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We promise this won't (really) hurt.

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Not Burnt Out Nor Fading Away: The Noa Deane Profile

[Editor’s Note: This story was written prior to the death of Noa’s father, Australian surfing icon Wayne Deane.  While this profile paints a picture of Noa’s life and mindset in the lead-up to finishing his new film, “Head Noise,” which drops Thursday, we’ll be working with Noa later in the year on a longer project, and hearing stories about his truly remarkable father. Our thoughts go out to the Deane family.]

“What the fuck can you learn about a person from a three minute edit they don’t even talk in?” Noa Deane barked, as we discussed his public perception.

It’s the last night of a week-long stint of ‘work’ alongside Noa in Margaret River, where ‘work’ roughly translates to filming for his video profile, ‘Head Noise’. Noa, Shaun ‘Chun’ Manners, Mikey Mallalieu and I are inside a beat-up shed a couple minutes walk from the Tavern in town.

The owner of the shed, whose name escapes me, just bodyslammed the dartboard. Meanwhile the four of us ran circles around the backyard on what could be described as a home-made motorised scooter.

So, here’s a recollection from a week of eight-hour sessions, seemingly endless waiting in North Point’s carpark, and enough lukewarm Emu exports to lower my ceiling for ‘shit beer’.

Prior to this trip, I’d never met Noa Deane.

On Anzac Day in April earlier this year, I received a 7am call from the States, in a bed a short Uber from my apartment.

“Are you in WA?”

“No, should I be?” I croaked back,

“Yes, Noa is landing this morning, get over there,”.

So I did.

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It's not just a coincidence that Noa came back twice to West Oz during filming.

Photography Kim Feast

On the flight to Perth from Sydney, during a candid and semi-drunken chat with the elderly woman next to me, I told her I was heading over to “interview a 23-year old who’s paid to ride a surfboard”— which was, honestly, more or less all I really knew about Noa, besides things based on little to no first-hand information and unreliable often half-cooked character assessments of others, as well as the occasional surf clips, three year old interviews, and not much else.

Ozzie Wright told me people on the internet with negative opinions on Noa, “Are just fucking idiots.” While some might be, myself included, it’s not as if we’ve had much else to go off; Noa’s not exactly placed his persona out there for public receival.

So who is he?

Noa Deane, the son of the late, great Wayne Deane (one of the Gold Coast’s, if not the world’s greatest surfers) had foundations laid for him prior to ever setting feet on a board.

“With what [Wayne] Deaney did in his career, and the environment that Noa was brought up in, there was a pedigree of no bullshit,” Vaughan Blakey said about Noa’s upbringing. Surfing in the 90’s was a lot different to what it is now, and surfing during Wayne’s most impressionable years was an even further cry from today’s Instagram standards.

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Despite surfing natural and skating goofy, Noa insists he isn't capable of surfing well switch.

Photography Kim Feast

Throughout his school years, Noa wasn’t at the top of the Goldcoast’s deep talent pool, but still showed promise and potential. A few years down the track, Noa signed over to Rusty, and that’s when his presence as a threatening teenager was truly felt.

“I first met Noa when he was 17 at the Oakley pro Junior in Bali, and he was the friendliest happy-go-lucky person there.” recalled Blakey, Surfing World’s former Editor of 10 years, and a close friend of Noa.

Between 2011 and 2013, Noa competed intermittently and half-heartedly on the QS, partially from pressure from Rusty, partially from leftover ambition from a childhood spent envisioning himself on the CT. In 2013 at the Burton Toyota pro, Noa buried his competitive ambitions, setting his sights on what’s naively labelled as a ‘freesurfing’ career.

“I never really made that many heats, I had little moments, like at State Titles, but it was pretty much just Matt Banting fucking smoking everyone for five years straight,” Noa recalled over beer at the Margaret River Tavern.

By 2014, at 19-years old, Noa was Rusty’s most marketable surfer and fast becoming a household name.

“He represents everything people are crying out for,” Vaughan Blakey says, “He is a full-blown culture shifter, while everyone else is just trying to do a better trick. Noa is what people miss from the 80’s and 90’s. Noa is the anti-hero surfing needs right now.”

