Shane was stoked that Kiddies Corner at South Palm Beach was firing up after days of shitty southerly storm conditions making surfing impossible right up and down the Northern Beaches. It was 8.00 a.m. Sunday, November 1966. Things hadn’t been good in recent weeks for Shane and his mates with the local Warringah Council passing regulations that banned surfing at most of his favourite surf spots. Just to piss off local surfies, the Council, in consultation with the local Surf Life Saving clubs, had created designated surf-craft areas in the crappiest of locations as far away as possible from where decent waves were likely to break and told surfies that if they surfed anywhere other than the designated spots, their boards would be impounded, and owners would be fined.
Feelings had been running high at the Newport Arms Hotel on recent Friday nights when locals, over a few beers, had vowed that they wouldn’t be bullied by “fuckin’ clubbies,” and that they would surf anywhere they bloody well wanted to surf. Surfies were okay with the Life Saving clubs ordering them out of the flagged swimmers-only areas, of course, but they were buggered if they were going to be ordered away from anywhere else. “It’s a free world”, was their mantra. “Share the beaches,” argued Shane and his mates.
When Shane jumped out of his Ford ute at the beach car park and looked out at the surf tucked into the corner at the most southerly tip of Palm Beach the angst of recent weeks was forgotten. “You frikkin beauty,” he whispered to himself!
“Kiddies Corner” is firing!
“Kiddies Corner” is not normally the grousest of the Northern Beaches surfing breaks. Every so often, however, when other preferred beaches like Newport, Avalon and Whale Beach are rendered unsurfable courtesy of monster storm swells originating in the Southern Tasman, then “Kiddies Corner” comes into its own. After impatiently waiting for days for the ocean to clean up (surf-addicted people like Shane start to get grumpy even if they miss a single day of surfing) Shane was now looking out from the car park at clean lines wrapping around the point. The waves were walling up three to four feet and marching beachward with a clean and precisely positioned curl breaking from left to right and pushing for a good 100 meters down the beach before fizzling out in the shallows. There were already half a dozen blokes in the water catching the beautiful waves… totally stoked that the surf gods had served up such bliss after days of mangled monster soup.
“Kiddies Corner” was nowhere near the new official designated surf-craft area located further up the beach but the surfies, desperate for an ocean fix, didn’t give a shit. This was the only place on the coastline worth surfing and they were buggered if they weren’t going to surf it!
Shane snatched his new Farrelly 10’3” from its place in the back of the ute, quickly waxed-up and sprinted down the beach and into the water. Any remaining cob-webs from his last night’s sleep were blasted from his body as he hit the ice-cold ocean under a cloudy, dark and stormy Sydney sky. He flopped onto his board and paddled for all he was worth. A good hard paddle would not only raise his body temperature as an antidote to the water’s chill but also help him to drive through the walls of white water that threatened to prevent him from reaching the calm of the line-up, out the back.
He successfully smashed through the first line of cold white soup that surged towards him. Then the second. The third loomed large before him and realizing that this one was too big and powerful to drive through, he grabbed the rails of his board firmly and eskimo-rolled under the churning wall of white water and popped up in the relative calm behind the broken wave as it passed by. Shane quickly squirmed back onto his board and paddled like hell for the open ocean, just enabling him to scramble over the next wave which, unlike the previous two, was unbroken but cresting. Not making it over the breaking wave would have meant his board being ripped from his grasp by the explosion of water and it being sent scuttling shoreward without him, causing him to have make a long and painful swim to retrieve the board followed by an equally painful paddle back out. Shane hated unnecessary swims. He was glad he made it over the top!
Now safely beyond the break Shane stopped paddling and sat up on his board to enable him to watch the incoming swells. There were two other surfies bobbing around in the black ocean just meters from Shane. They were both mates.
“How is it, Mick?” asked Shane.
“Fucking grouse, mate… fucking grouse! Didja see me last wave?” Mick enquired.
“Shit, mate… no! I was bloody paddling out. Nearly got caught inside by three bloody set waves. I was more interested in hanging onto my board than watching you, you knob!” replied Shane.
“It wasn’t all that bloody good, Mick. You got a little nose ride. Big deal. It wasn’t half as good as my last wave. That last set I got was at least six-foot!” pronounced Dave, the third bloke of the group.
