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2019 Burleigh Boardriders Single Fin Festival

Shane Dorian’s earliest memory of surfing Burleigh Heads is one for the books. “All I remember is getting a semi frothy one right out on the point and racing it through to the inside where it looked like it was gonna double up and run, and I remember every head down the line screaming at me… “FALL OFF”

Thirty years down the track it’s a much warmer welcome for one of surfing’s most iconic figures as he shares stories both good and not so good at the 22nd Annual Burleigh Single Fin Festival luncheon. It’s a treat to have Dozza in Aus, even if it is for only three days total, but an invite to what’s fast becoming recognised globally as the funnest surf comp of the year was simply too good to pass up.

And he’s not the only heavyweight legend in the room who’ll be lining up to take part over the weekend either. Freshly retired Joel Parkinson will be once again pulling on the rashie not more than three weeks after his last professional heat, newly minted masters World Champ Bob Bain is here, alongside arch rivals Cheyne Horan, Tom Carroll, Brad Gerlach, Mark Occhilupo, and that’s to say nothing of the local boys Pete Harris and Guy Ormerod, considered in their day to be the best to ever drag corn down the fabled boulders just over the road. This iconic roll symbolises the prestige and good times the Single Fezzy has enjoyed since it started as a memorial sesh 22 years ago. Thanks to the Burleigh Boardriders, the event has gone on to become a cult classic attracting international fields all keen to enjoy a throwback weekend to pro surfing’s bad old good old days, when God’s skewered the famous tunnels off rocks and the entire point reeked of sweat, coconut oil, sticky sweet smoke and the breath of a thousand XXXXs being drained under the pandanus.

“Coming to this event is like going back in time,” says Tom Carroll, a competitor in the 1977 Stubbies, the very event that birthed man-on-man competition and formed the blueprint for modern professional surfing as we know it today. “Everything about the energy is a lot like back in those days, the atmosphere, a lot of the old faces, but mostly the boards, wonderful single fins that really ask you to feel out your surfing in ways that thrusters and twins don’t. And it’s fantastic that it’s multi-generational, you get to see approaches on these boards you never would have seen in the 70s, and yet, you’ve gotta have good line and good feel or the boards won’t work. It’s fantastic to watch.”

After a few years of trying conditions, consistent north swells gave the 22nd Festival of Singles just the kind of crowd pleasing canvas everyone had been hoping for. Right from the early heats, with double up kegs pushing hard along rockies, there was plenty for everyone to cheer for. Early standouts included Creed McTaggart’s silky lines in an Indo Warrior surf hat, Paul Macdonald’s full rail gouges from take-off to kick-out, James and Jack Lewis blowing up with usual froth, and the Champ throwing down more claims than Adriano De Souza at a floater convention. But it was Joel Parko who looked the man to beat after a first round heat that many suggesting he’d called it a day too early. “Get that man back on the Quewey!” screamed one commentator. “Parko for 2020 World Champ!”

Finals day kicked off with the same consistent swell and thousands on the headland to watch the day unfold. Local lads Anthony Pols (who scored the only 10 of the event) as well as James and Thomas Woods looked lethal, as did Jay Bottle Thompson and Liam O’Brien. With funds raised from the weekend going into the Burleigh Junior Development program, it’s incredible to see the talent being fostered north of the creek. Snapper and Kirra may have had the Cooly kids, but Burleigh is looking set for a very bright future indeed.

Towards finals time things were cooking. Duane Harris and Tappa Teece called the Women’s and Juniors division finals with electrifying energy and the kind of local knowledge that gave everyone on the headland a sense of the history they were witnessing. In the end it was Pascha Light and Hinata Aizawa who took home the goods with “personality lines” expressing the unique body mojo necessary to get boards older than their parents lighting up.

The event’s first ever Heritage Heat was goosepimple shit. Occy, Bainy, Gerr, Horan, Carroll, Harris and Ormerod – it was if your favourite surf mag of 1984 had come to life right before your eyes. And just like he did back in that year, TVC let the froth monster out of the mag and went absolutely loon dog, snapping, carving and even finding a sly left for a cheeky cheater five back towards the point. Bainy finished second, succumbing to his old foe for the first time in their past three match-ups. You can bet he’s already plotting his revenge for next year. UP THE GMOAT!

If it wasn’t the best heat in the history of the event, then it couldn’t have been far off. The Open Men’s final had it all. Defending champs, World Champions, veterans, style masters and future stars. Burleigh’s hopes of a home town win were good with three of the six competitors – James Woods, Liam O’Brien and Jay Bottle Thompson – doing it for the reds. Chris Brooks and Tai Buddha Graham schemed to take the title up the beach to North End, while Joel Parko was the only representative from south of the creek. For half an hour, all six surfers were madder than dollar drinks night at the Patch in the early 80s. Botts got off to a flyer with classic swooping carves, Liam O’Brien blew tail, Woodsy had the headland going bananas with punchy one-two combos, Buddha surfed ’em to Cavill Ave and Brooksy delivered that classic style he’s long been famous for. Meanwhile Parko sat out there unable to find a thing. He found one solid ride midway through the final that opened the door to victory, but the final wave would have to be a cracker… and, with one minute remaining, that’s exactly what he got, executing two square off-the-bottom through-the-lip re-entrys that had the everyone charging tinnies back on the hill while simultaneously draining the life out of a Burleigh win. It didn’t sting long. Thanks to Mick retiring at Bells, Parko never got the chance for a hometown victory lap, at Burleigh on Sunday the entire crowd stood as one to applaud one of our all time greats, at one of the all time great surfing weekends.

It doesn’t get any better.

- Words by Vaughan Blakey, SW Editor