This is the story of Debbie, Sheree, Danielle and Jill – four middle-aged Australian working women who met in the ocean and became the Chicks On Sticks.
Through surfing they healed their hearts, bodies, minds and souls and decided to set down the stories of their unique friendship and personal journeys.
The result is the book Taking the Drop and The Hoopla is proud to bring you this exclusive first look.
So make yourself a cuppa and settle in for an inspiring read…
“Taking the Drop is an inspirational journey of four everyday women of 45-plus who wanted to share another kind of surfers’ world. From varying backgrounds, they met in the ocean and have developed close and affirming friendships since sharing their first wave together.
“They wrote this book not only to provide an entertaining and inspiring insight into surfing, but also to share their very different stories of how a group of Australian working mums came together to forge stronger identities, increase self-esteem and find happiness and solace within the ocean – mother nature’s realm.
“Between the four women they’ve had some major hurdles to overcome: Debbie shares her issues with low self-esteem, early menopause, and finally finding the path to a healthier lifestyle, which led to her losing 20 kilos in a year. Danielle overcame major back surgery after discovering a three centimetre tumour inside her spinal cord, made a full recovery and is now back in the water surfing as if nothing ever happened. Jill deals with two teenage daughters on a daily basis and writes how her aim in life is to find the perfect balance between husband, children, work and leisure. And, finally, Sheree, who battled thyroid cancer 18 years ago – then only 15 months ago had the rug pulled from under her when her marriage of 28 years to David Atkins came to a sudden end.
“It’s obvious that this story is not just about surfing. It’s also about friendship, trying to keep balance in and out of the water, and having a good laugh (and sometimes a good cry) along the way.” – Taking The Drop
Excerpt from Taking the Drop… Debbie’s story
We just wanted to…
Sheree and Danielle saw what appeared to be an excellent surfing spot tucked away in the distance. It was a bit more remote than we’d anticipated and down a long unsealed road so I suggested we all get into my four-wheel drive.
Dan asked, “Deb have you driven on sand before?”
I was quick to reply, “Of course!” Well I sort of had… After all it was a fully automatic four-wheel drive transmission, what could possibly go wrong!
Everyone jumped in, and I engaged the auto transmission by turning the dial on the dashboard. Bright green lights displayed that the car had all four wheels locked ready to go.
“Excellent,” I thought, pleased with my car.
With all the girls neatly folded into my four-wheel drive, we headed off.
However, I was missing one very important piece of technical information. I needed to put the gears into neutral before turning the dial. Therefore as we headed off down the road that led to the beach, I thought it was in four-wheel drive… but it wasn’t.
The section of road leading down to the sand was rough, and full of potholes. Large Lantana plants as high as our car were everywhere. Whilst passing, I tried to avoid them, but my car got scratched to the shithouse. I tried to miss the sharp jagged sticks that protruded and attempted to dodge huge potholes at the same time. It was just nuts! When we finally reached the sand it was very deep and already cut up from all the previous four-wheelers who’d driven through earlier that day. Danielle suggested, “Gun it!” and to everyone’s amazement we made it. The tyres whirled, the car wobbled and sand flew everywhere in our attempt to get through the heavy bogged-up sand. The noise of the motor was eerie, and we still had no idea the car was only in two-wheel drive.
Approaching the water we were disappointed as the surf was actually terrible, and the wind had turned onshore. So we turned the car around and headed back after deciding that Crescent Head would have to do us for today.
… That’s when the trouble started. I thought because we’d made it onto the beach relatively easily, there should be no problem going back the other way. As we attempted to drive the vehicle back up the boggy section of the sand track, I revved up the motor anticipating a fast retreat.
Dan said once more, “Gun it!”
So I gunned it again.
We made it halfway in, when the wheels started spinning and the sand went flying. The motor stunk as the car became well and truly bogged.
Two women back seat drivers and one as a passenger was enough to send me almost stir crazy.
Flip! I stopped the car.
“Oh Shit! Reverse it!” came screams from the back.
So I did, and the car bogged even deeper.
“Fuck!” said Sheree quietly from the back seat.
“Don’t burn the diff out!” yells Dan… as I think, “What’s a diff?”
“Ohhh fuck!” says Sheree again, louder this time.
Turning the steering wheel in every direction possible was what got us down to the beach, and therefore, I repeated the same process. We were in trouble and bogged so far down we could only just see the tops of the tyres.
“What’s the tide doing girls?” Jill asked in exasperation. We were rather close to the shoreline.
“It’s on the way in,” Sheree said, shitting herself.
“We should all get out of the car!” said Dan firmly.
“No! No one gets out of the car, I need the weight!” I replied emphatically.
Obediently the girls stayed put.
“Fuckity fuck!” screamed Sheree, now clearly panicking.
Nearby, four guys carrying their surfboards saw the commotion and headed our way. We were in such a flap and very glad to see anybody who could help to get us out of our debacle.
Until they got a little closer.
Oh by golly, if we weren’t scared before, we certainly were now. All four of them were covered in tattoos, had piercings everywhere and their hairstyles sat somewhere between Mohawk and Skinhead.
Here we were, four middle-aged women scared and at their mercy. We were convinced we were going to be raped and pillaged, and never to be seen again. Those boys knew the car was bogged in a remote spot and couldn’t go anywhere. When they saw four females jump out of the car, they burst into laughter.
“Need any help ladies?” one of them piped up.