“Six-foot, my arse. It was barely four-foot… and you were pissing around way out on the shoulder you sissy,” responded Mick.
“All right, you blokes. We didn’t come out here to whinge and argue. I’ve got the next set!” said Shane.
“Yeah… alright,” answered Mick. “I’m buggered anyway. Don’t mind a rest.”
“Yeah, it’s yours, mate,” said Dave. “It would be wasted on Mick, anyway. You go for it.”
The mates shivered and scanned the horizon for the next set of larger waves to make themselves known to the three. Several smaller waves passed over the sand bank just inside from where the blokes were sitting on their boards. None were tempted. Minutes passed. The surfies silently bobbed on the black ocean and waited.
Shane then spotted a lump of water moving towards them from the deeper water. This looked promising. As the wave drew closer it gained in height. The part of the wave to the right of where the surfies were sitting was already starting to feather. Shane would tell that this little beauty was going to be at least shoulder height by the time it reached him. Maybe even head height. The face of the wave was as clean as polished glass, as black as a moonless night and was getting steeper as every microsecond passed.
“You frikkin beauty,” whispered Shane quietly to himself.
All three swung their boards around, quickly lay down and started paddling for all they were worth. Shane, as was promised, was offered the inside line. With four of the biggest strokes he could muster he pushed his board to the edge of the curl and with two more huge strokes he hurled himself over the lip. Two more strokes later he was flying down the face of a glassy four-foot set wave being chased as he flew by the cascading curl that he could hear and feel near his right shoulder. Out of the corner of his eye he could just see Mick and Dave to his right backing off on their paddling as he blasted past them on his way towards the shore.
“Now this is a fucking wave!” thought Shane as he rocketed downwards towards the trough then gracefully carved a turn that would take him a full four feet right back up to the heaving lip. Shane felt like he was going at sixty miles per hour as he carved a dramatic turn off the lip that threw spray into the air and realigned his monster board into trim mode that saw him running away from the speeding curl at what felt like lightning pace. The wave felt like it went on for ever. Turn after turn. Up and down he went. Turn then trim. Turn then trim. Always looking for the fastest and most powerful part of the wave. Shane was a fan of surfing stylists who could ride the nose brilliantly, but he was more of a glutton for speed and power than a stylist, himself. He couldn’t do the fancy stuff like Mick and Dave, but he loved to milk the raw energy of the wave. Especially waves like these.
Shane was happy with the way he surfed that first wave. He had charged as hard as he could and had done well, in the main. His attempt to do one more re-entry off the lip in the shore break was a bit
silly and he bloody nearly broke his neck on the sand bank when the wave, that he had ridden well until the very end, decided to teach him a lesson about arrogance and threw him onto the sand at enormous speed.
Shane had then dusted himself off, swore not to do such a stupid thing again, then paddled as fast as he could back out into the line up to get more of these grouse waves. As the morning passed the three mates, plus the other half dozen surfies at other spots in the line-up ripped, tore and styled their way through what had become a wonderful morning.
A bloke with a whistle
As each minute passed, however, the numbers in the ocean grew. The original nine grew to twelve, by 8.30. Twelve grew to fifteen by 9.00. By ten o’clock there were twenty blokes in the water. It’s ridiculous how quickly the word spreads when there are good waves happening… especially if it’s been crap for a few days. Despite the twenty-strong crowd most of the blokes in the water were still getting their share of waves. Finally, Northern Beaches surfies were getting a bit of stoke, despite the Council, the Surf Life Saving Organization and the surf god’s efforts to ruin things for everyone.
As Shane, Mick and Dave sat on their boards beyond the surf line, quietly talking, during a lull in the waves, Shane noticed a big bloke standing on the beach waving at them from the shore.
“What does that bloke want?” he asked his mates.
The bloke then put his hand to his mouth and tweeted loudly on a whistle. After tweeting for all he was worth for a few seconds he resumed his wild arm waving. The message was clear. The bloke on the beach wanted the surfies to come in. Immediately. The surf club speedos, the whistle, the red and yellow quartered cap and the urgent gestures meant that the surf club fella wanted the surfies to stop what they were doing and come into the beach.
“I’m not fuckin’ comin’ in,” said Mick. “I’m not between the fuckin’ flags and I’m not doin’ no harm so he’s not tellin’ me to fickin’ come in.”
