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  • Writer's pictureWill Boddy

2021 "Southern Challenge" Surf Competition in Memorial of Paul Johannesen

It was an exciting weekend of surfing as a total of 35 competitors took part in the annual “Southern Challenge” held in memory of Paul Johannesen, beginning early in a 2–3-foot patchy Wedge swell and finishing off at a less than desirable but solid South Clifton in the afternoon.

In its 15th year now, the Paul Johannesen Memorial Competition brings together surfers from all corners of the state to compete in one of the longest-running events – doubling as the fourth leg on the State Championships and honouring one of the pioneers of Tasmanian surfing.

Paul “Joey” Johannesen was, and still is, an inspiration to a huge portion of Tasmanian surfers – none moreso than his sons Luke, Jy and Laif – and was a cherished friend and brother-in-arms to many while out in the ocean. Joey passed away on the 24th of October 2004 at the young age of 53 after a long battle with a severe brain tumour and leaves behind a legacy grounded in family, surfing and genuine compassion for others.

As event director Luke Johannesen made the call late Friday evening to hold the event at the coverted Wedge/North Goats, beach manager Shayne Clark and a few of the South Arm Board Rider (SABR) committee members, along with other volunteers and comp entrants, helped set the event up just as the sun was rising.

With the competition structured around both an open Male and Female division, the brackets saw many of the younger generation of surfers battling it out with the heavyweights, and this unique form of competition allowed for some excellent rivalries and an opportunity for the younger guys and girls to challenge and push themselves against their idols.

The event itself, therefore, wasn’t about winning but combining the love of surfing and the memory of Joey, all while seeing some amazing displays of power surfing from young guns like George Vanderkelen, Marvin Freeman, Ava Frey and Ruby Stokely, all the way up to the usual suspects like Matt Kennedy, Marti Paradisis, Dara Penfold and Lizzie Stokely.

Head judge Michael Schmidt and his team had the difficult task of scoring, with some absolutely clinical barrel riding and the odd gouging turn or aerial blowing the crowd away, and the way the scoring was structure was again the progressively popular Eddie Aikau format.

The modified “Eddie” format sees each surfer completing both their heats throughout the day, taking to the water in groups of five for 25-30-minute heats – utilising a priority system and battling against one another for waves – however, each surfer’s two best scoring waves from both heats were tallied, with their highest score doubled.

To make this easier, if surfer A scored a 6.0 and a 5.5 in heat one, and a 7.5 and a 4.0 in heat two, their highest score, 7.5, would be doubled, equalling 15, and their second-highest score, 6.0, would also be retained, giving the surfer a grand total score of 21.

With all the formalities and introductions, scoring and proceedings out of the way, the first round of heats were underway a little after 8am, and with some highly strategic work going on behind the scenes, they were absolutely bursting with some exciting matchups.

Heats 1 and 2 saw the majority of the younger groms squaring off in what was a slow start to proceedings, while down the beach, some solid A-frames saw free-surfers like Luke Bugg pitching a few tents in the barrel while others got acquainted with the shifting conditions.

The trickling of left-handers allowed Toby Lawrence and Dylan Haberle to show off their forehand prowess, while little Marvin Freeman wrangled just about every wave that came his way. The second heat had a late replacement, seeing Shaun Wallbank come into the mix, capitalising on a few head dips, but it was Milo Langford who shined, scoring well late.

Heat 3 saw the Sperring brothers regulating, but Brad Jackson was able to snag a couple of waves and do some driving turns off the bottom – but it was Zeb Critchlow who bided his time and waited for the ideal wave, getting power shacked in one of the best barrels of the day.

As the star-studded line-up of Jy, Luke, and Laif Johannesen took to the water in Heat 4, it was Laif who scored early, and Jy – as he does – took to the air, while Luke kept himself busy. Jono Mereszka and Alex Zawadski bustled their own way through the heat, scoring the dregs and what was left behind.

Heat 5 offered slim pickings as Matt Kennedy and Finn Whitla chose to ride the lefts, and Kelly Nordstrom picked up one of the highest-scoring waves of the comp so far, but, it was Marti Paradisis who could have capitalised, instead, being skunked by Will Boddy who was flailing about right in the critical section where Marti could have launched into the stratosphere.

The final heat of Round 1 was a spectacle, as Rudy Davis put on a clinic with some massive forehand turns and a small 360-rev, but it was the goofy footers who were most exciting, as Kyle Cooper smashed the lip a couple of times, and dark horse Henry Hutchins from Victoria had the crowd hooting with two insane pig-dogging barrels.

Round 1, Heat 1 of the Women’s draw had reigning champ Lizzie Stokely struggling to capitalise, while her younger sister Ruby did not muck around. Dara Penfold was kept quiet by Victorian Jemima Hutchins and local Ava Frey, but the years' experience in comps paid off, and Dara was able to get one last ride with only minutes remaining.

