Clifton Evers - Academic / Writer

When did you start surfing and when did you get your first board?
I got my first board when I was about 6 years old, but I didn’t really use it. It just kind of sat there for a few years. I was riding around on a surf mat and then started body boarding for a bit. I  skated a lot, as most grommets do. It wasn’t around 11 or 12 until I really sunk my teeth in and started surfing around North Burleigh area and up the north end of the Gold Coast, out of the way of more experienced crew. Then, as I got better I’d do bus trips down the coast to places like (old) Kirra where I thought I was getting shacked off my brain but I probably wasn’t [laughs]. Then I had the great discovery of Duranbah! I’d heard about it and thought it was this magical mystical place but never knew that it was just over the hill! Then some older guys took me about and we’d travel around, which is when I “discovered” South Stradbroke. I also spent a lot of time camping in the dunes at North Stradbroke – a place I still love.  When I look back, all those experiences really shaped me as a young surfer.

What do you love about surfing?
It varies through life, I think. When I was younger it was just the friendships that you form. There was nothing better than going surfing with a group of friends. Then there’s the sensation of board on wave – the glide – and the little things like the wind on your face and the salt crusted in your hair. But these days I simply enjoy getting in the water by myself. I love travelling and chasing waves by myself and just sitting out there in the line-up soaking everything in at these great spots I’ve been lucky enough to surf at.

Do you have any sessions that stand out as your most memorable?
I’ve had quite a few. The first one is funny, I’ve found that when you surf your home beach you have some of your most memorable sessions rather than when you surf some of the worlds best breaks. So, for me South Stradbroke (TOS) has served up so many perfect waves. I remember a session there where the sand built up down the beach far past the sand pumping pipe and formed a mini point-break. There were only a few of us out and it was pitting like a short version of good (old) Kirra. One of my very best mates broke his board on the first wave and had to watch for the rest of the session. My second most memorable session would be at Lagundri Bay in Indonesia. There were a handful of guys out late one afternoon and it was 8 foot, ledging like the new Lagundri does since the earthquake a number of years ago (it’s shallower). I was scared and I paddled for an inside one that built my confidence and everything went right for me from then on. I’ve never been so shacked in my life. The third one would be this little island up northern Indonesia. My friend and I camped there for a week eating bully beef and rice after surfing this gnarly but fun right hander. My mate and I  were just living the feral dream. My best recent session was down the south west coast of Taiwan. I surfed a wave that I can’t name all to myself for over 4 hours. It was perfection, with just me and the birds out there. All of those sessions have been great. Some were by myself, some were with mates, but with all of them everything just clicked. They were special times.

Do you have a go-to board?
I ride everything now. I used to be a shortboard snob but now I ride everything. I love my Al Merrick ‘Black Beauties’ because I love Tom Curren’s surfing and always thought that if I could surf even 1% like him I’d be stoked, and I thought these boards might help me to do this [laughs]. They didn’t help me surf like him but they’re damn good boards. I’ve taken them with me to 20+ different countries. I also ride this 9 foot log I now have, a mat every now and then, and I love bodysurfing. I got myself a hand plane which I take with me everywhere. The other thing I ride is a twin keel fish which is my favourite board of all to ride, but I’m rubbish on my back hand with it so I need a good forehand point break, which is rare over in this neck of the woods (China/ East Asia).

Who has inspired you to do what you do?
Just some of the older crew I used to surf with. They had my best interest at heart. So yeah, just my best mates – the guys who told me to pull my head in and kept me honest. In terms of surfers there are none really, other than Tom Curren.  That shows my age. When I see these young guys surfing now I’m just blown away. It’s just a different kind of surfing.  Another inspiration I guess would be the bodysurfer Mark Cunningham. It’s the more eclectic personalities that attract me to surfing.

What kind of education have you had?
I started doing a business degree after school and surfed my brains out so I got kicked out. After that I worked in so many different jobs, from bakeries to surf shops to department stores to banks, then at Nev surfboards for a while, the list goes on. I reached a point where I realized I wanted to do something that kept me tied into reading and writing (which I had always enjoyed), so I decided to go back to University as a mature age student and do a Bachelor of Arts. About halfway through that I did a subject called ‘Cultural Studies’ where the principal is to consider lots of social issues. I was encouraged to use something I know to understand the ideas and theories and issues, so I started writing about surfing. I did an honours thesis on surfing and gender after some people brought up with me some of the problems in surf culture. I did OK and ended up being offered a scholarship to the University of Sydney to do a PhD in a gender and cultural studies department with one of the top scholars in the world – Professor Elspeth Probyn. For my PhD I explored issues coming out of the relationships between sport and masculinity in Australia through case studies of surfing. So, I got to look at surf travel and colonialism, surfing and mateship, and surfing and sexuality etc. I really loved studying all this and got to be around people who loved surfing and weren’t shy of giving their opinion. While the thesis was very hard work the people who got involved – research participants and other researchers – are great fun, smart, and taught me a lot.