“The cheek of the bastard!” said Shane. “I’m not going in either.”
“No fuckin’ way,” added Dave.
As a cluster of younger surf club members gathered on the beach behind the big bloke it became clear to the surfies in the water that the Surf Club intended to do some member training in the surf and that they expected to have the beach to themselves.
As the minutes passed, the man on the beach’s waving became more urgent. He gave another two or three loud tweets on his whistle to reinforce the point. Soon the big bloke was joined by three or four other older, senior clubbies who joined in with their friend waving and, now, shouting at the surfies.
“Hoy… you lot! The beach is closed! Come in now!” yelled one.
“We’ll be forced to impound your boards if you don’t come in straight away,” screamed another.
The surfies looked at each other, then back at the gathering company of surf club blokes on the beach. Dave slowly raised his arm into the air and gave an erect middle finger gesture to the throng. They didn’t look at all happy with his silent communication.
Not coming in
“Fuck off,” yelled Mick before paddling for a wave that was just looming up near him.
Yeah… fuck off,” added Shane at the top of his voice.
Over the next twenty minutes, in between catching waves, the twenty odd surfies present in the water responded to tweets, shouts, threats, hoots and gestures from the beach with a range of comments including “nah, piss off, not coming in, no way and fuck off ya fat bastards.”
Suddenly, the sounds of the breeze, the crashing of waves and the vocal exchanges between lifesavers on the beach and surfies in the water was drowned out by the loud electronic crackle and hiss of the Surf Life Saving Club’s public-address system coming to life.
“Attention. All surfboard riders in the water. This is the Surf Club Captain speaking. You are ordered to leave the water immediately. The Club intends to conduct surf lifesaving training for Bronze Medallion candidates and you are interfering with their practice. I repeat. Leave the water immediately. If you do not leave the water immediately I am authorized by Warringah Shire Council to impound your surfboards. If you do not leave the water, I will be forced to take whatever action I deem necessary to impound your surf craft. This is your final warning. Leave the water immediately!”
On cue, the twenty surfies in the water raised their middle fingers towards the surf club building… then went on surfing.
If the blokes in the water were wondering what the “Club Captain” intended to do in response to their refusal to comply with his orders they didn’t have to wonder for long. Within ten minutes of the booming public-address system falling silent five burley blokes wearing club speedos appeared on the beach carrying the Surf Club’s beloved brand new senior men’s surf boat! As if to reinforce the point that the “Club Captain” was not mucking around and that maximum pressure was about to be applied, five more almost-as-burley blokes wearing club speedos emerged from the gloom onto the sands also carrying an enormous surf boat. One thing about the Palm Beach senior surf boat crew that is important to understand is that they were not known for taking half-measures. Stories about how their previous boat was smashed to match sticks when the crew deliberately paddled their craft into twenty-foot waves at “Fairy Bower,” just for fun, were legendary all up and down the Northern Beaches.
They wouldn’t dare… would they?
With military precision the senior and junior boat crews marched their boats to the shore, locked their oars, took their places in their seats then began rowing powerfully towards the open ocean. The three and four-foot waves presented no difficulties for the highly trained and powerful crews. In what seemed like just minutes the two craft were one hundred meters from the shore… rowers taking a rest in the flats well beyond the place where the waves were breaking.
Shane, Dave and Mick looked at the surf boats nervously.
“So… what are the bastards going to do now,” said Mick. “Chase us around with their fuckin’ rowing boats?”
“Maybe they are going to jump overboard and swim after us,” suggested Shane with a nervous giggle.
“Whatcha goin’ to do now, ya bunch of fat footballer bastards,” yelled Dave towards the boat crews who were still resting thirty or so meters from the surfies.
The bloke on the sweep oar of the senior boat snarled in response, “Have any of you long-haired sissies ever seen what a road grader can do? Well, you’re about to find out.”
At his command both boats pointed their bows directly towards the shore and, as one, began rowing at full racing-speed towards the surfies.
Shane sat bolt upright on his board and stared at the oncoming boats. He wondered whether the crews would have the guts (and stupidity) to attempt to ram the surfies where they sat in the water.
“They wouldn’t dare,” was his initial thought. “But those mad clubby bastards might,” it then occurred to him.
