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Full Nurture

An interview with Noa Deane.

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When was the last time Kelly Slater dropped by your house to enjoy a cup of tea and a chat about surfboard design with your old man? How often did your father take you on road trips down the coast to visit luminaries like Terry Fitzgerald, Wayne Lynch, and Maurice Cole? Never? Well, that’s probably because your dad isn’t Wayne Deane. 

It’s only now, at 26, that Wayne’s son, professional surfer Noa Deane, is able to fully reflect upon just how extraordinary his childhood was. Raised in the house his father built on the hill behind Kirra Point, he and his brother, Jimmy, grew up surrounded by the core of Australian surfing. And as every visitor, from Joe Larkin to Andrew Kidman, pulled up a chair to talk surf, the Deane kids ran between their legs, subliminally absorbing a wealth of knowledge.

It was for good reason that a steady stream of well-known surfing personalities so often came through the front door. Wayne Deane is one of the most revered and important figures in the country’s surf history. Alongside Michael and Tommy Peterson, Wayne and his brother, Robye, spearheaded a period of radical and experimental board design in the early 1970s, driven by a desire to be the best guy in the ultra-competitive Coolangatta lineups. 

While MP, Rabbit, and Peter Townend would go on to earn worldwide recognition, Wayne opted to take a trade as a carpenter while continuing to make surfboards, grab his choice of waves at Kirra, and chase swells across the globe during his time off. His surfing remained world class. Big, powerful, and poised, his positioning in heavy barrels was almost without peer. Likewise, Wayne’s competitive fire never dimmed. He amassed an incredible 19 Australian titles across six decades, and in 1990 won the ISA World Longboarding Championship. In 2003 he was inducted into the Australian Surfing Hall of Fame, his contributions recognized by peers including Midget Farrelly, Nat Young, and Terry Fitz. 

Wayne passed away in July 2018 after a long battle with cancer. He was 66. It was especially devastating for his wife, Colleen, and for Jimmy and Noa. At the time of his death, Noa was putting finishing touches on Head Noise, a short film that would catapult him into global stardom as one of the best freesurfers of his generation. The standout moment of the movie is the last wave, a huge tube followed by a gravity-defying alley-oop so high it broke Noa’s ankle upon landing. 

Wayne was able to see the film before he passed—although, as Noa recalls, in true Wayne fashion, “He was way more stoked on the swell we scored than any air. He didn’t give a shit about airs. He just loved good waves.”

VB Growing up in the Deane house, was surfing something that was just always there? 

ND For sure. I used to play golf with my brother, Jimmy, and I remember this dividing moment when I was around 10 where surfing became more important. Mum would go to work and Dad was like, “Do you want to golf with Jimmy or come to the factory with me?” I was so psyched on surfing that I’d spend all day in that factory, watching him work and make surfboards. And he was so precise in absolutely everything he’d do. He couldn’t leave an edge rounded; there couldn’t be any bumps. Everything had to be perfect. He put a lot of time and effort into every board. They were so gnarly, the tints and the glass jobs. I remember people freaking out on them.

VB What was Wayne’s presence like as a kid?

ND He was a good dad. He did it right. If you did something wrong, you got in trouble. The only thing he was lenient on was when I’d get suspended from school. I’d come home and say, “I’m going surfing.” And he’d say, “Sweet.” [Laughs.]

VB What were you getting suspended for?

ND Nothing major. When I was real young, I smashed one of my best friends’ toys with a rock and I got suspended. Dad took me surfing, but he said, “You can’t get suspended to go surfing. Don’t think that’s gonna happen.” But one time in high school I knew the waves were going to be good, so I said “Fuck you” to a teacher and got suspended. I think by then Dad was like, “Well, better that you’re surfing, ’cause what the fuck are you gonna do at home?” He wasn’t gonna make me write lines. He was cool and collected until something took him beyond reason. Then he just went into full meltdown mode. In the lineup, he would wait until someone had pushed the envelope way too far, then he’d just send them in. There were no warnings. You were out.

VB Did he ever freak out on what the Gold Coast has become?

ND I mean, compared to what he had when he was 18, how could he not? But, in a way, he and those guys ripping so hard is what blew it out. It seems like that era kicked off the pointbreak style that’s been around ever since. The waves were so perfect that they probably got bored and thought, “What can we do to get more radical?” That led to them changing their boards to rip harder. Then everyone from everywhere saw them do their thing on these perfect waves and wanted a piece of it.

VB Did you ever reach an age when you began to take more interest in your dad’s surf career and his contributions as a shaper? Or was it something you grew up hearing about when people would swing by the house?

ND One thing that I noticed was people were always coming up to him. They seemed stoked that they got to talk to him, and he always had something to say that you fucking needed to hear. And we did the junior-comp thing together. I loved those little surf trips. I’d usually blow it in the event, but he’d be stoked because he could get away from that whole scene and the soccer mums. After I got knocked, we’d drive around and go surfing. And everywhere we went, we had to go see his old surf mates. Like, if we went to Angourie, we had to go see Baddy. If it was Victoria, we’d see Maurice Cole. If we went to Sydney it was Terry Fitz. Didn’t matter if the comp was in Cronulla, we were going to see Terry first on the Northern Beaches. And it wasn’t just guys you’ve heard of. There were heaps of randoms who were just as cool. When you’re a grom, you don’t know what’s going on. But now that I’m older and I look back on it, I’m like, “Holy fuck, that was sick.” 

