Over two weekends in August, the Modern Collective gathered its final clips.
After a year of filming the most exciting surfers in the world (Dane, Jordy, Mitch C, Dusty P, Dion A and Yadin N) in Mexico, Reunion and Morocco, the group was brought together on the Gold Coast to record the final section in the movie. Jed Smithwent along for the hell ride and recorded these character observations.
The original premise for my article on The Modern Collective was to concentrate on the surfers with the most competitive promise, Jordy Smith.
I tried to arrange it with Jordy but he wouldn’t pick up my calls. Not surprising. Mine was a strange number and I don’t tend to pick them up either. I reached him by calling Dion who, at the time, was sitting next to him.
He agreed on the story, on the proviso that I took down the Joy of Sex with Jordy, the one where he related his like for anal sex with older women. It had become a bit of rallying point for forum posters and he’d rather it fucked its own self in the ass, so to speak. I agreed. I was then called by Jordy’s manager, John Shimooka, who relayed to me some of Jordy’s concerns that I would be up there to inaccurately reinforce a stereotype of him as a binge- drinking idiot. I told Shmoo, that my intention, as with every surfer, is to paint a well-rounded portrait of the surfer. In Jordy’s case, I had looked forward to doing a story on him because of his bottomless honesty and punk attitude. Interestingly, Shmoo told me that Jordy had been affected by some of the criticisms of his peers following certain interviews in Stab. Mitch Coleborn introduced me to Jordy. We met him in the McDonalds below his apartment. Mitch returned a phone charger. He embraced Mitch with vigour. I extended my hand saying, “Howzit, my bru” in mock Afrikaans. Jordy was six sheets to the wind though he held it well. He shook my hand earnestly, looked me in the eyes with a deadpan, bordering on menacing, stare and said, “How are you, good?”
We waited in line at McDonalds where he ordered nine cheeseburgers. He was shirtless and I stole a glimpse of his muchmaligned “close” nipples. They were the colour of grape bubble gum and unimpressive. Visibly closer, yes. Obviously closer, definitely not. I asked him about Yamba. He said it was okay, that he’d been there as a grom. His tone was not enthusiastic. He spoke looking at the counter, only glimpsing at me. He appeared to be fighting the urge to offer a compassionate answer.
I was later told later that Jordy was paranoid by my presence, and also that it was Stab, and not me personally, that Jordy was concerned about. “Your last name is Stab,” I was told by the person.
Which is strange given what happened at the nightclub later on. While standing at the bar I was yelled at in nauseating arrogance, the kind I once would have responded too with a stiff left in the lips, by Jordy.
“Stab, buy me a beer,” he cracked at me.
“You got money?” I asked. He had a bunch of twenties he was stuffing into his wallet. He told me not to worry about it.
Jordy was drunk at the club. Not in a dangerous or violent way. He was loud in speak and movement, though he contributed a positive flow of energy to the club. He danced, spun girls whether they wanted to be or not, and slammed shots. He was viewed with envy by beta males. He wasn’t snobbish. He was social and constantly locked in bro shakes with, it seemed, a large portion of the guests.
The next day in the surf at Straddie he was engaging in conversation with nobodies. Other members of The Modern Collective would sing his praises, telling about how sociable and not arrogant he was. It was a description that jarred badly with my experiences of the man so far. Eventually, we found each other alone, between sets.
“Getting a couple?” I asked, in timeless surf speak.
“Yeah, sort of. A couple of wedges. Yourself?” he replied. I responded in kind and like that the barrier dissolved. He took glee in telling me how in Tahiti a camera-wielding invalid hired by the ASP had spread rumours through the top 45 that I had been caught handling a Stab employee’s genitals. I laughed and said the depressing thing is that I totally believe you. I told him that I had almost fought the man in question at customs in Sydney airport.
“The question that Jordy must answer is does he want to live a lie or does he want to embrace his flaws and give air to his compassion, honesty and personality in one of the few publications that will allow it, Stab. His early interviews with Stab were indicative of the latter: full of honesty and youthful abandon, but as Shmoo told me, he had been influenced by some of what his peers had said to him.”
