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Out of the Pond Down Under

words & photos: Greg Weatherall

The term “out of the pond” pretty much sums up the goal of the Billabong team’s latest movie: pushing the limits of what can be done on a board, both in terms of moves and riding locations. The trip to Australia was the perfect way to make the most of the US winter by heading to the warmer, bluer waters of Australia’s holiday playground, Surfer’s Paradise. The waves, backwaters and rivers of Surfer’s Paradise were searched out and attacked by the likes of Danny Harf, Shawn Watson, Chad Sharpe, Kevin Henshaw, Brian Grubb and Erik Ruck. With one of the most high profile and well-rounded teams in the sport, a pimpin’ river front pad, several jet skis and a fully loaded Nautique 230, amazing things were sure to happen.

The boys were keen to spend as much time in the surf as possible, which is where Surfer’s Paradise fit in, because it has some of the most amazing breaks in the world. One particular place called South Stradbroke Island, or “Straddy” as the locals affectionately refer to it, picks up more swell and has more epic days than just about any other wave in the world. With many A-frame peaks, crystal clear blue water and balmy temps, Straddy is like a far away deserted island playground and in no time at all Watson, Harf and Grubb were out the back trying to figure out the best way boost off the 6-8 foot walls that confronted them. “Out of the pond” was the perfect term for this situation: a bunch of pro wakeboarders who do incredible things anytime, anywhere while behind a boat, all trying to figure out how to navigate in and around waves in the open ocean. The learning curve was definitely steep. Fortunately Danny and Grubb had lots of the experience with surf tow-ins, so it wasn’t a complete mess. Harf’s incredible understanding of how a board works and his superior body placement in relation to his handle proved invaluable in boosting high and landing tricks. It really is amazing to watch him operate on his wakeboard.

Watson getting Out Of The Pond

Ruck on his way to get a meat pie

The travelling world of a professional wakeboarder can seem very glamorous. Venturing to far-off destinations, usually with beautiful weather, stunning scenery and the possibilities of exciting new opportunities, often seems like it’s a 24/7 dream to an outsider. The reality with wakeboarding as the Billabong boys have discovered from their travels though, is that riding away from home in those picturesque places is often extremely difficult and can bring about a fair bit of frustration, especially when filming for a high-budget video. Riding outside of the US presents several challenges that most American wakeboarders will never understand; yet most Australians just see as part of another normal day on the water. The first is saltwater. With very few lakes and rivers to ride on in Australia, 90 percent of wakeboarding is done in the saltwater inlets and estuaries. Its seems like no big deal, but the buoyancy and density of saltwater is quite different from fresh water, meaning everything from the way your board cuts, pops off the wake and lands, to how the boat rides and creates the wake are all different and take some time to get dialled and used too. The second is the tide. All the waterways are extremely tidal, and depending on whether the tide is coming in or out, and which way the wind is blowing can totally affect the water conditions. Unfortunately for the Out of the Pond film project, this was playing major havoc with our boat riding progress. But rather than bang our heads against a wall waiting for things to get right, we just worked with what he had. Sometimes that meant towing into the waves when riding the boat wasn’t possible, other times that meant trekking to a different riding location.

Our first venture on the Tweed River reaped some solid gold for Brian Grubb. Just off the main river was a slightly elevated spillway that traversed down some less than friendly rocks as the tide went out. Within moments Grubb was hurling himself through the air, over the rocks and into the pool below. The first attempt was definitely a clip for the crash section, with Brain landing the trick, but cutting the wrong way and running out of water to ride in, hitting the sand bank and being laid out heavily on the dry sand. A few more spills, not quite as spectacular as the first, and he was landing shuvs across the 15-foot rock gap. Finally, after two days of shooting Down Under, lead filmer for Out of the Pond Matt Staker was pumped to get some solid footage.

Watson thinking about his next meat pie

Post meat pie

The next few days consisted of a mix of boat sessions and waves sessions, this time at the world famous break of Kirra. Again the lack of wave knowledge was proving difficult in completing any tricks worthy of being included in the film, but that didn’t stop the boys from trying over and over. In fact, it probably motivated them even more. Back behind the boat it was a different story, though, with a double up session that saw just about every A-List trick short of a 1080 landed by all. This kept Staker positive, as he could often be heard saying, “Welcome to Clips-ville.” Chad Sharpe even entertained us all by punishing himself over and over in several attempts to land his toeside indy double back roll.

The next “out of the pond” adventure included jibbing a chest high concrete base of the bridge that spanned the Tweed River. Watson spotted it and claimed he could do it. Henshaw challenged Watson and reckoned he could do it better. The rivalry saw several boards ground to the core on the rough surface, but produced some awesome clips, photos and good times. An entire afternoon was spent waxing the 150-foot long bridge base in order to make jibbing and pressing easier. After numerous boxes of candles the jam session went down. It was insane, but I guess you’ll just have to watch the video to really see how it played out.

Wakeskating in Oz is still a real underground movement. No fancy boats, big wakes or PWCs. The local kids, usually referred to as “river rats”, burn around in 10-foot tinnies with small outboard motors and hunt the off shooting backwaters of the rivers to strut their stuff. One of Australia’s best wakeskaters and good friend of Brian Grubb’s, Kris Kallas calls the Tweed River home and is basically the leader of the so-called river rats. Kallas is a freak on a wakeskate and met up with us to show everyone how it’s done Down Under. Seeing the look on Grubb’s face as Kallas drove him down the windy, mangrove-covered backwaters was incredible, his expressions explained that this was a truly amazing experience, even for the well travelled Brian Grubb.

Classic Ruck

Grubb can find a sketchy spill way in any country

Kevin Henshaw on some concrete

Chad Sharpe jumping the shark, literally.

The final assault of the Billabong mission to Australia was back in the waves. All week we had been watching a smaller wave that breaks inside the break walls of the Tweed River mouth. When the tide is right it forms perfect little A-frame waves, and with deep water on either side the ski could approach it from either direction. It was apparent the boys were all becoming more comfortable in the waves by the end of the trip. Even Captain Billabong (a.k.a. team manager Chris Heffner) pulled into some apparently sick waves. Of course, it happened while no cameras were present… So I guess we’ll all just have to take his word for it, ‘cause the tricks remained un-repeated once all the cameras were rolling and the riders were present to watch.

After ten days in the surf, behind the boat and enjoying the nightlife and incredible experiences Australia had to offer the boys headed back to the States to complete the filming for Out of the Pond. Over the past year the entire team has been around the world filming for the video, and while the Australia trip was just one tiny piece of the puzzle, if it’s any indication as to what the whole video is about, then it’s going to seriously drop some jaws.

Canadian In OZ Dan the Tan

 Kallas giving Grubb a pull