From Stab issue 59: A damn interview on the Sunshine Coast of Australia whereupon Julian Wilson wastes no adjectives in describing a wave he’d been dreaming about surfing for two years, the grace and perfection of the stalefish, the exhausting thrill of shooting for the end section of Jordy Smith’s signature movie (with Kai Neville!) and all-day sessions in salt water of such a high concentration it created a never-before-felt friction on his body thereby compelling the 23-year-old to surf the tropical water in a full-suit. Nuts!
Photos by Ryan Miller, Interview by Derek Rielly.
Do you remember when? When the Modern Collectivists Jordy Smith, Mitch Coleborn and Craig Anderson lit up a harbour-mouth righthander in the Indian Ocean two years ago and our jaws…boom-zing!… bounced off the floor? Ain’t that just the best place in the world for airs? And, tell me about the wind? Does it really pours a vat of glue onto those dainty Mod Coll trotters?
Kai Neville had found something real close to the holy grail of performance surfing, a wave a zeitgeist away from somewhere like Grajagan where long, hard-to-shove guns were needed to make something of the vast lineup and its creaky almond tubes.
And, the same on Reunion, too. Suddenly, this bewitching French island wasn’t just about the long, vaguely curved walls of St Leu, now it was all about an imperfect studio of a wave in a rundown fishing town on the south-west coast.
Julian Wilson remembers it, remembers downloading Modern Collective from iTunes and sitting, alone, thinking: more than anything, I have to get to that wave. Julian had been pouring his life into the making of a profile video and sat out what would become the pivot point for modern surfing. Back then he beat himself in the head with his fists for missing it. Can you imagine what Julian would’ve done out there? You know he can huck you speechless.
So, this year, when Jordy wanted an end section for his movie, one that’d make our eyes swim in blood, he figured, he might reunite with Reunion. And, he’ll bring along Julian for added swing.
And, man, did they swing…
Stab: Tell me everything about how you landed at St Denis with jordy Smith and a busload of camera operators, including everyone’s favourite, Kai Nev…
Julian: Well, who could resist? Ever since MC when Jordy, Mitch and Ando surfed that right, I wanted to get there. And, Jordy wanted me to go there for his movie so when I got the call-up I didn’t care how I did it, I was going.
After, what, two years of thinking about it, how’d it shape up? Y’know, it’s cool, pretty cool, but not as good as I thought it was going to be. I figured it was going to be super predictable, that it’d hit the same sections, but the wave is random. You’ll race along and a section’ll pop up on a shallow bit of reef. It sure doesn’t break in the same place. It’s bright and it’s kinda attractive, but insolent at the same time. The way you see it, too, is different to how I had it in my head. It’s a little marina, a boat harbour on one side, with that right that runs into the mouth of it. It’s a completely perfect photo studio to shoot. There’s different angles and you get super close from the wall. If shooting clips is your thing, it’s the most productive place you can think of.
In your 10 days, y’think it was more that you didn’t get it just so rather than any inherent flaws in the set-up? That’s always a possibility but we got it on in just about every condition you could imagine: different swells, winds, various combos of both. We never really got a session where we were going bang for bang. Some sessions Jordy’d be on or I’d be on. We never clicked. But, what surprised me, was that when it’s clean you can whip some turns and there’s little barrel sections. It’s a wave you could spend a week surfing every day and not get bored. It’s sure not just about airs.
That insolence of the wave sounds like it disappointed the hell outta you. Did your smile weaken over the 10 days? Well, I had really high expectations of super predictable sections to go loony on. But, when we got over there, it was something completely different. It’s a powerful wave and it’s difficult to read. Outside, you get two sections, which are both hard to read, or you can sit on the inside on another section that was uncertain, too. If I was going to compare, or maybe contrast, somewhere to it, I’d say Canggu rights in Bali. They’re so different, but in a movie you might call ‘em both the same style of wave parks. But, in Canggu, you know where the sections are and you go turn for turn and after a week it’s familiar as can be. But, over there, you just didn’t know. You’d take off and some would give you the craziest section while others would fizzle out.