The boats kept coming. To Shane they looked like a pair of ancient Greek triremes charging into a naval battle. The bows were looming larger with every moment and the flailing oars were slashing at the water with power and precision. While the boats may not have been much more than a meter or two wide, with oars fully extended their potential for creating a destructive path was at least nine meters wide!
The first boat (the senior boat crew) reached a bunch of surfies to the right of Shane, Dave and Mick before our boys were under any threat.
“Fuck… they are gunna fuckin’ run those blokes down,” screamed Dave. “Fuckin’ idiots… what are you fuckin’ doin’? Ya gunna kill someone!”
The prospect of surfie injuries or even surfie deaths didn’t seem to bother the boat crew one jot as they picked up a little runner just before they reached the now panicking surfies in the line-up. With the boat now on a wave and powering through the water the crew members raised their oar blades until the oars were parallel to the ocean. As the boat continued to gather speed it swept through the group of surfies with the oars knocking some from their surf boards while other, more sensible surfies, had abandoned their boards and dived for the bottom to escape the rampaging club boat. Separated from their boards, with a set of waves now powering through the line-up, the assaulted surfies had little chance of preventing their beloved boards from scuttling all the way to the shore riderless.
In shock from the horror of the scene they had just witnessed Shane, Dave and Mick, along with another four or five other blokes who were near them realized that the junior boat crew were about to give them similar treatment. As the bow loomed over the mates looking like the Titanic would have looked like to a penguin sitting on a lingering iceberg the blokes reacted in a range of ways. Mick, fearing that the boat’s bow was about to split him in half, threw his board as far as he could then he dived for the sandy bottom. Dave, who had been located a little further from the rampaging surf boat’s attacking line starting paddling for the shore in the hope that a wave would enable him to escape from the onslaught. One of the rowers, observing Dave’s attempted escape, carefully aimed an oar and brought it down sharply on Dave’s arse as the boat flew past, shuttled along by a little wave. Dave, choosing to avoid further spanking, dived for the bottom while his board made its way shoreward helped along by the wave.
Shane, a little further away from the attacking boat than Dave, for some reason felt that the best form of defence was to surf away from the scene. As the little wave that propelled the surf boat reached Shane he paddled hard onto the runner then, smooth as silk, sprang to his feet and steered right and away from the destruction that was happening behind him. He rocketed down the face of the little wave and prepared for a bottom turn that would get him back to the lip and then possibly a fast trim to escape from the murderous clubbies. Half way through the most gloriously stylish bottom turn that he had ever performed the boat crew “stroke” oarsman wacked Shane on the hamstrings with the blade of his oar with such force that Shane’s legs came out from underneath him and he found himself summersaulting off the back of the wave while his board merrily scurried along with the breaking wave towards the shore.
Minutes later Shane, Dave and Mick, along with eight or ten other surfies found themselves bobbing around in the ocean sixty odd meters from the beach. The surf boats were already on the shore with their crews preparing to bring their boats about and rowing back out into the surf to give similar treatment to surfies who had survived the first onslaught. The de-boarded bunch began their long swim for the shore. Any hope of retrieving their boards from the beach diminished when the swimmers spied a new group of surf club members, fresh from the club house in their official patrol uniform of club speedos and red and yellow tie-on-caps, collecting the riderless boards from the shallows. The clubbies, with impounded boards tucked under their arms, scurried back to the club house to lock up their booty and the surfies, still thirty meters from the beach were powerless to do anything about it.
“Well, if that don’t beat all,” thought Shane. “I have been wiped out by dickheads who throw their boards in the line-up. I have been wiped out because of dick heads dropping in. I have been wiped out by fools paddling out right through the breaking section of the wave that I am on. I have wiped out millions of times just because I am a shit surfer. I have even been wiped out by a dolphin that dropped into my wave just when I was doing a re-entry. But being wiped out by a dick head clubby with an oar… never. If that don’t beat all!” A great day had rapidly turned to shit… just like lots of other days recently.
Find out what happens next at the “Battle for Palm Beach” as Shane, Dave and Mick take on the clubbies to get their boards back at the next posting of Sportsocratic.com.
Note: The images resented here are merely to set the scene and give a feel for the time. None of these photos were actually taken at the Palm Beach battle. If any images of the event actually exist, I would love to see them.