Stab Magazine | "It Was One Of Those Trips You Always Dream Of Wanting To Do"
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“It Was One Of Those Trips You Always Dream Of Wanting To Do”

Shane Dorian, on his return to the West Australian desert two decades after the Billabong Challenge. 

style // Oct 30, 2018
Words by Stab
Reading Time: 8 minutes

For more than two decades Shane Dorian has remained at the top of a short list of the most well-rounded and well-prepared surfers in the world. 

With Billabong returning to the desert, the West Australian locale that once hosted their iconic Billabong Challenge, and starred in classic films like Green Iguana, we caught up with Dorian, one of the Bong Adventure Division’s  highest ranking officers, to hear about the generation-spanning crew’s mission. 

 

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Kai Hing, taking mental notes from two of the most beloved veterans still pushing water, Occy and Shane Dorian.

Photography

Duncan Mcfarlane

Stab: Shane! That Gnaraloo trip looked insane, tell me a bit about it. 

The trip was awesome. It was really cool for me and Occy—we haven’t been back to the desert together in a really long time. I hadn’t been back there since the Billabong Challenge.

I thought that might have been the last time you were there. Those events are legendary. I feel like those are remembered as being pretty historical events—those two Billabong Challenges and the OP Mentawais event—as far as events at the best waves in the world that really felt like surf adventure.

I think they did it two years, but I only did it one year. But it was neat to go back. You know, I travel a lot to a lot of crazy waves over the world, and I’ve been going to these places for decades now. Normally, when you go back, the place is blown out, five, ten, twenty years later—there’s villas everywhere and it’s insanely crowded. Everything’s changed. Hotels, resorts.

But West Oz… It was exactly the same. The same number of people in the water, the vibe, the camping, the remoteness of the place… And everyone was there for the same reasons they were two decades ago.

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Kai Hing and the Desert Hilton.

Photography

Duncan Mcfarlane

The shots of that campervan posted up out front of Gnaraloo is just timeless.

Yeah, it was super fun. It was one of those trips you always think of wanting to do, but it’s rare to have those set up like that.

Had you traveled with any of the youngsters before?

I’d done trips with Robo, to Tahiti and stuff, but not with Kai. And I hadn’t really done a trip with Shaun Manners, either. So it was really cool to spend time and surf with those three guys. It’s unusual to pair up so many different personalities, and different age groups, so it was cool that Billabong put that together with all of us.

 

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Anyone else want to see @jackrobinson_official in Pipe this year? Training in the desert of Oz.

Photography

Duncan Mcfarlane

Robo blew minds, huh?

Robo’s built for those waves. I mean, he’s been surfing that area of West Oz since he was barely a teen ager. Not even. He was like twelve. And on heavy days. His comfort level was psycho.

And it was weird how long he could surf. He’d surf forever.

He would barely eat before he’d surf, too. It wasn’t like, Oh, I’m gonna go have a long session, I’m gonna just fuel up for a session. He’d wake up, look at it, “Aye, looks pretty good, mate, I’m out there…”

Nine hours later he’d paddle back in.

 

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Nine Hours At Gnaraloo, Or: The Jack Robinson Show.

Photography

Duncan Mcfarlane

Nine Hours at Gnaraloo –– Sounds like a dystopian Australian western!

And when you’re talking about nine hours at Gnaraloo, you’re talking about surfing through both tides. At high tide, Gnaraloo is one wave. At low tide, it’s a completely different place.

He surfed all through low tide, just completely bone dry, tripling up. Every wave he went on at low or even medium tide, it was a high risk situation. Have you surfed there?

No. That box remains unchecked, but it’s always been a dream.

If you made that wave, you’d feel like you got away with something. At least I did. Every time I got a good wave at low tide I was just, “[Deep exhale] I really got away with that one…”

But he’d just paddle back out and go on the next bomb.

 

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The Billabong Adventure Division, scoping Gnaraloo.

Photography

Duncan Mcfarlane

I’m sure just like the the Billabong Challenge days, it was a pretty special opportunity for everyone to really get to know each other.

The vibe was killer. All those guys were so chill, just salt of the earth characters, stoked to sleep in tents and drink beers around the campfire…

Stripped down—no bullshit.

Yeah, perfect vibe. We weren’t posting during the day. It wasn’t a social media trip. It’s so rare that rips like that happen, where there’s no pressure when you’re there. You can just relax—hang out, go camping, fishing, go surfing.

You’re in a place where there’s no internet. Every once and a while we’d pass through an area and we’d all go, Oh, I got one bar! Occy and I would check in with our ladies, and then we’d go dark for five days. That was it.

