Rolling Retro: ballies ‘n boardsby Jon Monsoon / 11.02.2014
“Ja hey, Roosta coined the term: ‘We put the con into contest’ because it’s not a contest, but a celebration of our heritage and love of the life that is surfing,” is how this event’s co-organiser and co-founder Kai Linder describes it. This is Rolling Retro; an annual surf “contest”, but not really, maybe more like a time warp beach party back to the 1970s. It takes place over a whole Sunday in February down in the leafy and mansioned valley of Llandudno, a surfer’s paradise just off the tourist route, just past Camp’s Bay, if you’re going to Hout Bay for lunch. Here the emphasis, all of it, is on having fun and not taking any of it too seriously.
The sun is hardly up, early bells, and the place is already aswarm with locals and tastefully placed sponsor branding. Getting a good spot on the beach (and later, at the bar) are your main objectives for the day. A good spot on the beach means unrestricted access to the action and antics due out in the water, and later on at the bar upstairs, pretty much the same. For this is no ordinary battle of who has the best boards or the biggest balls, this is a different beast…
Just how this tear in the boardshorts of time came to be, is an interesting story. It goes that Robby McDonald, master ding repairman, surf historian and owner of the Vudu Surf shop in Cape Town (one of the last, true, old school surf shops left in the world), has a collection of retro surfboards that spans almost four decades. From time to time, he’ll allow a small bunch of mates to take one or two of the rare boards out for a spin. Wherever they get ridden, people wig out. A conversation between Llandudno locals Robby, Andrew “Roosta” Lange of RVCA and “Captain” Kai Linder as to how best to do an event to raise some bucks for for the Llandudno Lifesaving Club while bigging up the Llandudno surf community inevitably arrived at Robby’s collection of old boards. “We needed an event and also knew just how much people wanted a chance to also have a go on a retro board. Voila! Rolling Retro was born.”
Back on the beach and the dress code of “wear what your parents used to” is in force. For some it’s just another day at the beach, no effort required. It’s like the cast of of Starsky & Hutch met on the set of Magnum P.I. and everyone decided to just go surfing. Wrinkled ballies rocking deep suntans, label-clad groms, tattooed babes, jocks in frocks, hirsute hipsters and an assortment of life’s everyman pitched up to roll in a bit of the retro.
“It is so important, in all aspects of life, to understand where you come from and how you got to be where you are,” philosophises the event’s Kai Linder as to the deeper importance of Rolling Retro. The fact that there are so many kids, both in the water riding boards and on the beach watching their mates shred, is ironic in that the event is themed around an era they (and some of their parents), were completely absent from, and to which today there is very little direct reference. “I personally find it incredibly sad that groms in all sports and lifestyles know so little about the history and stories of their cultures,” opines Kai. “I think our event proves that by involving all generations together in celebrating our past, you allow the groms to feed off the energy and enthusiasm of the ballies and this in turn really excites them to learn more and appreciate the past.”
In the water, the heat structure puts 10 riders in the water at a time for around 30 to 40 minutes, each having chosen a specific board to ride from McDonald’s awesome collection brought out for the day. A Martin Potter Twin Fin here, a rare Gerry Lopez single fin there, some classic John Whitmores, one or two Day-Glo thrusters straight out of the 80s and some others of indeterminate origin and age meant riders were spoiled for choice when it came to choosing what to ride. And that if you hadn’t signed up to ride, you would spend the rest of the day regretting it. Regardless of your skill level, just to get the chance to bust loose on a board older than my most recent ex girlfriend is worth the R100 entry fee required.
“We can learn so much from the trusty old single fin about waves and how important setting lines are, on how to let go and be loose on a tiny, biscuit twinny, and even more from the myriad of other classic boards,” explains Kai Linder on the absolute appeal of riding old boards.
Neptune (or global warming, whichever you find to be a more convenient truth), served up some chunky, wedgy waves with thumping peaks in the three to five-foot range for most of the event. For all but the most experienced riders, getting beaned by a fat lip or kissing the infamous Gat sandbank became de rigueur during heats, providing the almost 1500 spectators baking in the late summer sun with plenty reasons to hoot and holler at every wave. But, a stark reminder that nature can be a moody bitch sometimes came when veteran surfer Carlos De Nobrega suffered a badly broken leg that saw his fun over for the day and being rushed to hospital. Just before that rider Jacque Smit also took a break, although this time the casualty was a collector’s item Spowy board.
Adding some variety to the scenes of surfers taking vicious wipe-outs, local bodyboarders got in on the action trying to catch waves on croc boats better suited to white water rafting than surfing, and the fun just got gnarlier. But while that was fun to watch, the final heat of the day saw the pros take to the water for a fitting display of what the old boards (and ballies) can actually do when ridden by those who know how and while surfboard technology has advanced massively in the intervening years, it’s good to know that the founding knowledge and theory of the art of surfing and shaping boards to ride waves with, will forever be the core of board design.
With the surfing part all done, there was just enough time to hand out some prizes from the sponsors. Categories like “Best Wipe Out” (claimed by Dwalla & Slow for their croc boat heroics), “Best Dressed Man” (Adam Voight going as some kind of surfing Hugh Hefner), “Best Dressed Babe (Candy Best), “Best Grom” (York van Jaarsveld), “Best Tube” (Luke Christie Smith), “Best Lady Surfer” (Caitlin Moore – for some seriously massive take offs on the back hand) and “Best Male Surfer” (Ryan Leigh – taking home the first prize “Zamalek Express”, a bright red ‘76 inspired single fin made just for the event), added to the feel-good fun.
As the event drew to a close, and with the groms heading home to bed, up on the beach in the Llandudno Lifesaver’s club house, the beer flowed with the kind of vigour only surfers (and maybe rugby players) can evoke after a big match and the party got started. Almost as important as having good waves, a surf event needs good tunes and the Larter Brothers and Bilderberg Motel nailed that brief, providing a fitting sundown soundtrack on an event the likes of which there are just too few around these days.
While the sales of beer, cooldrinks and cheese rolls was brisk throughout the day, the proceeds of the event went to the Llandudno Lifesavers so that they can get themselves to the 2014 SA Champs to compete. As to the future of the event, Kai Linder tells that they are considering a Retro Road Tour, with stops all along the coast. Local surfers at the right beach at the right time will get a mini version of the event with the opportunity to ride a classic board and have a couple cold ones with tunes in the car park afterwards. All in an effort to celebrate local surf communities and raise some money for the local lifesaving clubs.
“We never wanted a contest. We wanted to create a day that celebrates everything about surfing that is good and that we love. Aspects such as fun, passion, community and friendship (of course partying falls in there too). When you take away all the modern, corporate and competitive stuff, this is the heart of surfing. It’s about the ocean, the people you share it with and the lifestyle it has graced us with.”
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All images ©Jon Monsoon