Photos by Max Zappas
It’s been a well-publicised and unseasonably dry winter on the east coast of Australia.
The farmers are in total strife with no help—neither meteorological or institutional—set to come anytime soon. Asher Wales and I are walking through a forest that should be looking like the Shire by this time of year but instead, it’s dusty and suffocatingly hot. Along with filmer Dane Singleton, and Port Macquarie fresh blood Ben Howard, we’ve come searching for an elusive beachbreak that no one knew how to get to, at the whim of a second-hand call that it might, maybe, be on. Hopes were set deliberately low on the last day of a waning swell, one that the boys spent all day (and almost $200 in fuel—Asher’s vintage Landy’s no Prius) chasing the previous day, to little avail. Anything but surfing the crowded, over-saturated wave in the bay that’s just around from the beach that we’re chasing.
There’s grumbling from the rear. No one’s been here before, and on arrival, the sign for the walk—which we’d been told takes 20 minutes or so—says 23 kilometres. After a little discussion of just how far 23 kilometres actually is—Asher the voice of reason, counteracting others who reckon “let’s just do it”—Benny walks up to the sign and notices the faintest of “.” between the 2 and the 3, and off we went. “I love this shit,” Asher says, leading the pack through the woods. He’s taken his shirt off and tied it around his head. Under each arm is a board with a wetsuit slung over one and a tote over his shoulder. It’s a stylish way to meander, you could even call it the south coast freesurfing uniform, but lugging all the gear in like this is impractical and uncomfortable.
Asher’s from the Gold Coast, but knows this slice of the coast well. “You either show up and just score,” Asher says of the region, “or you’re doing a lot of driving.” We’d wound up the previous day drinking beers in a friend’s backyard that backs onto a golf course. Watching groups of oldies teeing off is great fun with suitable lubrication, and Asher’s in fine form. “Watch me rev up these old gals,” he says as a group of older ladies in visors waddle up to the tee off, before launching a charm offensive over the fence that has them all cooing. Asher’s confident and friendly, a sure-fire product of growing up living a transient surfing existence and sliding between groups and couches. There’s big plans for the evening, but after a hefty supper—BBQ chicken rolls for the carnivores and veggie rolls for Asher who’s a vegetarian—by the time the courtesy bus arrives to take us to the golf club we’re all knackered. After one beer we’re all done, Asher signalling to all that it’s time to split by nodding off on the brown leather couches.
The walk gives us time to elaborate on some of the things that we’d rapped on the night before, like Asher’s Hungarian roots. Asher looks eastern European, with his strong facial features, swimming pool blue eyes and curly hair—died black and slicked back. We got onto long, hard to pronounce surnames and after speculating as to where mine came from and whether I was Jewish or not (Holland, and not sure being the answers) Asher told me that “Wales” wasn’t his traditional family name at all. Asher’s grandparents had fled Jewish persecution in the Second World War, and on settling in Australia set about leaving that harrowing chapter of their lives behind for good. They chose “Wales” as it was the least Jewish-sounding name they could think of. It’s the last thing you’d expect as the backstory for a pro surfer from the Gold Coast, but that’s one of the things that makes travelling around and meeting people in this country so interesting—everybody ended up here somehow.
The walk continues, and around the time when our arms and fingers start to go numb as the result of carrying boards and clawing totes and water bottles with spare fingers, the chat turns to travelling without surfboards. The ocean comes into view through the trees—royal blue and twinkling under the harsh mid-morning sun—and combined with the dry forest it feels more like Thailand than New South Wales. “We’re about to rock up at The Beach,” Asher jokes. I ask him whether he’s ever explored Southeast Asia without surfboards and he admits that he hasn’t, although on a recent trip to Sri Lanka with his new sponsor Misfit he left some time at the end, ditched the boards and caught the train up to Ella, one of the most famous and picturesque stretches of railway in the world. “We caught trains, local buses, hitched rides with locals, every type of transport imaginable, it was epic,” Asher says of the trip, clearly buzzing.
The stairs stretch out in front of us and we can’t see the bottom. We can see the ocean, however, and it’s the image of Australian seaside perfection—crystal clear water fringed with palm trees leading up to a sheer cliff face, and a dark bombie in the middle bay. The only negative is that there’s not a breaking wave in sight. Nobody’s really surprised, but even the loss of a fool’s hope hurts a little. We park in the middle of the steps, halfway down in the open sun, and Benny lights a joint. After a little respite—mine and Benny’s pleasantly cloudy outlook doing little to ease the pain of moving again—Asher’s up and we’re off back to where we came. “I’m definitely hunting this place again,” he says.
We suck off the highway for a coffee and a vegetarian feed on our way north, and afterwards part ways. Asher and Benny are off to party in Bondi for the night, and then Asher’s got a few days of kissing babies in the city for Misfit’s new store opening. “Is it too early for a beer?” Benny asks. “Pfft, I’m definitely getting a tally for the drive,” Asher says, before adding, “It’s gentleman’s hour.”