So how did you come to be living in China?
I finished the PhD then went and worked (temporary contract) for the University of New South Wales in the Media Department – close to a lot of waves. I did a lot of exploring of the south coast of New South Wales during this period. Then a fulltime job came up in China, and I just jumped and went for it. I saw it as a way into exploring East Asia. The job is in a city called Ningbo, just to the south of Shanghai. I live in Shanghai.  This is a city of 23 million and just chaotic with no natural environment, however it’s a good jump off spot. There’s a few wave-starved surfers here so we go to the islands of the coast here and a few other places on mainland China chasing waves. I’ve also been able to accumulate money to travel and surf in places I would never have dreamt of ever having the chance to surf as a grommet – places such as Korea, Vietnam, Japan, Taiwan and the Philippines. I’m yet to get to Russia but working on it. I’m still searching around China but it’s a funny place, it has this massive coastline but a lot of it is just rubbish surf-wise or destroyed. There’s a big continental shelf and the bathymetry is largely not conducive to good waves. In saying that though we have surfed a few fun spots around China, beyond Hainan Island where most people think the only surf in China is. So, yeah, I’m now a lecturer in media and cultural studies at the University of Nottingham Ningbo China. There’s 7000 students (approximately), who are all taught in English, which makes things a lot easier. I have found learning Mandarin to be tough.

Are you looking at doing any further surf related study?
A lot of my research is now not surf-related – more on social issues and urbanism, health provision and media, and evaluation of sport for development projects. But, yeah, I’m also following the growth of surfing in China and planning on pursuing something similar in Taiwan, and am going to write this up. But the main surf-related project I’m working on is thinking through the growth of digital media in regards to surfing, for example the use of the go-pro cameras, online surf forecasting, the mobile phone, etc. My curiosity is directed at how these technologies are changing what we know and come to do as people, and subsequently as surferTell us a little bit about the ‘Kurungabaa: A journal of literature, history and ideas from the sea’ project and what’s going on with it these days?

It’s basically just online now (although, we may print again in the future). I still work with the other members of the collective on the website and source stories for it. There’s a wonderful group of people that been involved the whole way as direct contributors and supporters. The whole crew has been very cruisy because we are in it for the love of the sea. Unfortunately, that’s not the best business model, hence the suspension of the print version.  The project started as a group of us who wanted to read surf media that wasn’t so ‘teenage’, I guess. We knew projects like the Surfers Journal and the Surfers Path were out there but we wanted something a bit broader about the ocean as a whole, including eclectic features from science, to poetry, to sea birds, to the history of a particular indigenous people and their coastal existence, and so on. We saw surfing as just a sliver of that whole wonderful crazy world. That was the philosophy behind it, to make something unique, eclectic and also fun. We put out a few print issues. I love seeing similar publications which have popped up in recent years like White Horses and Wax doing the same thing. And then there’s what promises to be a fantastic addition: The Great Ocean Quarterly . I like that people are producing this sort of surf media and holding onto the broader inspiration that comes from the sea.

What do you love most about work?
I love the fact that at certain times of the year the working hours are very flexible. I’ve got to be on campus for teaching and doing administration work during semesters. However, at other times (between semesters) my research allows me to travel and I get opportunities to chase swells mid-week for a couple of days. Mind you, I have to make up the work-time in bucket-loads later, but those brief periods of flexibility are worth the late nights and extra hours needed to make up for them. Also, for all my research projects I get to listen to stories people tell about their culture, social needs and experiences and to then bring this data all together in a piece of peer-reviewed writing that documents problems and solutions for others to think about, debate and learn from. It’s a privileged thing to get to do so I feel very fortunate. It was hard work to get here. I went hungry and slept on a lot of couches along the way but having made it this far it’s turned out to be really fulfilling and challenging job. 

Where can we find you online?



Posted by: Troy Roennfeldt, on October 28, 2013
Categories: Interviews