Harrison Roach's 2021 Working Vacation - Stab Mag
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Harrison sampling California's Lost Coast as part of his 2021 R&D efforts. (Photo by Mark Mcinnes)

Harrison Roach’s 2021 Working Vacation

Wavepools, Oaxaca and wheelies.

style // Jan 12, 2022
Words by Alistair Klinkenberg
Reading Time: 6 minutes

“If there was one thing that was certain, it was that nothing was certain.”

Almost exactly two years ago Harrison Roach scored his dream gig as Roark’s Aus rep/one of their international surf star extraordinaire. He went to Alaska on the surf trip of the lifetime, then before he could start making it rain sales Aus-side, the world shit the bed and he was stuck in Queensland with wave-riding options severely limited. So, when the WSL decided to throw a longboarding double whammy—one at KS’ pool, one at First Point Malibu—Harry booked a one way ticket and set sail for uncertainty.

Harry have board will travel, south of the border, searching for las olas. (Photo by Dylan Gordon)

“I knew I’d have to come home and do the whole quarantine thing and that flights back were going to be real expensive,” Harrison says. “But at the same time it was just so good to go and see all of my friends over there. You don’t realize just how many relationships you’ve built over the years travelling until you get stuck in the same place.”

Anyone who’s been to a longboarding “contest” can see how palpable this sentiment is. It’s a far more festival-orientated, less commercial affair than standard surfing competitions. And the same tight knit community—spread about the globe—skrimps and saves throughout the year in order to hit California in the fall, Australia in summer and then Europe for the winter. Centered loosely around Joel Tudor’s Duct Tape Invitationals, gatherings like the Noosa Surfing Festival and, now, the fresh WSL World Tour set up (which Harrison ended up placing second in for 2021, just for the record).

It’s nice to see surf travel marketing taking on a slightly more real approach.

“Yeah the WSL has finally sort of cottoned onto the fact that longboarding has a bit of value and doesn’t just mimic shortboarding,” Harrison tells me. “It’s still no way to make a living—winning wouldn’t even have justified my flight over there—but in saying that it was super cool to actually go and do them. Longboarding’s grown a lot in the last decade or so.”

Harry, taking his Sunny Coast pointbreak approach to Mex (water even looks like Noosa after a month of rain). (Photo by Dylan Gordon)

My knowledge of the specifics of longboarding contests are about as extensive as Harrison’s desire to talk about them, but we couldn’t resist discussing the novelty of competing at the Surf Ranch. The traditional longboarding sect are renowned for being even more cynical and obsessed with authenticity than ever-contemptuous shortboarders, and surfing in a water park (with the added drag of compulsory leash-wearing) I assumed would be a little on the nose for the logging community. Harry, however, said it was actually, almost, the perfect longboard wave.

“It was pretty funny because the pool’s like, $50,000 a day, so we all only got one right and one left each to warm up on. So it was a pretty good example of our value,” Harrison says with a chuckle. “Which I backed totally. But I reckon it’s a better longboard wave than anything. It’s kind of critical, but once I started to work it out it’s just a perfect, shoulder-high wave. I’d rather ride a longboard than a shortboard in those kind of waves, so it was kind of cool.” 

When in Oaxaca. (Photo by Dylan Gordon)

Travelling with surfboards is an inconvenience. Travelling with boards over 9ft, however, is a nightmare. A nightmare of which Harrison Roach is all too familiar with, thus why, knowing he’d be facing more than long, peeling log waves, he shipped a batch of crafts over for the post comp-guy days.

These days were spent on assignment for the recent Roark x Wrangler Collection, riding horses and motorbikes in Arizona and New Mexico, and more adventuring around Mexico for Roark’s upcoming collection and film—climbing, riding dirt bikes and seeing the sites in and around Oaxaca City, then onto the famed points. Which warrant, in general, a pointier approach—both in skill to surf them to their potential and equipment—than Slater’s point and Malibu. This isn’t a problem for Harrison who, as he helped point out in timeless fashion in last year’s Mysterious Affair, is far more than just a good noserider.

H demonstrating his mastery of the sub 6ft craft. (Photo by Dylan Gordon)

“Growing up I was influenced by guys like Dean Morrison and Taj and stuff, so that’s where getting barrelled and riding shortboards came from,” Harrison explains of the refined, hi-fi approach he took to the Mexican points. “We kind of scored that typical, perfect little right-hand point scene that they’ve got going on down there. And all the while I was looking at home which was six-second period swill, so I felt pretty lucky.”

Surfers are great ‘n all, but you need a break from them sometimes. (Photo by Dylan Gordon)

“Travelling surfer” is a great gig, no doubt, but it’s very surf-centric. This means that the success of trips generally depends on one thing and one thing only—surf. That can be a pretty narrow lens with which to view the world. Harrison admits that this was his existence for very many years—hitting the same spots and letting the good times roll, some years more surfing less good times rolling and vice versa, but it’s a bit of a treadmill. However, his new Roark gig puts him in contact with all manner of outdoor types outside of the surfing world, which Harrison says he’s infinitely grateful for.

Surfing and riding motorbikes = great work if you can get it.

“We initially spent two weeks racing through the mountains and watching Jeff Johnson and Drew Smith climbing these crazy rock faces,” Harrison says. “There’s such a cool crew of individuals on the Roark program, whether they’re climbers, runners, photographers, just jack of all trade-type legends. If it’s just a surf trip and the surf’s bad then everybody gets bummed and wants to go home, but going to the US and Mexico and riding horses and dirt bikes in New Mexico and Arizona was super interesting and just really nice to see something that wasn’t the typical California trip I’ve done over the years.”

Queenslanders love dirt bikes, and Harrison’s no exception. (Photo by Dylan Gordon)

Before you start feeling too envious, Harrison’s trip was followed by two weeks of quarantine back in Australia, then back at the desk for the duration of the worst run of surf we’ve had on the east coast since COVID began (prior to the recent cyclone swell, which turned his beloved Sunny Coast points ablaze). 

“I’ve been going for runs and stuff,” Harrison says of the flat spell, before admitting how fortunate he feels to have been able to go away and subsequently have his new(ish) gig to come back to. 

On assignment in the Pac Nor West. (Photo by Mark McInnis)

“I was never going to be one of those surfers who’s on a million bucks a year, if that even exists anymore, so I’ve always been keen to have a role beyond just surfing,” Harrison tells me. “So it’s nice to be doing something new in the sales capacity working for Roark here in Aus, opening accounts and learning the backend of the business. Then I know the next big campaign is going to be in New Zealand next year, so I’m definitely excited about that.”

A gifted surfer with an astute mind leads to interesting output, so stay tuned for more beautiful surfing, left of centre adventures and interesting ways to present both.

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