Longread: Dion Agius is Surfing's 21st Century Digital Boy
On the road with one of the culture's true outliers, Dion Agius
“Where’s Dion?” was the question echoing throughout our beachside Australian accommodation, right around 6:30 AM.
“He’s definitely awake,” one of the boys replied. “I heard him up and making a coffee like an hour ago.”
Carrying only a Stab company card and a copy of Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers, I’d come to Sydney for a road trip with the Haydenshapes team, along with Dylan Graves, Creed Mctaggart, and Hayden’s newest recruit, Dion Agius.
Dion was awake and had brewed a pot of joe before first light, but the polarizing Tasmanian was nowhere to be found. As the sun began to rise over a wind-groomed Pacific, Dion had grown tired of waiting and went to check the surf at a nearby pointbreak, which peeled off a small extra-coastal island. Separated from the mainland by only a shallow sandbar, at low tide a person could easily reach the island by foot.
An island is a man.
Five minutes into our search, Dion returned, his black jeans cuffed, wearing a black beanie, short/long-sleeve T-shirt combo and a weathered Army jacket.
“Where ya been mate?” asked our videographer, Tyge Landa.
“Aw, I just went to have a look at the island. Swell hasn’t really shown yet,” Dion informed us.
“It’s just right there though,” Tyge chuckled. “You’ve been gone for a halfa.”
“Yeah, I just went for a little walk around the joint—checking out video angles and stuff. It’d be a really cool spot to shoot.”
“You walked... around the island? Like all the way around it?”
“Yeah I mean, no one was up...”
Dion recently joined the Haydenshapes team. By the looks of how he was riding Hayden's new model, the Holy Grail, it would appear to be a match made in heaven.
Before any surfer set foot on Tavarua, the heart-shaped island in the middle of the Pacific, Mario Agius was living and surfing in Tasmania, a heart-shaped island in the middle of the Roaring Forties. Somewhere between surfing and running his own business, Mario found himself a wife and, in 1985, the Agius family had their first and only son, Dion.
Dion was born in Beaumaris, Tasmania, a small town in the island’s northeastern quadrant, where he spent his days playing on the family farm, avoiding the frigid Tasman Sea at all costs. When Dion turned twelve, his family relocated to South Australia, where he developed an affinity for waveriding, but only in the prone. After a couple years watching his son master the drag (Dion had won contests and was even featured in a bodyboarding magazine), it all became too much for Dion's father, Mario, who, knowing Dion needed a new sponge for his birthday, instead bought his son a surfboard. This infuriated Dion at the time, but he came to appreciate the gift soon thereafter.
The Agius family moved back to Tasmania for a short stint, until it was time for Dion to begin highschool, at which point the family quandary became: should they move to one of the Tasmanian cities of Hobart or Launceston, where good schools prevail but surf evades; or, should they move somewhere outside of Tassie altogether, where both Dion’s education and his newfound passion for (stand-up) surfing could flourish?
When Dion turned fifteen, he and his family moved from the Tasmanian countryside to the glitz and glamour of Queensland’s Gold Coast. According to Dion, it was as like they’d landed on another planet.
“I was just this tiny little kid from Tasmania, so my mind was blown pretty quick,” Dion says. “Paul Fisher was pretty much the first person I ever met on the Goldy, then the Harrington twins, Hippo [Ryan Hipwood]. All those guys had been surfing and competing from such a young age, it was great to get pushed by kids who surfed way better than myself. Beyond the culture shock, moving to the Goldy was huge for my surfing.”
The learning curve was steep, but Dion being Dion, he was soon considered one of the hottest teens on the Goldy.
"I've been trying to make my airs more stylish -- not so much focusing on crazier spins or anything, just trying to go big and straight with a tweak." - Dion Agius.
Finally, is what Dion—drinking coffee before the sun, and circumnavigating an extra-coastal island before 7 AM—must have been thinking to himself. Everyone’s up and we’re out the door. From that point it was only a thirty minute drive to Aussie Pipe, our muse for the day and one of Dion’s all-time favorite waves.
When I tell you that Dion speed-walked down the wooden path, was fully-suited within thirty seconds of touching the sand, and that his first wave, mere seconds later, crescendoed in a 270-degree air reverse, would you believe me? And when I say that Dion caught three-times the waves of any other person, paddled back to the lineup with the speed and intensity of a Coast Guard ship, and over the course of a six-hour session, only returned to the beach for two fifteen-minute intervals, in order to rehydrate and warm his little piggies, would you think I was exaggerating? I am not.
Dion surfs hard and seriously. No knee-board barrels like Dylan Graves. No dick-dragging intermissions like Creed McTaggart. Dion approaches filming sessions with the mindset of a contest surfer, except the competition is not with the guys around him—it’s with himself. When Dion goes surfing, every wave is an opportunity, and opportunities are not meant to be squandered.