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Shaun Manners enjoying the creature comforts of the Desert Hilton.

Photography

Duncan Mcfarlane

Had you spent much time with Shaun Manners?

Shaun’s rad. He’s one of those people that you would never get a sense for, from just seeing him in a web clip. You’d have assumptions, but they’d be wrong. You can’t put that kid in a box.

Hanging out with him that whole week, he’s not one of those hipster guys, who seems like all the rest of them—he’s super high performance, and he’s on some weird, cool boards, really casual but totally competitive in the sessions, you know? He was really interesting and fun to hang out with.

 

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Shaun Manners, multitalented.

Photography

Duncan Mcfarlane

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Shaun Manners, deep on a desert dredger.

Photography

Duncan Mcfarlane

I love kids like that. That’s how Creed was for me, too.

Yeah, totally. Manners is good at airs, but he’s not an Air Guy. He can ride weird boards insane, but he’s not a Weird Board Guy. He charges heavy slabs, and rides fishes and does huge airs. I’m definitely a fan.

Was this your first trip with Kai?

I’d never done a trip or seen him surf before, I’d heard his name and seen some clips, but I’d never been around him much or surfed with him, so that was really cool. We had a session at that slabby right where he really shined. He’s super comfortable. Psyched to go on some heavy ones. I watched him eat some serious shit on a crazy one, just sending it. But also is performance level, just on rail and everything, I was really impressed.

He had no ego. He was super chill, just so easy to hang out with.

 

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Kai Hing enjoying a familiar feeling at the notorious West Oz “right slab.”

Photography

Duncan Mcfarlane

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Kai Hing and Occy, pro surfers, amateur cartographers.

Photography

Duncan Mcfarlane

And throwing Laura in that motley crew!

Yeah, Laura! How was that?

It’s so cool that Billabong’s putting her in the mix. There’s a lot of companies that wouldn’t put that together, and it’s so rad seeing her with the boys, wanting to have a go at whatever we found.

 

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Occy, Laura Enever, Shane Dorian, and Jack Robinson.

Photography

Duncan Mcfarlane

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Laura Enever, enjoying the view and eager to get in the mix.

Photography

Duncan Mcfarlane

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Never one to shy away from a super session, Laura wasted no time sending it on a few at Gnaraloo.

Photography

Duncan Mcfarlane

She can hang, too. 

It was really fun having Laura there, for one because she wants to have a go, and also because she is kind of one of the boys. She’s completely 100 percent comfortable in that situation.

And she was charging! She was having a go, and she can take a beat down as well as anyone, it’s really impressive. She’s tough.

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“Not a lot of people would be keen to surf that wave. There’s a hundred-odd surfers in this area and not one of them was out there.” Laura Enever, West Oz.

Photography

Duncan Mcfarlane

There’s nowhere in the world like it, huh? 

That area is really prone to heavy winds and storms. It’s out in the elements. There’s not a tree for 800 miles. Not a single tree. Just outback bushland and sand dunes. One hundred degree weather. Arid. Windy.

It’s one of those magic places, but you have to be prepared. You have to stay smart. Stay hydrated. Stay in the shade when you can—unless you’re Jack Robinson, who can just stay in the water all day, whatever. 

There’s nowhere else in the world like it. We saw major sea life. Whales and sharks nearly everyday. Giant whales super close to the breaks—looked like humpback whales to me. And then sharks. You’d be checking out the waves from a cliff above, and you’d see sharks just flipping around through bait balls, just annihilating fish. I had to do some testing on that trip, with my inflatable wetsuits. So I had to swim out to where it’s super deep, and it’s just so sketchy. I’d seen sharks that morning, like ten, fifteen minutes before we paddled out. 

Fuck that.

So the whole time, I’m swimming down and there going, Yeah, let’s do it just one more time, OK? And I’m just swimming down imagining what it’s going to look like when a shark swims out of nowhere, right then. 

You can move pretty fast with that inflation vest, but…

You aren’t getting away from shark!

Well, I’m glad they got you back alive. Congrats on the new film, it’s sick. Feels like vintage Billabong. 

Yeah, they did a great job on the film. I love the classic Australian music, it’s got the right vibe. 

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Dorian, as sharp knifing a slabbing right in 2018 as he was in the mid-’90s.

Photography

Duncan Mcfarlane

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Laura Enever, steezy line at Gnaraloo.

Photography

Duncan Mcfarlane

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Shaun Manners, Dorian and Occy, Billabong Adventure Division meeting, 2018.

Photography

Duncan Mcfarlane

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