As the Round came to a close, there was some hesitation in whether to move the competition from the dissipating but still appealing conditions at Wedge or re-locate to Clifton Beach where the wind and incoming tide would favour the solid conditions. As the sun peeped its head from behind the clouds and the wind swung a little westerly, it was confirmed that the competition would indeed run at South Clifton.

Image taken from SABR Instagram

The second session provided some vastly different conditions and had competitors switch tactics to suit the blundering swell that was maxing-out Clifton, as opposed to the punchy and girthy nature of Wedge. Although, as the beach itself has been more like a nursery for the majority of the surfers in the comp – Clifton being the home, training ground, and local break for many – everyone surfed confidently and tackled the challenging waves as best they could.

The Women’s final round/heat was first in the water, and as onlookers gazed in awe at the gigantic waves closing out the beach, it was truly tough going for the younger women like Ruby Stokely and Ava Frey – duckdiving for what seemed like an eternity just to get out the back – but they held firm, all the while Jemima Hutchins smashed the lip on several decent rides, while Lizzie Stokely also maintained composure.

Round 2 of the Men’s was then underway, and much like the Women’s, there were slim pickings as the tide filled in, and the conditions in the water offered some challenges as many of the larger sets were simply shutting down, while the odd smaller one held its frame and broke all the way to the inside.

Heats 1 and 2 saw the likes of Jade Sperring and Jono Mereszka splitting peaks, while a quick board change from Mark Wilson to better suit the conditions allowed him to perform better. Other locals like George Vanderkelen and Finn Whitla had no trouble – but it was Oliver Pugh who blew the crowd away with one massive hack that he only just managed to ride out of.

As the crowd began to really fire up, Heat 3 had Harry Holmer-Cross lining up a few solid rides, as Will Boddy, Brad Jackson and Dylan Haberle did their best squabbling around and managing a few turns between them. It was Luke Johannesen who brought the peanut gallery to life, catching a remarkable wave from way out the back, blowing the fins out a couple of times and utilising his local knowledge.

Heat 5 was coined the “Battle of the Bruzzies”, as the famed backhand attack of Kyle Cooper and Matt Kennedy surfed off against one another, while the younger guys like Milo Langford, Toby Lawrence and Henry Hutchins mustered up some classical rides of their as the conditions begun to improve and pave the way for the final heat.

In the last heat of the day – and what felt more like a final – the absolutely stacked Heat 6 was a marvel to watch. In many of the competitor’s literal backyard, the likes of Rudy Davis, Kelly Nordstrom and Marti Paradisis were lighting the waves up, and the roars from the crowd affirmed it. Everyone was enthralled, and the heat exciting heat drew the curtain on what was a challenging, spectacular and wholesome day of surfing.

The awards ceremony took place shortly after in the Clifton Beach Surf Life Saving Clubrooms, and as the beers flowed and the snags sizzled away, the crowds trickled in, and the wonderful community that helps make surf competitions and any of these related events possible saw the night off with joyful spirits.

The first award – a couple hundred bucks courtesy of Zeb Critchlow of Polished Concrete Tasmania – was for the “One Turn Wonder”, given for the single most exuberant manoeuvre of the whole competition, and was deservedly handed to Mart Paradisis for one of his crazy air rev late in the final heat of the day.

The “Junior Spirit Award” was to be a custom board shaped by Finn Whitla of Faze Surfboards, and was received by Jemima Hutchins for not only her excellent display of surfing against an already tight-knit group of women, but encompassing all that is surfing and encouraging others to get out there and have a go.

With only five entrants, the Women’s results guaranteed placings, with Ruby Stokely coming in fifth, Ava Frey in fourth, defending champ Lizzie Stokely in third, Jemima Hutchins taking second place, and with only mere points separating the two, Dara Penfold held out to take first place.

In the Men’s draw, Marti Paradisis took out fourth place, while Rudy Davis and Luke Johannesen were tied for third, so then second place went to Zeb Critchlow after some supposed controversy, and it was the relatively new addition in Henry Hutchins who was awarded first place and went home with the crown.

Event organiser Luke Johannesen thanked everyone involved and those who help make the event such a spectacle each year, and if nothing else, the spirit of Joey Johannesen shone once again, blessing the day with favourable surf conditions and bringing such a cherished community together in memory of a local icon.

The Paul Johannesen Memorial Competition was sponsored by Red Herring Surf, SIN Eyewear, Faze Surfboards, FarKing Surf, We Are Feel Good Inc., Luna Collections, Ventura Café & Surf, Zebulon Critchlow of Polished Concrete Tasmania, Red Bull, Stu Gibson, Wendy Kennedy, Surfing Tasmania, Surfing Australia, South Arm Board Riders Inc, Clifton Beach Surf Life Saving Club and Tasmanian Parks and Wildlife.

Cover image credit to:

Copyright © Will Boddy 2021

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