“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.
“You seen that Noa Deane kid?” “What do you think about Noa Deane?” “How good does that Noa Deane surf?” Noa Deane… Noa Dean… Noa Deane…
If I had a dollar for every conversation that involved the talents of Noa Deane on the Gold Coast earlier this year, I could have bought… a coffee… maybe two. Still, that’s a lot of talk about one 17 year-old kid considering that the whole pro-surfing world had collectively just invaded the Gold Coast for the Quiksilver Pro.
The questions on the lips of most I spoke to were in reference to the longevity of such a young talent, and whether or not he could go the distance in the big, wide surfing world. The short answer in my humble opinion is yes – the long one starts here.
‘Bramp, Bramp Bramp.’ An iPhone alarm screams at me to get up – ‘It can’t be six already,’ I moan. I’d organised to spend today with Noa to check out how he operates.
I jump into a car with Shane, Noa’s filmer, and strum his out-of-tune guitar as loud as I can as we drive up the hill to the Deane’s in Coolangatta – with the windows down, I figure if I have to be awake, so should everyone else.
The sun has risen just enough to make out a shitty, overcast day as we pull into the driveway where Noa’s supposed to be waiting for us and sure enough, he’s not. Shane dials his phone… it rings out. Not even a few out-of-tune bars of Stairway To Heaven are enough to rouse anyone from the house.
Shane and I agree it’s too early to be chasing grommets and retire to the nearest coffee shop for a hit of caffeine and regroup. As we arrive though, the phone rings, Noa’s finally risen from the dead and agrees to shout breakfast instead.
“Eggs Bene?” a waitress asks as we walk into Scooterini Café where they seem to know Noa by name and breakfast order. A few minutes later he is mopping up the last bit of egg yoke with his bread. Shane and I had barely finished shaking salt onto ours.
It wasn’t that long ago that Noa was a short, rakey, blonde mop of hair that circled between Snapper Rocks and Greenmount all day long. Now, he’s a lot bigger, wider – stronger and his mop’s been cropped to a more precise bowl.
When I’d last hung with the grommet, he was recovering from a torn lateral meniscus. He spent six months out of the water and half that not even able to walk. By chance Noa was sponsored by a local pizza shop and had free pies available to him all day long – he’d order several shepherds-pie pizzas a week and spent his time getting well acquainted with his Xbox. In the six months he was out, Noa grew about a foot taller and around 15 kilos heavier. It didn’t take him long to find his feet again, albeit with bigger, thicker boards and a whole lotta power.
We pull up on the grass at D-Bah – Snapper is thick with pros, cameras and Red Bull girls and Noa’s not interested. It’s howling southerly, but there is the odd wedge off the south wall and there are surprisingly few bodies in the water.
“A few punt sections,” I mutter. “I’m so over airs lately,” he replies and acknowledges the lack of wet rails in contemporary surfing. With that he pulls a 5’4” “Paddle Pop” from the boot of the car, it’s more or less a disc with fins and with Noa standing at around 5’10, I have no idea how he’ll ride it.
A few minutes later, Noa’s burying rail and sending spray skyward on a right and any qualms I may have had about his ability to carve have been put to rest – the kid’s the full package.
There’s a lot of Dane mixed through Noa’s surfing and it comes as no surprise when he later lists Dane as one of the few surfers he looks up to. Another is his old man, Wayne – notorious Gold Coast surfing legend and Australian Surfing Hall-Of-Famer.
Wayne’s influence over his son is apparent throughout all aspects of his surfing and general outlook on life – Noa seems to have a mature understanding of the pro surfing circus and it’s often arbitrary nature. On the Gold Coast you don’t have to look very far to witness both the highs and the lows of the surfing machine. In fact, if you post up at a local surf club you’ll often walk past framed photos of current champions whilst former ones sit beer-in-hand and blend hazily into the furniture. For up-and-coming Gold Coast surfers, it’s a gleaming insight into their chosen profession and a warning that good things can often come to an end, and that it helps to have your finger in a few other pies.
I ask Noa if he’s concerned.
“Surfing is not the be-all-and-end-all for me, I guess art and photography play a big role in my life as well and I also want to shape a lot more in the future.”
Noa’s recently just put pen to paper with Rusty and is working on where and how he fits. Freesurfing, contests – he’ll do a bit of both for now, but his website noadeane.com is what’s currently on his mind. His concerns centre around posting a mix of the right content, something that not only makes himself happy, but also accurately reflects his personality. He wants to basically create something that people will actually want to come back to. He takes a big hand in the website and is actively working with a filmer and posting his own artistic creations.
“Do you think it’s difficult to stay relevant?” I ask him. He responds; “Am I relevant? I just do what I do.”
What he does has attracted predicable cyber-hatred, with faceless bloggers pounding away at keyboards demanding social justice for anyone considered to be ‘cool’. He is however unfazed by the vitriol and has simply removed himself from the Internet, concentrating instead on painting pretty pictures and adding to his growing collection of vintage cameras – pursuits that afford him endless creativity that bleeds through into his surfing.
Back at Snapper, Dane Reynolds holds a wildcard to the Quiksilver Pro. Noa hasn’t been down to the contest yet, despite living about a kilometer away from it. Dane is the drawcard for Noa, so we wander over the hill to try and find a quiet seat around towards Froggies. Dane is surfing against Joel Parkinson and although Noa’s grown up surfing with Joel, Dane’s unpredictability is what’s really grabbed his attention.
Predictably, Dane’s unpredictability shines in the heat and Noa’s fixated on Dane’s approach to every wave, every turn, and every punt until the heat’s end, like he’s committing each of them to his brain for later use.
When Kelly Slater paddles out in the following heat, Noa’s attention wanders back towards the Russian 35mm camera he’s holding and he starts looking for angles and punches through a roll of film as we head back into town.
We meet up with Noa’s girlfriend, Zoe for sushi and Noa plows through half a dozen plates before realising that the shrapnel in his pocket won’t cover the bill. This pretty much sums him up. Noa Deane is wise beyond his years, he has surf savvy parents guiding his career and ensuring that the fun doesn’t take a back seat, yet behind all the maturity, the style, cool, contracts and sushi bills, there is still a blonde-headed grommet from the Gold Coast who skates barefooted through town with little worry for what’s happening in the world outside of Coolangatta, and the only thing dominating his agenda are waves.