Unlocked: ‘Growing Normal On The Phone’ — A Visual Epitaph To Shaun Manners’ Adolescence
“I was accelerating so fast in a certain direction that I kinda ricocheted off into little pieces”
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A nearly admirable propensity for blasé self destruction oozes from so many of the alluring Australian freesurf contingent known as Rage.
Noa Deane perpetually breaking himself off at boog-only slabs.
Shaun Manners sending a terrifying Tombies double-up while his dad screamed ‘DON’T go.’
Creed flexing himself on 10-foot closeouts in the end of his ‘Cult Of Freedom Part’.
Any of them within 50 feet of a beer.
The examples of near impenetrability go on, so much so that one might begin to believe these characters to be elevated human beings of some sort, infallible to the same fatigues that us mortals suffer.
It’s an illusion of course, one of self-destructive romanticism, propped up by uncertain youth, surf media, and often the surfers themselves.
It pays to appear as an untouchable surf deity, and there’s no denying so many of the freesurfers we admire have capitalized on their perceived image of calloused self-affliction. It’s only natural, of course, but as Growing Normal On The Phone illustrates — and as Shaun told us earlier this year — you “can’t be a blast unit forever.”
“I love to drink beers, but I’ve kind of wrapped up doing anything too scorched,” he said. “There was a bit when I was younger and I didn’t know who I was when I was guilty of exaggerating certain things. Particularly when I lived in Byron and was hanging with heaps of older crew. No one’s superhuman, the damage catches up with you.”
This trajectory, away from rampant hedonism toward a more calm understanding of ourselves, is a part of being human. It’s normal — and so are the tribulations and dark times which come with growth.
“It’s called Growing Normal On The Phone because all that shit is normal,” filmmaker and longtime friend of Shaun, Toby Cregan told me. “That’s what I wanted to get across. The stuff that Shaun is talking about is normal stuff that so many young people go through. You know, having a panic attack or some vague thing where you don’t talk to your parents [laughs.] He’s a normal fucking dude.
“If it comes through in a way that isn’t too preachy or negative, then I’m stoked.”
Read below for a sprawling conversation with Mr. Cregan, which covers ground from his initial meeting with Chun, founding Rage, leaving Skeggs, and the process behind the film.
Stab: So obviously we’re here to talk about the film you just made, but I think this a great opportunity to get a bit of background on your trajectory, the history of Rage, and your relationship with the whole crew.
To start, I don’t think I realized how much of an age difference there was between you guys. Can you give us the lay of the land in terms of how everyone met and how old you all were?
I think Shaun’s 25, Creedo is like 29, Noa is a similar age to Creed, and I’m a couple years older. Shaun was so much younger than us, you would’ve seen in the video, he was like a little kid.
In those early years of him living with us, everyone would be like ‘oh, you’ve got a little kid with you? What the fuck?” [laughs] In hindsight, we were only a few years older, but at that age it feels like a big gap.
And how did you all come together?
Well, I’ve known Noa since he was a little kid. I used to film the grom comps when I was 17 and he was a few years younger. Our dads were also friends, but I always thought of him as younger, so we weren’t close mates. When Noa and Creed were about 18, Creed moved to Dion’s house near Byron and we hit it off. He broke up with his girlfriend at the time and didn’t want to go back to West Oz so he stayed — that was when we sorta formed the group that became Rage.
When did Shaun filter into that?
I made this movie way back in like 2014 called Nix Nic Nooley. Shaun would’ve been like 14, and Creed was like “we’re gonna pick up this grom to come film with us,” and I remember being like “fuck, I hate kids.” [laughs] Just ‘cuz I used to film grom comps, I thought all young kids who surf were generally annoying as fuck — but he was really cool, just seemed chill. We went and filmed North Point with him, and I thought there was no way a little kid was gonna get any waves. But, he got a few clips and we chucked him in the friend section. That was the first time I met Shaun.
After that, we did a few trips for Billabong together. He definitely was a pretty annoying grom, which I think comes across in the video. You can see him being a cheeky little lad.
We’d also give him heaps of shit — not like grom abuse, we always treated him as an equal — but it was so fun. He’d give it to us too, roasting me all the time. I was going through the footage, and you can just hear him in the background of the camera, even if I’m filming someone else, he was non-stop giving me shit. Now he’s fully become his own person, which has made me pretty stoked.
