[Wade Goodall’s radical new film “Pentacoastal” isn’t to be missed. Click here to watch the online premiere on YouTube, which will go down tomorrow night at 7 p.m. PST.]
In January of 2016, Wade Goodall was not in a good place. As other members of the Vans surf team were soaking up the sun, scoping out mysto spots from the deck of a 40-foot catamaran sailing through the Caribbean, Goodall stayed below deck, laid up in bed in the poorly lit bow of one of the boat’s twin hulls.
Hours earlier we’d been sessioning a turbulent-but-playful Leeward Island wedge, which offered mellow roll-ins that grew into perfect, head-high canvasses. It was an ideal setup for a surfer like Goodall, who launched himself into international surf stardom in the mid-2000s with a furiously creative approach, punctuated with innovative, go-for-broke, highly-technical airs. At the Caribbean wedge, Goodall had been surfing predictably well, driving through full-rail carves and tucking under azure curtains. But for most of the session, Goodall appeared to be surfing with an uncharacteristic caution. The one time that Goodall did take flight actually precipitated his lying horizontal below deck. Toward the end of the session, pumping high across the wave’s face, Goodall built a precarious amount of speed before launching into a monstrous straight air, flying up and then out, hanging in space for what felt like an eternity. When he came down, he landed ahead of the wave’s transition in flat, unforgiving water. His board slapped loudly on the sea surface as Goodall let out a primal roar.
Hours later, when I went below deck to check in on him, Goodall was hunched over a sketchpad, doodling away as a distraction from the pain in his knee.
“Beautiful day, right?” he said, with a sly grin. Those who know Goodall well appreciate his dry sense of humor and knack for timing. He’s not the type to wallow in self-pity, even with a bum knee amid perfect waves.
I asked him about his session.
“I saw some of the biggest sections I’ve ever seen,” he said. “I wanted to hit those things so bad, but I’m not sure my body is quite there, yet.”
About a year prior to our trip, Goodall had shattered his left tibia and fibula while filming for a Vans project in West Oz. Metal rods were inserted into his leg for the third time in 4 years. Those 4 years were full of uncertainty and upheaval for Goodall’s surfing career. Just after recovering from his first injury—a compound fracture he suffered while surfing Angourie—he broke his right femur surfing the same spot. He was even driven to the hospital in the same ambulance, in fact. In the midst of his rehabilitation, he was dropped by Billabong, the company that had been his main sponsor since he was 11 years old. Sponsorless for over a year, he sold his house in Queensland and moved to Byron Bay just before welcoming his first child.
Now Vans had given him a shot at reviving his surfing career. Not only had the shoe brand agreed to sponsor Goodall, but they also signed up to fund a highly-ambitious film that he would both star in and direct.
Second chances don’t come often in professional surfing, and Goodall wanted to make the most of his—but not in the way you might expect from an aerial innovator known for flying high and crashing hard. This new film represented an opportunity to do more than try to stick crazy airs, using the skills that he’d honed, ironically, while he’d been physically broken from trying crazy airs.
“Going through stages of not being able to do things—no big airs into the flats, sometimes not surfing at all—I’ve found other ways of channeling my creativity,” he explained.
It’s March 2018, roughly 2 years since the Virgin Islands trip. East Australia was recently lit up with perfect waves thanks to Cyclone Gita, and while Goodall should be completely surfed out, he’s somehow still buzzing with enthusiasm, even for the now gutless, waist-high peaks.
“This is honestly the best my body has felt since before the first injury,” Goodall tells me after our session as we ascend a winding set of stairs fronting the Byron-adjacent beachie.
Goodall’s been on a tear lately, and seemingly every filmmaker of note has taken notice. From alt-scene lensmen like Jack Coleman and Tin Ojeda tapping him for their artsy projects to Vaughan Blakey and Danny Johnson featuring him in their irreverent master stroke “Scary Good”, Goodall’s unique approach has attracted perhaps as much attention recently as it did during his mid-2000s heyday.
His surfing looks different now—smoother and more powerful. While he isn’t hitting sections with the same reckless abandon he once did—the kind that previously saw him frequenting the hospital—he’s approaching waves with as much creativity as ever, doing things like spicing up routine floaters with technical, chop-hop spins back down into the wave.