He then asked me what had in mind for that story on him. This time his tone was sheepish. I had penetrated that veneer. I was about to meet Jordy. I told him it was never going to be a burn. That I wanted to write a portrait of him and that I thought he was comfortable with his party boy image. He nodded and acknowledged my explanation. It dawned on me that Jordy is a sensitive young adult at the mercy of the very insecurities I was. It struck me later, that the fact he’d even agreed to be a part of the now non-existent story was either a piece of immense bravery or a bad miscalculation on his part of how much clout he possesses. Jordy controls exactly what is reported about him. He is someone who everyone wants a piece of and who no one will sacrifice as a source and athlete to feature in their pages.
The question that Jordy must answer is does he want to live a lie and try in vain to scuttle half-baked theories and bad press hinting at his arrogance or does he want to live a free existence, embrace his flaws and give air to his compassion, honesty and personality in one of the few publications that will allow it, Stab. His early interviews with Stab were indicative of the latter: full of honesty and youthful abandon, but as Shmoo told me, he had been influenced by some of what his peers had said to him.
I asked him what it was like to be one of the few young, outspoken people on tour. Did he feel alone, outnumbered, was it hard?
“They don’t make it easy for you, that’s for sure,” he said before we were separated by a wedge. I never got the chance to ask him what he meant by that. He was gone the next day.
His presence was polarising among the Collective. All celebrated his charisma. Though there was a complaint that he was easily influenced/ manipulated by those he admired or those that were louder and more charismatic than he. It led to an incident in which he brought the Harringtons and co back to the apartments, tanked. It was disruptive and more than two members of the Collective could handle. They sabotaged his equipment: nicked leggies, shredded stickers, boards covered from nose to wide point in stickers, and were genuinely pissed at his behaviour. A day later and Jordy was gone, back in Sydney, leaving all his boards behind. He has a brash exterior but there is no question he is the most sensitive out of the Collective and the most easily influenced.
Dusty Payne is a simple man. He is kind, quiet and likely to follow rather than plot the course. His personality sits at odds with his name, which hints at some sort of whisky drinking wild man and the air reverse that won him 50k.
He is not a wildly orbiting lunatic, although he can wildly orbit, but a low-key Hawaiian. After a night at the casino in which Dane, Yadin and he had all done their arses, and badly, a drunkard approached us yelling and with his arms raised. Yadin shot him a glare of disdain and implied violence. Dane admired him inquisitvely while Dusty’s eyes widened marginally. That was it.
He’d been in Brazil before the Gold Coast. I inquired about the women. And how reportedly besotted they are with blond surfers such as he. Dusty said the reports were true but the language barrier made it difficult to pick up. And often, even with English-speaking women, he “doesn’t really know what to talk to chicks about anyway. It’s easier to go to the brothel,” he says. So it is.
Dusty was responsive to the prevailing mood in the group. When we were engaged in rigorous debate about one of the many inadequacies of the current surf culture, Dusty would contribute his argument with emotion. But only once the conversation cornered around to something he knew about. Otherwise, he would sit in total silence busying himself with his napkin or straws on the table. One of the topics covered was an altercation two surfers had in Tahiti. He was adamant that conflicts should be sorted out a certain way, and that one of the surfers had “acted like a little bitch.”
Dusty’s tendency to follow the group and remain in the background would break when he had a bad surf. He developed a reputation among the collective as “MR Eggy” due to his perceived poor performances throughout. After a session at Straddie, he returned to shore, stuck his board in the sand and was asked by Yadin how his session was. “I should never have fucken come here. I fucken hate this country,” he said, as he sat on a camera case. “There is seriously nothing good about it.”
“Dusty said the reports of hunger women in Brazil were true but the language barrier made it difficult to pick up. And often, even with English-speaking women, he ‘doesn’t really know what to talk to chicks about anyway. It’s easier to go to the brothel,’ he says.”
After half an hour on the beach, he donned a cameraman’s Gath helmet and had Yadin tow him into a few step-offs. It was only four foot. The Gath may have been a threat or a Murhpy’s Law device that Dusty thought would gather him a clip. He threw himself into several of the more acrobatic fin cartwheels he’s famous for. He wasn’t totally a follower. On a trip back from Straddie, he and the rest of the Collective were in a Tarago while Dion and I were in another car. He rained potato chips on our windows on three separate occasions down the highway. His face was red with laughter. He poured water out their window onto ours. Again cracking up. I found a toilet roll in Dion’s car, doused it in cordial and nailed his window with it as we accelerated past. He threw me a shaka, as if to say, “Well played sir!”