Something that was alluded to in MC was the difficulty of entry and exit. It’s not as easy as paddling out through a keyhole or riding a shorey into the beach… The bottom is sharp like Hawaii. It’s volcanic rock, the kinda shit you don’t wanna land on. And, at that right, there’s a big pile of dry rocks at the end. You don’t wanna get caught inside either. Jordy got smashed on it. And, on my last session, I hit the same set of rocks where Ando gets stuck in Modern Collective. But, you’re not going to hear any complaints. It’s been a long time since I had a freesurfing trip where I didn’t have the pressure of shooting personal clips. I surfed a ton there and got a lot out of it.
…Which is something, the enjoyment I mean, when you only surfed the one wave, pretty much. You lit up St Leu, once, but that was it… Yeah, we literally went to the same spot every single day. Everything was concerned with that one spot: the sun, the glare, how strong’s the wind, how’s it look for different camera angles, where to set up the Phantom camera. Like I said before, with the long lens over the rivermouth and the rocks along the front, it was the closest thing to a photo studio I’ve ever seen. And, it’s the closest I’ve seen landlocked photographers get. We’d be throwing down within a few metres of ‘em.
Sharks in Reunion ain’t a gas. Three or something fatals in half a year, and one just after you left… …and we checked that wave Trois-Bassins where the attack happened a handful of times. It’s just a little learn-to-surf kinda beach with a righthander out the back. Half the waves have been taken over by sharks and you can’t surf them anymore. There’s so many places over there that you don’t even surf. It’s a common fact there. Locals won’t even let you surf some places ‘cause it’s too dangerous. Eric Geiselman was staying at St Gilles at this epic house right in front of the funnest wave and they couldn’t go surfing. I guess it’s ironic that it’s so pretty you don’t really think about sharks too much, at least if you didn’t know the history. At the righthander, ‘cause of all the chatter, I couldn’t get it out of my head. We were surfing right into the mouth of the harbour where the fishing boats come in. Yeah, it was sketchy…
Conditions, I would’ve figured, should’ve been so down for a 540 oop or a frontside 720. That must’ve been in your head before you got there. Yeah, for sure, the idea of trying to nail that double-oop was in my head going over there. But, it wasn’t the right yet wave for it. Over the 10 days I had three or four actual sniffs of getting that section. They’re so sudden, and so random, you have to do a straight air or a rotation toward the beach. It’s not an alley-oop wave at all.
So, what would be the perfect double-oop wave? A tapering fast, and steep, righthand point break. Like Lances in the Mentawais, with a light wind coming straight into it. A wave where you can get going and the wave stays steep and you can hit that steep part of the back. You need the time to race and you need a predictable wall. Canggu rights, too, that place drew my attention to what was possible. It’s not something I’ll be forgetting about.
How y’feeling about a frontside 720? Five years ago, I saw Dane go for one in the Young Guns movie. I’ve seen Dane easily spin around twice, his board wasn’t with him the whole time, but he showed that it was totally possible. I haven’t even tried it. I’m happy if I stomp the full rotation frontside. I’m not sure if anyone else tries ‘em, maybe Chippa. But, like all things, they need to happen. When you set things up and you really try, it becomes a lot more difficult in your head, not so achievable. You have to let it come naturally during a session when conditions are right and you’re in the groove.
How about you tell me how you skinned yourself from, what, the salty water? We were surfing anywhere from four to seven hours a day. It was the saltiest water I’ve ever surfed in, the gnarliest rash you could have. Our chests and our stomachs were bleeding. The friction from the salt water between our bodies and our boards tore us to pieces.
…So you started wearing a full suit… I wore it for a couple of days. I literally couldn’t lie down on my board. The skin would come straight off and I’d be bleeding into the water, which isn’t something you want to be doing over there.
…And you impregnated so many sessions with stalefishes, including the one that Stole the cover. What thrills you about ‘em? It’s a hard grab to do and it looks, y’know, cool, kinda adventurous. If you don’t get the grab you get in a really awkward position. As soon as you hit the lip you almost have to karate kick your back foot out to make room for your back arm to grab the rail. I learned it from skateboarding. It’s the most satisfying of all the grabs. It feels way cooler than slobs or indys or mutes. You might even call ‘em graceful…