Words Nick Carroll

Demonstration by Chippa Wilson on the NSW north coast, Sequence by Andrew Shield

An excerpt from our current issue, Slabs and Punts.


It’s real, you know.

This spot you’re looking at on these slides, where Chippa’s so gracefully performing – it’s an actual real place, separate and distinct from anywhere else on the face of the Earth. And yeah, I know you know that intellectually, theoretically, whatever.

But the truth is that it isn’t exactly obvious. That’s the way so many shots and clips are presented these days, especially in the weirdly dislocated realms of social media: it’s like they’re removed from their location – or any location. They’re just… there, on the screen, floating, the move or the barrel or the mad feat of quasi-bravery right there in front of you, but strangely shorn of its origin. The move matters, the physical place doesn’t.

It’s seductive and it plays to our imaginations, this dislocation. For one thing, it allows us to imagine ourselves in the image. For another, in some cases, it plays to the old surfing trope of the secret spot – the place that exists as much in your head as it does in the image, thanks to the simple fact that you don’t know where it is.

It’s seductive – and it’s bullshit. Because in surfing, place is everything. Place is vital.

Why? Let’s look closer at Chippa’s near-perfect act to see if we can divine this truth.


So of course he is performing an absolutely textbook frontside rotation. I’ve gotta say I am pretty smitten with the first shot. It’s not the peak of the action, but just look at the elegant extension through arms and hands, as Chippa takes just a little bit of weight off the board while it rides up the foam to launch. There’s some subtle echo of his limber Aussie goofyfoot forebears in that posture, some hint of Wayne Lynch, Jim Banks or Peter McCabe, right here at the start of a move none of those august trio would have contemplated too often.

This classy limberness, such a feature of his surfing, is evident throughout the sequence, from the key shot, number four, to the slightly obscured shot 10, the recovery half completed, yet still no tension apparent in Chippa’s body; he’s just letting the move happen. Assisted by the nice winter southerly, natch.

And those last two pics, winding into another easy bottom turn: more flickers of Banksy or Wayne or Pete, the whole thing seeming so natural, like he’s done it a thousand times before.

But here’s the thing. He HAS. Not just the move; the location. That ghostly low-slung land in the deep unfocused background of the sequence is the real story here, because it tells you where he is. This is the left that comes back toward the rocks at Cabarita, and it’s the real story because it’s Chippa’s home ground, and has been since way before he could pull frontside airs. He knows it better than you know your Facebook profile pic. If you’re wondering how he got this move so clued in, look no further.


Find your place. This is true of all really good to great surfers. Of course they’ve travelled, of course they’ve been shacked off their heads in the Mentawais or whatever, of course that’s a vital part of their learning, of course it is. But before that occurs, they had a place: a surf spot where they felt relaxed, nay safe enough to try moves they couldn’t make, until they did. They could try without fear, because they knew the place well enough to trust its quirks and oddnesses. If they fell here, they’d land in a deep spot just inside the sandbar. If they fell there, they’d know to roll with it and not extend a limb, because that’d mean a sprained ankle or broken wrist. Most of all, they knew they could count on the familiarity of the wave itself, the way it moved and constructed itself. Yeah, it would be slightly different every time, but only slightly. There would be enough about it for that magical learning gift – repetition – to work its wonder. And then they could take the move to the Mentawais or Pipe or wherever, and perform it before the world.

Find your place. It doesn’t matter where. Find it, surf it, connect with it, and use it to learn the things you can’t learn on social media. Find it and make it yours.

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