You’ve worked for Stab, you’ve worked at Billabong, you’ve been an integral part of Skeggs and Rage — what was the timeline on all that?
All of that that you just said has always crossed over. I’ve always done a bunch of shit at the same time. Stab was my first full-time gig doing video work, maybe in 2013? And then I started playing in the band a year after that, and we started Rage at the end of 2016. Around that time I was working for Billabong too. At one point I was working for Stab, Billabong, Rage, and was touring with Skeggs. There were a few years there where I didn’t have a day off.
I mean, it was worthwhile. I really enjoyed all of it. I never treated any of them like my actual job, but it was taking up all my time for sure. I wouldn’t want to do all that shit anymore, but at that time in my life it was kinda my dream.
What’s a major difference between life on tour with a band, and life on the road filming surfers?
Well, when you’re touring with a band, there’s no chance you’re gonna change the whole plan of the trip. You’ve got a schedule and you’ve gotta be in a different city every day. It takes out a fair bit of the adventure. Though, there is still unpredictable shit that happens all the time which keeps it almost as interesting as surf trips.
And, you’ve just quit Skeggs, a band that was still on the rise after one of your biggest gigs. Why?
Ah, fuck. I just didn’t wanna do it anymore. Like I was saying about doing so much all at once. I just wanted a more simple life, and to just actually be around. I’d be gone for like 10 months of the year doing band stuff. I didn’t have much time to hang with my friends, do stuff with Rage, and go on trips. It was wanting to do that stuff, paired with not wanting to do the same tour again.
I’m still doing music stuff, it’ll just be on a more scaled-down level. For me, I feel just as rewarded making stuff, as opposed to even having to put it out. It’s more about the process and the collaboration, it’s not necessarily about the accolades or performing.
The act of creating is its own reward.
That’s my favorite part, is making shit. Sometimes it can become too much about the outcome, I was just more zoned in on making the product fulfill me.
What prompted the making of this film?
Well, it’s basically Chun propaganda — it’s funded by his sponsor and they got one of his best friends to make it [laughs.] I was frothing, I hadn’t really sunk my teeth into a film project for a little while. I wanted it to be more of an in-depth look at Shaun. I thought maybe not too many people know heaps about him — like, they know he rips but might not know about his personality and where he comes from. I guess that’s why I felt like it needed some sort of depth to it.
I think you did it in a really artful way. Everyone has challenges like his, but there can be a tendency to portray things like that in an cliche, overdramatic, earnest way. This felt simple, relatable, and real. How did you walk that line?
Thanks man. I basically just had him call up his parents and Creed and just get them to talk. I thought by doing that we’d pull out some fun, gritty stories or whatever and put those in. It surprised me, but Shaun ended up showing vulnerability, which was even better than some anecdotal stories. It was pretty brave, and I’m glad he and I have a friendship where he trusts me to make something like that.
Yeah, it just felt honest, like he wasn’t trying to ask for sympathy or any of that, he was just telling his story.
Exactly. I didn’t want it to come across like that, because that’s not what he was doing. I’m glad you noticed that.
It’s called Growing Normal On The Phone because all that shit is normal. That’s what I wanted to get across. The stuff that Shaun is talking about is normal stuff that so many young people go through. You know, having a panic attack or some vague thing where you don’t talk to your parents [laughs.] He’s a normal fucking dude.
If it comes through in a way that isn’t too preachy or negative, then I’m stoked. It’s probably hard for him to watch it. We finished showing the movie to a few people the other day and he was like, “well, that was so weird.” [laughs].
Obviously he’s had a huge year — what have been the biggest changes you’ve seen in him to get to this point?
He seems really calm at the moment, and just dropped into being his own person. He’s always been himself, but I think career-wise it’s sick that he’s got his own thing going on with Former. The changes I’ve seen have happened so slowly, it’s hard to say the one thing that’s changed the most, but as a whole, he’s come into his own. This video feels like it’s him going from being that annoying grom, to becoming a pro-surfer.
Are we gonna see some more Ferrari Boys anytime soon?
I’d be hyped to bring those back. Heaps of people have been asking me what I’m doing now that I’m not playing in the band and I’m like — fuck, the exact same stuff really [laughs]. Playing music and making videos. Same shit.
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