The wind was howling offshore, flecks of rain whipped across the beach, and the two-to-three foot swell was messy.
And there was a big dog in the water: North Narrabeen Boardriders Club was stacked with state, national and world champions.
But North Shelly was not daunted. For the Central Coasters had a champion of their own: Russ Malony – two-time Indigenous surfing champion of Australia, 13-time winner of the rich Wandiyali Indigenous Classic – who surfed brilliantly as his team took out the final of the inaugural SURFTAG Masters Presented by the Manly Club at South Curl Curl on Saturday.
Just don’t tell him it was an upset.
“I wouldn’t call it an ‘upset’,” Malony told The Beaches Champion. “Tag-team’s a bit different [from individual surfing competition]. It’s more about being consistent.
“And in the final we were.”
That they were. Malony was the star with a 6.17 and a 6.90 double-score ‘power wave’ while team-mates Benjy Morris, Daniel Haggerty and Marcus Davidson were strong contributors in the 5-surfer tag-team format.
If Malony wouldn’t call it an upset, plenty would. For in horse racing parlance, North Narrabeen was the testing material.
Their quintet was literally world class – Damian Hardman is a two-time world champion.
Nathan Webster is a World Surf League Masters Champion and perhaps the most successful surfer in SURFTAG history.
Mark Bannister won on the World Surf Leaguecircuit. Christo Hall was recently crowned Australian Over-40s champion. Rob Hazelwood is a NSW shortboard champion.
And they’d dominated their heats to cruise into the finals.
Malony said it was pleasing to get one over his club’s great rivals on the northern beaches.
“North Narra’s always got a tough team, it’s always hard to beat them.
“But we felt comfortable. We’ve got some really good underground guys. We were confident heading in,” Malony said.
When the final began the radar threatened red, yellow, even purple patches, the worst kind of patches, encroaching from the west. From the east: rolling thunder. Then the wind picked up and rain came flying across the beach in hard little flecks.
Bondi was strong early. A fine ride by Samuel Jackson scored 11.67 as a song from Pulp Fiction pumped over the tannoy.
“White!” declared a rugged-up judge as white-vested Zahn Foxton of Long Reef – local builder, standard stance, name like a character from The Mandalorian – ripped off a 2.67 in the increasingly-tough conditions.
Halfway through the final most clubs had three surfers still on the beach.
The wind got up again, roaring in from the south, just shy of a buster. Judges shivered. The journalist’s notes smudged in the rain.
North Narrabeen’s “Noodles” Webster ripped off a 6.0 power-wave that got his team into second. Then he bolted across the beach like an emu, bushranger’s beard flapping in the wind.
It brought in Hardman: the “Iceman”, a pro since 1984, world surfing champion in ‘87 and ’91.
And North Narrabeen, the big dog, was coming.
North Shelly still didn’t care. Davidson smoked a power-wave for 13.80.
Long Reef’s Mike Psillakis pulled off a 6.93 and a 12.14.
Hardman, meanwhile, bobbed about out the back in his pink vest, lonely as a cloud, waiting for something to happen.
When he finally got on one it was too little (2.67), too late (seven minutes left).
When Malony pulled off 13.8 with a series of sharp backhand snaps (and 19.97 all up), North Shelly finished on 58.01 ahead of Long Reef (46.69), Bondi (42.24) and North Narrabeen (31.05)
“Bugger,” remarked Hardman back on shore. “We left the worst to last.”
Malony said it was “very exciting” to get a win over three northern beaches clubs on their home patch.
“We have a great rivalry with the northern beaches teams. And we don’t have many breaks like these; it’s pretty foreign.
“Everyone’s pretty excited to get the win,” Malony said.
Queenscliff Beach will host the SURFTAG men’s event on the weekend of October 1-2.
2022 SURFTAG Series Rankings after 4 events,
1. Long Reef Boardriders 3450
2. North Shelly Boardriders 3225
3. Queenscliff Boardriders 2810
4. North Narrabeen Boardriders 2675
5. North Avalon Surfriders 2615
6. Bondi Boardriders 2230
7. Elouera Boardriders 2140
8. Scarborough Boardriders 2060
9. Maroubra United 1110
10. Dee Why Surfing Fraternity 1060
The 2022 SURFTAG Series is proudly supported by Surf Culture Bondi, Guzman y Gomez, The Manly Club, Beachfox Sunscreen, Pine Property, Swellnet, Manly Observer, Tawny Frogmouth and Lifeline Northern Beaches.