Stab Magazine | Meet the Most Talented Surfer You’ve Never Heard Of
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Meet the Most Talented Surfer You’ve Never Heard Of

Sean Mawson: reluctant, or satisfied?

style // Jan 23, 2019
Words by Stab
Reading Time: 5 minutes

Little birds that can sing and won’t sing must be made to sing. That’s what my Grandma used to say. But what about birds with beautiful voices who sing for nothing other than their own enjoyment? Sean Mawson, also known as Sea Mullet, is a friendly young man from the south coast of New South Wales. He likes long chats on the phone and popping by for cups of tea, works long and hard and lives a humble existence in a beautiful, wave-rich part of the world. He’s also the most naturally-gifted surfer I’ve come across.

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Plenty can oop, but few with the finesse of the Sea Mullet.

It’s mid-winter. The sun’s fast-disappearing and I’m shivering in the dunes next to a tight-knit group of friends I’m lucky enough to have been inducted in to. We’d just surfed—no one had much on that day—but hadn’t quite mustered the strength for the longish trek back to the car park. A few minutes earlier, Sean had come sprinting past. He’d been at work all day sanding boards, and had roughly half an hour to enjoy the (empty) two foot of glass peeling along a perfectly-formed bank. First wave he takes off into a little tube, then comes out straight into a crisp alley oop, landing perfectly in the transition without loosing any speed. He then indulges himself a pump (more speed check than desperate acceleration) before kicking his back foot off in an end section layback (like young Parko used to do ‘em), re-planting both feet with minimum effort. The wave couldn’t have been surfed better. “What the fuck!?” I offer to the group, but no one seems interested. The group’s filmer (his camera packed safely away in its case) looked at me and shrugged. “Sean,” he said.

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When your main surfing companion is Russell Bierke, eventually you’re always going to end up in one of these.

Russell Bierke is one of Sean’s best friends, and has been his closest surfing companion for many years. The dynamic between the two is comical. Sean likes surfing beachbreaks and doing airs, and Russell, well we all know what he’s into. There’s been years of bickering, mainly involving Russ trying to drag Sean down the coast into compromising situations.

“Our surfing styles are the complete opposite,” Russ tells me, moments before hopping in the car and heading to the airport on his way to Jaws. “He was a couple of years older and got his license before me, and I just used to heckle him to drive south to go surf the slabs.” (“I’d fully have to twist his arm to go surf a beachie,” Sean tells me separately). The footage and photos of Sean negotiating huge caverns attest to who won most of the time, but both friends tell me separately of the time Sean decided that, despite enjoying heavy waves up to a point, he wasn’t quite as mad as his friend.

“I didn’t have a flotation device, and I think Tim Bonython was there,” Sean says. “It was onshore and just huge, and you’ve got to paddle two kays just to get out there. Russell’s going, ‘Come on just paddle out with me and have a look.’ We went out and it was the scariest thing I’ve ever been involved with. I just thought, ‘What am I doing out here?’ ” Before adding, “He knows my limits now though, which is good.”

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Can confirm that whatever this is, it’s a make.

Sean’s a more than ample tuberider, but his high performance game is extraordinary. Freesurfing’s gone the way of skating, where flyboys pick certain waves with certain sections and try, try again until they’ve got the trick they want for a video part. The finished product is fine, but in the flesh it’s tedious. Sean just surfs, regardless if anyone’s pointing a camera at him. His make rate, style, and in particular his ability to perform multiple progressive manoeuvres on one wave, put him in very select company.

“When it comes to performance surfing he’s pretty nuts,” Russ says. “He’s just got so much natural talent on a surfboard. He’s so smooth rail to rail, and it’s rare that you see him have a bad surf.” I ask him if there’s one wave that stands out and he immediately highlights a combo on a head-high right. “There was one clip that Max (Zappas) shot where he did a rodeo, a finner, and then an air reverse—the craziest combo ever. That was the talk of the town for weeks. He’s the best surfer to ever come out of the south coast.”

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“I’d like to do it,” Sean says when I ask him if he’d actually like to be a professional surfer (those stickers aren’t paying the bills). “But I started working when I finished school. Even if you were going to be a pro surfer, it’s not exactly the most reliable career, so I thought I’d learn how to make boards.” And that’s where Sean’s been for the last few years: grinding away, literally, and blowing minds (including mine) in the multitude of waves around home. It’s a hard attitude, and lifestyle, to knock.

“It used to frustrate me for sure,” says Russ of his friend’s nonchalant attitude to sharing his talents with a broader audience. “But now I see how content he is just surfing for the fun of it. He just loves it, and that’s what surfing’s all about. I guess every town has someone like that.” I point out that while there’s some truth to this, Sean’s surfing is far beyond your average small town could’ve been, and, that he’s not your usual case of spending too much time at the bar and not enough in the water. Russ laughs. “Yeah for sure, he’s pretty clean cut,” he says. “It’s not like he’s washed up and smoking bongs or anything.”

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“He’s still a pussy,” says Russ when I ask him for a final thought on the friend he’d spent the previous 15 minutes waxing lyrical about.

Sean’s recently returned from a serious injury (he broke four metatarsals and the ligament that forms the arch of your foot doing an air), and despite swearing off jumps, has inevitably started easing through a few rotations. “When I first did it I swore off airs for good,” Sean says. “I started surfing again in August (his first surf back was with Russell—also returning from a broken foot—at a ten foot rock shelf) and it’s not too bad. I can feel it though, and I’m still not hitting end sections…” The last sentence he leaves hanging, suggesting that he’s working on it.

So that’s where Sean Mawson sits at the beginning of 2019. An almost fully-healed hoof, and endless possibilities. When I first encountered the man and his surfing I shared Russell’s frustration at what could be perceived as talent gone to waste. But now I’m not so sure. There’s something about world-class surfing performed for a crowd of whoever’s milling around on the rocks that’s just so, pure. Maybe Sean’s got it more figured out than all of us.

(For further evidence of Sean’s aquatic talents, pre foot blow out, please see below) 

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