Abalone Romance

Skeleton Coast

Photography by Allen Van Gysen
This image represents about 1/16th of the length of this wave. You can watch Craig Anderson ride the rest of it in his forthcoming film, name TBD.

Cosmic Glitterbug. Reticulated Falcon Wing. Style Boyz. Shredscapades. Liquid Concentration. Sand and fog and a desert beige, safari vehicle. There could be a song playing on the stereo but it's inaudible beneath the mighty drone of the V-8. The sound is primal, something terrifying. Alan stomps on the gas so we can all hear the roar. Somewhere in the distance a lioness perks her ears, aroused by the sound.

Moments prior, there were blood-red salt flats and cryptic marshes, but now we gallop through sand. And fog. "Is there a song playing?" asks Dustin over the thunder.

"Hard to say," says Craig, crumpled beneath four boards that didn't make it to the roof. When we'd piled in the car, he'd refused to sit anywhere else.

Everyone's stare remains locked on the windshield, our collective gaze trying to burn through the vapor. There is a line in the dawn light like a false horizon where the fog meets the sand. Alan and Beren, seated up front, scratch at the windshield with stray towels to wipe away the steam. Out the windows, the landscape: utterly directionless. "Alan, how the hell do you know which way to go?" we ask.

"I just follow the other tire tracks," he replies, still glaring through the fog.

Indeed, there are other tracks. And there are footprints — paws of small and large animals and birds and sagging reptilian bellies having slithered from the marsh.

"I think whatever we choose," says Craig out of nowhere, "somehow it will work."

"You just don't want it to be too serious," says Dustin.

"Yeah, I don't want that. But there's such a fine line between serious and funny," says Craig. "And you want the audience to know if you're being sarcastic or not. Because when it's too serious…"

"Like Scratching the Surface?" I ask.

"Yeah, too serious," laughs Dustin. "It should just be something super obvious, like Stylemasters."

"Right. Rad Stylemasters," says Craig. "I like that."

And suddenly, the sea. Still foggy, the waves invisible. We follow the shoreline down the point and daylight sears away the fog. Whitewater peaks through the mist. Ahead of us, silhouettes limp into view, enshrouded in fog. Black zombies. We rumble closer but the zombies are surfers trudging up the point wearing expressions of disbelief, unadulterated awe. Dane Gudauskas sprints by us, pointing to the water, yelling, incoherent, slapping his forehead. We come to a stop in the wet sand and the lion's roar cuts and funk music resounds. James Brown's "Hot Pants" was playing the whole time.

We jump out of the Land Cruiser and tear at our fullsuits, frantic, sand flying everywhere, someone on the rooftop screaming, "Board coming down! Board coming down — take it!" Nathan Fletcher walks by, dripping with his board, and we ask him how the surf is and he shakes his head and mumbles something. Moses in a 4/3, back from Mount Sinai — weary and old and enlightened. He keeps shaking his head, walks over to a truck, locks himself inside and lights a cigarette.

"Beren!" Alan hollers, holding his water-housing. "If you're getting the angle down the point, watch your back for jackals, bru! They'll rip one of your legs right off when you're not watching!" Alan looks at me and shrugs. Beren gives us a thumbs-up a couple hundred yards away. Behind him, pink flamingos perch one-legged in the tidal marsh, making quick grabs at sand snacks peaking from their holes.

In the sea, a daydream. Zombies lost in funnels. Craig on his toes — fall, plop, stall, pumping, hiding — reappearing in a half a minute. In the water, our eyes wide, mouths agape, top-to-bottom safari pits. Jeremy Flores, Aritz Aranburu pig-dogging forever. Craig on another set — twice overhead, two miles long — wave of his life, wave of a lifetime. He pulls out, looks up to the sky, shakes his head — a daydream.

"I've never claimed a wave in my life, until today," he says.

There are a few more days of swell. Green lines like flawless, giant boat wakes. A cumulative hour of tube time. Zealous seals barking, hooting us into smokers. Jackals nipping at Beren's tripod. On the way back to the airport, through the desert wasteland, more sand and endless sky. Out the window, a caravan of black murder-vehicles. Tanks with canons, mounted automatics, Gatling guns on SUVs.

"Coup d'état." I think aloud.

Alan laughs, "Nah, bru. Just filming for the new Mad Max sequel with Charlize Theron."

"Ahhh, Charlize," sighs Craig and the whole car groans.

