Could This Be The Return Of The King?
Millennials, if you’ve managed to avert your eyes from dabbing and memes for more than 12 seconds and have somehow made it to the latter half of this sentence, you may have also noticed a few of the more mature boardriders recently gossiping about the rumoured return of a wise sage to our sport. If you’re yet to start driving an automobile, the name Damian King might only reside somewhere in your boogie-subconscious but for many of us, those two words conjure images of one of bodyboarding’s most celebrated characters as well as one of its most treasured moments.
Kingy rose to fame on the bodyboard scene by earning himself two prone world titles (2003 and 2004) and a dropknee world title, but ultimately stole the hearts of an entire generation of riders with his unprecedented and incredibly personal film, The Joker. Fifteen years on and King has been laying fairly low for some time, returning to his home and hallowed ground of Port Macquarie where he exploits his fame to sell beach-side real estate, but was recently back on the radar after being spotted among the lineup at Teahupoʻo, and getting himself an invite to the 2018 Shark Island Challenge.
We spoke to The Joker himself to find out whether the rumours of a comeback are true.
MM: So how did this recent Chopes trip come about?
DK: I basically just took my annual leave to go on a holiday. Just picked a date and got lucky with the swell so went over for about 15 days. I went over there about a year-and-half ago and got good waves with not many people and then my partner Holly had never seen it and she was pretty keen too, so I thought we may as well go over and see a couple of the islands. It wasn’t necessarily a surf trip but I thought I can definitely get a few waves while I’m there.
MM: What was it like to be back at a spot that you have previously conquered in competition?
DK: The first time I went there was in ’99 – I caught a plane over there by myself and then hitchhiked. I got to Teahupoʻo and had a pretty amazing experience there – I met a local who I helped to learn English so I ended up staying with him for three weeks and I guess I had a bit of a bond with the place after that. But it was pretty packed out there. I got some good waves but there were a few too many people for my liking. There were a couple of local bodyboarders out there as well as Simon Thornton and quite a few pro surfers.
MM: Are you surfing much when you’re at home? Or just on bigger trips at the moment?
DK: I try and surf nearly every day still - whether it’s on a bodyboard or a surfboard or whatever. And my line of work is pretty good in that it has a reasonable level of flexibly. I work when it’s not good and surf when it’s good. It’s not a really structured kind of job and that was the most important thing for me – not having to sit at a desk 9am to 5pm. Being in the real estate game is pretty good for that.
MM: And what’s this rumour about a collaboration between you and QCD boards?
DK: Well, I got two boards from Todd when I left for Chopes. So, we’ll see what happens with that. But the boards have been great. Todd used to make my boards a while ago so I knew I could rely on him for a couple of good ones for the trip. I think Todd wants to sponsor me now [laughs]. And on that note, Unite has always been behind me, too. They’ve always kept sponsoring me even when I stopped riding professionally which has been really cool.
MM: You also had an invite to the Shark Island Challenge. It kind of sounds like Kingy is making a competitive comeback.
DK: I like surfing good waves but I think my competitive days are over. I would go in the Shark Island comp and probably a few other specialty events just for the sake of it. I’ll always surf or bodyboard or be in the water somehow but no, no big comeback in the works. It would be great to do a trip with all of the older guys that I used to compete with - Ben, Ryan, Whitey, you know, maybe do a boat trip or something.
MM: Whether you are making a comeback or not, your joker alter ego made a strong appearance on Instagram not long ago. Is he out of the cage again?
DK: Yeah, I muck around with those thoughts in my head every now and then and just run with it. People seem to like it and they have a bit of a laugh at me making a dickhead of myself. It is pretty funny taking the piss out of myself sometimes. I just kind of rattle off whatever, whenever and now Jake [Stone] seems to be coming up with a few funny little characters, too.
MM: On that topic of The Joker. It’s about 15 years since your classic and very personal film came out. Did you think that movie was going to have the impact that it did when you were making it?
DK: As arrogant as it sounds, I kind of did. Because I really put myself on the line with it, going through all my mum’s stuff I thought it would be a really out-there sort of movie that people gravitate towards or they will hate it and it will be a write-off. I left myself pretty vulnerable with it because there is some pretty close-to-home sort of stuff in there. And I put a lot of effort into it, too. We met with 60 Minutes to learn about the documentary format and how to piece that together and we spent so long editing it. So that was what I was hoping the result would be but things don’t always pan out how you want them to. I think that one did. I actually paid for my Tahiti ticket this year from proceeds from The Joker and it was made 15 years ago so it is still selling! That's pretty cool.
MM: What have you observed in bodyboarding’s progress since The Joker came out? Is it on the trajectory that you thought it might have been?
DK: During my earlier years bodyboarding wasn’t really mainstream so I tried to use my world title to push it into the limelight a little bit more. I wanted to use the opportunity to help people realise what I knew about the sport which was how good it is. I had a lot of media stuff that year that I won the world title so really I wanted to use that to push the profile of the sport into the mainstream, which I did. I was on Rove and a few other things. I recently flicked through some old stuff and it was ridiculous how much coverage it got. I think bodyboarding is actually slightly more underground now than it was then. It’s probably harder for guys to make a career out of it now. There’s so many riders that are so good and just as committed but I think we had a bit of a dream run around that time. You could go professional at 20 and then retire from it at 35 so you had a good 15 years of travel and pay. I don’t think the generation in front of us got that long and definitely the generations behind us didn’t get that length of time either. So, you know, you don’t see this generation doing 18 years straight in Hawaii two months at a time. Ben [Player] and [Ryan] Hardy and I used to always be where it was happening no matter what it was. I did 18 seasons in Hawaii. You don’t really seem to see that all that much anymore – you have guys that are pros that haven’t done any seasons there. But times have changed.
Stream Damian King’s The Joker, here.