"The world is so f–king weird right now," Noa Deane tells me over the phone from Australia, where he's slept in past our original interview time, but is ready to wax philosophical now that the coffee is kicking in.
He's right about the world—especially his world. Deane went berserk upon arrival on the freesurfing stage, laying down the kinds of massive airs and searing turns that earned closing sections in top-tier surf films and drew immediate Reynoldsian comparisons. But the world that Deane inhabits today is much different than that of his high-flying, hard-turning predecessors. Professional freesurfing has receded from its early-2010s high-water mark as high-concept surf films have largely been replaced by mindless Instagram clips, and the pedestal where the world's best freesurfers once resided has more or less toppled. Deane also recently lost his father, legendary Gold Coast surfer and shaper Wayne Deane, to cancer. It's a tragedy that Deane tells me he's not quite ready to talk about, but surely it's contributed to the weirdness of this current place in time for him.
Instead, we talk about the things that still make sense to Deane. He sees himself as part of a lineage of raw, creative freesurfers that spans from Christian and Nathan Fletcher to Ozzie Wright to Dion Agius and Dane Reynolds. Although it's evolved over time, expressing itself in different ways in each era, there's always been a certain punk ethos embodied by this sect of surfers, and Deane is both immersed in it and grounded by it.
Deane is certain of his surfing principles, so he doesn't care about freesurfing's toppled pedestal, or who's watching when he breaks his board stomping an 8-foot alley-oop at North Point. Deane knows what kind of surfing he wants to do and he's going to keep making his own brand of hardcore, thrashy surf edits, regardless of what the weird world around him is up to.
So I know you just played a concert with Ozzie Wright and Goons of Doom the other day. At this point, I'm sure you just think of him as a friend, but I'm guessing you were probably pretty obsessed with his surfing and his movies growing up, right?
Oh yeah, for sure. Such a big influence on me from the start. I've watched "156 Tricks" and "Doped Youth" about a million times. Ozzie fired everyone up. He was and still is the sickest.
I feel like the edits you put out pay homage to that era of late '90s, early '00s surf films, in a way. It's all fast cuts, fast music and a certain rawness that doesn't really exist as much in surfing these days. Do you think surf movies were at their best in that era?
Yeah, I think so. When my friends and I watch surf movies, if they're overproduced and there's a shitload of slo-mo in them, it just gets boring no matter how good the surfing is. I mean, that's not how you experience surfing in real life, is it? The only time slo-mo isn't shit is when you're showing a crazy tube breaking on dry reef so people can really appreciate how heavy it is. Even then, you should show it at normal speed as well so people can see what it was actually like in the moment.
You're pretty hands-on with your edits, aren't you?
Yeah, I'm pretty involved, for sure. I don't go too crazy and tell people what to do, but I definitely help out. After all, if it's got your name on it, you wanna be sure you back it 100 percent.
Your film "Head Noise" felt like a pretty big moment for you, just in terms of how messed up the surfing was and how different it looked from everything else bouncing around the Internet. Were you filming for that for a long time?
[Laughs.] Nah, it was like 6 months—probably the shortest it's ever taken me to do anything. I didn't have a plan to do anything until after Hawaii when I realized I had some clips from there. Then we kept filming at home and West Oz. I wanted to keep working on it until the end of the year, but looking back on it, I'm glad we put it out when we did. At a certain point you're just chasing your tail, trying to do a slightly better version of something you've already landed, and you start to lose it.
So you put in a bunch of time at Pipe and Backdoor around the Volcom event and the Backdoor Shootout. A lot of the more air-focused freesurf guys these days don't go near those waves because it's so crowded and intimidating, but you don't seem fazed.
Well, Volcom pretty much told me, "You're doing these comps." And I was like, "Alright…well…f–k. This is heavy!" [Laughs.] Especially for the Backdoor Shootout, because it seems like the waves are always gnarly for that comp and pretty much everyone in it just goes huge. Before I went to Hawaii, there hadn't been waves for 2 months back home. I was surfing the worst 1-foot waves with my friends and they were laughing at me, going, "Yeah, you're f–ked." But before the comp, there weren't heaps of people around, so I got a couple, and then in the comp there's no one out, which makes all the difference. The wave is heavy regardless, but at least when there's no one out you can position yourself and feel a little bit better about trying to do it, instead of just waiting for someone to miss one or having to take off on a shoulder like you do when it's crowded.
Even if you're an outsider coming from Australia, it seems like the North Shore crew will back you as long as you're respectful and send it when a big one comes. Is that how it felt to you?
I think so, yeah. I'm grateful that the dudes who were in my heat at the Shootout made it feel really mellow. I had Gavin [Beschen], Balaram [Stack] and Mana [Kaimana Henry] in my heat and they were so chill. Everyone was calling each other into waves, which made it so much better, and that's probably why I even got the waves that I did. It was also rad seeing Gavin doing his thing, getting crazy ones with the sickest style ever. Seeing him at the house, he'd just be cruising and having a beer, not even worried about how heavy the waves were—just not even slightly on edge. That's a good person to be around when the waves are like that [laughs.] It also helps having Mana and Tai [Vandyke] around, who are just the funniest dudes ever—just cracking jokes and giving you shit. They make you forget about all the crazy shit that's going on in the water. If you watch the waves all day before your heat, you're going to have the biggest meltdown—just watching takes it out of you. It's complete overload.
In "Head Noise" I noticed a few switch-stance clips. I know you're just messing around, but do you think that will ever go anywhere? I mean, if you look at skateboarding, switch tricks are a huge part of it all.