With Ozzie Wright, Noa’s landlord for a number of months a few years back had similar things to say, “First time I saw him surf – when he was real skinny and young – I thought he reminded me of Andy Irons and when I first saw him surfing. I just love the way he’s not all comp guy too, I find it way more interesting than watching a comp. He’s authentic, he knows who he is and he’s original, he has a lot of personality, he’s obviously not your cookie cutter kind of surfer.” 

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Noa mostly rode 6'2"s and 6'3"s for his sessions around home as they "look better for turns". Turns like this however look good regardless of the board's size.

Photography Mikey Mallalieu/MALLMIC

By the end of 2014, after a full year of surfing without competitive worries, Noa had nailed multiple cover photos, and played a massive role in the success of Joe G’s film for Globe, Strange Rumblings.

At Surfer Poll that year, Noa was rightfully handed the Andy Iron’s Breakthrough Performer award, meant to signify his breakout success and the magnitude of his impact on surfing.

“Whenever you hang out with Noa, he’s so sure of himself,” Ozzie Wright told me, “He’s classic. He’s really unfiltered, and he speaks his mind all the time.”

Of course, outspokenness is one thing in the parking lot post-session, but it’s another when your “unfiltered” opinions are livestreamed across the globe...something Noa learned the hard way.  

One of the biggest dust-ups of the year, the Globe team’s acceptance speech for Strange Rumblings ‘Film of the Year’ award at Surfer Poll wasn’t unlike any other spoken by a bunch of barely post-adolescent pissheads. The team taking the stage with a strange bearded man, Dion slurring a few words, something about Xanax, and then 19-year-old Noa’s infamous uttered three word phrase.

Saying “Fuck the WSL” to a party full of every major figure in the surf world cost Noa $100k, three-months of sobriety, and mandatory counselling sessions. It also cost him the respect of some surfers on tour.

“[Joel] Parko was kind of pissed off, he thought that I wasn’t rating what the surfers on tour were doing, but that’s not what I meant at all.” Noa recalled about the comment’s wash-up.

“I think he got pretty scarred by the reaction to the whole ‘fuck the WSL’ thing,” Blakey says, “and maybe struggled with how having such a massive profile affected him.”

“It was system overload with so much happening in such a short period of time around then, and there were people just waiting for me to do one negative thing – and saying that was the negative thing,” Noa told me. “Post-Cluster was a pretty dark period for me. I had been trying so hard to get shit done, and was so burnt out towards the end of filming—everyone was I guess, but I was just fucking stressed.”

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Noa left stranded while the remainder of the lineup scamper in following a great white sighting out at The Box

Photography Mikey Mallalieu/MALLMIC

Noa saw a psychologist, and despite understandably not wanting to go into detail, he says it gave him a lot of “clarity." Mental health is often overlooked in sport, particularly in surfing, but despite what may appear, and often is a dream lifestyle, it’s not uncommon for surfers to struggle with crippling bouts of anxiety and depression.

“He was really aware of what was happening and he didn’t shut himself off [during that period]” Blakey says, “that was a positive for him in being able to deal with what was happening.”

Depression and anxiety aren’t instant fixes, but now, unlike many, Noa’s in a better space; avoiding the temptation to push people away and sink into seclusion, as many sufferers of mental health conditions unfortunately do.  

Throughout dealing with all of this, Noa continued surfing and creating output, but by the time 2016 was approaching its end, so was Noa’s contract with the R dot. It was publically known Noa’s Rusty contract was coming up, and rumours swirled for months leading up to the year’s end as to who’d own the real estate of his nose as well as his back-pocket come 2017.

“It’s not like I didn’t like Rusty, they were great, but I’ve always thought Volcom was super sick and one of those brands not doing anything weird,” Noa said when I asked him about his sponsor switch back in 2016.

Flipping my way through Noa’s coffin bag, I naively asked what it was like switching back to Luke Short’s – LSD’s – boards after so many years with Rusty.

The truth is, during Noa’s years with Rusty, he rarely rode their boards; instead, he paid cost price for Luke’s boards with no logos or signatures, “Rusty gave me some sick boards over the years, but Luke knew what boards suited my surfing.”

