Emerald Surf City - Celebrating 40 Years!

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When you really count down to it, bodyboarding as a concept has been around just shy of half a century. That equates to but a mere minute in the realms of timely comparisons, one comparison being just that... time itself.

I feel as a community we often forget that uncompromising fact, knowing we've made our mark on the surf industry in such a short space of history is an achievement. Tom Morey had the vision and here we are today, practicing this niche art of aquatic belly dancing up and down waves. So praise should be given, not taken away, and what better way to celebrate than to talk to a man who owns the longest running bodyboarding store in the world.

Forty years and counting, I give you Dessie, proud owner of Emerald Surf City.

Dessie, according to our records here at Movement HQ, you’re steering the oldest bodyboarding shop in Australia and possibly the world! With forty years of fine retail service and a club comp scene that has arguably produced some of the industries finest gut sliders, how does it all feel being the boss man behind the scenes?

Honestly, it was always a dream of mine. At four years old I said to my mum "I wanna own a surf shop" and it happened when I was about twenty seven. I quit my job, walked into Emerald and said to Harry (previous store owner) "can I buy your shop?". He laughed at me, but I was serious so I turned up the very next day and repeated to him "I want to buy your shop". I made an offer and the rest is history. It's been eleven and a half years and it's still amazing to wake up and see a bodyboard everyday, be close to the ocean and meet so many different people that are so positive about the sport. We all want to see the sport grow and there's a lot of good ideas that we try and tap into and involve everyone with so the sport continues to climb in the right direction. I know there's been a little bit of negativity floating around in regards to the APB Tour but I don't see anyone doing anything about it. You know what the old saying is, "talk shit, get hit", so my point being is that I think Alex Leon is doing a great job and if anyone else thinks they can find better sponsors for all the events then go for it. There could be some very exciting concepts coming down the pipeline for the world tour but we are going to just have to wait and see.  

Ronan Keating once sang “life is a rollercoaster, you’ve just gotta ride it”. Does that sound just about right when you look back on your lifelong obsession with the boog Dessie? Couple of highs scrambled in with a couple of lows? 

Ahhh, mainly highs man. Most of us are waking up problem free every morning so you can go for a wave, talk shit with your mates and possibly go buy another new board at the shop haha. But there truly hasn't been many lows, probably the lowest point in my life was breaking some bones in my back and being out of the water for six months. That was when I was twenty, and I'm now thirty eight so it was a very long time ago and seems like a distant memory to be honest. There's plenty of highs, like waking up this morning and surfing with the regular crew of Mark Saddler, Micheal Ostler, Micki Lewis, "White Power" and yourself, all whilst realising everyone is still so stoked to ride a bodyboard. As an invested member of the sport that’s all you can ask for. It just needs to turn full Winter and get cold man, even our last couple of Winters haven't been cold. Talking to lot of different blokes out in the lineup and it's been undoubtably a poor year for waves, I can count on one hand how many good (shark) island days we've had last year. I feel like the weather patterns have changed, Whitey (White Power) in particular disagrees with me on that one, but I feel like the reef has changed due to all the cungi thats growing on it undisturbed. The reefs changed so when we get a swell from the North the lefts max out at two foot and cap out the back. If you can find that old shot of Nugget riding for Ocean & Earth the left is holding six to eight foot, that just doesn't happen anymore. After talking with Wazza Feinbeir, he reckons you need a big straight and heavy swell with heaps of period behind the swell to rip the cungi off the reef. At first I thought he was being a grumpy old man but I kind of agree with him, we just don't seem to get those bombing SE swells anymore. 

... I can count on one hand how many good island days we had last year.
— Des.

I know the club comp has been quite the electric topic of conversation in the past twenty four months amongst the local Cronulla wigs, with the island taking precedence as the preferred comp venue. Nevertheless, I wanted to know your thoughts on the most talented bloke to ever don the Emerald Surf City rashie whilst you’ve been involved with the club?

The guy i'd put at the top of the pile would naturally be Andrew Lester. He's so talented in all conditions, lefts and rights, small or big. His flow and style whilst riding waves is second to none. Wish I could ride like the guy! Another guy that could give him a run for his money would be Pyno, when he rocks up to comps and actually opens up his eyes in the barrel. Shaun Peterson is another an amazing competitor on his day. Luke, when your'e around the traps you travelling gypsy. Jack Baker is another that springs too mind when he's not playing with his fickle comb over. There's also another fat dude from Campbelltown, Josh Kaihe, also known as "Blacky". The fattest and youngest guy to win the Island Comp at the ripe age of twenty one, pretty special talent if you ask me. He won a thousand bucks, covered his entry fee and put the rest on the bar or in his gut, one or the other I guess. He probably got three kebabs on the way home, guilty as charged.

We've had a fair few internationals like Jared Houston, two time World Champ. He's beat Lester out the island lefts in one of our previous comps and thats no easy feat. We've also had "Cue ball", Jacob Romero, the guy with the nice haircut and beard. A world class rider, especially on rights. Sacha Specker, the guru with the bad ass mo, could beat anyone on their day and he did just that on a couple of occasions at some of our comps. Another one is a guy I call "Peanut", translating to Mark McCarthy. He's an animal, never wants to loose and never gives up. When I was judging a comp down at Eleoura beach he was the first contestant I'd ever given a ten point ride to, he got the most out of that wave. We've got a big German fella by the name of Michael Ostler, claiming he's a Saffa involved with Emerald. If you give him a two litre bottle of coke and a comp rashie, mate, he'll out surf most people on their day. He's got a unique approach to waves and I think he surfs really well. 