I donno. If the waves are really shit, I'll go switch. I've only just started trying to do it more, and it's actually way more fun when the waves are small. It's funny because everyone thinks it would be so hard—and so did I at first—but that's just because no one does it more than like once a year. But what if you seriously just decided to do it every day? I bet it wouldn't take that long before you're doing something decent.
Sounds like you're next edit should be all switch.
Yeah. That'd be pretty funny. It'd probably take me about five years to get a worthy clip [laughs.]
So your closer in "Head Noise," that barrel to alley-oop at North Point, has to be one of the biggest airs ever landed. Were you surprised that you rode out of that thing?
I was kind of having a laugh when I landed it, because I was saying to Mikey [Mallalieu, director and editor of "Head Noise"] just before that I'd tried so many big airs at home, and gotten so close to pulling them, but was just eating shit and felt like I couldn't land anything. That day at North Point, I couldn't get a good wave all day and was just losing it. I was ready to go in, and then randomly got that one wave. I wasn't even trying to get barreled—I got kind of stuck in it on the takeoff—but it put me in the perfect spot for that section when I came out. Still, I was thinking I'd gone too far off the end bowl and was just heading to the flats about to blow straight through my board. But I was like, "F–k it, I'm gonna try to land it anyway." When I came down, my board snapped, but I didn't go through it, so I just kept riding. I was laughing because I thought I was gonna get smoked, but then it all went the opposite way—which was nice for a change [laughs.] So much of the time when you're going for bigger airs, you're not really in control. It pretty much comes down to luck in that last second, when you just hope you don't go through your board or that your foot doesn't slip off.
What are your thoughts on the new air-based contests? Do you think that type of competition, and having the platform and the prize money, is going to push aerial progression?
Not really. I just don't think you can do that in a heat with a time limit. But if you're the kind of person who thrives on surfing in front of a bunch of people, maybe you'll be able to dig deeper to some different level and land something crazy. I'll probably just bog [Just a few days after this interview, Deane won the Stab High competition in Waco, Texas]. But I think some dudes will definitely do some crazy airs. Guys like Filipe [Toledo], or guys who are already in that competitive frame of mind will do well. You have to think that it's best suited for those guys. But you never know, the least competitive person might surprise everyone and land something super crazy to win the whole thing. I think it's good that Kerrzy [Josh Kerr, Event Director of the recent WSL air contest in France] has made it so that you have to go for it to get a score, and you can't just safety surf your way through heats.
Aerial surfing seems like it's getting so much more tech in the types of grabs and rotations people are doing on a more regular basis, but what do you think is the best aerial surfing? Seems like you'd rather do something simple that's huge.
I think all of it's pretty cool, but my favorite airs aren't super tech. To me that stuff can be a bit much. When people do a straight air that's huge and clean, I think that looks and feels better than when you just go way too turbo on it, trying to do something overly complicated.
And then you get The New York Times investigating how it's named.
So weird, huh? I was laughing about that the other day. Why the fuck do people care so much about what a trick is called? Just be stoked that someone did it instead of trying to tell people what to call it, especially if you're not even the one who stuck it. People were getting so bent out of shape about that. I wasn't gonna go anywhere near it [laughs.] It is funny, though, watching people blow up over something like that. It's so easy to rev people up: just wait till someone does some spins, call it something it's not and then watch the mayhem. It's crazy how nuts people get on each other on Instagram. People just care so much about everything. And if you say you don't care about it, people think you're trying to sound like a badass or something and call you out for that. It's the dumbest thing ever.
I think social media has made people too connected in a lot of ways. People forget to tune out and they just get way too caught up in that weird online culture.
Totally. It's also weird seeing people use Instagram to just post their best clips as soon as they happen. That's the worst, I reckon. If everyone held onto their clips and then made something sick instead of just blasting them out first chance, I think surfing would be a lot better for it. People go home, slap it up on Instagram and geotag it.
Yeah, it's really changed the way we consume and talk about good surfing. A lot of freesurfers have said that it's kind of a weird time, since people aren't making full-length films like they used to and freesurfing doesn't have the same platform it once did. Do you agree with that?
Yeah, I guess it's not as big as it once was, but if you put a lot of effort into something, people are definitely still going to watch it and be psyched on it. I actually think it might be good if the audience is smaller, but really into it. I think there's a cycle to things like that, though, whether it's surfing or music or whatever, where something will be really big and then die out, and then
get really big again, and some people stick with it the whole time—those are the people who really matter. Because I remember the Tour was the only thing in surfing most people cared about in the early 2000s, when Andy and Kelly were going back and forth, and then freesurfing and making the best videos got really big in the late 2000s, and now it feels like it's shifted again. But it doesn't really matter. None of that shit matters.
Do you think there's a lineage of creative rebellion in freesurfing from the Fletchers to Ozzie Wright to Dane Reynolds and beyond, and regardless of whether or not people are paying attention, it's still always moving forward and evolving?
Totally. I mean, Ozzie has gotten written off more than anyone ever, and he's still there and still doing the raddest shit, and that's just a testament to him always doing what he wanted to do, not giving a f–k and just having fun. Same thing with Christian [Fletcher]—it took a long time for him to get recognition for everything he did, but I don't think he ever gave a fuck about all that anyway. I think it's important to make sure that you're always doing what you're doing because you love it, and not being afraid to do your own thing. In the end, if a couple people are stoked on what you're doing, you're loving it, but that should never be the reason you're doing it.
[This interview was originally published in the December, 2018 issue of SURFER Magazine, on newsstands now. Subscribe here.]