, y’see, and we shoot up to the north-west whenever I’m around, he’s around, and the conditions are loaded. I’ve done it a few times, now, and I know how to do all the little title drills. And, then, you’re off. Luke coordinates our takeoff with all the other domestic flights in the radio codes. The bigger planes get really pissed off when a little Cessna 441 has to take off when they want to land but you just slot right into the rotation of the flights. You learn a lot about flying. I’m sitting right next to the pilot and I’m hearing all the communication and it’s just an incredible feeling. As soon as you take off, you bank this big turn to the north and you know that in 45 minutes you’ll be in Kalbarri and in another 45 minutes you can be in Gnaraloo. It’s a feeling of freedom. That kind of rockstar freedom. It’s as good as it gets. That’s like the ultimate surf trip.
It Doesn’t really feel like flying. For me, it feels like driving to Margarets (40-minutes from Yallingup). There are no rules for flying. You’re doing it to all on your own accord. You skip every procedure. You’ve got your phone on, you’re taking Instagram shots and just because we want to, we’ll do a swoop past the point in Kalbarri to see the waves. It’s crazy.
I just like going with good mates. Ones who surf good are the best because they’re the ones you can surf the crazy waves with. Your best mates are the ones who can laugh and carry on and appreciate a good time. And, the ones who can drink red leads.
Red Leads (Emu Bitter) are the poison of the west but it's the team drink and everyone get into a Red Lead when the day is done. It goes without saying that someone will grab a case of red lead in the morning because you’ll need ‘em that evening. It’s very clever. The best bookend to close out the day. To think about how good it’s been and appreciate that we’ve been able to do it.
My most recent trip north (his third this winter) fell between the Tahiti and Trestles world tour events. I only had a week at home and was so adamant that I was going to sit tight and not do a thing: just sit on the couch because I had a million flights coming up. That trip popped up and there was just no way I could say no and people were, like, “I can’t believe you’re getting on another flight.” But, I didn’t even think about it.
Spending time in the desert feels like you're really living. It’s just all this red dirt and incredibly blue water. You really feel like you’re out in the elements. You live like a grub. You’re all just crusty and dried-out and you’ve got this salty surf dog head on and it’s just one place you just absolutely embrace it. Anywhere else you’d be worried about rinsing yourself off and getting showered or worried about looking this weathered. It’s the best feeling.
The desert really brings back my childhood. You know how certain smells trigger memories? For me, it was using this one sunscreen, one of those white zinc sticks for your face. I used one of those recently and it took me straight back to being 13 and going to Exmouth with my family ‘cause I just remember using that zinc religiously. I used to go there a lot as a kid. It’s the same feeling I get when I go to Gnaraloo. That’s where I really started surfing. I get that same awesome feeling as a little grub surfing a pretty serious reef break for the first time.
There’s like a clean, crisp smell you get in the winter. There’s this familiar scent when the wind is offshore and the waves are good. I love it.
When I'm up there I’m not that concerned about sharks. I’ve been going there for so long and I’m used to so much ocean life. I’m so much more worried about the G Dubs (Great Whites) down south. I know a guy just got chomped but it doesn’t really enter my mind. Down south is a different story, however.
Waves in West Oz, in general, are hard to ride. They’re raw, they’re reef breaks, mostly, and they’re not to be taken lightly. Gnaraloo was such an eye opener for me to surf at eight-to-10 feet again, recently. To see it and to be reminded how serious of a wave it is. It’s completely psycho and it’s a harder take-off than Chopes. It’s completely nuts.
Every surfer heads north in the winter. Everyone talks about going up north for a swell. It’s a big part of life for WA surfers. It’s a saviour. Winter can see big fronts and you have to batten down the hatches from the wind and rain. It can get miserable but that’s what’s so cool about living on such a wild and raw coastline. You get up north and it’s just warm and idyllic.
I like being out on the edge of the Earth with big, wide-open spaces. I like the waves, I like the rugged coastline, it feels clean and I like the distance from the rest of the world. Perth is the most remote city in the world and I’ve grown up there, born and raised. Everyone loves their home and I love cities and I certainly love the east coast of Australia but I’ll never ever lose my love for the West.