On our way back from the casino, he handed 50 bucks to the Indian cabbie. It was a $35 fare. The driver’s eyes lit up as Dusty began to leave the car not waiting for his change. “Keep it buddy,” he said. At the Casino, Dusty’s reactions to winning were indiscernable to him losing. Everyone was losing, so I assumed Dusty was too.
“Dusty’s killing it,” said Yadin. “He’s on a roll.” For his first five or so spins, Dusty hadn’t lost. He was up 400 in two minutes and climbed his way to betting $50 chips. As his money dwindled he began swearing under his breath with the spin of the table. “C’mon you fucking bitch slut,” or something along those lines, he said either at the lady or the ball. We were reprimanded for our language soon after. Industry folk greeted him at the casino. They would meet and greet him animatedly. It was Dusty Payne, the Hawaiian It Kid, they were thinking. He would feed off their enthusiasm and become animated.
In the surf we spotted a bald surfer with a rats tail and a head covered in white zinc. He looked like a cannibal. I quipped to Dusty that if “you burn that guy we’ll run the Dusty issue.” “That guy? I’ll burn him brah, I don’t give a fuck.” It wasn’t said in arrogance, more in a way that hinted he believed I was serious we were gonna run the Dusty issue, and he’d happily burn the guy for that to happen. Five stars, this kid.
Mitch Coleborn is the typical Australian surfer. He is from the Sunny Coast, was raised among a very parochial crowd of anti-fashion surfers, and even today suffers criticism from his hometown contemporaries for his choice of hair and clothes.
Once, he sported a shaved head, wore non-descript clothes and spoke like every other junior surfer I can’t remember. Today he wears a long, curly mane, sometimes in a ponytail, wraps himself in German military jackets and dresses like a Newtown coffee technician. Mitch embodies The Modern Collective and change in surfing like few others. If Mitch Coleborn, a standard ‘bloke’ from the Sunshine Coast, who is an exceptional surfer, can embrace freedom of speech, expression and style, anyone can.
He told me with beaming pride about a situation he experienced with shaper Darren Handley recently. He was at the shaping bay, and Darren told him a story about something his 17-year-old son had said to him.
The kid had said, “Dad, I’m so stoked that we sponsor Mitch. He’s the best guy you’ve got.”
This, to a man who sponsors Mick Fanning, Bobby, Julian. This impressed upon Mitch just where surfing is heading and whom the upcoming generation look to and are inspired by. He was visibly moved by the fact he was being looked up to by the younger generation. He said he had given the kid a Modern Collective t-shirt. He said the kid was a styler. He was driving when he told me the story. Rarely did he speak with emotion. Mitch was wary about unveiling his personality. Often, he would remain quiet, and from my perspective felt a little out of place among the Collective, socially. Mitch is not very confident. At dinner he was unwilling to express his opinion because, it seemed, he didn’t think it would “be correct.” Mitch is unapologetic about an interview in Stab where he talked about his love of fucking ugly chicks with hot bodies in doggy style. He did mention, however, that his mum had been disappointed in him and told him, “I thought I raised you to respect women more than that.”
You get the sense that Mitch, like Jordy, and Dane to an extent, is very much at the whim of the opinions held of him, by those older than him. I recall a story about him in Hawaii putting cases on his credit card for Mick Fanning and the Harrington’s. The Harrington’s were spruiking him to do it and he did it. He told me later “I sort of regretted in the morning.”
He is an outsider on the Sunny Coast, and the Gold Coast, and in Australian surfing. He has since embraced that outsider tag. He is a misfit trying to establish an identity for himself.
This is problematic in surfing, where you are either a sick cunt (Dane), no-frills bloke (Mick) or a faggot fashionista (Dion). There is no in-between. It’s a polarised world and Mitch doesn’t quite fit into any category. Not opinionated and confident enough to slot seamlessly into the Mod Coll, but too tired of the Australiana surfing stereotype to fit into that group.