Later that day at a Bangalow pub, over a round of 12-ounce draft beers colloquially referred to as “biddies,” Goodall recounts a story about landing his first air reverse while his father, Mark, looked on from the beach. The younger Goodall, in a rare moment of self-aggrandizement, claimed the maneuver with an earnest fist-pump. He returned to the beach, expecting praise from his father—his old man recommended he curb his enthusiasm.
“He was like, ‘Man, you really shouldn’t claim that hard,’” Goodall laughs. “I remember feeling embarrassed. He put me down, subtly. It wasn’t malicious. It’s like what a friend would do. I grew up around humble people. To be overconfident was a big no-no.”
Goodall was born in 1986, the second of four kids, on the south coast of New South Wales near Ulladulla. His father, an electrician and surfer who grew up in the throes of the Shortboard Revolution, worked for what is now Telstra—the Australian telecommunications giant. When work for the telecom company dried up in the early ‘90s, the family moved north to Caloundra in Queensland, where the kids quickly took to surfing in the warmer waters near Noosa.
Wade showed promise immediately—as did his older brother, Matt—but it was Wade who excelled in competition from an early age. As Wade ascended in local comps put on by the Windansea Boardrider’s club, Wade’s father kept his young surfing prodigy level-headed.
“With six in the family—four kids, his mom and I—whatever you did, we tried not to make too big a fuss about it,” Mark told me. “You done good and we’re proud, but we never put anybody above anybody else. He did good in comps and he was happy. That’s what we cared about.”
In the wake of the success of former Australian-Pro-Junior-standouts-turned-World-Champions Mick Fanning and Joel Parkinson—whose rise coincided with one of the largest expansions the surf industry has ever seen—sponsors became increasingly keen on finding and developing the Next Big Thing, searching high and low to tap new talent.
By age 11, Goodall had already signed on to surf for Billabong. By the time he reached young adulthood, he was a seasoned competitor who had traveled around the world several times over. And though he’d eventually win a Pro Junior Series title at age 20, it was clear that Goodall’s approach wasn’t a good fit for the traditional competitive format.
“Wade was so emotional in those comps—punching himself in the face in the water,” remembers writer, editor and podcast host Vaughan Blakey, who covered the Pro Juniors for Tracks Magazine at the time. “He wanted a lot from himself, I think. But the comps, the Junior Series, it just didn’t fit with him. It rubbed him wrong, you could tell.”
“I always had a real bad temper when it came to competing,” Goodall says of his fits of self-flagellation. “I would get real angry and down on myself. I couldn’t control it. After 9 years straight of non-stop comps, I was really over it.”
Goodall briefly followed the typical pro path toward the World Tour, competing in the World Qualifying Series for roughly 6 months before, after a particularly frustrating heat in Brazil, he paddled in and hung up his jersey for the last time.
“I think Jay Davies was on the beach and he’s like, ‘What are you doing? There’s so much time left in the heat,’” Goodall remembers. “I was like, ‘Oh, I quit.’”
Luckily, at that time—in the early aughts—there was not only a precedent for colorful freesurf personalities like Ozzie Wright ditching competition for alternative surf career paths, but also new outlets for Goodall to channel his aggression and creative approach to surfing.
The Australian version of California air icon Shawn “Barney” Barron’s Airshow Series had just kicked off, and a motley crew of punk rock punters were making a name for themselves by sending it as hard as they could at every section. Goodall was enamored by the no-frills, anti-authoritarian aesthetic of the events and the camaraderie among the surfers committed to this high-flying, hard-partying subculture.
“These people [at the airshows] were more like the people I grew up surfing with in Caloundra,” Goodall says. “Just fun people who surf good. It was so different than the soccer dads and minivans of the Junior Series. I just thought, ‘This is the sickest shit ever.’ Luckily, Billabong at the time was making a lot of money on videos and I was able to tell them that I only wanted to do video parts and airshows.”
Billabong’s 2006 “Passion Pop”—which was named for a frontside shove-it variation performed by Goodall—showcased the Billabong team, including Taj Burrow, Andy Irons, Joel Parkinson, Jordy Smith and a short-haired, 20-something Goodall surfing radically in the fashion de rigueur of the era (ankle-length board shorts) through Indonesia, Malaysia and South Africa. Goodall, who also narrated the film, was the breakout star.
“When ‘Passion Pop’ came out, everyone was like, ‘This kid is so gnarly!” Blakey told me. “Wade had every surfer who wanted to do something different looking up to him. He was so influential to that era. It was all about big boosts. It was about getting technical and doing grabs and bringing skate moves in. He was one of the best guys at all that.”
