Swell is in the Air

Interesting things start happening when the whiff of a swell is in the air. Texts are flying, phones are ringing, shifts are swapped, vans are packed. We watch a swell before it develops, charting its progress from thousands of kilometres away, matching winds and swell directions before the call is made to chase waves across the country. There are surfers out here who own phones with screens devoted entirely to chasing surf, their phone pages filled with wind, weather and swell apps. Swells are talked about in hushed tones in pubs and excited voices on the road. Rumors fly about who is making the trek and the cool light of dawn reveals cars snaking their way along the cliffs, eyes on the horizon for the first pulses of a set.

Henry Jock Walker

I had just made Elliston when the first lines started marching from the south. A good friend and artist Henry Jock Walker had made the trip over west to catch up with a few friends and chase a few waves, he'd packed the van, done the shop and had a spare seat with my name on it. We'd be covering ground I'd already been over but with the light and weather being so variable on this coast, I could never make the same photograph twice and any opportunity to spend time with friends after five weeks solo in the saddle would be appreciated. The boys arrived in town, a leg of kangaroo slung across the grill, freshly killed on the road. The unfortunate result of portentous accident for a young couple, Ty and Brinkley also making the journey west. The roo leg was marinated with oranges and thrown on the BBQ and by all reports enjoyed by no one.

Beau Foster

We hit the road on dark and made our way to Cactus, I was wrapped to be back having spent my time sick in my tent on my first roll through the hallowed dunes. We would be greeted by better waves and better spirits this time around, the first day of what would prove to be a fruitful journey for all those who made the mission to the desert. One carload had made the trip from N.S.W, non-stop for twenty six hours. The driving shared among the four, they would do a similar trip home when the swell finally died. We would be back and forth along hundreds of kilometres of coast over the next few days, catching up with all the crew who had also made the pilgrimage. With such a huge expanse of coastline, you can never be sure who will appear on the headlands or the carparks of the West Coast, the mission of all however, was resolute, to surf. The psyche of a surfer is unique, we chase a finite resource in waves, a resource that cannot be guaranteed to be replenished at any date or time, so quality waves in the water now means surfing for extended periods, often hours on end, fingers and toes numb, lips blue, hunger pains acute. We scramble up the cliffs edge at the end of a session, eyes always on the horizon, watching the conditions, scoffing a quick lunch before climbing back into a wet wetsuit and going through it all again, fingers crossed the wind doesn't kick up or the tide fill-in.

This quick mission west allowed me an opportunity to make a few portraits of those who only come out when a swell is in the air. Otherwise laying low, these surfers materialise out of the desert haze, surf all day and then retire to the comfort of the fire at night. Surf. Sleep. Repeat. The boys and girls devoured the oceanic feast. Day after day the swell kicked until the wind kicked back equally hard. The end of the swell signified the end of the clifftop banter and the area was once again quiet, devoid of jetskis, 4wds and boards. Fishos would once again have their coves and beaches to themselves, until the next swell.

You can pre-purchase the LAND SEA YOU ME book here

Pete Tomlinson

Recent Posts