You’ve been through three shop relocations within the Sutherland Shire since you’ve taken over the reins of Emerald, how’s the most recent move going? Have you been backing the spacious upgrade coupled with that random tall burley South African dude (Michael Ostler) you’ve got milling around in the top loft? 

After 35 years in Cronulla we have relocated to Caringbah for a few reasons. First one being we now have two car spots out the front, we've got a shop double the size, and three... the rent is halved. Plus we've got a few exciting things happening upstairs that I'm supposed to keep low key... cant really let things out of the bag but I'm going to anyway haha. Might as well, we are looking at opening a shaping bay upstairs and have the one and only Marc Rossouw shape out of there, with over twenty five years of experience he knows his craft very well and shapes some of the best boards going around. He's looking to move over from South Africa this year and secure his visa, so I really hope it all goes to plan because I really want to see it happen and play a big part in this project. One last thing on the move, it's good to get away from the coffee scene with all those bike riders wearing lycra, leave me alone will ya? There's a lot on the road out to Kurnell and the good thing being that if I choose to mow them down my number plate would indent quite nicely into their backs. 

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How was the transition when Harry, the last owner of Emerald, dropped you the keys and gave you your well wishes around twelve odd years ago? Did you encounter any “waxed in” culture that resisted your vision for the shop and club?

Well with Harry being an old school knee boarder and probably a more established businessman than I was, I had to approach it with a different attitude. There were a lot of brands that were stocked in the shop that had no relevance to bodyboarding or didn't even sponsor any Australian wave riders period! That's when I told the likes of O'Neill and West Wetsuits to fuck right off. The reps would come in and showcase their products, I'd wait until the end of the showing and ask "so what bodyboarders are you sponsoring?", I'd get a reply of "none" - "Are you looking to sponsor any in the future?" - "No"..... thats all she wrote. 

The wetties and product we sell now don't include the likes of Ripcurl, Billabong and Quiksilver. We stock quality brands such as Attica, Gyroll and Reeflex, plus the companies are all easy to deal with and the design concepts and manufacturing is on the same level, if not better, than the surfing industry based brands. My view is that if every bodyboarder solely bought bodyboarding made products that money would stay within the sport and those companies could sponsor more riders. If you're buying those surf industry products you're basically putting more money into the pockets of Joel Parkinson and Mick Fanning. They seem like good dudes and all, but they don't contribute to bodyboarding in anyway, so why should we support them? There's ways that everyone in their own right can help the sport of bodyboarding rather than everyone having their own ideas leaving us all divided and crying poor. 

If you’re buying those surf industry products you’re basically putting more money into the pockets of Joel Parkinson and Mick Fanning.
— Des

Being so heavily involved in the financial backing, planning and the logistical execution of the Shark Island Challenge over the last ten years must be something that you’re pretty proud of. Hows the road to the 2019 edition of this years comp looking and will we get that ten foot east south east swell we are all screaming out for? 

Ohhhh shit, this is a tough one for me. I just placed our dates in for the Emerald club comp's that will be running over 2019 but a certain member of the Shark Island Challenge committee, one Alex Leon, still hasn't put his dates in with the local council. I know he has a couple of quality sponsors lined up for the Island Challenge this year but he needs to secure those dates now. Ideally I would love to see the waiting period start on the 1st of January right up until the 31st of December and run our club comps scattered through out the year, whilst we save the best swell for the Shark Island Challenge. Call it on the biggest and best day with the craziest conditions and get the likes of Chris Byran or Todd Barnes to film it. You produce an insane highlights clip and use it to lure potential sponsors in for next year. 

I just don't get how bodyboarding is a crazy sport but doesn't get recognised in that way.  Obviously not when a kook is bus driving a 1ft Wanda shorey, but guys like Shane Ackerman and Mooty Young are chasing insane slabs, putting their bodies on the line and not getting paid to do it. All the crew over at Chopes, down at Shippies and across at the Right are pushing some serious boundaries just for the love of it. Take that wave at the Right that Novy wrangled, that dude has a full time job yet he still nailed one of the best waves at the Right to this day. It's just sad to see Redbull Air Racing getting more coverage than some of the best bodyboarders going nuts and still getting paid peanuts. 

Where do you see the majority of bodyboarding sales coming from in this current retail climate? Surely you guys are tapping into the flourishing and well established online market place that has every member of society all squared eyed and staring into their digital checkout with a smile of convenience?

Our online store has never been great, I'm not gunna lie to ya. 

We've never really focused on our online store because we were twenty metres away from the beach and I manned the store seven days a week. People wanted to come in and hear advice on what board to ride, be it their height, weight or skill level. Things are slowly changing for us anyway, but our online store still isn't great. Me personally, I like to walk into a store and feel the rails and nose of a board. Give it a flex, not the worlds strongest man flex, just a little flex to get the feel for it. Same as fins, whatever's comfy works and you need that in the physical form to get the right fitting pair. Wettie's are in exactly the same boat. 

Photo: Paul Gleeson

Photo: Paul Gleeson

To celebrate Emerald Turning 40 years old this year, use the code “ Wendell100 ”to score yourself $100 off your next new board purchase. Only for a limited time only at Emeralds Bodyboard Specialists online store.

Luke O'Connor1 Comment