011: Jamie Brisick/Chronicling The Margins

Jamie Brisick. Photo by Kane Skenner

“Writing has saved my life. It’s given me hope in the darkest of times”.

My guest for episode 011 of the podcast was writer, journalist, novelist, editor, photographer, documentary-maker, surfer and former Pro Tour competitor Jamie Brisick.

Jamie, a writer of uncommon power and sensitivity, has been chronicling surf and popular culture since the early 90s. For the last decade he’s been immersed in the story of  Westerly Windina, firstly through his magisterial book Becoming Westerly, and now through a documentary he’s been working on since 2009.

Jamie and Westerly, 2013

Becoming Westerly is an enthralling, multi-layered piece of work that tells the story of Aussie surf champion, pioneer and legend Peter Drouyn‘s transformation into Westerly Windina.

Jamie during his pro surfing heyday

I spoke to Jamie in June 2017 and we had a wide-ranging chinwag about Becoming Westerly, his career in surfing and writing, and the fascinating life he’s lived over the past three decades.

Highlights of our chat include:

  • Jamie’s unique insights into the whole Peter/Westerly saga, particularly the recent spat with Kelly Slater and the news that Westerly is now Peter again
  • How writing helped Jamie cope with loss and grief
  • The importance of ‘gateway’ books for opening your eyes to new possibilities
  • The conservatism of modern surfing.

There’s plenty to get your teeth into here, in a free-wheeling conversation with one of modern surfing most original writers and thinkers. Hope you enjoy it!

Thanks to Kane Skenner and Craig Salmon for the pictures.

If you only have five minutes…

Listen to this section - Jamie on the issue with modern surfing.

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Show Notes

  • Trailer for the Westerly Windina documentary.
  • Jamie’s first encounter with Peter – the Super Challenge advert.
  • First meeting in South Africa – 1989
  • The Rosy Resurrection‘, the original Surfer’s Journal piece.
  • What attracted Jamie to the piece.
  • Early exposure to surf culture.
  • How surf culture has become homogenised – and how the Westerly story subverted this.
  • The conservatism of modern surfing.
  • ‘Everybody is praying to the same god.’
  • Diminishing returns.
  • Surfing’s early counter culture heroes – known and unsung.
  • ’They had a different version of killing it in Los Angeles’
  • The inevitability of the board sports arc…..
  • …or the inevitability of personal nostalgia as you get older.
  • The post-modern nature of surfing’s modern counter movements.
  • The many layers to Westerly’s story.
  • Jamie’s first meeting with Westerly…
  • …and how the story evolved.
  • How Westerly is now Peter again.
  • How Jamie chronicled the two reactions to Westerly’s story – is it a con, or is it somebody simply expressing themselves?
  • Peter the actor – faking death at an awards ceremony.
  • The mystery of internal motivation.
  • The Westerly tale as an extreme manifestation of modern self-improvement culture.
  • ‘This is a story about identity, rather than gender dysmorphia’.
  • Westerly’s complex, almost narcissistic relationship with the trans-gender community.
  • Peter Drouyn’s history of innovation – inventor of man-on-man surfing.
  • His history of self-sabotage – and how it relates to his provincial chippiness.
  • 1968 Australia Surfing Championships.
  • Peter’s spat with Slater over Kelly’s wave pool design.
  • Free friction surfboards.
  • The hidden meaning of Westerly Windina.
  • Jamie’s next project – an autobiographical novel about surfing.
  • Jamie’s life on the pro tour, and how incessant travel led to reading and journaling.
  • Early influences – Derek Hynd’s surf journalism.
  • ‘There was a performative side that drew me to writing’.
  • Writing as an inverted triangle.
  • The importance of reading and learning a lot, and being passionate about what you’re interested in.
  • The importance of gateway writers to Jamie.
  • First gigs at Waves and Tracks Magazines.
  • The end of Jamie’s pro surfing career, and how writing helped to expanded his surfing universe.
  • Moving back to LA, and embarking upon a writing career proper.
  • ‘I wasn’t interested in having things. I was interested in experiencing a different lifestyle’.
  • Jamie’s current workload and writing routine.
  • How writing has saved him during the darkest of times.
  • His beautiful meditation on grief.
  • ‘Rhymes With Shove’
  • Jamie’s surfing life today – and the sad part of being an ex-pro surfer
  • Jamie’s current board: Channel Islands Pod 5’10”

Places Mentioned

  • Australia
  • South Africa
  • Sydney
  • France
  • Brazil
  • Tahiti
  • Malibu
  • Los Angeles
  • Fiji
  • Queensland
  • Surfer’s Paradise
  • Superbank
  • Kirra
  • Burleigh Heads
  • Cape Town
  • Durban
  • Reunion Island
  • Venice Beach
  • Rio de Janeiro

People Mentioned

Events/programmes/media/institutions mentioned