Last month, Blank’s Mella Bunker attended the Banaam Indigenous Surf Titles held in Fingal Heads – the first of its kind in this district for nearly 20 years. She was nervous for the organisers – they had little support from surfing bodies and zero funding, but she needn’t have been. With its warm, family-friendly vibe, great conditions, live entertainment, free surf lessons, market stalls and world class surfing, the event was a massive success and has set the bar high for coming years.
Mella spoke with two competitors at the event: former WQS surfer Russ Molony from Darkinjung Country and Amber Hamer to find out what sets this surfing event apart.
What’s different about an indigenous surfing?
Russ: This is like a big family environment and it’s more about getting together and having a good yarn and meeting other Aboriginal guys and girls that surf. We all have the same love and passion for the ocean and we just love surfing and we are trying to pass that onto the next generation. There is a huge mob up here and the kids can see the older guys ripping – hopefully we can pass it onto them and they can have fun with it.
Amber: I’ve read some articles and there has been some negative comments in response to the fact that there are Indigenous comps, I think it’s a really good opportunity for young kids that don’t get the opportunities to come to these events. They are nurtured and encouraged in a way that they wouldn’t probably be in a mainstream competition. I think that community, that sense of family, that sense of belonging is just way bigger at these Indigenous comps.
Why are indigenous surf competitions important?
Russ: For one passing onto the next generation, this is like a stepping stone for showing the younger kids what competitions are all about. We can show them what an event is like and this is what you do, because they don’t know what the flag system means and it can be daunting for a young kid. A lot of the time the younger mob are a bit worried to ask people, so here, everyone’s family and friends and they can come up to anyone and ask what the yellow flag means.
Do you think Indigenous people have more of a connection to the water?
Russ: I think we have a definite connection, I feel close every time I’m in the water, there are spirits out there and just the feeling you get, you can be having the worst day in the world and you’ll go for a surf and everything just disappears, every worry in the world’s gone. If we could pass this onto to more people with things going on in their lives, I’m sure every one would be happier.
Amber: It’s part of our identity, your family has this crazy infinity with the ocean. But I feel that Aboriginal people, saltwater people have that spiritual connection, I feel like I pay attention to stuff, what mother nature’s doing, that feeling of being in touch, a kinesthetic involvement with the planet.
Who are the stand out surfers?
Amber: For the juniors I would say Summer Simon, Taj Simon, Zac Moloney, Brandon Mercy.
Russ: Otis Carey is one of the best free surfers in the world, Joey Hadden, Simon Knox, Humey, Simon Zuvich.