I watched Dion fail to commit to landing one especially lofty ‘oop, potential ‘ender clip’ for his Welcome to the Haydenshapes Team part. He was livid.
“Fuck! I thought the landing was gonna be really heavy, but it was so nice and fluffy. I can’t believe I pussed out like that.”
When asked how often he bails on major airs, Dion answered candidly:
“A least fifty percent of the time, which is pretty bad. I had an injury like eight years ago, pretty much what Kelly is dealing with right now. I broke both my metatarsals and was out for like eight months. Ever since then I’ve found it really hard to commit to putting weight on my foot, especially for big landings like that. It kinda messed me up, psychologically.”
32 years old and getting better every session.
Dion used to be a contest guy. And a rail guy. Throughout his early teens, Dion’s favorite surfer was Mark Occhilupo, followed closely by Tom Carroll. Dion saw something of himself in these short-legged, wave-punishing goofies, and focused on power surfing for his first few years.
“Somewhere along the line I discovered airs,” Dion says. “Probably because I was living at Currumbin, right on the beachie, and we had south [read: air] wind all the time. 7 Days 7 Slaves had just come out with Ozzie Wright, and that was a huge influence on me, so I started trying airs.”
Luckily for Dion, his embrace of techy style was right on time. Following a promising junior career, Dion started to question his competitive abilities, after a string of early losses at WQS events. Dion’s surfing, while explosive, was not particularly conducive to the competition format.
So maybe, Dion thought, he’d become a filmmaker. He had always liked working behind the lens and was deeply inspired by guys like Taylor Steele, who had a major influence surf culture. It was this thought, paired with one of Taylor’s better film concepts, that led to a groundbreaking moment in Dion’s career. While talking with his best friend (and filmer) Beren Hall, Dion had an epiphany. He took the loose narrative style and surf/travel aesthetic from Taylor Steele’s Drive Thru films, and made them for emerging internet landscape.
Perhaps surfing’s true 21st Century Digital Boy, Dion and Beren approached Steve Douglas, President of Globe Australia, with their far-fetched concept: What if we made a web series?
At the time, the concept was new, nay, foreign to many a marketing director unacquainted with the Internet’s novel platform. But much to their surprise, Globe bought it. Dion and Beren walked out of the Globe offices, pockets lined with production cash.
“We couldn’t believe they said yes. At that time, there was no clear route to being a “freesurfer”... I guess there isn’t really now either, but back then it just seemed so abstract. Only the best guys could get paid without having to surf contests, so the fact that they were giving us this sort of opportunity was really special.”
The series blew up. DionTV featured him and friends traveling around the world, surfing, partying, pretty much living the dream of any twenty-something surfer. And for what it lacked in world-class surfing and cinematography, DionTV made up for with its market monopoly. At that point, there were very few surfers who were doing their own filmmaking. Even less were using the internet to promote themselves.
Bald is to Slater and black beanie is to Dion. It's just that simple.
The day after the bailed alleyoop, we headed back to Aussie Pipe for the final pulse of a dying swell. Dion did well to rally the crew for a dawn patrol session, something he calls sparrows, but when we arrived at the carpark our indicator reef was flat -- not a good sign for Pipe. Instantly the boys began debating a plan. (“Let’s go here!” “Nah let’s go there.” “How about we go back to bed?”)
As we deliberated, Dion ran the kilometer-long track down to Aussie Pipe, watched a set, and ran back before we could decide between breakfast or sleep.
“There’s still a few waves down there,” Dion said. “It’s only like… waist high, but I reckon we could get a few clips. Let’s just get a surf under our belts.”
The waves, as Dion had noted, were only waist high, but very fun. He was the first one out (again), catching everything in sight (again), and each wave was surfed with one of two goals in mind: 1. Get the shot, or 2. Improve technique. I must have watched Dion take off on twenty shouldery left-handers, build as much speed as possible, reach the corner of the wave and zahhh! A back-footed, spray-slinging drop-wallet back into the foam, each performed with a slight variation in placement, timing, and intensity.
Looking at the clips later that the day, we realized that, by some small (pun intended) miracle, we’d managed to score the best footage of the trip in this miniscule surf. Granted, much of that was thanks to our expert filmmaker, Tyge Landa, but it was Dion’s eagerness to put in work that got us out there in the first place. The classic Dion formula: Motivation + creativity = success.
And who'd'a thunk a farm boy from Tasmania could do all this?
After DionTV took off, Agius used his his newfound freedom and cash (thanks Globe!) to explore the world, bouncing from the Gold Coast to Sydney, Sydney to New York, New York to California, California to Byron, finding new friends and forms of inspiration at every stop. His time spent at “home” was minimal, but he used these bases to shape his aesthetic and world view.