Mitch is not immune to criticism and is sensitive to it. He is worried about online hatred and, though he hasn’t been exposed to it, was appalled at what Dion has been through on our site. He doesn’t understand where the anger comes from. I explained that the anger is a response to the surfing public being gypped for so long out of proper news and a place to vent their concerns. The anger is misguided, I said, and I don’t understand why they think pro surfers are immune to it, but I can understand why they feel such need to voice their concerns.
He nodded, pensively. But I could tell it was difficult for him to comprehend why people were so needlessly hurtful. It doesn’t make any more sense to me. I could give him reasons but couldn’t understand why guys want to hurt people so bad, either.
Mitch loves Facebook. The Modern Collective is his homepage. Mitch buzzes around Facebook while watching TV. He also has a slight dalliance with art. There is some Ozzie Wright-esque art and rhymes on canvas in his house. He sprays all his boards with loud colours. It’s part to break with the fascist leanings of surfing, and part to combat the boredom of someone who does nothing but surfs for a living. What a life? How boring.
Dane Reynolds is a humanist. On a trip to the Gold Coast casino, Dane was recognised by at least two people, who sat next to him and asked his attention.
He sat, legs crossed, gin and tonic in hand and showed genuine interest in the affairs of someone else. After 10 minutes, it was the other guy who left first. He is uber social, always courteous and supremely conscientious. He epitomises the humanist and this is what makes him flawed as a pro surfer.
Dane is a good person, with informed opinions that he takes ownership of. But he struggles with the fact people look to him for guidance or trend setting, or value his opinion at all. One afternoon we discussed the fear of pro surfers to express opinion and emotion in interviews, on TV, to anyone from the media. Dane agreed that it had led to a very conservative and boring surfing culture.
But, he offered a reason why he was reluctant to engage with the media. He said that, in the past, he had said things that had been taken out of context. He said that he hated, “how absolute things look when they’re on a piece of paper.” In other words, a quote when transferred from voice to paper can be read as a highly charged piece of opinion.
“Look at Yadin and how he says the word ‘cunt.’ He calls people cunts all the time and it sounds so harmless, but put that in print and it reads very differently.”
It’s a valid argument but why do you care so much what people think about you?
He said he didn’t, but he didn’t like having an image out there that wasn’t accurate of him. He hates having ‘an image.’ “What is an image?” he asked rhetorically.
Yadin complimented his argument, saying that for many surfers it is very important what the public thinks of you. If you are hated, your sponsor will drop you.
Dane will never get dropped. If he did, the rest of the surf industry would be in rapture and would sign him for triple his current wage. Dane said he didn’t care what people thought of him. I asked him a question and he was hesitant to say his true opinion. I questioned that he evidently did care about what people thought. He conceded the point.
Dane is no nihilist. He cares, very much so, about the state of surfing, or more accurately surf culture. He was particularly frustrated with how conservative it had become. He pointed to the lack of humour in many surfing publications, though admitted he had read little of Stab and not seen our website. I pointed out that athletes that were unwilling to express what they really feel is at the root of this problem. He agreed.
He was angry at performance films, such as the one he was filming for. He believed they were “elitist,” “unrealistic” and you got the feeling he felt like a circus animal jumping through hoops to be in one. It wasn’t a style of surfing he enjoyed performing constantly and not one that he particularly enjoyed watching.
He cares fuck-all about winning a world title or a contest. But enjoys losing as much as anyone. His interaction with Jordy was interesting and always friendly. They weren’t a social fit. They are very different people. Jordy is overstated, loud and a magnet for attention. Dane would laugh at Jordy’s antics and was genuinely enthralled, along with everyone, by his presence. Unlike some of the others, who eventually tired of his antics, Dane never did.
One night we spoke about gays and the military. He said that he had expressed shock when he was in San Francisco during a gay pride parade. He didn’t understand “why guys would have to ride around nude on bicycles.” Later, he conceded and appreciated that people who have been oppressed, when given the chance to express themselves, do it in an overt way. He acknowledged that the gays’ show of pride in San Francisco was essentially no different from black pride at a civil rights parade. “It’s a parade, obviously they are going to be proud,” he admitted later.
