From Stab Issue 58: It’s a breed of surfer unlike any other, tough as mules, as furious as Arab warlords. And, ain’t a wave around too heavy for their big-wave shtick…
By Chas Smith
He is big, taller than the average surfer and cut differently. Thicker. He drinks beer, has a hell time, knows swell forecasts weeks out, drives a Commodore wagon and charges heaving slabs. Gut wrenching, cold-water, thick-lipped slabs. He is the faceless Australian.
The faceless Australian is a legend in his hometown of Gnarabup or Boranup or Maroubra or Forresters or Ulladulla. He is a legend because he stares Great White sharks right in their beady little eyes. He has never pulled back from a wave even if that wave is closing out onto a dry rock shelf. He has given himself and his best mate stitches. He buys the beer for everyone at the pub. He fights and fucks and sings of the good times. He is on every epic day even if that epic day starts at four in the morning and he was up until three in the morning fighting and fucking and singing.
The faceless Australian, whose name is either Ryan Hipwood, Evan Faulks, Jesse Pollock, Little Richie or Dylan Longbottom, regularly appears on the cover of Australia’s Surfing Life magazine, air-dropping into a monster, but rarely on the cover of Surfing, Surfer, Stab or Transworld. Sometimes, when he finds himself buried in the photo spreads of one of the American magazines, he is either misnamed or listed as “unidentified.” “Unidentified surfer charges the day at Shipsterns.”
And why? Why is the Australian charger faceless here? What has he done to be cast into the shadows of anonymity? He exhibits quintessentially American traits of masculinity, toughness, spirit and bravery. He is Hemingwayian, or at the very least, Plimptonian. So why?
I will posit that the American surf space is currently in an extreme pendulum swing of femininity. The surfers we know are the ones who float, daintily, in the air. We know Craig Anderson and Craig Anderson surfs amazingly but is also a ballerina. We know Rob Machado who is so lithe and flow-y. We know Josh Kerr, an absolute twisty-turny acrobat. We are getting to Matt Meola, very pretty. We know and care about all of the dainty flowers. The men who amaze us with their grace. They can, and often do, have power. Dane Reynolds, for instance, drops jaws and causes hoots of pleasure when he buries a rail and throws a bucket of water with one of his full bore arcing turns. But, Dane Reynolds also dances in the air with the best of them.
And, this era of beautiful ain’t a bad thing by any means. Surfing has never been more exciting or more fun to watch. It is just a fact. Sexy is what sells, today. It’s what turns the people on. A very particular feminine sexy. And so, the macho Australian charger is left in the cold. The warm love of a camera lens or correct caption just out of his firm, handshake-giving grasp.
I will also posit that the American surfer does not understand slabs. Most grow up surfing the comfortable beachbreaks around their homes with the odd point break thrown in for good measure. When they travel it is to Hawaii or Indonesia and not to hunt unruly beasts. American surfers love to get barrelled underneath head-high lips groomed by warm breezes. They love to pretend to punt like the graceful set. They love to wear 3/2s or, rather, they don’t love that but will abide it during the winter months. 4/3s or straight 5s represent burrrrrr.
And so, the idea of actively seeking bone crunching thrills in freezing cold water with sharks circling is difficult for the American surfer to actively understand. It is not what he normally does. It is not what he even wants to do.
I will finally posit that the faceless Australian is unable to care about his lack of notoriety precisely because he is masculine and because he is Australian. It is not masculine to toot your own horn. It is not masculine to have a blog and regularly update it. It is not masculine to seek praise for your hard work. Above and beyond, it is certainly not Australian to do any of those things.
In Australia there exists a condition called “tall poppy syndrome.” Due to an excessive egalitarianism, those who have achieved success based upon their talents, and insist on trumpeting those successes, are cut down. The sociological explanation is long and dull but that is what happens. And so, the faceless Australian cannot go and praise the giant, boil-filled barrel that he rode earlier in the day because that would make him a tall poppy. And he would be made fun of. He is stuck. Faceless. And maybe he is happy there. Maybe he enjoys his work-a-day, blue-collar approach. Maybe he feels comfortable in the warm confines of Australia’s Surfing Life and Australia’s Surfing Life alone. Maybe he needs nothing but his mates and his near-drowning experiences and his beer.