One thing that he found interesting, perhaps while living in America’s skateboarding hub of Southern California, was the concept of rider-owned companies. As Dion watched the demise of surfing’s megabrands, he mentioned an idea to friends Kai Neville and Mitch Coleborn and, slowly but surely, the fledgling idea took wings. Sometime later, Epokhe Eyewear was born.
“My Dad had his own business in Tassie, and I think I always wanted to be my own boss if I could,” Dion says. “I like the idea of being able to call your own shots, but also having something that you’re proud of; something that’s yours. It went from making sunglasses that my friends and I wanted to wear into a fully-fledged business, which has been a crazy learning curve. I feel like my head is going to explode sometimes, but it’s been really fun.”
Following Epokhe’s early success, Dion followed it up with The Octopus Is Real, a traction company founded alongside Nate Tyler, Chippa Wilson, and Brendon Gibbens. Dion sees these companies as pet projects, where money is not the end goal but certainly a welcome side effect. Which is to say: he’s still very much a professional surfer.
There has been nothing easy about Dion's success. Except for maybe this wave.
As we watched the footage from our miniature session, I asked Dion about the drop wallet he’d been trying all morning. Chances are they’d only use one of those clips in his section, so what was the point of doing it nineteen extra times?
“I’m just trying to get better at rail surfing,” Dion told me. “I feel pretty content with aerial surfing, so it’s been really fun trying to figure out how to do turns, because I honestly don’t really know how to do them. I’ve been watching guys and studying their techniques, and now I’ve started working with Hayden on making my boards more geared for turns. All of the sudden, we got that new board, the Holy Grail, on this trip, and I can’t believe how much of a difference I feel in turns. It’s the first board I’ve ridden where I’m like holy shit, it’s clicked a little bit.”
“And what about bigger waves?” I implored. “It seems like you’ve been dabbling. What’s your limit?”
“I think I pushed my limit recently at Shippies, and that kind of freaked me out. I’m pretty scared generally, so I don’t really like chasing big waves for fun, but I’ll do it for a project or whatever, because I’m always trying to push myself to get stuff that feels fresh.”
Dion went onto explain that, on top of his recent experience at that Tasmanian stairset, he had been affected by the near-tragedy of his mate Craig Anderson, who was recently held under to the point of swallowing saltwater. Dion assured me: he would never be anything close to a proper “big wave” surfer.
But Dion’s not one for the “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” motto. If anything his motto would more be along the lines of: “If it ain’t broke, better fix it anyways, because it’ll probably be broken soon.” More than any modern-day surfer, Dion has kept himself ahead of what’s considered “cool.”
He's be working on his rail game, sure, but don't expect Dion to denounce the tail waft altogether.
He moved to New York City, just because. He created the first proper web series and blog, and cared about film aesthetics before surfers had to. A “hipster” before hipsters were even a thing, by the time they were, Dion was already onto something else. Like being at the forefront of surfing’s rider-based brands movement. He’s an air guy, sure, but he’s trying to become a barrel/power surfer. Recently he released The Smiling Bag, not to a video streaming platform, but to those who personally emailed him for the download link.
And just this week, Dion bought a home, his home, on a heart-shaped island in the middle of the Roaring Forties. Nearly two decades after his family’s move to the Gold Coast, Dion is back to living on his native Tasmanian soil. Does this fall under fashion’s 20-Year cycle, or is it just Dion being Dion?
Over the course of our trip I gathered many insights about Mr. Agius, but most importantly, I learned what has kept Dion—a dynamic but not extraordinary surfer—uber-relevant the past ten years.
As we rolled through the last few days of our road trip, I considered Dion’s incredible success as I burned through Gladwell’s magnum opus. “Autonomy, complexity, and a connection between effort and reward are, most people will agree, the three qualities that work has to have if it is to be satisfying…” Gladwell writes. “If you work hard enough and assert yourself, and use your mind and imagination, you can shape the world to your desires.”
Innate talent has aided Dion’s cause—there’s no denying that—but preternatural ability only begins to explain the ascension of this Tasmanian farm boy. Whether by fate or by function, Dion has worked hard and smart, in the right place at the right time, and he’s always made the correct decisions regarding his direction an image. And sure, it’s not just his work ethic. It’s not his cultural foresight nor his friends in high places nor his ability to adapt. It’s all of those things rolled into one, plus a certain je na sais quoi, that has kept food on Dion’s plate and a big Globe sticker near the nose of his surfboard. Dion is an original, one of surfing’s true Outliers.
Watch Dion's latest edit 'New Blood', riding Haydenshapes' latest creation, the Holy Grail (5'5 1/2 x 18 3/4 x 2 1/8), here: