WRESTLING ELEPHANTS

By Jamie Brisick

HOWLS OF STOKE

Christian Fletcher, Volcom house, 2003 or 4 or 5. This was one of those majestic afternoons where Pipe and Off the Wall were serving up delicious offshore barrels, where Tudors and Fullers and Healeys disappear for protracted seconds behind mother-of-pearl curtains, where howls of stoke echo clear across Kam Highway. Christian couldn't get out there fast enough.

March 22, 2013

DEREK HYND AND THE FFFFFFFOUNTAIN OF YOUTH

Recently I caught up with Derek Hynd in Byron Bay, where he was working on a fleet of 49 finless surfboards. They were vibrant and kind of crude looking—asymmetrical, Flintstones-esque. Like Derek himself, they asked you to think about the world—the wave—differently. They had four Fs on the bottom. “Fffffffff!” I said. “Exactly, James. Not f-f-f-f, but fffffffffff. That’s what finless surfing sounds like.” We drank carrot juice at a nearby health food store where barefoot earth mamas perused the organic veges and wafts of patchouli and strong pot commingled in the bulk food aisle. We checked the surf at The Pass, but it was a mess. Derek was enchanted and loose at the hips, a one-eyed Peter Pan. As of this writing he occupies the #1 spot on my “Men I Plan To Sleep With When I Come Out Of The Closet” list.

March 15, 2013

MY HALL OF FAME

For a long while I was trying to convince myself that winning is overrated, but since being inducted into the Hall of Fame, I realize I had it all wrong.

Let me explain. On February 20th I attended the 2013 Australian Surfing Awards in Sydney. A black-tie gala celebrating Surfing Australia’s 50th anniversary, it felt like The Oscars, with Nat Young and Sally Fitzgibbons doubling for Jack Nicholson and Jennifer Lawrence, and Australia’s 10 Most Influential Surfers and a Hall of Fame inductee replacing Best Picture and Lifetime Achievement Award. I was there with my team to shadow Westerly Windina, formerly Peter Drouyn, the subject of our documentary film-in-progress. This was Westerly’s first big appearance since her “completion” (gender reassignment surgery) in December. Clad in platinum blonde wig, lacy white dress, and ruby red lipstick, she was Marilyn Monroe reincarnate.

The night was a frolicking success. Greeting the crowd via video feed, Prime Minister Julia Gillard spoke about Australia being synonymous with surfing, offered her congratulations, and wished us a great evening. Mark Richards was voted #1 Most Influential Surfer, and gave an excellent speech about how perfect waves and world titles become less important later in life, while friends and family take on richer meaning. A glowing, sun- and saltwater-kissed Stephanie Gilmore was rightfully inducted into the Hall of Fame. Peter/Westerly failed to make the 10 Most Influential Surfers, but not to worry. She was the star of the evening. World champs lined up to get their pictures taken with her.

But what I want to tell you about happened much earlier in the night. As arriving surfers stepped out of cabs and glided across the red carpet to a constellation of flashbulbs, my co-director Alan White and I tooled around the cocktail reception. It was there that we found the Hall of Fame trophy, inscribed with all 34 inductees’ names.

“Shall we get a photo?” asked a photographer.

The trophy was set in front of a picture of a barreling wave, creating a sort of photo booth. “Why not,” we told him, and posed like champions.

The following morning the photographer sent me a jpeg of the shot and I immediately posted it on my Facebook page, adding, “Finally made it, ma.” I was just messing around, or so I told myself (my therapist might argue otherwise).

In it came: “right on Jamie, congrats bro.” “congrats brisick.” “WOOOHOOOOOO!!!! CONGRATS JAMIE!!! WELL DESERVED!!” “fooken a jamie !!!!” “FELICIDADES JAMIE” “must be quite an honor.your really leaving your mark with this one.the power of the pen.” As the day kicked on the felicitations kept coming. It felt like I was back at the gala, standing on stage, trophy in hand, as the roaring applause turns to standing ovation. It was a sort of placebo induction, and damn it felt good.

For a couple decades now I have had a troubled relationship with winning. Throughout the eighties and into the early nineties I was a competitive surfer—winning was all I dreamed about. When my middling pro career ended badly in 1992, I started writing for surf magazines. This was a great relief. No longer was my self-worth determined by my ASP ranking or how I did in the last contest. Sport was black and white; there were winners, and there were losers. Art—in my case writing— moved more mysteriously, it was beyond such binary judgment.

Case in point: Last summer, at a literary festival in Cornwall, England, I attended a symposium about the merits of failure. The writer Geoff Dyer told about the time he pitched a story to a magazine about skydiving, in which he would go through the requisite training, jump out of a plane, and write about it. The magazine assigned him the piece, and Dyer learned all he could about parachutes and ripcords and free-fall and terminal velocity and “ram-air” wings and swooping. But when it came time to jump, when he was up at however many thousand feet, parachute on, door open, wind whipping in his face, planet earth a tiny marble below, he chickened out. Of course, he wrote a story about all this, and the story was a hit, thus a failure turned into a success. That’s it! I thought. In sport you’ve got one shot. In art you get, as writer Paul Theroux put it, “a second chance that life denies us.”

But becoming a Hall of Famer has turned this all around. Pre-Hall of Fame I was in denial, I was merely rationalizing my failures. Post-Hall of Fame I have touched the sweet effervescence of victory, I have been reverted back to my win-at-all-costs self.

I’d like to thank my sponsors, Quiksilver, Rip Curl, and Channel Islands, for believing in me. I’d like to thank Willy Morris, Wes Laine, Todd Chesser, and Tom Carroll for being great friends and mirrors and mentors. I’d like to thank Julie from 11th grade, whose golden skin and giraffe-like legs reduced me to stutters, but also gave me something to strive for.

My path to this stage goes something like this: I was dreadfully insecure as a child, but desperately in need of attention. Surfing came, and I was good at it. I worshipped Larry Bertlemann, Mark Richards, Cheyne Horan. On lonely afternoons, often onshore and only knee-high, I imagined I was in the finals of the OP Pro, with thirty-seconds on the clock, and hundreds of thousands of fans cheering me on. Amid that sea of faces was Julie, whose blue-eyed gaze inspired me to push harder on my cutbacks, to fit in one last top turn.

I never won an OP Pro and I never spoke more than a few words to Julie. All of which is to say that unrequited love is a powerful driving force. As a famous singer once sang, ‘Out of sorrow entire worlds have been built/Out of longing great wonders have been willed.

Have a great night.

March 7, 2013

ON USELESSNESS

"The point being, I suppose, that by skirting past the traditional arts (literature, theater, music, painting), one could arrive at a better understanding of the aesthetic impulse in human beings, that the best argument for the importance of art lies precisely in its uselessness, that we are most deeply and powerfully human when we do things for the pure pleasure of doing them—even if it requires untold years of hard work and training and even if the pleasure can entail frightening risk."

     —P.A. to J.M.C.

March 2, 2013

FINER THAN 16,000 MAGIC CARPETS FROM ALADDIN’S LAMP

“I want to bring back the power of femininity. Everything I do—my speech, my communication, my clothes—is from the point of view of purity of femininity and the power of that internal spring; that caring, that sympathy, that sensitivity. A woman’s touch is finer than 16,000 magic carpets from Aladdin’s lamp! It can change the world.”

          —Westerly Windina

March 1, 2013

CHASING MIRAGES: The Strange and Poetic Art of Francis Alÿs

Francis Alÿs is six-foot-four and beanpole thin. He is a walker. In “Narcotourism,” the Belgian-born, Mexico City-based artist wanders through Copenhagen for seven days, ingesting a different drug from a pharmaceutical smorgasbord each day. “The journey was followed by a period of depression,” he wrote in notes that accompanied the piece. “I understood it, but I could not help sinking into it.”

In “Doppelganger,” he strolls unfamiliar streets in search of his double. It’s part conceptual art/part private game he invented to play when visiting new cities. “It’s not so much about physical likeness as a certain attitude, a way of walking,” he told The New Yorker. “You could say it’s about finding myself.”

In “Paradox of Praxis 1 (Sometimes Doing Something Leads to Nothing),” he pushes a large block of ice through the center of Mexico City for more than nine hours until there’s nothing left of it—a parody of the massive disproportion between effort and result in much of Latin American life.

In “Re-enactments,” he buys a 9mm Beretta in a gun shop and hits the crowded Mexico City streets, walking purposefully and urgently, the gun held conspicuously at his side. The piece is presented on two screens. One shows the actual event as it happened; the other shows a reenactment of it. It’s a commentary on the ambiguities within documentary and fiction. It takes a disturbingly long amount of time for the police to intervene.
 
I first came across Alÿs’s work at Tate Modern in London in 2010. A big, sprawling retrospective, I was entranced by “Tornado.” In this 39-minute video, we see first an evil-looking brown tornado swirling on the horizon. Crossing flat desert on foot, camera in hand, Alÿs takes us closer and closer until we’re fully engulfed by it. We hear him pant and moan. The screen goes chaotically black. Wall text told the story: "For the last decade Alÿs has made repeated trips to the dusty highlands south of Mexico City to chase the tornadoes that frequently occur in that region at the end of the dry season. Tornado unfolds in three movements: waiting for the storms, pursuing them, and catching or missing them. Depicting a one-on-one challenge of the power of nature, the work is a recognition of human persistence, emphasizing the necessity of pursuing ideals however unattainable or absurd they may seem. It is also a reflection on the present chaotic state of Mexico and a study of the search for a moment of order within it; scientifically speaking, tornadoes are instances of order emerging from chaos."
 
“Tornado” and virtually every last one of his strange, poetic pieces completely sold me on Alÿs. I left the museum feeling lighter, younger, mischievous. Unlike, say, Michelangelo’s “The Last Judgement” or Damien Hirst’s “For the Love of God” —the former requiring prodigious skill and time, the latter $22.5 million in materials alone—Alÿs’s work makes it all feel within reach. It presents art as play. It casts the world in symbols and allegories. It makes you look deeper into such everyday acts as a kid kicking a ball down the street.
 
Alÿs himself, however, is not so accessible. I was supposed to sit down with him for an interview during his recent show at David Zwirner Gallery in New York, but for a whole heap of reasons that didn’t happen. I did meet him briefly at his opening. He was the tallest man in the room. Tanned, bright-eyed, clad in loose-fitting coat and scarf, he exuded a certain Lawrence of Arabia dash. 
 
I asked about the interview I’d arranged two months earlier and confirmed and reconfirmed and flown all the way out from Los Angeles for.
 
“Sure, we can talk now,” he said. “What do you need, about five or ten minutes?”
 
“I’ll need at least a half hour.”
 
He scanned the packed gallery. The cacophony of voices made it tough to hear. “Probably not a good time,” he said.
 
I agreed. “How about tomorrow morning?” I asked.
 
“I have a meeting tomorrow morning.”
 
“Perhaps we can do it in the afternoon?”
 
“Sure, just call the gallery,” he said.
 
I called the gallery the following afternoon. Alÿs was nowhere to be found.
 
‘Spurned journalist’ is a role I’ve become intimately familiar with over the years. It induces low self-esteem and career crisis. It brings new urgency to the “I’ll show those motherfuckers” epic novel I’ve been working on for the last nine years or so. I chased Alÿs for four days, but to no avail. I under-ate, over-drank, and lay in bed staring at the ceiling for hours on end.
 
Then I remembered why I became interested in journalism in the first place.
 
When my middling pro surfing career declared bankruptcy in 1991, I found myself heartbroken and marooned in Sydney, Australia, where I’d been living for a couple of years. I became dangerously nostalgic. I retraced my surfing years back to the skateboarding that preceded it. With great fondness I remembered my twelve-year-old self poring though the pages of Skateboarder magazine, marveling at my heroes, the Dogtowners. Dogtowners smoked weed, listened to Zeppelin, and hopped fences to skate empty pools, homeowners be damned. They were like buccaneers on four wheels. Then I had an epiphany: it wasn’t the actual Dogtowners who so inspired me, but the larger-than-life way in which they were presented on the page. Those seminal articles—teeming with adventure, irreverence, irony—were penned by an LA-based artist named Craig Stecyk. 
 
I studied Stecyk obsessively. I learned about his conceptual/performance art pieces. In “Road Rash,” he scraped dead animals from PCH, had them bronzed, then returned and glued them back to their original positions on the asphalt. What was he trying to say? I had no idea, but I loved the concept of bronzed road kill. In “Deep Six,” he toiled for years on an elaborate sculpture, showing it to no one, but spreading the word that it would be his magnum opus. Then, days before he’d promised to unveil it to the world, he loaded it up on a small rowboat in the middle of the night, paddled out past the kelp beds, and dropped it into the sea. ‘A meditation on our accelerated mortality,’ he called it, or words to this effect. Whether or not the sculpture ever actually existed was beside the point. 
 
My favorite piece took place on Fourth of July, circa height of the Cold War. In the days leading up to it, Stecyk built in his garage a hammer and sickle-emblazoned mock bomb, complete with ticking clock. He studied the tides and calculated the sand’s movement. On the night before, he walked it down to the beach and buried it just below the high tide line. At noon on Independence Day, sun shining, beach packed, the shifting tide exposed the ticking bomb. Hysteria broke out. Stecyk— clad in an official-looking bomb squad uniform—looked on with deep pleasure. When he was good and satisfied, he pushed his way to the center of the panicking crowd, heaved the bomb up on his shoulder, and carried it away.
 
These seemingly pointless poetic acts, these monkey wrenches hurled at the spinning wheels of the status quo, spoke to me on a profound level. Surf and skate culture’s DNA, I realized, were laced with a sense of absurdity, a giggling contrarian spirit. The acts themselves were innately futile. On a surfboard, you leave no tracks. As quickly as you ride a wave, the ocean swallows it back up. On a skateboard, there are no finish lines or hoops, no field goals or three pointers. 
 
There’s a lot of skate punk in Francis Alÿs’s work, albeit with a sharp note of cultural and political challenge. For “Untitled,” he drove his Volkswagen Beetle 750 miles from Mexico City to the Botanical Garden in Culiacán, Sinaloa. As crescendo, to create a piece that “dealt with empathy between nature and culture,” he celebrated his arrival by driving full speed into a tree. It was all scripted, of course. The curators of the Botanical Garden had invited Alÿs to come up with a site-specific work to co-exist alongside botanical displays. Culiacán is a notorious narco hotspot. 
 
“I decided to prompt this empathy of sorts in part because I sensed that the omnipresent anger that had built up in Culiacán over the drug wars had to come out loud, be manifested or literally performed,” he told Bomb. “It wasn’t enough to abandon my car there, simply making a poetic or ecological beau geste… So only a few hours after having arrived in Culiacán, there I am like a fool picking up speed in my vochito [Volkswagen Beetle] heading toward this pinche árbol, this wretched tree that keeps getting closer and closer. In that lapse of those final 65-50-35-20-10 feet, the absurdity of the human condition became so glaring to me, so absolute… It was as if I’d been punched in the chest by the absurdity and tragedy of this art mission in this lost town of Sinaloa…it transported me to another reality, in the space of 50 feet.”
 
Born in 1959, Alÿs grew up as Francis de Smedt in Belgium, where his father was an appeals-court judge. He studied architecture in Venice in his early twenties, and moved to Mexico City in 1987, where he has lived ever since. He worked for several years as an architect. Alÿs was a name he took to evade Belgian authorities. Only later did he turn it into his artistic pseudonym.
 
After falling in with a group of artists and expats, and whiling away long hours at the Salón dés Aztecas, a spawning ground for a generation of important Mexican artists, he did what might be called his first intervention. With the city still in disrepair from the 8.0 earthquake that ravaged Mexico City in 1985, Alÿs stuffed pillows in broken windows. His artistic practice grew from there. In an early piece, he took his place in the Zócalo, the main square in the historic center of Mexico City, with a line of day laborers. The day laborers’ signs advertised their respective trades: PAINTER, PLUMBER, PLASTERER. Clad in sport coat and sunglasses, Alÿs’s sign read, TURISTA. On the day of the 1994 Mexican Presidential Elections, he did “Housing For All.” First he taped together 18 campaign banners. Then he fastened them to a downtown subway grate, which blew hot air. The result was a sort of tent à la Marilyn Monroe in The Seven Year Itch, under which Alÿs lay down in the shade.
 
Alÿs’s studio is located a few blocks from the Zócalo. A three-story, eighteenth-century townhouse, virtually every room is devoted to a specific task—one is used for painting, another for film editing, another for animation work, etc. He often paints or draws late into the night. “I need painting,” he told The New York Times. “It’s a moment to slow down. Time stops, and I step out of the moment of production. I use it like a yoga session.” 
 
Alÿs is a busy man. For the last half a decade or so, he’s had exhibitions in virtually every major city worldwide. His work is hard to categorize. Most pieces are documented on video, with Alÿs playing a kind of elongated Charlie Chaplin role. Some cannot be documented. In “The Rumor,” for instance, he went to the town of Tlayacapan, in Morelos, Mexico, and started asking the locals about a man who never existed.
 
“The idea was to try to affect daily life in this town without leaving any physical traces,” he told Bomb. “As a rule, the only elements in rumors are oral. As soon as physical objects associated with this particular rumor appeared, such as a sketch of the disappeared man that the police started posting after three days, my project was called off and I left the town. I think my resorting to fables is not related to poetry, it’s more about switching from words to images, and, when it comes down to it, to my conflict with images. Images sometimes betray you; they expose you.”
 
Some works cast him as a sort of Pied Piper. On a visit to Peru in 2002, he became interested in the proliferation of shantytowns and refugees of that country’s long-standing political upheavals. Enlisting a group of 500 Peruvians, he brought them to a giant sand dune outside Lima, equipped them with shovels, and instructed them to move the dune several meters. Though mostly an exercise in futility—wind would shift the sand back to its original place—Alÿs said that the exertion produced “some kind of social sublime.”
 
“Reel-Unreel,” his recent show at David Zwirner Gallery, included a film he made in Kabul, Afghanistan. Through the busy city streets, across the dusty desert, in a country most of us know only through the media, a flock of Afghan boys chase a film reel, with one boy unrolling the strip of film and leading the way, and another following behind, rewinding it. It’s playful and profound—and obviously layered with symbolism. There was much I wanted to ask Alÿs—about his visits to Kabul, about his color bar paintings that accompanied the film, about all of his work.
 
I’m reminded of “A Story of Deception,” a film Alÿs shot in Argentina. Driving down a dusty road, we chase after a mirage on the horizon. It shimmers and sparkles. And eludes us. 
 

February 17, 2013

SATAN SPELLED BACKWARDS

“Natas always had his own vision and his own trip. He was never concerned with external manifestations or feedback. That’s genetics, that’s good parenting, that’s being the right person at the right time.”      —Craig Stecyk

“Natas comes from that hard knocks school of skateboarding where everything’s hard to do. In order to do the things he was doing on a skateboard you had to pay. You just have to keep trying things over and over at some point you’ll succeed. That’s a pervasive part of the culture he grew up in. He just kept trying and developed his craft and his unique view on things."     —Thomas Campbell 

“Skateboarding was a creative outlet, a way to see new things. So I’ve latched onto that. And that’s what keeps me going. Staying and being a skateboarder and having diminishing skills and doing re-issue boards and ‘remember me’ stuff is the opposite of creativity, of change and newness.”     —Natas Kaupas

January 27, 2013

TIME CAPSULE

Today I checked Facebook 43 times, scanned through Instagram 26 times, Googled myself 17 times, Twitter-stalked all my ex-girlfriends, including Duchess Caroline, whose cigarette burns now look like a stripe of moles down my lower back, watched Sasha Grey expound on a series of French and Swedish directors I’ve never heard of in a VBS.TV interview, watched Sasha Grey blaspheme not only her father but every father in a five-on-one scene on Fuckallyall.prn, watched Terminator 1, 2, and 3 on Netflix, ate a pint of Ben and Jerry’s new Pro-Choice Crunch, a chocolate-pretzel-semen-embryo-hemp seed confection that, according to the label, is the ‘perfect accompaniment to a night of UFC Fighting followed by Real Housewives,’ considered masturbation but instead posted my first Facebook entry of the day, considered masturbation again but decided to see if there were any Likes for my Facebook post (there were—only 23), felt disappointed by the FB debacle so posted a picture of my kale salad on Instagram, considered masturbation a third time but instead drank an 8 oz, 100% raw local organic fresh pressed green juice that cost $19, watched Girls, watched Gossip Girl re-runs, text messaged a whole bunch, watched a two-headed snake fight itself to eat a rat on YouTube, and posted this blog entry.

January 24, 2013

THIS LOVE BUSINESS

“What is this love business?” I asked my mother when I was 11.

“Love,” she said, and wiped her hands on her apron (she was washing dishes). “Love is not the filth you and your brother saw when you stole your father’s ‘Deep Throat’ video—and by the way, I made him throw that and the whole damn collection away. Love is not those feelings that surface when you scoop up a fistful of Vaseline and stare up at that horrible Farrah Fawcett poster that hangs above your bed. Love knows no conditions, no ultimatums, no ‘I’ll do this for you, provided you do that for me in return’ crap.” She went to the fridge, poured a glass of chocolate milk, handed it to me. “Love is a whole bunch of things that I’m still trying to figure out for myself. But if I were to try to explain it in a sentence, Love is wanting only the best things for the other person.”

January 23, 2013

THE ROSY RESURRECTION: SHEDDING PETER DROUYN, BECOMING WESTERLY WINDINA

Westerly Windina peers into a vintage hand mirror and applies ruby red lipstick to her puckered lips. She wears a white blouse, red Bolero jacket, black slit skirt, black-and-white Chanel-style ballerina flats, and gold chunk jewelry. She sits with her back straight, elbows off the table. From one angle she looks like a sex kitten, from another, someone’s grandma. She is the former Peter Drouyn, or Drouyn’s alter ego, or a magnificent publicity stunt, at this point I’m still unsure.

What I do know is that in 2008, Australian surf legend Peter Drouyn announced on national television that he was living as a woman. She said that this had been brewing in Peter for a long, long time. She mentioned taking hormones in preparation for gender reassignment surgery, which she hoped to undergo in the near future. Her new name, she said, was Westerly Windina.

As a young surfer coming of age in the ‘80s, I’d missed Drouyn’s heyday. But I’d heard stories: that he was Queensland’s first surfing superstar; that he’d invented the man-on-man contest format; that he was theatrical and enigmatic and deeply embittered that surf historians hadn’t given him more credit. In the film Bustin’ Down The Door, ’78 world champ Wayne ‘Rabbit’ Bartholomew describes Drouyn riding the pristine tubes of Kirra as “the best display of surfing I’ve ever seen in my life.” When the Westerly story broke I became instantly fascinated. I searched the Internet and found various accounts, but aside from the basics, none of the pieces I read attempted to get beneath the surface. Most treated her as a freak show.

When I telephoned Westerly to request an interview she was first suspicious then charming and hospitable. We meet at an Italian trattoria near Surfer’s Paradise, on Australia’s Gold Coast. In the five slightly strained minutes between shaking hands out front, entering the airy restaurant, being shown to our table, and ordering drinks (ice water for both of us), it becomes very apparent that Westerly is far more female than male. In fact she’s almost Southern Belle-ish in her politeness and delicate mannerisms. I’m struck with the urge to open the door for her, pull out her chair. Should a mud puddle suddenly appear in our path I’d doubtless throw down my T-shirt. I’m also walking on eggshells. I have a long list of deeply personal questions that seemed perfectly legitimate when I rehearsed them on the ride here, but now seem suddenly inappropriate. Westerly, however, gets right to it.

“This is the unfolding of someone experiencing—“ she says in a soft, breathy tone, then pauses, looks down to her hands, folds one atop the other. Her mascaraed eyes search the table, a wisp of platinum blonde hair curls like a perfect wave across her forehead. “I’ll think of the words in a second.”
She takes a sip of water, collects herself. “This is the unfolding of someone experiencing a new existence. I’ve been plucked and put into a new dimension. This is actually something that has come and hit me and said, ‘You’re ready. You’re ready to enter this new space and time and there’s a mission for you in all this.’ It sounds weird, I know. I keep saying to people, ‘It’s not intentional.’ This girl is just—wow! She’s out there, but she’s real. And I don’t want to get out of it. And I can’t get out of it.”

Peter Drouyn was born in 1950, and spent his early years frolicking on the beaches of his hometown, Surfer’s Paradise. His father, Victor, was a lifeguard/clothing store owner and played saxophone in a big band. His mother, Gwendolyn, was a singer and pianist. Drouyn and his older brother, Anthony, grew up in a middle class home with Catholicism and creativity at its center. Before Peter was born his mother’s obstetrician told her that she was pregnant with a girl.

At age eleven, Peter was playing in the shorebreak when a Sydney surfer streaked past on a long balsa board. Peter asked if he could try it, stood up on his first wave, and proceeded to hijack the board for the next couple of hours. He surfed his first contest in ‘65: the Cadillac Classic at Greenmount Beach. Suffering from a bad case of nerves in the final, he finished fourth. Later that year he won the Queensland Titles, which earned him a round-trip plane ticket to Sydney for the prestigious Australian National Titles.

Fifteen-year-old Peter flew to Sydney with big aspirations. On the eve of the event, after a competitor’s meeting at Manly Hotel, a trio of surfers humped him. Two held his arms while the third—“a redhead with freckles, I can still see him”—bashed him in the face, the stomach, the ribs. When they finally let go he fell like a ragdoll, his head slamming the street. A fellow competitor found him in a pool of blood and rushed him to hospital. He received twelve stitches in his forehead and four in his lip. The doctor told him to stay out of the water, but Peter convinced him to cover his cuts with a liquid bandage. He went back to his hotel, smeared a bar of paraffin up and down his surfboard, and anxiously awaited daylight.

The following morning he went out and won his first heat—and every heat thereafter. It was a sweet victory. Not only did he exact the perfect revenge on his assailants, but he became an overnight sensation in Australia’s fledgling contest scene.

Standing on the podium in front of a small sea of applauding fans and popping flash bulbs, he felt like the heavyweight champion of the world.

Westerly politely orders a spaghetti arrabiata with calamari from our stout, simpatico waitress who calls both of us “doll.” She passes back her menu, tells me “the arrabiata is to die for,” and rolls her eyes. I order the same, then quickly scan the room. Our fellow diners are a mix of white-collar businesspeople, manicured housewives, and old ladies sipping coffee. I mention something about suburbia being a haven for narrow-mindedness and Westerly says that Australia is an “insensitive, backwards-thinking culture.” She talks about the tall poppy syndrome, an Australian phenomenon in which mediocrity is championed and excellence and eccentricity get chopped down. ”Peter was an awkward misfit,” she says. “He had to do it all himself when he wasn’t really a fighter or a swearer or a beer drinker. His life was a lie.”

I ask what ‘Westerly Windina’ means and she explains that the westerly wind is offshore on the Gold Coast, and that these were Peter’s preferred surfing conditions. I gently ask whether she’s had gender reassignment surgery. “It doesn’t matter,” she says. “Let’s just say that you’re getting around as a girl who was a boy. You’re dressing up as a girl because you know genuinely that you’re a girl. So it really doesn’t matter if you’re walking around with testicles and a penis. It’s tantamount to the testicles and penis being foreign to you. They shouldn’t have been there! It shouldn’t be there! And you’ve got to get them off as soon as possible. It’s like a leech that has gone into your body and you’re trying to rip it out but half of it’s stuck. You don’t want it there. It’s foreign.” She takes a sip of water. “So if you take that thought through, it really doesn’t even matter if you’re walking around as a girl with penis and testicles. If you know you’re a girl, and you’ve got the operation coming, so what? Yeah, you’re a girl anyway.”

Peter loved cowboy and Indian movies as a kid, and would slip off to a private corner of his backyard and reenact scenes, only instead of playing the cowboy, he’d paint his fingernails and put on lipstick and a miniskirt and play the squaw. He adored flowers—smelling them, rubbing them on his face, wearing them in his hair. He wore women’s boardshorts in the surf for their “tight, slender fit.” While watching his first surf film on the big screen, featuring the massive, thundering waves of the North Shore, he was so viscerally moved that he had to hide behind his seat. “He looked like a boy,” says Westerly, “but his emotions and sensitivities were like a girl.”

His first “crosswiring”—“the start of Peter becoming afraid of himself”—came at age eleven. Westerly was reluctant to go into detail, but from what I could glean, Peter and a young girl slipped off to a nearby lake for hanky-panky. They were kissing, groping, dry humping, when Peter came in his pants. He spiraled into a horrific panic. “His Catholic guilt came out,” says Westerly. “He thought he’d gotten her pregnant. He thought God would damn him, that he’d go to hell.”

More panic attacks followed. He became increasingly shy and mistrustful. He couldn’t concentrate in school, and eventually stopped going altogether. His parents sent him to a psychiatrist. Westerly insists that Peter suffered from severe OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder), but at the time doctors had yet to diagnose it as such. He was prescribed medication.

And then surfing came along.

Whether a form of salvation or a wedge between Peter and his true self is open to conjecture. One thing’s for sure: he was spectacularly gifted on a board. While his contemporaries did walkovers and hang fives, Peter heaved up and down, back and forth, pioneering what the Aussies dubbed the “power style.” He could lose himself on a wave; apply every nerve, every cuticle. “It was a rebellion thing,” he said in a ’97 issue of Deep. “I powered. I had to get it out of me. I’d punch the wave.”

After winning three Australian National Titles, Peter set off on a world tour that included the big waves of the North Shore, where he won the Makaha Invitational, placed 4th in the Smirnoff and 2nd in the Duke Invitational. It was a terrific run, but a series of misfortunes left him feeling spurned and ostracized. In the ’68 World Titles in Puerto Rico, he fell deathly ill, and got no help from fellow competitors or contest officials. In the ’70 Duke event, he was told by everyone but the judges that he’d won. At the dawn of the Shortboard Revolution he shaped himself a board that was hugely instrumental in sparking this quantum leap—but the surf media ignored him.

“Politics and injustice worked against poor Peter,” laments Westerly. “He was devastated by how they sidelined him. They forced him into exile.”

Lunch arrives, and without asking, our waitress grates a coating of Parmesan over Westerly’s pasta. Westerly shudders. She gives me a distressed look. When our waitress walks away she tells me she can’t eat cheese; that the doctor said to steer clear of it. After brief deliberation, and triple-checking that I won’t think her a prima donna, she takes it back for a new plate.

We discuss decorum and etiquette, the lack of lady-like role models in pop culture, and the importance of style and good taste. She tells me that her friends—“I don’t have many close friends”—were first taken aback by Westerly, but are now “getting used to her, and actually treating her as a girl without even realizing they’re doing it.”

I’m fascinated by her repeated use of the third person. It feels theatrical; as if Peter and Westerly are characters she’s playing in a movie. What’s more, she’ll often mix pronouns then correct herself: “...I was devastated, I mean, Peter was devastated.” She is a protean conversationalist, bouncing from old Hollywood films to Aboriginal history to “the monsters that robbed poor Peter” in a single breath. She’s also prone to great bursts of laughter in which her eyes go glassy and cheeks turn rosy.

I ask about surfing and she says that she surfs “when there’s a quiet, empty wave” but avoids the popular beaches because “Australian surfers get around in packs, and have a tendency toward violence.” I ask if her connection with the water has changed. “I see the whole environment as being beautiful,” she says. “I see a wave—I don’t necessarily want to go out and surf it, I just love the way it curls over and breeches and sprays; the colors, the noise, the way it just dissipates on the shore.”

There is a delightful sense of wonder about Westerly. She seems genuinely gracious and awestruck and childlike. I ask who her heroes were growing up and she mentions Muhammad Ali, Juan Belmonte the famous Spanish bullfighter, and—

“You’re not going to believe this, but Marilyn Monroe in River of No Return and The Seven Year Itch and Bus Stop. And I was disappointed in The Misfits!”

In 1971 Peter enrolled in the National Institute of Dramatic Art (NIDA) and studied Stanislavski’s system—an approach in which actors draw upon personal emotions and memories, and immerse themselves fully in their characters. Peter was a natural. He acted in plays, films, and television commercials. He learned about movement. “He went from being a gorilla to style and elasticity,” says Westerly.

His theatrical side seeped into his surfing. At contests he’d show up with a six-foot-four, top hat-wearing caddy named Johnny Walker, who tended to Peter the way a second tends to his boxer. To be interviewed for Surfer he charged a fee. At parties and awards presentations he’d perform skits, race calls, and impersonations, most famously Brando in The Godfather, in which he’d stuff his cheeks with tissue paper.

He came up with “Method Surfing.” “I styled it off what I learned at NIDA: the Stanislavski-method style of acting,” he said in a 1980 issue of Surfer. “That is, you are one and the same, you become the ocean by degrees of concentration and relaxation, kind of a hypnotic state...I went out and just became the ocean.”

In 1973, Peter and a filmmaker set off on a six-month around-the-world odyssey, chasing waves along the coasts of Mauritius, South Africa, Angola, the Canary Islands, Morocco, Hawaii, Japan, and Indonesia. The resulting film, Drouyn, captures Peter at the height of his powers. The Peter on-screen bares no resemblance to the tortured, introspective Peter that Westerly describes. He charms topless Angolan tribeswoman, kisses giggly Japanese girls, and swaggers naked across the beach in Biarritz. Most riveting is his exuberant “Method Surfing.” With a fluid stance and cocked front arm, his off the bottom/off the top combos are vicious and almost dizzying to watch. He is profoundly at one with the wave.

Peter arrived home from the trip ecstatic, transformed, convinced that the film would blow minds. The premiere was held in a wine cellar in Sydney. Peter wore a yachtsman’s navy blazer and flared white slacks. After the screening, he hopped up on stage and launched into what Tracks journalist Phil Jarratt called “a stream of consciousness rave that incorporated every nuance of manic brilliance that he’d picked up in bars around the world, The National Institute of Dramatic Art, and a decade in the jetstream of international surfing.” He went on to say that “Peter Drouyn is the personification of what surfing is all about and...deserves to be as important a figure in sport as Muhammad Ali.”

Nevertheless, Drouyn flopped. Audiences didn’t get it, nor did the magazines. Even worse, they largely ignored it. Peter’s sense that the surf media was conspiring against him grew. He fell into a crippling two-year depression.

Things turned around in 1976, when the general manager of Australian clothing giant Stubbies asked Peter to mastermind a surf contest. Drawing from his love of acting and boxing, he came up with the man-on-man format. At press conferences he called the existing four- or six-man heat approach “as corrupt as Idi Amin’s government,” adding that “surfing needs more physical contact.” The 1977 Stubbies Pro was a colossal success. Peter’s man-on-man format revolutionized competitive surfing. To this day, it is the format used in professional surfing.

His inventions didn’t stop there. In 1984, he challenged four-time world champion Mark Richards to a showdown. Dubbed the “The Superchallenge,” it seemed less about determining the best surfer than showcasing Peter’s wild imagination. He took out campy advertisements in the surf mags: Peter clad in underwear, smeared with ketchup, posing Gladiator-style, with Muhammad Ali-like jibes slashed across the page. He enlisted judges from his acting school. He conceived of a “wave stadium,” complete with orchestra pits, laser shows, and trained dolphins. He drummed up tons of media coverage. The event kicked off on a cloudy morning at Ballina, a B-grade surf spot in New South Wales. Peter dyed his hair white and wore a Lycra one-piece for the occasion. Around noon, a Biblical storm blew in, sending spectators, judges, and cameramen fleeing. It was a disaster. “That really broke Peter’s heart,” says Westerly.

Next up was the Far East. Enrolled in Asian Studies courses, learning to speak Mandarin, and repulsed by all things Australian, thirty-five-year-old Peter began to obsess about China. His plan was to introduce the Chinese to surfing, breed a team of über-waveriders, and coach them to victory in the ‘86 World Amateur Titles—a last laugh against the surfing world that had wronged him. He drew up a formal proposal, presented it to the Ministry of Sport, and in 1985, became the first official surfing coach to The People’s Republic of China. He was received like royalty, given a troop of twenty selected male and female students (many of whom were trained gymnasts), and “felt like Lawrence of Arabia.” But the strange diet, copious amounts of alcohol, and exhausting travel schedule took its toll. After “five weeks that felt like two years,” he flew home.

The latter half of the ‘80s and entire ‘90s were marked by a litany of false starts. His various jobs included starting a modeling school, working at a surf shop, driving a taxi, selling insurance door-to-door, opening a drama school, designing a wave machine, working as a sander in a cabinet factory, studying engineering in Tasmania, and attempting to open a surf resort in the Philippines, in which he “got screwed.” For much of this time he was destitute, living in tiny flats, caravan parks, or with his parents.

In 1989 he traveled to South Africa specifically to find a wife. He did, had a son, Zachary, then divorced shortly thereafter. Custody battles ensued for nearly a decade, but today, Zachary, now 22, spends weekends with his father, and remains the center of Westerly’s life.

In 1993 Peter’s mother died, devastating him—“She was Peter’s closest friend.” For the next fifteen years he’d care for his father, who died in 2008.

On a sunny afternoon in 2002, Peter Drouyn paddled out to his beloved Burleigh Heads. The sky was cloudless; the waves slightly overhead and spiraling down the point. He picked off a set wave and proceeded to streak across the shimmering face. On the inside section, where shallow sand creates a kind of zippering suck-up, he went to do his trademark straighten-out in which he adds a matador-like flourish, as if the lip were a charging bull. The wave clocked him square on the head. As it took him down, the left side of his face slapped the concrete-hard surface. He was held underwater for a preternaturally long time. “This feeling is never to be forgotten,” remembers Westerly. “Peter felt terribly disoriented, his equilibrium was shot, he thought he was dead, he saw a powdery white light...and suddenly he popped up and drifted to shore.”

Westerly says that this accident, which left Peter with a concussion and perforated eardrum, “pretty much fried his brain.” She says things were never the same again, and that soon after he started changing into a female. She tells a fairy tale-like story of Peter walking back from a surf one late afternoon. The beach is empty, Peter’s in a ponderous, introspective mood, when he nearly steps on a discarded women’s bathing suit, pink with white stripes. He takes it home and tries it on in front of the mirror. It fits. He sashays around the house in it regularly, often to the accompaniment of classical music. He experiments with lipstick. This leads to visits to local thrift stores, where he buys up women’s clothes by the bagful. In the middle of the night he puts them on, drives down to the beach, and dances along the shoreline in a kind of bewitched rapture. Pretty soon she’s wearing more women’s clothes than men’s.

“It was just bursting out of me,” says Westerly, “It was as if the suffering just couldn’t continue. And the moment I started believing I was a girl my body started to change. I went from a square gorilla to long-legged, slender. The hips are higher, the bum has lifted right up. The doctors can’t believe it!”

Westerly takes her latte with three sugars. Her face is animated in a way that calls to mind the tragicomic mask of the theatre. Much like Peter’s rollercoaster life, she is capable of going from tears to laughter in the course of a sentence. Over lunch she cries exactly four times: twice while recounting the struggles of Peter Drouyn, and twice while describing the divine intervention-like events that gave birth to Westerly Windina.

“Could you ever imagine going back to Peter Drouyn?” I ask.

“I think about this sometimes. No, absolutely not. It would be a fall back into a very deep hole. Peter was a life of wreckage. I was meant to be a girl.”

“And what does the future hold for Westerly?”

“I want to bring back the power of femininity. Everything I do—my speech, my communication, my clothes—is from the point of view of purity of femininity and the power of that internal spring; that caring, that sympathy, that sensitivity. A woman’s touch is finer than 16,000 magic carpets from Aladdin’s lamp! It can change the world.”

After we finish coffee I ask if I can take her picture. She blushes and says that she’d be honored. She reaches into her purse and pulls out her hand mirror.

“I might even give you a peep at my bikini just to show you,” she says. “You’d blow out. It’s her figure. It’s unmistakably Marilyn’s figure.”

She paws her hair, applies lipstick. I imagine her signing autographs, blowing kisses. Suddenly she looks up.

“Well, what do you think? Do you think I look female?”

In coming months we’ll speak almost nightly. She’ll rave about her singing lessons, how she’s destined to come to America and make it big as an entertainer. She’ll repeatedly mention the surgery, how desperate she is to get it done. “My breasts are getting bigger, my legs are getting longer, my voice is going up an octave—I’m getting more feminine by the hour!” she’ll exclaim in one phone call. And then in the next she’ll be despondent, broken. She’ll complain that the Aussies don’t understand her; that they make fun of her on the street. She’ll send me dozens of self-portraits, and insist that I look closely and see her evolution. Most of all, she’ll reveal her vulnerability, her childlike need for love and attention.

She cups her hands together under her chin. Her cheeks flush, her eyes sparkle luminously. It’s as if a big birthday cake with lit candles has been placed in front of her face.

“No doubt about it, Westerly,” I say. “You’re a hundred percent woman.”

“Ah, good,” she says. “I knew you’d think so. Let’s go. I know of a little park across the street where the light’ll be just right. I can show you my walk!”

January 22, 2013

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