The sun is setting as the drive into the night is only just beginning. The lights of the city are glistening in the rear-view mirror. Meticulously, almost miraculously, all the gear is packed across the boot and the roof, an often underrecognized art form in itself.

Photos & Words: Thomas Ling / @_brotherfish

There is a sense of eager uncertainty in the air as the surf talk starts and a wary eye is cast over the charts one last time. The internal dialogue intensifies; How big is the swell on the buoy? I’d love some slabs, I hope it’s not too big. The direction is more south than expected. Should we go with plan a, or dart two hours up the coast? Are we going to get skunked? I wonder what the crowd is going to be like…

Australia is huge and, despite having one of the largest surfing populations in the world, if you can put in the hours there really is a smorgasbord of world-class setups, often with very manageable crowds. More and more often these are spread across the pages of the most revered magazines, and throughout short and long-form video edits. In a world in which content is king, it feels like the films and features struggle to tap into the narrative of the trip as a whole. It is understandable, a perfect lineup is going to get more engagement than sipping beers after a day of waves, or cooking fish caught that day on the fire.

Regardless, for someone who has spent the last 12 years of their life chasing waves, it seems I’m now much more interested in everything else that comes with finally scoring waves. Kerouac famously wrote in On The Road;

"I was surprised, as always, by how easy the act of leaving was, and how good it felt. The world was suddenly rich with possibility.”

It is that richness of possibility that makes surf trips so powerful. It is the all-night drives, the washed up feeling after a whole day in the sun and salt dancing with nature, the classic conversations over a beer with the old crusty local at the front bar, needing to find mates to tow you out of being axels deep in sand, the campfire meals that always taste better under the stars, and spending days without needing to look at a laptop or having phone reception. It is the fragility of being vulnerable to everything the ocean has to throw at you, and the sense of adrenaline when you throw yourself into those situations knowing you’ve got the skills to get through. 

Our first nations brothers and sisters have modeled how to live with the land for thousands of years. It could be argued that these small windows of time where we can get out of the comfort of our apartments and go toe to toe with the natural world are, in fact, sacred.

I guess it is that notion of exploring the whole picture of these trips that has inspired me to always have a camera slung around my shoulder. The project is ongoing, it may never end. If anything, I hope this series of photographs explores more than just the end result of a little bit of luck mixed with endless hours studying the charts. Whilst undeniably tasty, there’s so much more to these trips than just the honey pot at the end of the rainbow.

Check out more of Thomas's work, HERE, and his Print Shop, HERE.


March 13, 2024