Soli Bailey: the figurehead for Indigenous surfing’s golden age

first_imgReuse this content Share on WhatsApp Share on Messenger Support The Guardian Read more Guardian Australia sport newsletter: subscribe by email Indigenous surfing burns brightly in this country but remains overlooked by the sporting public. Aboriginal people, of course, maintain a unique relationship with our coasts, one that stretches back into deep time. But surfing?Pundits can name a handful who’ve made a mark in professional competition, like Robbie Page and the late Mark “Sanga” Sainsbury, a young prodigy who lived in Darginung country at Avoca beach, and died tragically while surfing at the age of 26. Recent decades have seen the rise of surfers like John Craig, Dale Richards, and Otis Carey, a Gumbaynggirr and Bundjalung freesurfer and artist. Stephanie Gilmore crowned world champion to equal Layne Beachley’s surfing record Gabriel Medina pips Julian Wilson to world surfing title at final event of season Read more The Guardian spoke to Bailey on Oahu’s North Shore, as he waited for the trials before the season-ending Pipeline Masters.Despite winning the Volcom Pro, Bailey insists Pipe experience is hard to come by. “I haven’t surfed the place a lot,” he says. “Paddling out there, and surfing it, are two completely different things. I’ve spent a million hours out there since I was twelve, but I’ve had maybe only thirty good barrels over that time. It’s a full-on crowd – it’s hard to grasp the difficulty.”Yes, twelve years old. Bailey’s first trip to Hawaii was with former world champion Barton Lynch. “He brought me over for a month. I was terrified, though he didn’t subject me to the really serious waves.”Casting his eye over the contest schedule for 2019, Bailey won’t limit himself to the fabled barrel venues. “I’m looking at the whole year,” he says. “From past experience on the QS and the junior tour, you just don’t know where you’ll perform well. Bells is special to me because of its Aboriginal background, Snapper because it’s the start of the year and it’s near home. But Teahupo’o is among the heaviest barreling waves on the planet, and I love getting barreled. And then you’ve got that rich history at J-Bay … I can’t wait.”When asked about his strengths, Bailey nominates big waves and barrels. Then he stops, backtracks apologetically. “Hang on, don’t say that. That makes me sound like a … nah.” It’s the curious mix of self-assurance and humility that others have commented on. He’s a likeable guy.The difficulty with Bailey’s assertion that indigenous surfing is entering a golden age is that right now, he’s the figurehead. Does he feel the pressure? “It’s a big burden, yes, but that’s exciting to me, not frightening.“I want to push it, show the youth it’s a great career and you can excel and connect with it. That’s why any surfer gets in the water – the connection with the ocean, the time to yourself, even if you’re with friends.”If there are cynics, trolls of the AFL boundary-line variety, Bailey has already tuned them out. “I’m all about positivity. I haven’t seen any negativity, but then again I’m not looking for it.” He’s more inclined to look to the Polynesian Hawaiians like Sunny Garcia and Zeke Lau for inspiration. Indigenous Australians Share via Email featurescenter_img Share on Pinterest Surfing Australia sport Since you’re here… … we have a small favour to ask. More people, like you, are reading and supporting the Guardian’s independent, investigative journalism than ever before. And unlike many news organisations, we made the choice to keep our reporting open for all, regardless of where they live or what they can afford to pay. Whether we are up close or further away, the Guardian brings our readers a global perspective on the most critical issues of our lifetimes – from the escalating climate catastrophe to widespread inequality to the influence of big tech on our lives. We believe complex stories need context in order for us to truly understand them. At a time when factual information is a necessity, we believe that each of us, around the world, deserves access to accurate reporting with integrity at its heart.Our editorial independence means we set our own agenda and voice our own opinions. Guardian journalism is free from commercial and political bias and not influenced by billionaire owners or shareholders. This means we can give a voice to those less heard, explore where others turn away, and rigorously challenge those in power.We hope you will consider supporting us today. We need your support to keep delivering quality journalism that’s open and independent. Every reader contribution, however big or small, is so valuable. Support The Guardian from as little as $1 – and it only takes a minute. Thank you. “When I come to Hawaii I have a connection here. It feels warm, and I’m at home and it flows. I’ve never talked to those guys about being an Indigenous role model specifically, but I see the way they represent, their pride. I want to do something similar.”Bailey spent an afternoon recently in Sydney with Adam Goodes. “He’s a national hero for the Aboriginal community. For everyone, really. He said to me, ‘there’s a lot of pressures you’ve just got work out for yourself.’”Could those pressures include the need to speak out politically, now he has an international platform?“I’m still pretty young,” he says. “I’m focused on my competitive career. But if I have an opinion I’m not afraid to say it. If things are wrong, I want to see them put right. Adam said to me ‘you have to accept that’s going to happen and you’ll make a decision whether to speak out – and until then, keep doing what you’re doing.’” Share on Facebook Share on LinkedIn Share on Twitter This year, the Australian Indigenous surfing title at Bells Beach was won by a tall, powerful natural-footer named Soli Bailey. Soon after, he qualified for surfing’s World Tour. An Indigenous athlete was back in surfing’s limelight.Solamon Storm Bailey grew up in Byron Bay, home not only to Carey but also to world tour surfers Danny Wills and Kieren Perrow.Quiet but fiercely confident, Bailey dominated pro surfing’s incubator tour, the Qualifying Series, with imperious surfing at the world’s most iconic and intimidating waves, from Bells to Oahu’s Sunset Beach, to Tahiti’s menacing Teahupo’o, and Peahi, the beautiful monster wave off Maui. At the Volcom Pro at Pipeline last year, Bailey again showed composure in big barrels on shallow reef, cruising past a host of champions including Adriano De Souza, Kelly Slater and local John John Florence. By then, people were talking. Where had this kid come from?Bailey identifies as “Bundjalung on my grandmother’s side, from the Yaegl tribe around Coffs Harbour”. He asserts his indigeneity in much the same way he surfs: with a plain sort of confidence. He has been photographed sailing through a blue sky on a board with the black, gold and red flag underneath. He wants to represent Australia in surfing at the Tokyo Olympics, and says “the next five years will be the best five years in Indigenous surfing history”.Former pro surfer Rob Bain works for Bailey’s major sponsor, O’Neill. His reaction to the young surfer’s qualification for the world tour goes well beyond the corporate line: “I’m passionate about Soli’s connection through his indigenous roots,” he told the Guardian. “I’m just stoked with this result.” Robbie Page said via Facebook: “He is our greatest, and he’s still building momentum. Indigenous king of the sea. Brought tears to my eyes.” Read more Topicslast_img read more

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