"People who come to the Gold Coast are usually running from something." - Snapper Rocks local, overheard in the Rainbow Bay Surf Club on finals day, Quiksilver Pro 2005

March 8, 2005, 10:30 am, and Mick Fanning is trying and failing to make it across {{{100}}} yards of Snapper Rocks beach. He's just finished his first heat at the Quiksilver Pro and is planning to sneak off to see his Mom, Liz, when... boom!Surrounded!

"Mick! Over here, Mick! Mick!" Once they realize who walks among 'em, the crowd gathers in an instant: Brazilian bikini chicks, frothing grommets, Japanese backpackers, Dads pretending to be autograph hunting for their kids, looking for photos, handshakes, signatures, any evidence of Fanning's actual existence they can get.

After a quarter hour or so, Mick finally wriggles free and makes it to the safety of the parking lot, where he's accosted by two kids. "Why do you have names written on the tails of your boards?" they demand.

Mick looks dazed for a second. "Um," he says, "because I've got to, otherwise I can't remember which is which."

Well, frick! Who could? After all, this is Superbank country: Hallucinogenic, crowded, tacky, warm, bright, commercial, artificial, overheated, energetic, drunken, confusing, exhausting. Everything here along southern Queensland's hectic Gold Coast vacation town is designed to fire you up, then slowly, deliberately burn you out -- from the wave itself, with its ludicrous length, its crowd, its sunburn, the massive paddle-out and salt-crusted runs up the sand, to the pub and nightclub beach scene and its drunken craziness, empty sex, looseness, violence.

Sounds like fun, hey??

You bet!

It's nothing new. Surfers have been burning out here for generations. In 1970, Col Smith, the brilliant Sydney surfer, spent three months in Coolangatta during summer; at the end of it he had a complete physical breakdown and finished up in hospital with pneumonia and nervous exhaustion. The biographies of original Coolie Kids Michael Peterson and {{{Rabbit}}} Bartholomew are both full of outrageous 24-hour-party-people shit -- surfers going from ocean to nightclub to drug den to god knows where before flaking out and finding God, or retreating into obscurity, or just plain dying of excess.

But the Stuporbank is new, and its addition has changed the Gold Coast. It's a tale rich in irony. Originally, for example, surfers tried to stop it from happening. When the Tweed Council forced through the pumping and dredging system back in 1999, they had to claw past the vehement protests of the Surfrider Foundation, who rightly suspected the council of simply helping out their wealthy boat-owning benefactors.They had no idea what might be unleashed around the Snapper point. Nobody did, not really... not until mid-2001, when the long sandbar had thickened way further and wider than usual, and surfers were beginning to ride deep tubes off Greenmount Point, formerly one of the area's softest and friendliest waves.

Slowly, the legend grew. In March 2002, local boy made good Joel Parkinson won the inaugural WCT level Quiksilver Pro, in front of the international surf media, with the freshly laid Superbank in full cry. In July that year, Damon Harvey did what Goldie aficionados had dreamed of for 30 years and rode a single wave all the way from wide of the original Snapper takeoff zone down to the middle of Kirra, a distance of almost one nautical mile, which he covered in just over four minutes.

It was like gasoline on a flame along the surf-maddened Goldie, where they carry live-remote surf reports on the morning TV news, and the Coolie Kids are celebrity sporting legends. By 2004, lineup numbers at the Stupidbank regularly rocketed past 500, the parking patrols were racking up fortunes in fines, while packs at the other classic Gold Coast points, like Burleigh and Currumbin, were noticeably thinned. It's estimated to have added millions in revenue each year to local businesses, from restaurants to high-rise vacation apartments, and it's also added a few pages to local police blotters. "Mate," one cop told SURFING while we checked Snapper, "there's a broken jaw out here every week."

This madness is never so obvious as when you paddle out at 6:30 am on contest morning and the pros are hopelessly outnumbered by the Supercrowd. It's amazing -- there's perfect waves only a couple minutes' drive away, everyone knows they'll be kicked out by the contest's Jet Ski patrol to make way for the first heat at 7:30 am, but does it stop 'em? No way! If there's only {{{80}}} people on that first section of wave, it sorta looks empty.

On the other hand, it's touching evidence of surfing's essentially democratic nature: some fifty-ish bloke with a white T-shirt and a pair of black speedos, wobbling around on an unbelievably crap-looking funboard... and there, not 10 yards away, is Bruce Irons! The coolest surfer on earth, next to the uncoolest, and neither even really noticing the other -- just putting their heads down, trying to find a wave.

Yet there's more going on here than a surf spot growing in popularity. The place has gained a bizarre, unmatched social gravity of its own -- something pressed home to your correspondent this year by a massive billboard hovering near one of the new, boxy apartment towers lining Coolangatta's beachfront. It was a realtor's ad, trying to convince the punters to fork out for one of these boxes-with-a-view, and along with a gigantic aerial photo of the Bank, it had a sell line, in massive type: "Wake Up To The Super Wave."So... let's sum it up again... surfers fought to stop the finest accidental piece of surf engineering in history. And now, surfers, Tweed Council's natural enemies, fight like lunatics over the results, while real estate developers, surfers' natural enemies, use the unbelievable freakshow Souped-upbank to sell their high-rise crapola. And it all works!!!

For more on the Superbank, pick up the July 2005 issue of SURFING – On newsstands May 24th. Or, you can subsrcibe!