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"When you think of Noa, you don’t think of someone taking off at 12-15 foot backdoor and just sending it on a fucking closeout." Matt Bemrose, Noa's team manager said, and while this Box gaper isn't 15-foot nor Backdoor, it still shows how unrattled Noa is by the heavy shit.

Photography Kim Feast

Signing with Volcom allowed Noa to get back behind Luke, while the brand’s eclectic approach meant Noa could pursue other interests outside of launching massive airs, namely his interest in playing music.

Though you might get a glimpse into Noa’s psyche from his two releases or the dozen or so live shows under his belt, under the name, Blistar, distortion and shouted lyrics are a far cry from an autobiography – or even an insightful interview.

Noa’s reluctant to allow the public into his personal life, shying away from filmed interviews, something Volcom found out quickly working on “Headnoise.” Noa’s hyperaware of what he releases in a surfing sense, and unfortunately for those groupies who pine for further insight, it means much of Noa’s personality is left out.

One afternoon after a session at North Point, sitting in Shaun Manners' backyard as he rendered useless the pickguard on his guitar, while West Oz filmer Tom Jennings cracked a beer and fired up a barbeque, Noa and I got to talking shit.

Chirp revolving around DMing Kelly asking to surf the pool, talking conspiracy theories concerning the beached whales before the WA comp, and the perpetual stoke of Brazilian surfers, “even when you’re backpaddling them at their local.”  

“I’m going to start up my own business on how to blow up on Insta—do a chop hop, ride backward half the wave, shuv-it out,” Noa joked about the current viral climate of Instagram.

I’d been in West Oz with Noa for nearly a week, and since first shaking hands on the sand following a surf at The Box, Noa was nothing but polite, cordially conversational, but there remained an air of an awkward blind date; quite willing to chat and unveil the first layer of his persona at first, but reluctant to open wide up to someone who will probably de-contextualise a quote and publish it. 

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Pipe was far from perfect, in fact, it was capping on second reef, gusty, and all around shit. Nevertheless, Noa beat JJF in his own training ground at an event his won multiple times.

Photography Mikey Mallalieu

Prior to the flight over West, Volcom’s Matt Bemrose told me “people have misconceptions about Noa. People think he doesn’t give a fuck about anything, but he’s very conscious.”

Nearly anyone who has known Noa for any amount of time shares this same feeling, that misconceptions around Noa abound, their arguments largely oscillating around Noa’s good nature, his character, his grit.

He’s not exactly someone you’re transfixed by when they talk—few who dropped out of school prior to graduation are—but you know immediately there’s way more upstairs to Noa than his sluggish verbal tone might give away.

Vaughan told me that Noa is properly “schooled on what’s important. He can speak articulately about things, with well-formed opinions. He’ll tear down anything with the slightest whiff of bullshit, but he won’t rock the boat for no reason.”

At the end of the day, his comments at Surfer Poll were made when he was 19. You remember 19, right? And, most of us at 19 are proper dipshits, remember?

Other than dropping in on me at North Point on a wave I would’ve barrel dodged anyway, and calling me a “kook” for not liking Dinosaur Jr all that much, Noa was candid and likable.

Just get him off the conversation of surfing. Surfing’s exciting, and Noa’s obviously passionate about it, but when you do something for a living, it’s typically the last thing you want to discuss. Bringing up how shit the band, Sticky Fingers, is always a good starting point, or maybe about why he likes drinking Peroni so fucking much.  

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A frame from Noa's path towards a semi-final appearance at the Volcom Pipe Pro. You'll need to wait another day or so to see it in motion, for now, just believe us that he made it.

Photography Mikey Mallalieu/MALLMIC

Living your life under the constantly critical eye of everyone interested in professional surfing isn’t easy. And when you’re hyper aware of your output as Noa is, and refrain from publically letting your guard down, it’s easy for others to assume aspects which aren’t there. But as cliche as it might seem, what Bemrose told me about Noa “preferring to hang out with a someone at the pub, than a bunch of dudes just trying to be trendy,” was very true.

“I feel like the surfing Noa wants to do he wouldn’t achieve on the tour,” Mikey Mallalieu tells me as we sat on the point. “Guys like John and Gabriel surf insanely well, but I feel like they’d probably be even better off the tour. I don’t think Noa would be where he’s at if he was on there either.”