Western Cape

Western Cape
Western Cape, south Africa

Glitter Pickle. Ball Point Soul. Earth Ripper. Style Surge. Sea Wolf Shape Shifter. Drip, Drop, Suck, Spit.

"Do you know where we're going?" I ask. Craig is driving. Craig looks lost.

"Hard to say," he replies, which comes out more like, "Hod tah sigh."

We're searching for the road up the Western Cape of South Africa with Craig behind the wheel and Dustin sitting shottie. Out the windows — the outskirts of Cape Town — tin-can slums sprawl into smoke and dirt. Out the windows — African women — balancing buckets upon their heads, carrying young. And many others, meandering, milling about. Everyone in beanies.

"That's what I love about Africa," says Craig at a stoplight, "Everyone here wears a beanie."

"That's what you love about Africa?" asks Dustin.

A muddy teenager, nearly comatose, homeless, shuffles up to our car with his hands out, palms pleading, please feed me. Craig reaches into his pocket, hands the boy a lump of Rand and continues. "I mean like the way they wear them. Everyone here wears a beanie, but they really trick them out, like wear them differently — really make them their own. It's just cool, that's all."

The boy approaches other car windows that retract and slide shut.

"What I really wanna do is take a bunch of portraits with an old camera of all these guys with their beanies on, then make a collage out of them, and then mail it to Dion [Agius]. Because he likes his beanies. F–k, he'd be psyched."

Manatee Massacre. Shallow Water Black Out. Epoxy Neon Nightmare. Uptown Paddle Battle. Walt Whitman, Rippin'. Craig pulls over somewhere near Cape Town. We need a map, a pack of spicy antelope jerky and more coffee. A lot more coffee. Dustin and I wait in the rental. Craig's taking forever. I hop out and the market doors part with a whoosh and Craig's dancing in the checkout aisle with two uniformed mulatto babes. He waves goodbye and they call, "Bye Krayg, bye Krayg!"

"What was that all about?"

"I told them that my credit card hasn't worked once in Africa so if they got it to work, then I'd give 'em both hugs. It worked, and the hugs turned into dancing and then they asked where I was partying tonight," Craig laughs.

"Does this happen a lot?"

"Now and again," he shrugs.

Flying up the Western Cape, Craig behind the wheel, Table Rock's shadow shrinking in the rearview. Starboard, wild ostriches race us on the sidelines, port side, bounding kudu sprint in blurry packs. The sky, a cloudless ocean, metallic sapphire in the winter light. Some kind of hawk dives earthward and moments later arcs into view with a puppy in its mouth. New Order's "Bizarre Love Triangle" blares on the stereo: Ev-ery time I see you falling I get down on my knees and pray…waiting for that final moment…

"What kinda music will you have in the film, Craig?"

"Hard to say," he replies. "I really like the songs in Dane's clips. He's got good taste. When you're driving, do you ever look at the roadkill?"

"Sometimes," says Dustin.

"Occasionally," I say. "Why, do you?"

"No way. I never do — I feel horrible looking at that stuff," he says.

We stop by the highway. Take a stroll through the beach dunes. The sound of surf exhaling, raspy in the distance. From a viewpoint: a heaving, sandy A-frame.

"F–k, it's like perfect Graviere!" yells Craig.

Running down the dunes, we join three boogieboarders.

"What's this place called?" I ask.

"Famous…" Craig says, sloshing through the shorebreak, "Last Words!" he finishes, without looking back. Great.

Shred Flesh Oasis. Pufferfish Blues. Vegemite Disaster. F–k Contests, Let's Dance.

We rent a place by a cove with a soft left point out front. We take turns cooking dinner and pretend that we love it. I start doing the dishes and Craig tells me to stop, that a maid comes in and cleans every day. I sit down to chat with Dustin and notice Craig doing them quietly, behind my back. We surf when it's high tide.

"Ya know, I don't even know if I like tuna," says Craig, spreading it on our sandwiches.

"Weren't you the one who tossed in like four cans at the market yesterday?" asks Dustin.

"Yeah, but I thought that's just what you do out here — like, what you're supposed to eat — when you're roughin' it," says Craig.

Craig in the morning, jumping off the sea rocks. Craig through the sea mist turning through the brown kelp. Craig on a 5'4'' turning heads, back knee dropped, African boys on the shoulder in tattered wetsuits, shrieking, "It's him! It's him!"