To date, this was perhaps Goodall’s most influential period. His inventiveness and aerial prowess, as well as his rebuff of traditional competitive surfing, are echoed by Australia’s brightest-burning freesurf stars today, like Creed McTaggart and Noa Deane.
“Wade influenced pretty much everyone in Oz from my generation to just hit airs to the flats and to not be a square,” says Deane, arguably the aerialist who best embodies that go-for-broke approach in modern surfing. “I was a huge fan growing up. I used to watch him on DVDs before I went and surfed. ‘Passion Pop’ was one of my favorite movies.”
Goodall, however, doesn’t look back at the “Passion Pop” era as a high point at all. He says he can’t help but cringe at his introductions to the other surfers and his mid-2000s gear, particularly a certain “crooked white hat” he had on. “You look back on anything from when you were younger and it’s bound to not be as cool as it seemed,” he tells me. “That’s just evolving. People who don’t change, it’s kind of weird.”
Goodall’s first serious injury couldn’t have come at a worse time. In 2011, when the previously-booming surf industry had gone fully bust, a compound fracture took Goodall out of the water for 8 months. He was making good progress in his recovery when Billabong put him on notice that changes may be in the works. Goodall continued to approach surfing from unique angles, starting work on what would end up being the 12-volume digital video series, “Creative Destruction”. The short videos, which Goodall co-directed with friend Jake Donlen, showed Goodall and friends carousing through the desert at Burning Man, sessioning a boat wake and treating kids from an orphanage in Mexico to a surf day, among many other adventures. They highlight Goodall’s diverse interests and insatiable curiosity. Perhaps ahead of their time, the videos—which were some of the first experiments with online-only surf releases—were not an overwhelming success, but retained a cult following, and you can see their influence in projects like Dylan Graves’ “Weird Waves” today.
“It was really cool exploring surf videos in a different way,” Goodall says of “Creative Destruction.” “At that point I had seen enough clips of people whacking it. I wanted to do something more story-based and not so much about how rad we were surfing.”
But in 2013, again while surfing Angourie, Goodall suffered another devastating injury, snapping his femur after getting so compressed on the reef that the outside of his left heel was nearly touching his head. In the ambulance, longtime friend and fellow Billabong rider, Laurie Towner—who’d been there when Goodall broke his right leg a little over a year earlier—again rode to the hospital with him.
“The first one was so bad,” Towner told me. “I was like, ‘Fuck, this is the end of his surfing.’ Then he bounced back—got back to surfing unbelievably. Then it happened again…”
“He’d been one of the guys pushing the envelope of aerial surfing before that,” Towner continued. “Right up there with the best air guys. I do think, had he not had the injuries, he’d be landing 540s or 720s with ease.”
Soon after Goodall’s second injury, Billabong dropped both Goodall and Towner on the same day (coincidentally, they were also sponsored on the same day, nearly two decades earlier).
As we finish up our beers at the Bangalow pub, I ask Goodall about his falling out with Billabong and being without a main sponsor for the first time since he was a grom.
“Even though they had the say, it was mutual,” he says. “I didn’t fit in there anymore. I was getting interested in a lot of different things—filmmaking, big waves. I imagine if you work at any job for 15 years, or for any one company, you might wonder what else is out there. I was interested in going a different direction.”
Though he may have had a vision for where to take his surfing, his body wasn’t really cooperating. As a professional freesurfer, Goodall had become proficient in a distinct set of skills largely based on gathering an assortment of mind-blowing clips through repetitive attempts of perilous maneuvers — maneuvers that he simply could no longer withstand. To make matters worse, the surf industry was still in a state of contraction. Like most Millennials, Goodall had been trained for a world that suddenly ceased to exist.
“I’ve got the recovery process down to a T now,” Goodall jokes about his horrific and all-too-frequent injuries as we ride through the hills of Bangalow in his 1986 Land Rover. “First, you’re a vegetable. Then you get independence, walking around on crutches. The day you are off crutches is the best day ever. Then you can start swimming. Once you can swim, you can ride a surf mat. Then stand up and ride a longboard.”
There’s very little self-pity in the way Goodall recalls his road to recovery, a journey that is now more than a half-decade in the making.
