Occy And Shane Dorian Take Laura Enever, Jack Robo, Shaun Manners And Kai Hing To The Desert
Billabong’s adventure division returns to West Oz!
If you’re looking for the reason why West Australia’s burned into your surfer’s subconscious, you can thank Billabong.
As the iconic Australian brand said of their most recent Adventure Division mission, “the mythos of heading into the Australian desert to find waves has been burned into the collective consciousness of surfers for generations. Images of Occy threading crystal pits in Green Iguana, or sharks cruising by Shane Dorian surfing a bombie during the Billabong Challenge are two images that spring to mind.”
The edit features Billabong’s Adventure Division, led by Dorian and Occy, with Jack Robinson, Shaun Manners, Laura Enever, and Kai Hing.
Scroll south for the story behind the trip from the Adventure Division’s communication department, or click over for an interview with Shane Dorian about the trip back to the West.
The trip almost didn’t happen. Like a rocky relationship, it was on again, off again, then put on hold to look at other options. One of the roadblocks was that the team didn’t think Shane Dorian wanted to fly halfway across the world and then four-wheel-drive days into the desert, unless the surf was going to be huge. When someone finally mentioned it to Shane, he was like “who do you think I am? I love six foot waves as much as anyone else!”. With that reassurance and a long period added to a medium-looking swell, we thought we’d just go it old school, roll the dice and see what happened. The latest Billabong Adventure Division trip was on – chasing surf and experience beyond the ordinary grind.
A few days later, Occy, Dorian, Kai Hing, Shaun Manners and Laura Enever made their way to Perth, meeting in a camping store near the airport. Sleeping bags and fishing rods were bought, supplies stacked in the 4WDs and the first major hiccup addressed – Laura’s boards hadn’t arrived. After some angst about splitting the team, Laura decided she’d stay the night in the city and jump on a regional flight service in the morning to meet us closer to the destination. Hopefully they’d be able to fit her triple cover on the light plane. The rest of the crew peeled out and hit the road, trading music playlists, preferred podcasts, and rotating driving shifts every few hours. At 3am, hazy and haggard, the mini convoy pulled into the Billabong Roadhouse (yes really), crawled into some military-style bunks and started snoring. 2.5 hours later, up again and bleary-eyed, drivers took the wheel to get some more miles between us and civilization.
We pulled into the final town before nowhere about 9am. After fuelling up and picking up Laura with boards in tow it was time to say goodbye to the ‘real world’. Crossing over onto the first dirt track you instantly drop of the grid. Phone signals cut out instantly. The colours change to become almost dreamlike. Whales scour the coast to the music of rocky blowholes shooting spume into the dusty air.
Kai summed it up when he said: “It’s pretty mental how raw it is here – there’s nothing around except for sand and ocean, red, blue, a little bit of green in the bush, and some sharks. It’s unique.”
The first shark encounter we had happened about a minute after pulling into camp. A big tiger was cruising the shoreline, chasing some bait on a fisherman’s line. The big beast struck it again and again. The crew watched on in half horrified awe before their attention turned to a lefthander rifling down the headland in the distance. It was a good kilometer away. After some umming and ahhing about how good the surf really was, a unanimous decision was made to paddle out. Sharks can’t swim that far, right? Nothing like washing off the dust of the track with a dip in the ocean, followed by a cold sunset beer. It was a fun session, with no mishaps. Laura got the best sets, showing up the boys in the first round of the trip. Satisfied, everyone hit camp for some tucker and the solace of bed. The swell was supposed to (hopefully) arrive overnight. Time to rest.
Occy was first up in the morning. That’s kind of his M.O. – getting up at sparrow’s fart, frothing about what the surf is like. After rounding up the team, he piled boards and wetsuits in the car, to drive to the main wave half an hour up the track. Anticipation about what may, or may not show up was high. “Waking up that first morning it was cold,” Laura said later, “we were checking the waves and no-one knew if it was going to be big enough. Then we saw that first really gnarly wave come through and everyone was so pumped after that.”
It was 6ft+, at least. Relief and excitement mixed together and everyone scrambled to get out there. In the chaos, Kai realised he’d left his boards at camp. In the fastest return trip ever, his 6’3’’ was waxed up, finned up and made ready for battle along with the rest of the gang. Jack Robinson also materialized in the carpark and quietly pulled his gear on.
The first solid wave of the day went to Jack. He dropped in late, disappeared behind a heavy section and got spat out the end. Then ducked in again. Spat out. In again. Spat out. Good god it was wild to see. After that, it was a trade of waves, Shane charging deep, Occy drawing crazy lines at a place he first surfed when filming Green Iguana in the 90s. Shaun was a machine, nailing stylish turns and getting leg burners way down the reef. Laura had a crack on one of the biggest sets of the morning and got absolutely smashed. She popped up smiling and paddled back out for more. A solid effort considering the place has broken spines, scalped heads and even killed people. Shaun smashed his front row of teeth out the trip before. It’s no joke. Dorian rates it up with some of the world’s heaviest, saying:
“The intensity, the power and the technical difficulty that the wave presents is right up there with Pipe and Teaupho’o.”
The stand out for the morning (and the day) was Jack Robbo though. The kid surfed for 9 hours straight. While the rest of the team came in to recharge on bacon and egg sandwiches, he anchored out the back and waited for the bombs. Everyone on the trip agreed he was simply a cut above…
“Jack’s just a phenomenal backhand tuberider,” added Shane. “He caught more really good waves, and got more filthy barrels than literally everyone else out there combined.”