The three of us in a coffee shop, checking on the swell charts. A purple stain with big feet and long seconds sailing into Africa. Craig with slow Wi-Fi, sitting patiently, legs crossed, cappuccino, waiting on the download. Rob Machado's Drifting, just six hours left…

Eastern Cape

Criag can go right, too. J-Bay

Fresh Lips, Cheap Tricks. Shoulder Hoppin' Turtlenecks. Neap Tide Twilight. Later On, I'll Smoke You Out. "What are you going to call the film?" I ask.

"Haven't decided yet," says Craig. "But I sent out a big email to family and friends for suggestions and everyone came back with some pretty great stuff."

"Like what?"

"Like my parents. My dad had all these super serious ones that always had either "Quik" or "Silver" in the title, like Quik Files, Quik Cuts, Silver Files, or The Silver Chapters. And my mom's always had "extreme" in it like Extreme Surfing or Extreme Adventures: With Craig," he laughs. "Dane and Courtney actually sent me like eight pages of just word combinations to choose from, like New Cosmic Dance, Cocoon Picnic, Transitional Indian, Abalone Romance."

"Abalone Romance sounds good," says Dustin. "It's got rhythm."

"Yeah, it sounds good, but f–k, I can't stand abalones. They just smell and taste so — saltwatery. Reminds me of these seafood tacos we had in Chile that made me so sick. Abalones taste like the ocean's balls — like Neptune's crotch," laughs Craig. "And 'romance.' Does that sound kinda gay, or rad?"

Off to grandmother's house we go with a dozen boards, a filmer, a photographer and a friend. On the way to Port Elizabeth in a speeding SUV, prehistoric Protea blossoms rustle with wildlife. There are zebras in the bushes and hippos in the ponds and we don't see them, per se, but we know they're in there.

"Do you feel a stronger connection to Africa or Australia?"

"Africa, for sure," says Craig. "It's where I was born — where I learned to surf." Craig hangs his head out of the speeding car window and Africa rushes in his face, gets tangled his hair. At his grandparents' house, we're greeted with hugs. Craig's grandmother kisses him on the forehead, shakes a finger and says, "You haven't been skateboarding, have you? You'll hurt yourself, Craig."

J-Bay is J-Bay, textbook and 5-foot, and Ando is Occy, all rail and speed blur. The wind is offshore, the crowd is thick and the locals aren't giving an inch. Matt Hoy is a maniac and he's called out a kneeboarder.

"He's my mentor back home," says Craig of Hoy, but they couldn't seem further from opposites.

"If Hoy's your mentor, who'd you look toward for your style?"

"I remember watching all the Taylor Steele flicks, and getting psyched, but I never really studied them. When it comes down to it, you just surf how you want to," says Craig, stroking back toward Supers. "I remember when I was young, my dad would be at the contests studying the judging criteria. Then he'd tell me to stop doing airs or 360s — to ride it all the way in. He even took me to these performance camps that Martin Dunn put on. They'd show us video of Ben Dunn and Parko surfing…"

"Kids wanted to surf like Ben Dunn?" I ask.

"Well," laughs Craig, "nobody wants to be told what to do when you're having fun. I didn't. Sometimes people tell you what to do, even your parents, but if it doesn't sit right…I dunno, I never took what people had to say about my surfing too seriously. To me — surfing isn't very serious."

Hoy, bearded and wild-eyed, paddles up, screaming, "Doggies!" The sky is all clouds, the waves are long, the water is icy, the wind blows through our wetsuit rubber. A lanky old man emerges from the bushes and has a surf, just before dark. Maximum Thrash. I Quit. Hedgehog Jihad. Turn Your Head and Cough.

Returning to Cape Town, it's dinner with friends. It's nighttime in Green Point. It's sushi at Beluga. European presentation at an African price. There's a township nearby, but we are worlds away. A group of women send us a round of shots, but we all know "us" means Craig.

"Do you have a girlfriend, Craig?"

"Nah. I had one for a little while, but with all the traveling, and my career…"

"Have you ever fallen in love before?"

"Hard to say," says Craig. "I don't think so. The circles I'm in, you don't find those kind of girls — the ones you wanna fall for. Plus, I couldn't fall in love right now; I can barely look after myself!"

A sultry waitress glides over and refills Craig's empty glass. She glances at him, bites her lip and floats away. Still watching her disappear into the kitchen, Craig says, "But her — I think I could fall in love with her."

Oceanic Android. Jersey Burners. Wave Flamers. Abalone Romance. —Beau Flemister