No place to call home

South-west Sydney’s Aiden Dabbagh dissects the curious plight of those without a local.
Above: Aiden at the Island. Photo: Mark Halliday,

Words by Aiden Dabbagh

For over 10 years now I’ve been a bodyboarder. I remember when I was a skinny pre-teen, bus-driving waves at Bondi Beach while my mum switched between watching me and reading some shitty women’s magazine. I remember paddling back out on my giant Manta without fins on and seeing guys going across the wave and thinking, “Wow that looks awesome, I wanna do that”. I remember my first roll, first spin, first closeout and, of course, my first made barrel. Since then I’ve surfed reefs, wedges, beachies, and novelty waves that break a few times a year, all along the East Coast of NSW and Queensland. The thing is, none of these things happened anywhere I can describe as my local, unless you count doing throwaway inverts into my uncle’s in-ground pool.

I’ve lived in South-west Sydney my whole life. My family originally lived in Greenacre before moving a bit further south, and I now live about 30 minutes away from Cronulla, where I do the majority of my surfing.

Before I started surfing Shark Island, I had zero comprehension of the idea of a pecking order out in the water. I’d surfed Cronulla Point before and had gotten used to getting burnt by stand-ups, but I just figured that was because I was a lowly booger and they were the mightiest of beings, blowing take offs, missing barrels and doing lame cutbacks on the shoulder.

The Island was a completely different story. After a few sessions of surfing one-foot peaks and thinking I was getting kegged, my blow-in mates and I slowly built up the balls to surf it bigger. I remember getting a few good waves when I was younger but mainly I remember getting burnt by the older guys. A lot. I was perplexed. Why are bodyboarders burning other bodyboarders? Of course it didn’t take long to figure out. Waveriding is unique in that that there aren’t an infinite amount of waves. It’s not like a skate park where the ramps are always there and always the same. Waves depend on so many variables that it’s usually a race against time to get your fair share before the wind or the tide turns. It’s this distinction that motivates drop-ins, localism and pecking orders. When was the last time you saw “Locals only” crudely spray painted at a skate park?

As someone who’s never lived in a beachside community, this concept has always pissed me off. Am I not allowed to bodyboard because I wasn’t lucky enough to have parents who lived on the coast? Should I relocate my life just for the right to get barrelled? I don’t think so. We actually have to put in more effort to surf, from waking up earlier to driving further, to surfing longer to get the same amount of waves, and we get less respect. Now, I’m sure that a lot of “blow-ins” are on the kooky side, and I’ll admit that when I was younger I was average, but that’s why I stuck to beachies until I thought I was ready to surf a reefbreak like the Island. Plus we all have to start somewhere right?

These days, while I’m not by any means an exceptional bodyboarder, I can hold my own. I surf the Island when it’s big, can do your standard moves (except reverse airs – that shit is difficult) and I have a small group of mates from my area who can do the same. In the infamous pecking order, we sit somewhere between the younger groms and all the older Cronulla locals, including the likes of Andy Lester and Dave Ballard, who still shred out there often.

All considered, being a booger without a local does have its advantages. You learn how to hassle for waves (which comes in handy when you’re surfing down south or anywhere else you don’t surf regularly), mastering the art of late takeoffs and how to take a beatdown. If you blow a barrel or a section you don’t have to hear about it from all your mates that night at the pub, and when it’s pumping and crowded you’re probably more local than most of the people out, and you may find yourself getting more waves than the pro who doesn’t have a reason to think otherwise. Because he’s technically a blow-in too.

So, as I’m sure many of the people reading this are in fact locals, spare a thought for the guy in the lineup who you kinda know, because he’s out kinda often and who’s kinda OK on the boog. You have at least four things in common – a board, two fins, and a love for the sport.