Photos of the Cultish Surf Culture of Bells Beach, Australia, During the Rip Curl Pro
As the April sun rises on Bells Beach, Australia, barefoot locals descend on the renowned surf spot by the hundreds. City kids load up their parents’ Kombi vans with friends and boards and head for Great Ocean Road; residents of neighboring Torquay and Jan Juc push signs on their front yards pledging support to surfers Nikki Van Dijk, Tatiana Weston-Webb, and Courtney Conlogue; cafés turning out caffeine to bleary-eyed athletes set their televisions to the Rip Curl Pro Tour, the country’s version of the Super Bowl. One of two locations the World Surf League visits annually in Australia, this beach that sits on the Victoria coast is legendary for its early autumn point break and seemingly endless lineup of crisp and long hollow waves. As a reference, this is the site of the last scene in Point Break when Bodhi tells Johnny Utah that his “whole life has been about this moment.” Surfing here is not just a novelty or a sport, it’s a way of life.
At least that’s what Melbourne-based photographer Dan Roberts discovered when he left his urban dwellings to explore the rich ocean-side subculture. “This thing that you picture in your head of a romantic view of Australian beach culture,” he says, “[like] kids having ice cream as it’s dripping down their hands, then running into the ocean, eating fish and chips on the beach as the sun goes down—all of that stuff is their actual life.”
Roberts spent three days photographing the professional competitors—and the children who hope to be them someday—observing the water-centric lifestyle that imprints everything about its inhabitants, down to the way they look. The nearly ubiquitous curly towheads and deeply tanned skin, for example, are not as much geographic genetic links as habitual ones. Hours clocked under the Australian sun will bleach even a deep brunette’s lengths blonde, the wild texture simply a side effect of getting tossed in the waves and saturated in salt.