On a basic level, Dane is a person who is young, open-minded and forming and changing opinions like anyone else. He is looked on as a messiah and his words are taken as verbatim and with a choice sentence he can motivate a legion of youth. Then, with another sentence, he can confuse that legion of fans that he has just motivated. That is the reason for his reluctance to be involved in media engagements. He says he “doesn’t understand why people care what he says or thinks” but understands that what he says does have an affect on surfing and those that partake in it.
Though he is a surfer, he is at odds with the industry and profession he has been brought into. He is a figurehead for change but doesn’t want the responsibility. He would never be caught dead in most surfwear apparel. In the five days I spent with him, only once was he in anything but his denim button-up shirt, cream too short pants and floppy beige Quik cap combo. I assume he was changing a t-shirt and underwear beneath but he always turned out in the same outfit. He expressed his longing for an outlet of expression outside of surfing, which he finds restricting. Hence his interest in photography, which his mum is proficient in, and his desire to make an independent, indulgent surf film. And his creative space, and his love of The Velvet Underground, The Modern Lovers, Charles Bukowksi (he insisted that I have his copy of one his books) and Hunter S. Thompson. He is painfully self-deprecating. Watching over photographer DJ Struntz’s shoulder, a sequence of Dane doing a full-roter oop appeared. “Chop hop” he called it.
As another sequence of him appeared, to “ooos” and “ahhhhhs” he made a “pffft” noise, turning away. It’s irritating and dishonest to deny his skill, no matter who you are, even if it is he. He hates jet skis. As a photographer buzzed around the line-up, shooting him and the Mod Coll, he snapped for the photog to “just stand on the beach.” The wake was ruining the surf and the smell of diesel and sight of a machine cranking about the lineup did not gel with Dane’s idea of surfing.
He drinks beer, but doesn’t binge or drink to a level that changes his personality. It’s measured indulgence in something that he truly enjoys the taste of. He drank about four to six beers every time I was in his presence.
Yades is the most charismatic and opinionated of the group. He is a natural absorber of information and his brain will compute it, before regurgitating it to you with a signature cynical and often negative slant. He had opinions on almost everything.
What was refreshing was that they were from lived-in experience and he owned and believed strongly in them, and had evidence or at least experience to back them up. Yadin had opinions on Stab, surf media, the WQS, certain surfers on the WQS and me (he wasn’t fond of my coverage of the ASP banquet). Yadin was once the wildest man in the west. Stories of his wicked ways are folk tales among his generation. When pressed to talk about it, he offered a sharp “Nah, I’m over that now. Maybe another time.”
He married at 23 and has changed with the swiftness of a gangbanger who found God in the pen. Yadin is besotted by his wife Bella. He would disappear to the balcony for long periods to call her, sometimes more than once in a day. She’s in Santa Barbara.
The solidarity among the Collective was strong. Few hit it off like Dane and Yadin. They were the senior surfers and there was much mutual respect. Yadin appeared to respect Dane’s anticonfrontational side and his completely grounded nature despite the loftiness of his star.
“Yadin had opinions on almost everything. What was refreshing was that they were from lived-in experience and he owned and believed strongly in them, and had evidence or at least experience to back them up.”
Dane was in awe of Yadin, partly, I believe, because Yades knows when to draw a line in the sand. Yadin would not deal with bullshit at all. Dane would cop shit and said he wishes he knew where to draw a line. Yadin was, in his past, willing to engage in confrontation or conflict. Dane and Yadin were opposite ends of the spectrum, as far as personality went, but were both level-headed, open for discussion and mature adults. Dane was curious as to why Yadin never called him when in Santa Barbara. Yadin thought Dane would be rattled by the strange number on his phone.
Yadin’s personality is addictive. At the casino he lost and he lost quickly. He was down over $1500 after two trips to the casino (one in Melbourne). This didn’t bother him. He’s a happy loser (in the literal sense) and put his credit card over the bar ferrying us rounds of drinks despite being down 400 in half an hour.
It was Yadin who instigated the Jordy reprisal. Jordy overstepped the line with him and he was incensed. Jordy brought the Harringtons back to their apartment and was behaving like a loose drunk. So Yadin, with the help of Dusty, nicked all his leggies, shredded his stickers and plastered his boards in stickers. “Yadin! Come here and skoll this beer,” recounted Yadin in mock Afrikaans. “Who are you?” said Yadin, in his recount.
