Surfing and activism used to go hand-in-hand, but we’ve become disinterested and lazy.
Patagonia’s new film, Never Town, is a compelling and masterful piece of storytelling that draws attention to the threats posed to Australia’s coast, whilst showing exactly why it’s worth fighting for with some stunning scenery and incredible waves. Storytelling’s a much-underappreciated artform, and like making coffee, you can’t have a true appreciation for it unless you’ve had a go yourself. Take it from me, Andrew Buckley, Rasta and Sean Doherty—those responsible for Never Town‘s narrative—have done a hell of a job. If you’ve ever been in the vicinity of those chasing surf footage, then you’ll know what an ordeal that can be. To try and capture the pinnacle of surf in a number of regions, and tell the story of the threat to their existence, with neither working without the other, is just a mammoth task.
Never town is the first major project that Rasta’s undertaken with his new(ish) tip sponsor, and boy has he done something meaningful. If authenticity’s one of your guiding principles, then know that Patagonia’s no newcomer to activism. In fact, it’s one of the founding principles that the legendary environmentalist, climber, and Patagonia founder, Yvon Chouinard embedded in the brand’s DNA. Patagonia have been involved in nurturing activism, most significantly through their Tools for Grassroots Activism program, which has been running for over 20 years.
Never Town highlights southern Australia as representing what we, as a coastal dwelling nation, face. A huge area with an abundance of natural resources, surf being one of them, numerous parts of the coast are under threat from development and exploitation. Wayne Lynch is the anchor around which the film is centred, and there’s no better advocate for a sustainable Australian future. Wayne’s one of the pioneers of surfing, especially in southern Australia, and he’s been involved in political and environmental struggles—not always voluntarily if you consider his Vietnam draft forcing him to live as a fugitive—for most of his life. The pairing of Lynch with Rasta, his heir apparent, is the film’s triumph.
Tasmania remains one of the most unspoiled regions of Australia, but it hasn’t been easy. Activism runs deep in Tasmania, and some of the wins by campaigners down there are worthy examples of what members of the community can do in the face of short-sighted greed and exploitation. “The history of conservation in Tassie is so rich, and it’s largely centred around the damning of rivers, and the felling of forests, and fish farming,” says Rasta. “Thankfully there are still hordes of locals who’re willing to ask the difficult questions.”
One of the all-time great wins coming in 2007 when Tasmanian Royalty, Man-Booker Prize-winning Author Richard Flanagan, outed the corruption and irresponsibility of logging company Gunns with his article in The Monthly and The Daily Telegraph (UK). The article lit a fire, which resulted in Gunns, then the biggest hardwood woodchipper in the world, abandoning its two-billion-dollar mill in Tassie, the CEO John Gay getting stung for insider trading, and the company collapsing in debt.
Tassie’s the shining example of Never Town. Returning to the Island after a lengthy hiatus, Rasta highlights Shipstern’s Bluff, and it’s remaining untouched beauty, as a proof that just because a spot becomes world famous, doesn’t mean that humans have to ruin it. Worth noting is Rasta’s surfing throughout the move, particularly in the Tasmania section. Whether it’s crazy drops at solid paddle Shippies, or soulful hacks on a big board at some mysto point, it’s clear to all that the man’s not lost an inch of precision or a pinch of soul in his few decades as a professional freesurfer.
You might’ve seen rumblings floating around social media about the proposed fish farm on King Island, and chances are you’ve scrolled straight past them. But the proposed changes to this island are indicative of what’s going on throughout the rest of Australia, and a precedent needs to be set. Not to mention the fact that the isle is home to, perhaps, the best beachbreak in Australia.
“When we heard that King Island was going to perhaps be the base for an industrial fish farm, my jaw just dropped,” says resident Charlie Stubbs. And with good reason. Tassal, Tasmania’s largest salmon producer, the company who’s looking to expand its operation off the east coast of the island after being granted a permit last year, has got an atrocious track record. Their salmon farming on the west coast of Tasmania, in Macquarie harbour, has been an altogether balls-up, and it’s caused damage to a world heritage listed site.
“This is all about dollars,” continues Charlie. “Dollars and profits for companies. But I believe that we can make a difference. I honestly believe that things change if people are prepared to stand up and say, this is wrong, this is worth protecting. My first fight was against the Vietnam War, and I still remember carrying a poster of that little Vietnamese girl, who’d been burnt by napalm. That was a fight well worth fighting, and this is a big fight too.”
The Great Australian Bight
The bight’s some of the most rugged coast we’ve got. Backing straight onto the wild Southern Ocean, the area’s home to a baffling amount of wildlife—of both the friendly, and unfriendly variety—and plays host to some of the most spectacular storms found anywhere. It doesn’t take an expert to work out that as a site for exploratory oil drilling, the bight is completely unsuitable. Sadly, that’s exactly what’s proposed. It’s a deepwater rig that’s proposed for the bight, just like the one in the Gulf of Mexico that caught fire and caused a massive oil spill. “It’s so remote, so open to systems moving up from Antarctica that just absolutely smash the southern hemisphere, it just seems a bit ludicrous,” says Coffs harbour local turned SA resident Heath Joske.
Luckily, the local community is kicking up a stink. A big one. Whilst the community might be small, in the age of communication in which we live, the amount of noise that a community can make is limitless. “If the local people really do come together to protect something, then I think that’s the greatest chance you have of success,” says Wayne Lynch as he and Rasta perch on a cliff, looking out over an uncharacteristically calm Southern Ocean. We need clear, articulate, unemotional—I suppose—supporters. A kind of common sense wisdom. We don’t have long to make some serious change.”
Never Town‘s part journalism, drawing attention to topical goings-on, and the surfing footage is stunning. But more than that it’s a call to arms. A call for the surfing community, and indeed society at large, to wake up to what’s going on and get involved in protecting our most precious resource. The environment. As a brand piece, you can only tip your hat to Patagonia for their continual prioritising of environmental issues. If all billion dollar businesses were as responsible, then we wouldn’t be in this mess in the first place. In search of a worthy epitaph for the moving film, it’s not surprising that Wayne Lynch delivers the seminal line.
“We mythologised these places. We lose them and we lose ourselves.”