VB That puts a wild spin on your childhood, right? While most kids are seeing surf stars in magazines and on videos, you’re meeting the full gamut at your house, talking surfing and surfboards.

ND That’s true. But I learned just as much from all the boards Dad had. I’d go downstairs to the garage, grab one out, bring it upstairs, and he’d tell me a story about it. Then he’d take it off me and put it back. He wouldn’t let me ride them. [Laughs.] 

VB When you started to surf well, were you allowed to start riding the boards he’d collected and told you so much about as a kid?

ND Nah, that never happened. I did the Burleigh Single Fin comp one year, and he had this old board he’d shaped that I really wanted to ride. I asked him and he said, “No, you can’t. It’s got a ding.” I said, “Well, fix it.” He didn’t fix it, but I was like, “Fuck it, I’m gonna ride it.” I took it. He knew I had the board, and he was all paranoid about it. When I got home, he said, “So you rode the board?” I was like, “Yeah, I put tape over the ding.” He said, “I told you not to ride it.” I said, “I’m riding your board in the comp, mate! Shouldn’t you be stoked? You know I can ride whatever board I want, but I’d rather ride one of your boards.” And he said, “But it has dings!” And that was it. Not one part of him gave a fuck that his son was riding one of his boards. It was classic. 

I’d be off surfing some little wave and we wouldn’t see each other the whole trip. But I kept hearing, “Your dad was fucking charging today!”

VB I love it when surfboards are that important to people.

ND He did so many hours with them. Same with carpentry. He did so many hours in both of those realms. He was good at them, and so he respected the work that went into them. 

VB Did he get involved in specifics with your surfing? 

ND He was absolutely crazy about positioning and getting around in the lineup. He taught me a lot about getting out the back in the shortest time possible. When I was a kid he’d say, “If you see a rip on the beach, jump straight in it and it’ll take you out,” which went against everything we were learning in swimming at school. [Laughs.] One of my favorite ones was, “If your board always flips upside down when you fall off, it’s a fucking piece.” I run by that. If a board keeps flipping over, I’m so off it. It’s like an anchor. You can’t whip it back, and you wear sets on the head. There’s nothing more annoying or frustrating. I hate boards that flip over. I give ’em straight back if they do.

VB What about performance?

ND He just wanted me to do more turns. I think between the ages of 12 and 15 I didn’t do a single turn. I tried to do an air every wave, racing way ahead of barrels. He was like, “What the fuck is this?” I tried to show him a couple of airs that I got on film, but he didn’t really care about them. He’d get really stoked if I got a good barrel. Whenever I got back from Hawaii and he saw I’d got a couple, he was super hyped on that. He was also digging the surf I was getting in West Oz. When he was really sick, I was going to come home from West Oz, but he told me to stay some extra days ’cause he could see it was going to be firing. He loved it there. I did a couple of trips there with him, and he’d just be gallivanting all over the place. He’d be like, “Are we going out at Boat Ramp?” or some random bombie. I’d be off surfing some little wave and we wouldn’t see each other the whole trip. But I kept hearing, “Your dad was fucking charging today!” Mick Short would tell me, “Your dad was out at Boat Ramp and it was real and proper, and he was sending it!” 

VB The past few years have obviously been hard for your family with your dad’s cancer diagnosis, and then with his passing in 2018. Was there anything positive you took from it? Did you learn anything about your dad or even about yourself during that time and since?

ND It’s hard to understand. You could tell that when you can’t do what you need to do, it’s just fucked for ya. A big part of his life was living it exactly how he wanted, and when that was taken away because of him being sick, it was difficult to see him like that. You don’t want to see someone who’s so strong be taken down in that way. You’d never think that anything bad is gonna happen to them, ’cause they’re so legit. There’s just this aura around them, and you didn’t think you could see them so fucked. I think that’s just cancer. Every person that’s affected by it is going through something so gnarly, and there’s nothing you can do about it. The treatments are fucking hectic. You can’t go surf when you have them; you just get KO’d. It’s so torched. The thing I’ve learned is just how much I appreciate having had a good dad. He wanted me to do the best I could do. He was never keen on me being a fuckwit and burning everyone and trying to get every wave, even if it made me get better. He wasn’t like that. So it’s been good to look back and think, “I’m so lucky.” 

VB Do you have a favorite surfing memory of your dad?

ND A couple of years ago, we were surfing North Point. It was 6- to 8-foot and proper, but a bit slow. Everyone was fiending. But he had this little system where he’d do these wide-berth paddles, wait for mid-peak waves that were too clampy out the back, tap into them, do a snap, pull into the end section, and then flick off. I watched him in this perfect cycle, just whacking the shit out of waves. He was one-arm paddling around way outside, not snaking anyone, in perfect position to get these waves. He was just completely on his own program and getting so many good ones. He was so fucking tapped in. 

VB The boards that are in the family house—the boards your dad kept and that you grew up hearing stories about—are you keen to ride them now? Or do you reckon your dad would be off it?

ND He’d be tripping a little bit for sure. [Laughs.] Nah, as long as they don’t break and as long as there’s no dings, then it’ll probably be sweet. [Laughs].

Illustration by Andrea Ventura for The Surfer’s Journal.