Famed New Zealand surf photog Logan Murray recalls being told he would "have all fingers broken" over iconic images (2024)

For 40 minutes there was no other place in the surfing world you wanted to watch.

Back in the year 2000, my local Quey comp staged a massive coup. All of the then-living men’s world champions were assembled for a Surfest expression session, there on the coal-dusted shore of Newcastle’s main beach.

Twelve of them, from Pete Townened through to Occy, lined up in front of a crowd of thousands to surf a 40 min heat before the mens and womens finals.

Surfest is Newcastle’s long standing WQS comp. Under the dutiful stewardship of organiser Warren Smith it’s yo-yoed between regional and international levels over the past few decades, as well as a brief cameo as a CT event in the covid-disrupted 2021.
Up until sometime in the early 2000s it ran at Newy’s main beach, my alma mater, before moving over the hill to its current home at Merewether.

Newy beach is a natural coliseum, bordered by concrete and cliffs. It wasn’t out of the ordinary to get 10,000 people on the sand and the surrounding vantage points for finals days. Organiser Smith was an expert at the publicity stunt. In the years previous he had Slater and MR surfing together on MR twins. The year following he also roped in Toms Curren and Carrol. But the 2000 session was his masterpiece.

Lil’ baby surfads was on the sand that day at the turn of the millenium, clamouring up to get a view of surfing’s heroes. Slater, MR, the Toms, BL, Derek Ho etc etc.

(A funny side story: I had actually just been offered my first ever job working at the local fruit and veg shop. Unfortunately, day one coincided with the Surfest finals and world champ expression session. I called in sick, and my career in produce was over as quickly as it had begun).

The expression session was a bit of a fizzer in terms of the conditions. But the vibe in the crowd on the beach was electric. It’s still seared into this grom’s brain near 25 years later.

Watching the same format rolled out at the Snapper CS over the weekend brought back a heady dose of nostalgia for those glory days of pro surfing.

The WSL do a whole heap of dumb sh*t. But it’s also important to congratulate them when they get things right. We all want to see professional surfing succeed, if not in its current tennis tour format.

The latest champion’s heritage heat was magic bottled.

Did you watch it?

Slater, Occy, Parko, Mick and Steph were given forty minutes at the end of day one of competition at the Snapper Challenger Series event to put on a show.

The scene: silky four-foot Snapper, just past low on an incoming tide. World champ Bugs and Ronnie B in the booth. Stace Galbraith on the rocks. Marshalling the crowd who had gathered to view the show. Their collective enthusiasm equal to the action in the water.

Snapper was serving tubes behind the rock, followed by a 100m long canvas for the five masters to ply their trade. Slater loves to harp on about his pool being modelled on the Snapper to little Marley section. This was case in point. Life imitating art imitating life, or something.

It was nowhere near 10/10 Superbank. But it was more than enough to show us how sorely missed Snapper has been from the world tour and its endless stream of mediocre conditions.

The champs made easy work of it.

Mick was sizzling. Whip fast, despite this being one of his first surfs back from an MCL injury. So tight. Insane rotation through turns. Only slow motion or an expert eye could unlock the true genius of his surfing. Like Taylor Knox at double speed.

Kelly stuffed himself into a decent tube and the crowd erupted. “Old swivel hips,” said Ronnie as the goat emerged and S-turned down the line.

Occy burning Parko in another tube added further to the carnival-like atmosphere.

Steph stole the show on the sets of the day, hanging back on the foamball on one deep pit and belting her way down the Superlative Bank with power, grace, flare.

This heat was the best saved ‘til last. Across a field of 100 of the world’s brightest emerging talents, the most enjoyable surfing of the day was produced by a group of relative pensioners. Steph the youngest of the oldies at 36.

The champs delivered, yes. But for mine the Saturday afternoon crowd stole the show.

There were hundreds if not thousands on the sand, in the bleachers, lining the rocks. Hugging the shorey. Out to waist depth in the waves. Brandishing beers and iPhones. They cheered every tube and turn like it was a football grand final.

“It’s unlike anywhere else in the world how close you can get to the surfers here at Snapper,” said Stace Galbraith before turning his back on the camera to keep watching the action with the crowd. It had to be the shortest ever live cross. You couldn’t blame him.

The whole thing transcended competition. Everybody was part of the experience. From the surfers to the commentators to the spectators to the waves and the venue itself. Melded together like the hues of sea and sky out on the horizon.

It evoked that community aspect of surfing what we often forget. Recalled vision of the Burleigh Stubbies events of the ‘70s or my dusty Surfest throwback. Surfers, officials, coaches, families, friends, tourists, stoners, influencers, backpackers. Pimply 15 year olds skipping their first day at work to soak in the magic of it all and become acolytes for life.

For 40 minutes there was no other place in the surfing world you wanted to watch.

The WSL tries so hard to manufacture drama with cuts and final fives. All the while denying themselves the basic ingredients we keep preaching like an Orwellian slogan.

Get the world’s best surfers in the world’s best waves. Put nature’s beauty on show. Crowds are a bonus. The rest will take care of itself.

At one point Ronnie called it a celebration of surfing. WSL commentators are prone to hyperbole, but in this instance he hit the nail on the head.

Famed New Zealand surf photog Logan Murray recalls being told he would "have all fingers broken" over iconic images (2024)
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