If you watched it live, you know the exact image that defined the 2018 Nudie Australian Boardriders Battle. Mikey Wright, mullet flapping in the wind, charging up the beach like an Ironman, and just as fit as one, racing the precious seconds that would mean a victory for his Culburra Boardriders.
The tag team format of the Boardriders Battle docks five points from any team whose final surfer doesn't get to the finish line before the heat ends. That's what had sent Mikey flying up the sand in such dramatic fashion. If he didn't beat the clock, Culburra couldn't win.
Moments earlier, Jacko Baker - surfing for Merewether Surfboard Club - had raced in himself after putting his prestigious club in first place. With two minutes remaining, he'd found a wave and tagged three turns including a nice finishing maneuver on the end section. Merewether royalty Luke Egan ran down the beach and waved Baker to the finish line like a third base coach sending a runner home to win a World Series. Various Merewether Surfboard Club figures, friends and family ran with him like that's exactly what was happening. It looked as if they had locked it away, that it would be Merewether taking home the most prestigious boardriders trophy in the country, and the bragging rights that come with it.
At the same time, Mikey Wright was duck-diving through the messy Newcastle line-up, searching for something, anything that might provide him with two turns and get him home in time.
"We honestly, dead-set, thought we had it sewn up," says Merewether Surfboard Club Captain Jesse Adam. "We all knew Mikey had it in him, but it was the ocean that wasn't playing fair for Culburra with only moments to spare. Then we saw Mike motoring towards the beach."
There was less than a minute left when Mikey found the wave he needed. And there were only ten seconds left when he had reeled off two major turns and had hit the beach, sprinting to the finish. There's perhaps no other surfer on the planet that could have got there in the couple of seconds that were left. But Mikey did.
"He had a blinder, and it stung. But that's the beauty of the battle. It's never over, not until the buzzer sounds and you're diving into the tag area," says Adam.
The atmosphere on the sand, and pumped through Australian TV screens, was electric. The jubilation for Mikey and Tyler Wright, the Watson brothers, and the greater Culburra Boardriders crew was overwhelming. That image of Mikey, pumped up like an Olympic Sprinter, is a glorious reminder for fans of this Aussie format of how exciting its final moments were.
But for the Merewether Surfboard Club - who seconds earlier were ready to storm the sand for their own celebration and could only look on as Mikey did the impossible - that image is a reminder of just how close they were.
It's important to note that when you say "The Merewether Surfboard Club", or any boardriders club for that matter, that you're referring to much more than the five surfers with jerseys on surfing for the victory.
Merewether Surfboard Club has a proud and storied history in the Australian Boardriders movement. Home to some of Australia's most iconic champions, its honour board sports names like Matt Hoy, Nick Wood, Simon Law, Luke Egan, Travis Lynch and four time World Champion Mark Richards. In more recent years there's been the likes of CT surfer Ryan Callinan, and up and coming QS grinders Jacko Baker and Phillipa Anderson.
But beyond the established performers and famed legends is a community of generation-spanning local surfers for whom this club is integral to their surfing lives.
"It's honestly difficult to put a price on," explains Adam, who has also been a Merewether Surfboard Club Champion in 2007 and 2009 and will be a reserve for Merewether's team in 2019's Boardriders Battle. "It's crazy how a small group of like minded individuals can create something so epic. There is such a rich, deep history behind our club, more than 55 years of heritage makes it very special to quite a number of people, including myself. There are three generations of Adam surfers in the club and there will be more to come, and to be a part of that is really special to me. It brings our core surf community together regularly and keeps us all connected."
Established in 1964, Merewether has just about won everything available to win by an Australian Boardriders club since, that is except for the Nudie Australian Boardriders Battle, which they were split seconds from claiming 12 months ago. That fact burns today. Though, there's respect for the club that bested them.
"Mate, that hurt, we aren't hiding it," says Adam. "We took it on the chin though, it was well played by Culburra. They're a relatively new club and made up of some hardcore south coast surf families, so it was cool to see them get a nice injection of cash flow to boost their young club. But yeah, it was heavy to feel that on home soil. We need to step it up this year, that's for sure."
This weekend, after a year of waiting, they'll get a chance to atone for that result, again on their home sands of Newcastle Beach for the 2019 Nudie Australian Boardriders Battle Final. Returning CT surfer Ryan Callinan, who is in career-best competitive form, will lead the Merewether team. Like many of the surfers in the Boardriders Battle, Callinan's ties to his club are strong, his late father Garry was a life member of the club.
But who stands between them as a threat to that?
"Any of the clubs with CT talent," says Adam. "They net the huge points in both tag and skins so they are always the ones to beat. Plus the underground clubs with tons of pride and passion, they are also tough in those close moments. So... that's pretty much every single team!"
- The 2019 Nudie Australian Boardriders Battle Final will take place at Newcastle Beach on Saturday February 16 and Sunday February 17.