Dion cuts a heroic figure.
The way things are looking his will be a career that will out-last many who surf a lot better than he. It already has. Dion is outspoken, will deliver honest quotes to me whenever he is asked, and understands the surfing machine better than anyone. In particular, we discussed what surfing represents today. Both of us were shocked at how conservative it had become and offered our reasons why.
He pointed to the fact that surfing was once drug proud and welcomed all types of humans and expression. It was closely meshed with hippydom, which was as free as things got. Now, surfers cannot wear different jeans to someone without being branded a faggot. God help you if you have an interest in fashion, art or any of the tastes of a cultured human. Dion enjoys these things and subsequently is seen as the anti-Christ by much of the surfing public.
Dion totally understood why some people hated him and was guilt-ridden by the fact his career had flourished where other equally talented contemporaries of his were now working as labourers on building sites. Yet he didn’t understand why he was pegged so viciously as a self-promoter and why many disliked him on the basis of him having pursuits outside of surfing.
Regarding his tag as self-promoter, Dion points to the fact that he is simply very interested in fashion and filming. The self-promoter tag suggests he does the films, the fashion and the arts to further his career. Is it possible that he just enjoys those things, which coincidentally makes him a sponsor’s dream?
He is a surfer who needs pursuits outside of the sport. He has always been interested in filming, and at one point was tossing up whether to give away surfing for a career as a filmmaker. Hence, the success of his video blog, Dion.TV. It’s his passion and the quality of the short videos are the type that can only be achieved through dedication and enjoyment of the art.
When he wasn’t surfing, Dion would spend every second in his loungeroom cutting and chopping and gluing and painting montages that he would place on his wall. There must have been 20 different works. His coffee table is covered in fashion mags and the The Vice Photo Book. Filming, fashion and the creative arts are legitimate passions for Dion.
He lamented at one point, how bizarre it was that what was once a hobby for him and fun, had now become his job. He said, “It was kind of sad.” The fun has been taken out of surfing for these guys. Dane is especially vocal about it. It’s one thing to heap thorns on them for being ingrates, but it’s a boring life. They travel the world, and surf, but they never leave the contest site. And they are not valued for anything else than how much spray they can generate or how high their fins go. Surfing was once a very liberal and accommodating sport. It isn’t anymore. And for some who have interests that extend far past surfing, it’s difficult.
Dion idolises Ozzie. He expressed himself. “Ozzie was sick,” he says resolutely. “He just didn’t care. He did what he wanted.” Ozzie didn’t grow up in a period of unadulterated internet criticism. Dion is conscious of the discrepancy between his ability and that of Dane and Jordy. He voices his concerns on a number of occasions that, just perhaps, he doesn’t deserve to be where he is. But, since when was surfing just about skill? Dion balances out the discrepancy with personality. Which he has in bucket loads, and which earns him the self-promoter tag. He understands surf culture, trends and the machine, which enables him to earn a living while Shaun Cansdell works in a surf school. He is guilt-ridden about that. Why should he be? His success is a sign that the surfing public is embracing honesty and colour. Dion is the new school Ozzie, though it’s polarising because many don’t believe there can be another Ozzie. Well, wait until a generation comes along that doesn’t know Ozzie. And they are greeted by a guy with a quirky, if at times ugly, style who does exceptional airs, is both cosmopolitan and ego less, has a sharp fashion sense and will engage any one with an intelligent point to make in conversation.
Dion does not surf like Jordy and Dane but he is what surfing once was. He is punk in the way he is so contrary to the flow of surfing. He didn’t invent it, but he owns it, and has become the figurehead of a movement.
Realistically, Dane should occupy this mantle, but Dion is far more outspoken and unafraid of rebuke. People believe the image is by design, a way to manipulate the industry. It’s not by design but it may well be a way to manipulate the industry.
With Dion at the helm, and kids idolising him, surfing is destined to re enter a halcyon era of humour, expression and discussion. Dion has it all. He is human. Someone you can relate to. He has more to lose than anyone, and in either a calculated gamble or nothing more sinister than wanting to indulge in pursuits outside of surfing, has put his personality on public display. It’s something most surfers are afraid to do. Admire him for that, at least.