Don’t tell anyone, but the ugly fact is that we surfers can be an awfully self-centered lot. It’s an inconvenient truth that our wave addiction tends to take precedence over everything else in our lives. Even the chroniclers of old Hawaii recorded that when a swell was on, devotees of hee nalu were wont to abandon their crops to wilt and their families to hunger until the surf receded.
Archie Kalepa and Tod Bradley
at Box Head.
Not much has really changed since then, except that these days there are a whole lot more of us in the water than there are good waves to ride, which breeds a certain background level of surliness that occasionally erupts into out-and-out wave rage. And possibly no one has had a better view of that “aggro” surf vibe than Bruce Raymond, former Australian pro surfer and recently retired top executive for the mega surfwear corporation Quiksilver.
For decades, Bruce has been on an A-list ride deep in the curl of the surf industry, where the cutthroat competition is not just for the world’s best waves, but also for some very serious cash. But as he settles into retirement in his mid-fifties, Bruce has started to contemplate ways of bridging the gaps between various ocean factions, particularly in his own community, the gorgeous peninsula of beach towns north of Sydney Harbor that is called, simply, the Northern Beaches.
Sitting on his back patio overlooking serene water and anchored yachts, Bruce’s meditative manner contrasts with his youthful notoriety as an insane charger who would take off on anything (he did the stunt surfing for the heart-stopping wipeout at the climax of the cult Hollywood surf flick Big Wednesday). These days, Bruce has been immersed in a book on hooponono, the venerated Hawaiian tradition of putting aside differences and making amends. The first time he really got a glimpse of that tradition, he says, was back in the 1970s, when he found himself in the thick of a notorious beef between Hawaii’s North Shore locals and the brash “bronzed Aussie” surfers seeking to make their name in the Islands.
After one Aussie hotshot dared to claim that the Australians rode Hawaii’s powerful waves better than the Hawaiians did, the backlash turned violent, and some of the Aussie pros, including Bruce, were forced to hole up in a hotel condo, with baseball bats at the ready. One night, there was a knock on the door, and it was the great Waimea Bay lifeguard Eddie Aikau.
“Eddie said he was there to talk about the thing between the Australians and the Hawaiians,” Bruce recalls. “He was almost humble about it. He said, ‘I don’t know how it started, but I’m here to say it’s finished. You don’t need to be afraid.’ Eddie didn’t need to do that, but he did. That was when I got my first inkling of what the aloha spirit really is.”
It’s a spirit Bruce has rediscovered lately in Makaha, a storied surfing beach on Oahu’s west shore, where the ways of the sea have been handed down through Hawaiian families for generation after generation. Fishing, diving, canoe paddling, lifeguarding, surfing—if it’s on the ocean, the Makaha crew is on it. Bruce says he has become “completely sucked in” by the area, and it was here that he got to know Brian Keaulana, a Hawaiian lifeguard, surfer, stand-up paddler and all-around aquaman from Makaha’s most famous family. Eventually, a plan began to form in Bruce’s mind to invite some of the Makaha guys down to the Northern Beaches for a “surfing cultural exchange.”
“Look at where we live,” he says, sweeping his hand across the Northern Beaches’ watery vista. “I thought that if those guys were here, it would be like Disneyland for them. And wouldn’t it be a nice thing for our part of the world to have them share some of that Makaha spirit, while we could share some of our own unique history of the surf lifesaving and boardriders clubs on every beach.”
Bruce began to approach the visit as almost a mystical quest. He even drew up a philosophical manifesto for the event, based on the premise that “Hawaiians and Australians have a special relationship built around their mutual love of surf sports and the mighty Pacific Ocean.” He enlisted key members of the Northern Beaches ocean community to help organize the events, and set a date for the visit by Brian, Todd Bradley, Dave Parmenter and Maui’s Archie Kalepa. The exchange was on.