When asked about it, Jack was pretty humble, saying he just loves the wave and has been driving up to the desert with his dad to surf it since he was young. “First time I surfed here when it was serious I was 14 and it was 6-8ft and all the boys were out here. I got a couple of good ones and got my first taste of it. I loved it from the start, became attached to it. Once you get up here and see it for yourself it’s like wow. It’s like coming back to the Dreamtime.” When asked how he managed to surf for nine hours and still keep charging, Jack shrugged. “I don’t know, you’ve just got to tell yourself keep paddling, don’t die.”
Another major highlight of the day was seeing Occy back to epic form on a wave he made a big impression on back in the day. His movies with Jack McCoy, are truly the stuff of legend. All of the team, and every surfer in the lineup, were craning their necks to watch every time he caught a wave.
Shaun Manners even said it was his favourite moment of the entire trip…“It’s so crazy. I just watched Occy get pitted then do a larry in front of me yesterday. I was just like, wow, this is so amazing. He’s still one of the best surfers ever. Not many people can surf like that.”
“It’s so iconic,” added Kai. “It’s sick to be out there and you hear all the old boys in the line up going ‘how’s Occy’s out here! How’s Shane Dorian’s out here!’ It’s sick to be like, yeah I’m out here on a trip with them. You don’t realise how crazy that is until you hear it from other people.”
No one was more pumped than Occy himself though. After a few years of struggling with fitness and form, you couldn’t wipe the smile off his face to be surfing well at a wave so close to his heart. “I’ve been living nice and clean,” he explained. “I haven’t had a drink for like five and a half months, so I feel great and feel good in the water. It feels good to be back!”
At the end of the day, surfed out and stoked, the crew traded stories in the car park over a few beers (and soda water for Occ). Having a whole day pump from start to finish made the entire ordeal getting there worth while, and there was still a few days to go. Other waves to explore. More clips to be captured.
The next day, everyone slept in a touch. At less frantic drive to the left went ahead, but the swell had dropped. At the suggestion of Shaun, who knows the place after years of camping with his family, we engaged some serious 4WD power and hit the sand dunes to check a slabby right that needed a bit less swell. Shane was excited at the prospect, since his best mate Kelly Slater had been telling him how good the wave was. During one of the Billabong Challenge events, Shane didn’t get to surf it because a big pack of sharks were in a feeding frenzy right in the middle of the break on the only day it was working. This day and this trip was another story. Sure there was a pack of sharks feeding on a bait ball of fish, but they were a good 500 meters or more from the wave. The crew hit it. Shane got a couple of crazy ones, and Kai threw himself over the ledge into some epic pits. He did get thrown backwards onto the urchin-infested reef at the end of one, but managed to come out of it unscathed and smiling. After a couple of hours or so of good conditions the wind swung and blew things out for the rest of the day. It was time to hit camp, chill, chat, crack a few tins and cook marshmallows on the campfire. Funnily enough, this was one of Dorian’s best moments of the trip.
One of my favourite things about this place is that nobody is on their phone,” he said. “There’s no service out here, so everyone is just rapping out together and connecting, making friends, drinking beers, eating food. It’s fun.”
Under a full moon, over a little Fireball cinnamon-spiced whiskey, plans were hatched to make the next day the last full day of the trip, before peeling back to hot showers and hair dryers.
With the swell forecast to drop even more, there weren’t very high hopes for much surf on the last day. It was seen as an opportunity to relax, do a little fishing and get a few product shots for Billabong’s next catalogue release. Nothing too exciting. A quick surf check at the right had most of the crew deciding to head back to camp for a long breakfast. The tide was high, making the wave break too far in on the already shallow ledge. The wind was a bit funky too. However, Shane opted to scale the cliff and go swimming to nail images for his upcoming inflatable Evac wetsuit. Laura tagged along as moral support and water safety. Barely half an hour after the others had left, the swell kicked and wind shifted. From the channel where they were taking photos, Laura and Shane kept looking over at increasingly amazing barrels. Abandoning the product shoots, the pair quickly scrambled over to the peak and waited for their chances. Over the next two hours, Shane gave Laura a one-on-one slab surfing clinic, helping her get into position and leading by example by getting some absolutely wild shacks in semi-closeout death caves. One wave saw Shane disappear completely behind the foam ball, only to come shooting out to the disbelief of us standing watch on the cliff. Occy proclaimed that Shane was now up there with Andy Irons and Kelly Slater as the best guys to surf the wave. Truly amazing surfing. Laura finally connected on a sick one at the end after a bunch of go-downs, coming in pinching herself that she’d just had a private lesson with one of the best chargers on the planet. What was supposed to be an unmemorable day, turned out to be an unforgettable session.
The rest of the trip is a blurry as a desert heat haze. Bags were packed, boards stacked and lots of dirt track driven on the way back home. There was almost disappointment in the air when the first text alert signalled a re-entry into civilization. It had been a rad trip, successful by any measure. Waves, exploration, connecting with other surfers. Exactly what the Adventure Division was created to undertake. Everyone agreed they couldn’t wait to get back to family and friends, but were even more excited about getting the call up next time. As Laura put it, there’s nothing like a trip where: “you switch the gears down to nothing. When you wake up in the morning all you can think about is surfing, and nature, and trying not to kick your toes on rocks.”
That’s what this trip to the desert was, and will likely be for anyone else who decides to make the journey west and north, deep into Nowhere.
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