“See those lights, they’re actually Gordon’s old ones,” says Mumma Deane, pointing to the aluminum kitchen lights dangling above us, formerly owned by Billabong founder and multi-multi millionaire, Gordon Merchant. I’m here to interview her husband, Wayne, a legend of Australian surf culture, and her teenage son, Noa, a budding pro in his own right, but first I’m getting the tour as well as a bit of family history.
The Deanes have been around since the birth of the surf industry, counting many of the day’s icons among their friends; Gordon, Rabbit and the Petersons among many more. But the millions never quite made it to them, a fact reflected in their quirky wooden ranch built into the side of a hill in Kirra; it’s verandah and insides scattered with quirky bric-a-brac and surfing paraphernalia.
As a gentle breeze rattles the wind chimes, Noa and I sit on the verandah and wait for Wayne to arrive. He’s been out in the scorching heat helping a mate fix his roof and when he eventually does return, can barely muster the spit to say hello. As he slumps in his chair, Mumma Deane rushes to fetch him a Bavarian Beer mug full of coke, and Noa and I begin the chat
CW: I hear there’s been a bunch of violence going on around D’bah. They’re even talking of police patrols on the beach.
Noa: There’s always shit going on like that down there – boats running a ground, people fighting. I only see people putting videos up of it but there are always people out there having a dig at each other; all the old blokes who sit at the wall trying to run it.
Mumma Deane: I call ‘em the bald crew.
Wayne: Most of the fights are from other guys that come from other areas trying to enforce it. Most of the local guys are just verbal. It’s too big of a playing field, too big an area to control. Even surfing Kirra back when it worked, you could get in the take off spot and it was hard to control guys dropping in on you when you’re 15-foot back in the barrel and they don’t even know you’re there and they just fade you. You’d get right to the foam ball and you’d almost get through it but it was pretty frustrating back then.
Ever been involved in any violence, Noa?
Noa: I did a cutback and it sprayed this guy in the face once and he told me to fuck off and I stuck my finger at him and said, “C’mon man, get a life,” and he paddled me all the way to Froggies (around the point from Snapper). I was like, “What are we doing over here, mate?” Then he chased me up the beach. Dad and mum were sitting in the car park not knowing what was going on and other people saw it but thought he was joking. I was 12 or 13.
Mumma Deane: We ended up knowing the guy and he wanted to teach him a lesson.
What is the dominant strain of surf culture in Coolangatta?
Noa: There’s a fair bit of that aggressive stuff going on but then you get guys coming up from down coast, so it’s a mixed bag. Out Snapper there’s a couple crew that ride different stuff, like alaias and fishes but mostly it’s DHD and JS. It’s pretty orientated like that around here.
Which surfers do you admire, Noa?
Noa: I always liked Dane and I’ve watched some other guys, like Ozzie’s old movies 156 Tricks and Seven Days Seven Slaves and Doped Youth. I loved Modern Collective when it came out. I usually only look at Dane’s blog. I watch heaps of skate videos too. There’s a couple of guys I like watching like Dave Gonzalez. It’s more mellow. It’s all about the skating and not about just shit. No comps or anything just good skatin’ not much politics in it.
A lot of young pros are heavily into skate culture. Why is that?
Noa: You can skate however you want. You’re still gonna have your haters of course, but there is every different kind of skater you can think of. You look at skaters and there’s so much going on because they’re in cities, whereas most of the good waves are in remote areas and it’s pretty boring what’s going on outside the water. A lot of what people want to see is the culture going on around that person and that doesn’t happen in surfing.
What do you need to succeed as a modern surfer?
Noa: You need a mixture. You need to surf but you need something other than surfing to make you stand out and get you coverage. The people who get heaps of coverage in magazines stick in your head. Some people win comps but they’re forgotten the day the next comp starts. No one will remember who won a comp last year, even on the WCT. I’d be stoked if I won a comp but bummed when the next comp comes around
What are some of the biggest changes you’ve seen in surfing over the years?
Noa: It’s never been as clean of a sport. Surfers were regarded as bums back in the day. If you told your dad that you were going to be a pro surfer you’d get laughed at.
Wayne: When you try and do your surfing on a low budget you just do whatever you gotta do to get to where you get to. Most of the places we went to do events we never had any financial help. It was always through working. Product was always available but there was never really any financial help. I remember the first time I went to Hawaii guys were sleeping under the contest scaffolding at Sunset.
Mumma Deane: It’s a good thing really. It was passion driven. You had board shorts and you had a board and you surfed.
Wayne: It’s also a reality of life that not everyone is going to get that high paid job. There’s probably 50 people in this town in the history of surfing that could have been as good as anyone of those guys that made a living out of surfing, but they weren’t able to because there wasn’t enough money. They weren’t there talking to the right people at the right time and that’s always going to happen no matter what sport you’re in.
Noa’s been doing the Junior Series, Wayne. What are your observations of that?
Wayne: The surfers have to be a bit programmed to do well in that stuff. If you surf different you get criticized for looking lazy or just cruising but if you’re roboting and you claim it, you get the score and you go hang on a minute; the guy cruising did exactly the same thing and he was relaxed and he did it all and he got a less score.
Noa: I thought style was everything back in the day.
Wayne: Style’s good but I thought if you went in a contest as long as you did what was required, if you looked relaxed or aggressive as long as you did what was required you got the score. People who are doing slightly different stuff are being penalized for different stuff. You go hang on, are you guys seeing both sides of the coin, here?
What should surfing never lose?
Noa: Having fun. People are getting too serious. Some people don’t realize it’s not MMA fighting, it’s a more creative sport. It’s not about getting as many waves as you can, it’s about learning the rules first. You gotta learn the rules first then when you do the time then you can get some waves instead of demanding waves and being a kook. Fair enough you might have a bad surf every 50 surfs but guys get stressed out every surf and you think, why do you do it?
Wayne: They’re stressed out because of their life not because of surfing, and they take it into the water. They’re trying to get waves and they’ve only got half an hour, the missus wants them home, someone is about to repossess their car.