There are days on surf trips when no surfing gets done. The swell disappears or the onshore comes up, or, as in the case of the trip I’m thinking of, both. We were huddled around in our big ‘kitchen’ tent several hundred kilometres from the nearest town, hiding from the vicious westerly, which was whipping squalls of red dust and debris around the camp, occasionally hurling unknown heavy objects against our home’s thin fabric sides. It was a long, boring, shitty day, and we didn’t even have enough booze to while it away getting faceless. So we sat and talked bullshit all day.
Stories about surf trips and waves, evil ex-girlfriends, wicked cars, hectic fights, fabulous fucks, narrow escapes and tragedies – just about everything got an airing. The master story-teller of the group was Victor. He was the oldest, the gnarliest, and by a fairly long margin the ugliest of us, but he was also the smartest and the wisest – because those two things are not the same. When he spoke, we listened.
So when he noisily cleared his throat as Glassy wound down his well-worn story about that time he shared a barrel with Made Something-or-other at Padang-Padang – with Glassy the deeper of the two, of course – we were all ears.
“Belief,” said Vic with that knowing, self-satisfied smile he gets when he’s formulated every word of the whole story and he’s ready to tell it without interruption.
“I tell ya, this shit is all about belief, boys. Not the kind of belief you might need to suspend whenever you listen to Glassy spin his fuckin’ fairy-tale about ridin’ the foamball in Padang fuckin’ Padang. I’m talking about self-belief. It can make the difference between making it or not making it, winning or losing, and sometimes even life or death. Now don’t get too excited, the yarn I’m about to tell ya isn’t one of those life or death things, but it does show ya how far a little belief can go.
“Years ago, when you blokes were all still shittin’ in Huggies and your idea of a good dinner was a can of stewed apples, there was a bloke we called Tony Danza. His real name was Daniel or something, but we called him Tony Danza because he had a big pile of black hair and an even bigger nose, and because was forever asking, ‘who’s in charge here?’ And if you don’t know who Tony Danza is or why we’d call him that, then you’re too fuckin’ young to know shit, but he was on a show called ‘Who’s the Boss’. Get it?
“I’m telling ya, it was a compliment, anyway. So Tony wasn’t a bad surfer, but he wasn’t great, you know. He made his own boards, too, and this is where it gets a bit weird. Cos although they looked like crap, he did a pretty good job of ‘em. Well we guessed he did, because once he started riding his own boards, he started to do better in the local comps. Never won, but never came dead last either – not by a long shot. But when he made boards for any of the other blokes, nobody ever rode ‘em more than a few times. They were shit. So he’d make a board for some punter, and give it to him, and a week later the punter’d come back and go, ‘Tony, this thing is a fuckin’ dog.’ And Tony’d take it out and tear the bag out of every wave he attacked on it, just carve the fucker up. It seemed that it wasn’t the board, it was just that Tony only knew how to make the things for himself. He had an instinct about where to put the foam, how hard to make the rails, and how much rocker and concave and all that fuckin’ shit, for himself. And if nobody else could ride it, well they could go and fuck ‘emselves.
But still, he never got closer to winning the local comp than the quarters. Just couldn’t do it. ‘It’s the fins,’ he’d say. ‘The fuckin’ fins.’ He never could find a set of fins he thought would give him the edge. So he went, ‘right, I’ll make me own fuckin’ fins,’ and that’s what he did.
“He studied tuna fins, marlin fins, barracuda fins, pike, garfish, dolphin, whale, shark fins, every fuckin’ fin he could find or get a picture of. Then he studied aerodynamics, hydrodynamics, thermo-fuckin’-dynamics, quantum mechanics and christ knows what-all, and then he went to work. He made the nastiest, strangest, shittest looking fins you ever saw. I mean, they were like blowie fins, but less classy. They were blocky, angular, bloated and just plain repulsive. But fuck me, they worked! Old Tony started winning club comps. With that shithouse looking board of his, and those fuckin’ atrocious fins, he was rippin’. Couldn’t put a foot wrong, and didn’t give a bugger what the conditions were – big, small, onshore, offshore, fat, hollow, whatever. For about three years he couldn’t be beaten, strolling away with the club championship like he was born to it.
“Then at the height of his reign, he retired. Bang. Just like that, gave it away. He gave his magic board and those hideous fuckin’ fins to the club, and every club champ for the last twenty years has tried to ride ‘em, without a fuckin’ smidgeon of success. They’re fuckin’ shit. I can tell ya straight that it’s true, because I’ve tried to ride ‘em myself, and I ain’t exactly a slouch.” This was true, Vic was an epic surfer.
“You know what propelled old Tony Danza to his glory? It sure as shit wasn’t his equipment, so it could only be one thing: belief. The trouble with old Tony is, he put all his belief into his boards and his fins, and that’s what carried him along. Should’ve just believed in himself. And let that be a lesson to ya.”
Outside, the wind screamed, the flying spinifex beat against the tent walls, and the ocean kept up its impression of a washing machine. And I don’t know why, but suddenly I was dead keen to go surfing.