“Even though I don’t recommend breaking a leg, it’s good for your surfing foundations,” he says. “Kind of back to basics, understanding waves and different boards. At the point of my first injury, I’d been surfing forever. When I was younger, all I wanted to do was a big air into the flats on every wave. Just go fast and big. But I went through so many months of not being able to do that. I found places on waves that I’d been neglecting. I realized my style was kinda bad and I just tried to smooth everything out.”
We pull into the driveway of the Goodall residence in Bangalow—a quaint, stylish one-story house with a raised ranch entry he built in a quiet neighborhood with his partner Jane. The move from Queensland 4 years ago coincided with a particularly stressful time for Goodall. Injured, unsponsored and with an addition to the family on the way, Goodall had been marinating on a career change—perhaps a barista, he tells me.
“I wasn’t sure if it’d be possible to surf for a living again,” he continues. “I was worried, only because of the new family. Violet [his daughter] was a couple months from being born. I just had to figure out how to support the family. And I wasn’t healthy. My body had broken down twice. I had to make a decision, but I thought I’d give it one more shot.”
As we enter the house, the sound of water filling a bathtub emanates from the master bedroom where Goodall’s nearly 2-year-old son, Louie, is getting cleaned up for a day out in downtown Bangalow. Violet greets us at the door. She’s 4 now, with a shock of curly brown hair not dissimilar to her father’s. The white walls feature paintings by Violet and family friends like Ozzie Wright and renowned tattoo artist Brodie Jackson, as well as a very colorful piece by Zio Zeigler, an American painter known for his improvisational approach.
Miscellaneous stacks of canvasses painted by Goodall himself are scattered about the living room as well. Goodall, who began painting in earnest while recovering from his first leg injury, has adopted a distinctive style, incorporating dull, abstract layers, representational figures and intricate patterns.
“When I hurt myself the first time, painting became therapy,” Goodall tells me. “It was the only thing I found, other than surfing, where you can just tune out the rest of the world.”
Goodall dove into everything from American street art to fine art, finding as much inspiration in the frantic works of Jean-Michel Basquiat as he did the plaintive, realist-style of Andrew Wyeth. As he’s become more proficient, Goodall’s influences have become increasingly varied. He even went through a phase where he tried emulating the intricate patterns he found in “Magic Eye”-style illusion books, spending “7 hours drawing tiny rectangles, over and over,” he laughs. “I think I really fucked up my eyes doing that.”
He’s been doing his own animation as well, constructing a rudimentary animation table and educating himself through YouTube tutorials. He’s also been studying the stark, anxiety-inducing cinematography of Ozploitation films like “Mad Max”, all of which fit in one way or another into the creative direction of his new film, which he’s dubbed “Pentacoastal.” [Ed’s note: “Pentacoastal” premieres tomorrow at 7 P.M. PST]
“It’s the only thing besides surfing I’ve found that gets me so excited,” he says about filmmaking. “I’ve found it’s nice to have something I’m really interested in, where I have a lot to learn.”
Later on, we all head to a little cafe down the street in Bangalow. The kids and Jane are sitting outside, munching avocado toast and playing in the cafe’s garden. The perennially-cheeky Louie takes off running, laughing as he waddles away and Goodall gives chase.
I take the opportunity to ask Jane about her husband’s turbulent road to recovery. She brings up the trip to the Caribbean 2 years ago.
“After that trip, I knew he was being a little cautious,” she says. “I reckon I was being a bit of a pussy,” Goodall shouts back, unable to resist an opportunity for a bit of good-natured self-deprecation. They both laugh.
There’s a lightness to the way Goodall talks about the injuries he’s faced, and the risks still ahead. By the time “Pentacoastal” is a wrap, Goodall would have stuck no shortage of airs, perhaps out of some compulsion to find exactly where the line is and then nudge right up to it—but not beyond it, not anymore. And Goodall seems just fine with that specific limitation. In the film, his surfing has gained a poetry of motion that it never had before. He’s pushed himself in obscure Australian slabs and Micronesian caverns, producing some of the most dramatic barrel riding clips of his career. And the blend of bleak, dystopian imagery with playful, hand-drawn animations that he’s created is something truly unique to surfing.
Whatever Goodall’s lost in leg strength over the years, he seems to have made up for in something else—or, more accurately, a number of things. Things that seem likely to take him much further than any punt ever could have.
“I can’t do the crazy shit that some guys are doing,” admits Goodall. “But I’m realizing you don’t have to. Creativity and uniqueness can be at the forefront of surfing.”