Peter "Joli" Wilson, a stalwart of the surf media, has been shooting surfing for more than four decades. Here, the self-described "Memory Millionaire" shares some of his favorite moments from his time in Margaret River, in Western Australia. Words and images by Joli.
In the late 70's while living in Torquay I was friendly with an American couple who had migrated to Australia from Northern California. They lived and surfed around the Bells area for a couple of years before heading to Western Australia on a surf trip.
They returned to Torquay about a month later raving about the south west corner of WA and especially the Margaret River area. They compared it to North California in regard to surf, the climate and the prospects of a fledgling wine industry. In a few short months they'd packed up all their belongings and headed West.
It was the mid 80's before I made my first trip to Margaret River and I have returned again and again for some of the same reasons my American friends had moved there years before: basically for abundance of surf, the spectacular scenery and some very good wines.
The South West corner of Western Australia gets described as the edge of the earth which I guess in a way it is. If you look west from Margies across the expansive Indian Ocean the next stop is South Africa over 5000 miles away.
If you look south from Augusta which is just down the road from Margies on the the South West corner of Australia the next stop is Antarctica over 4000 miles away. Augusta is the meeting of two major oceans, the Indian and the Great Southern Ocean, the home of the Roaring 40's, and some of the biggest storms circulating the planet. Storms that whip up solid surf that feeds straight into this part of the Australian coastline.
Margaret River has been the location of surfing events for the best part of four decades and despite becoming one of the best wine regions in Australia, with an expanding tourism network that encompasses writers festivals and gourmet food festivals, it has never lost the raw feeling of being on the edge of earth.
Kelly Slater and Kalani Miller
Kelly Slater and Kalani Miller's feet during a grape stomp at Xanadu Wineries on a contest lay-day. The contest had been called off due to small conditions and while there were some fun waves around the area, some of the surfers took advantage of a lunch put on by Xanadu, one of the top wineries in the region. Part of the lunch was a ‘grape stomp' competition.
Kalani and Kelly competed as Team USA against Fred and Melissa Patacchia on Team Hawaii, in the grape stomp with Fred and Melissa winning by filling their bucket first. The grape juice was collected and processed and I think Kelly was presented with a bottle the following year.
Shooting Stars And Sunsets
The coastline along the Margaret River region is often described as the edge of the earth. It has amazing clear skies which are perfect for shooting the Milky Way and the clear air also helps to see the elusive Green Flash as the sun sets into the ocean when there are no clouds on the horizon at sunset. The area produces some of the best sunsets in the world.
Josh Kerr in 2010
Josh Kerr took out the 2010 6 Star Prime Drug Aware Pro with an amazing come from behind win. Kerrzy was in a combo position against local favourite Taj Burrow who was leading the World Tour ratings at the time and was heading for a win in a competition that he dearly wanted to take out.
There were clean offshore conditions for the final and on his second last wave Kerrzy took to the air twice on a right-hander and landed them both to score a perfect 10 point ride. The score broke the combo and in the dying seconds he grabbed another right and took to the air again, scoring enough to take the win and push Taj into second. In the process, producing one of the great clutch finals in pro surfing history.
Local legend Taj Burrow
Taj Burrow grew up in the Margaret River region in the small seaside town of Yallingup just a few miles north of Margaret River. He learnt to surf the powerful waves of the area which was on show for his whole career in places like Hawaii, Fiji and Tahiti. He's known as one of WA's favourite surfing sons and was always a favourite to take out the Margies contest each year it ran. Unfortunately the closest he came to winning was the final against Josh Kerr where he lost in the final seconds.
When Taj announced his retirement from the Tour his last appearance at Margies was an emotional time, especially after his last heat. At the post heat interview he was surrounded with friends and fans wearing his ‘Burrow 99' contest jersey. His final event was just a few weeks later at the Fiji Pro with a party that went for five days straight with the help of seven consecutive lay days. "What happens on Tour stays on Tour."
The swells that hit the Margaret River area are raw and powerful. They have either come from the deep south Roaring 40's or way out west across the Indian Ocean. You've only got to look at a map of the world that tracks the storms that circle the bottom half of the Southern Hemisphere to realise where the storms come from and how far away the swell has been generated before it unloads on this corner of Western Australia.
Surfers who have grown up surfing similar breaks from around the world have dominated and you can see a pattern to the winners of the Margaret River contests. Hawaiian surfers have dominated both the Men's and Women's results. Carissa Moore, Dusty Payne, John John Florence, Sebastien Zietz have all been on the winning dais over the past decade. Michel Bourez aka ‘The Spartan', is in this mix and one of OZ's power surfers Gary ‘Kong' Elkerton also was a winner back in 1993.
Lay Days Take On A Whole New Meaning
Contest lay-days during the Margie's competition take on a whole new meaning. There is so much to do with the whole area geared towards the tourist. There is the Margaret River Chocolate Factory which produces incredible chocolates and at Easter time a Chocolate Quokka, a marsupial native to Western Australia is a specialty. Matty Wilkinson, when he was World Number One was given a chance to put his hand to chocolate making at the Chocolate Factory on one of these lay days.
There is also an annual cricket match organised by former world tour surfer and local Jake Paterson. It's billed as The Blow Ins (pro surfers) vs The Locals with a perpetual trophy on offer to the winners. It's supposed to be a fun afternoon but it can get very serious but always ends up with a BBQ, a few beers and bragging rights for the coming year.
Wineries are always on the agenda and the surfers get to tour the cellars of some the big and small wineries of the area. Often being shown around by the head winemaker.
Owen Wright loves the waves around Margaret River. I watched him somehow pull off an incredible backhand bottom turn and get swallowed up by a barreling Box before emerging through the spit during one heat and then a few days later, on a day with the swell building towards massive 20' sets at the Main Break at Margaret River, Owen snapped one of the biggest rooster tail sprays I've ever shot. The surf was in the 12'-15' range with bigger sets mid afternoon.