Joel Parkinson, Jay Davies, And Mark Zuckerberg Jog Into A Jingoistic Surf Biathlon... - Stab Mag

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Photo: Tay Kitts

Joel Parkinson, Jay Davies, And Mark Zuckerberg Jog Into A Jingoistic Surf Biathlon…

An American’s POV of the Australian Boardriders Battle.

Words by Tay Kitts
Reading Time: 5 minutes

I’ve been in Australia for six weeks and I haven’t met a single nerd. I don’t believe they are bred here. Curiosity in rare birds and koalas gone – I’m on a quest to find at least one individual who isn’t either a cooler-than-sliced-bread kid in squat little sunglasses or a toothless and tatted working-class hero. 

I search for a nerd in the crowd. Any nerd. It’s the weekend of the Australian Boardriders Battle Grand Final and the hill atop Burleigh Heads is lit up like it’s the Kingdom of Oz beneath the Emerald City. For this weekend at least, Burleigh truly is the grand kingdom. It’s the greatest arena for fresh American eyes to witness the pinnacle of Australian boardriders culture.

I’m facing the bar at the top of the hill, watching a group of men in matching t-shirts drink canned lager and shout at the ocean. Jay Davies barrels through my line of vision at a full sprint. Joel Parkinson chases down a microphoned Vaughn Blakey for a piggyback ride to the finish line. I’ve drawn my conclusion: there are no nerds here because Australians form their social ranks by barometers like who can rip the ever-loving shit out of Bundjalung County points. Broad-shouldered testosterone freaks are the Gods of this country. The reason the biggest square on earth, Mark Zuckerberg, is the truthful head of the American ranks is because our barometers are set to an obsession with Ivy League degrees and entrepreneurs behind computer screens. 

Dall-E prompt: Joel Parkinson and Jay Davies in a cage match against Mark Zuckerberg. Who ya got?

“Lefts don’t count at Burleigh,” shouts a man behind me waving a giant red Burleigh Boardriders Club Flag. It’s the afternoon on finals day and every hour climbs closer to a great big Gold Coast piss-up where Burleigh Boardriders take their first-ever Boardrider’s Battle Grand Final win — the first time they’ve been in a final, and on the first year hosting at their home break.

42 boardriders clubs, 210 tag team surfers, a very slippery jump off and a 400-metre lung-busting dash to the finish line is what we’re working with. The format is a refreshing break from the Championship Tour. 

“That run’s gotta be grueling, mate,” says Ash ‘Champ’ Humphreys, a lifetime member of Burleigh Boardriders. It’s minutes before the final heat and he watches the growing sets roll through with Jay ‘Bottle’ Thompson. “I love it,” says Bottle. Throughout the weekend, I watch the athletes run the final stretch to the finish line with agony on their faces. Bottle somehow does this with enough breath to be laughing.

Burleigh bred, Hawaiian blade. Photo: Tay Kitts

“You get nuked out there on the rocks, especially at low tide,” says Nathan Hedge. “Normally you’d stand at the rocks and wait for your moment to paddle out, but you can’t do that when the clock is ticking. This format adds such a dynamic element. It’s a full-on athletic event beyond just surfing. It adds more strategy to try to win the heat. A couple of the highlights this weekend were when people just made it under the clock – they had a minute thirty to run up the hill and it was on – it evokes emotion. There’s all these stories at the end of the story. Very few dull moments.”

The oldest woman I can find at the event tells me that she thinks this format is “a real treat to watch.” Younger men echo her sentiment. But the biggest treat to watch this weekend for a foreign surfer like myself is the gigantically significant thing that is Australian Boardriders culture. There’s nowhere else in the world where it’s as rich and deeply rooted as Australia. 

Scenes. Photo: Tay Kitts

Vaughn Blakey walks me into the belly of the beast – one of the worthiest shamans for cultural commentary on Australian professional surfing. We weave through the groups of clubs at the bar atop the hill and hands reach out with cans. “Boardriders clubs are the best thing about Australian surfing culture,” he tells me. “Not many pros come through who didn’t start in one. Obviously they get rowdy but on a base that’s extremely competitive. They’ll always put you in your place. They’ll elevate you to where you need to be, but they’ll never elevate you beyond just being a good person.” 

“You sign up for your home one when you’re a kid, and that’s your club for life. You don’t switch. You’re gonna cop it if you do,” says Dan Baul of Mermaid Nobby’s Miami.

“It’s legacy,” says Stace Galbraith. “It’s a pretty simple formula: take the tent down the beach one Sunday per month for competition. Sunday’s generally the day because it’s not the day that club football’s on. You teach the kids how to judge and surf heats, and then it just flows onto national events and all that other shit. And then this event is like a byproduct of that, so this is 11 years old, but there’s been other tag team events that go around 20 or 30 years. There’s like four or five clubs in this event that are celebrating 60 years this year — there’s a lot of history.”

“It’s not just divided between states here – there’s a fuckin’ divide between this headland in Burleigh and the next club up the road at Mermaid Beach. It’s crazy competitive, even just between suburbs” he adds.

Paul Briso, Ash ‘Champ’ Humphreys, and Ed Lindores are Burleigh 4-lyfe. Photo: Tay Kitts

“We’re way more laid back in West Oz. Over here it’s a full lifestyle,” says Jay Davies. “But we’re happy to come to Burleigh. It’s such an iconic place in surfing and such an amazing wave. It just goes to show how in tune you’ve gotta be with this wave, from even jumping off the rocks. Those guys knew how to pick the right ones whereas it’s pretty easy to be lost out there.”

In a happenstance that seems way too Friday Nights Lights to be true, the rain comes down as soon as the final buzzer sounds. Ash ‘Champ’ Humphreys falls to his knees and weeps as lightning strikes across the backdrop of Surfer’s Paradise. Or he was holding the trophy in one arm and throwing people in a headlock with the other, I can’t remember correctly. But at one point there’s a club member stuffed in an armpit who meets my eye and beams: “this is the best day that’s ever happened at Burleigh Heads.”

Burleigh beat 41 other teams to win their first ABB title on home turf. You can imagine how the rest of the night went. Photo: Tay Kitts

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