As the wind swung into the end bowl of North Point, Noa had just squandered his third or so 10-foot consecutive straight-air. It was apparent as to just how damned committed he is to his surfing.

But it’s not as though he can’t surf competitively. At the most recent Volcom Pipe Pro few were as impressive as Noa at 12-foot Pipe. He beat John John Florence at home, and made the semis—not bad for someone who hasn’t surfed a heat in five years.

“Volcom wanted me to do both comps, and I just tried to block out any pressure out and get good waves during my heats,” Noa admitted, brushing off any ideas that his standout performance might hint at some future competitive goals. “I kinda used to have that drive to do comps, but I just wasn’t good at them. I wanted to when I was younger, but I guess that slowly went away. Rather than waste hours flying for a comp, get knocked first heat and be spewing you can’t even surf the joint because it’s that fucking crowded. I’d rather just go find air sections, surf for eight hours where I want, and put out videos. I realise how lucky I am to do what I do, though, and I try not to take that for granted.”

 

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"I think he’s one of the best surfer’s we’ve ever seen on the planet, he’s like a young Christian Fletcher." Ozzie Wright said. Here's a backlit Noa doing his best Fletcher impersonation.

Photography Mikey Mallalieu/MALLMIC

“It’s tough to stay motivated as a freesurfer too, you’re not on a webcast with the pressure of a few thousand people watching, it’s just you and a filmer on the beach,” Ozzie Wright says. “Noa will surf for like 8-hours a day, and he’s determined.”

In six days in West Oz, Noa surfed six times, twice at Box, three times at North Point. Each four hours at least, and were only shortened by impending onshore winds, or in the case of one brief Box session, a shark which sent Creed, Shaun, Noa, Jack Robinson and a handful of photogs scrambling onto the exposed rocks.

During all those sessions, not once, irrespective of the size of a section or consequence of a mis-timed landing, did Noa kick out of an air. He might’ve landed 30 percent of what he attempted, probably even less, but every single one he hucked seemed wholly without personal consideration. And I don’t mean that his technique is careless – there’s few surfers with such a dialled aerial approach. I mean that he’ll attempt to land everything he tries.

“It’s muscle memory with most airs, it’s only the big ones where you have time to think what you’re doing cause you’re that high,” Noa says. “I try and land most stuff but there’s airs where you go limp when you’re landing, because you feel like you’re going to blow something out."

There’s also a lot of stress with trying to compile quality footage, critiquing your own techniques and becoming fussy over your own style. I asked Noa if filming still gives him a good deal of anxiety

“I’m a lot more patient now than during, say, filming for ‘Cluster’,” Noa says. “I’m a lot happier with my boards and surfing in general now too, although you should never like your own style, just like you should never like the sound of your own singing voice…[laughs].

“I just try focus on what my boards doing. There’s always stuff that bugs me, but the bigger the air the less style matters. Of course, everyone has to try and iron out those weird little tricks. The higher it is, the less it matters if you’re doing weird little shit. My foot coming off a little on that ‘oop at North Point would usually bug me, but because it was big it doesn’t worry me. 

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This 'oop almost had an early birth into the world when 'lubricatedsurf' (the same bloke who filmed the dolphin x SUP incident) uploaded it a few hours after it happened. Thankfully this one wasn't as far reaching.

Photography Kim Feast

Wait, hold up, what ‘oop? Oh, we nearly forgot...

Earlier that evening out at North Point, Mikey pointed his lens into fading light, at Noa in the water hoping to get one last clip on the trip’s best day.

“He’s getting pretty eggy out there," I said to Mikey, as Noa continued to attempt air after air, getting further away from landing what he was hoping for.

On the final wave of the day, Noa chipped into an insider, windmilled through the inside section tube, and raced towards the end-bowl...

“That was probably the biggest air I’ve ever done,” Noa said after the session, his ankle nearly blown from the landing and the board torched, never to be ridden again. All totally worth it.

Noa will never win a World Title. Handed a trophy, he probably wouldn’t hold it above his head—but the tube to ‘oop combo which closes “Head Noise,” easily rivals Jordy’s at the same wave, and might find Noa back at Surfer Poll this year.

“Headnoise” is Noa Deane’s best ‘work’ yet. Today he is 23, and don’t call it a comeback.

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