Then they offered some solutions.
“Dig the sand out that’s covering the wheels.”
We looked at them thinking, “Well who’s going to do that and with what?”
“Push the car from behind,” another sprouted.
“And just who’s going to do that?” we thought.
“Everyone get out of the car, except the driver,” as they explained we needed to keep the car as light as possible.
Ooops! Who said we needed the weight?
After the car was finally prepared for take-off, I climbed back in thinking this was another reason to be glad I’d shed those 20 kilos.
As I drove off, Dan yelled, “Fang it!”
Everyone then yelled, “Fang it! Fang it! Fang it!”
While I was ‘fanging’ the boys were being drowned in sand flying from the wheels as they spun furiously, the motor smelt like it was burning out and the whole vehicle slid and skidded along the deep-bogged tracks.
By this time we’d attracted a small group of onlookers and I nearly took them all out! All the spectators, including a fat Labrador dog, dived for the safety of the nearest sand dune. The car nearly flipped over on the top of the hill, before finally coming to a crashing stop at the top of the rough sandy track. I jumped out as fast as I could with my heart pounding and racing whilst laughing hysterically. “That’s enough drama for one day!” I thought.
Excerpt from Taking the Drop… Jill’s story
Chicks don’t surf…
The weather was starting to get colder and we needed serious wetsuits. In those days, because ‘chicks didn’t surf’, no one stocked wetsuits for females. The first winter we made do with a boy’s long sleeved vest and a pair of boy’s long john’s over the top. The only long johns in my size had a bright fluoro green trim, which didn’t match the navy red and white stripes on my mat or the royal blue flippers. As Barton Lynch once told me, ‘surfing is all about looking stylish.’ We didn’t look stylish at all, we looked daggy and we knew it.
By the second winter, my sister and I were over our mismatched outfits and headed to an old three-bedroom weatherboard house in the centre of Torquay, which had been converted into a wetsuit factory. We walked through a couple of small rooms, which would have been the living room and bedroom of the original house. There were industrial sewing machines on tables in every room, and piles of black neoprene so high they almost reached the ceiling. Eventually we came across someone to help us.
The guy working at Rip Curl that Saturday was pretty surprised to see two females asking for steamers. He explained that they did make steamers for females in standard sizes for $60.00 but they didn’t stock them, we’d have to wait for them to make some up. Or, we could pay $65.00 and get the steamers custom made. We decided to spend the extra $5 and get the steamers custom made. As I’ve already mentioned, my sister was and still is, pretty good looking and unlike me she had very large breasts. To make a custom steamer it’s necessary to get lots of very accurate measurements, for example, the exact length of legs, length of arms, circumference of ankles and wrists etc. Then there were the more intimate details such as the measurement from the inner crutch to the ankle, the exact circumference of the upper thigh, the measurement from the shoulder to the peak of the breast, the measurement from the peak of one breast to the peak of the other, from the peak of the breast to the waist, from the peak of the breast to the side seam, from the back of neck to the centre of the crutch, from the front of neck to the centre of the crutch.
Well, can you imagine the two of us standing in a room with piles of cut neoprene and a hot looking surfer with a tanned face and long, bleached, blond hair holding a measurement card in one hand and a tape measure in the other? He reassured us, by telling us there was no need to take our clothes off for this!
There were two of us, and only one of him, so very quickly he decided he needed an assistant to hold the other end of the tape and read off the measurements.
“Hey guys, need some help in here, can someone help me do a measure up of these two chicks?” he yelled across to another room. I don’t know if it was my imagination, but I’m sure he yelled the words ‘two chicks’ twice as loud as the rest of the sentence.
Before you could blink, there must have been ten guys cramped into the small room, all assisting with the measuring and recording. They argued and joked around over who should hold the tape measure at the crutch and who should measure the ankle and whether the measurement from one breast to the other was accurate or whether it should be taken again.
My sister was absolutely mortified, she just didn’t know where to look, mostly she focused on the ceiling while blushing completely beetroot. It was pretty funny. For reasons already mentioned, most of the attention was focused on her, and none of the guys were paying much attention to me. After all that, they must have done a pretty good job, because the fit of those steamers was perfect, we thought we looked pretty hot in our sleek all black wetties. I took great care of that wetsuit; it’s the only wetsuit I’ve ever owned that I’ve religiously rinsed-off after every surf.
Excerpt from Taking the Drop… Sheree’s story
Clowning around… Sheree (behind) and Danielle.
Shore dumps and how NOT to negotiate them
Shore dumps – OMG! This is when the waves crash with alarming power right onto the beach, particularly when there is a deep gully running parallel to the shoreline, and it makes exiting the water gracefully near nigh impossible. I’m sure even Kelly Slater has been mauled at least once in the shore break.
You’ve paddled out, acquitted yourself well in sizable surf, the tide is high and a latte is beckoning you from shore. You eye the dumping shore break, note the timing of the sets, reckon you’ve sussed the safest place to paddle in and wait for your last wave. You’re up and riding when some fool paddles out right in front of you, thereby cutting you off, resulting in getting caught in the close out.
“Damn!” you say to yourself, as you break the surface and dodge your surfboard as it ricochets back towards your face.
You’d planned to jump off five metres from shore, wait for a lull, then paddle like fuck till you hit the sand. However, due to our aforementioned fool, you’re 15 metres or more from shore, stuck in no man’s land and still a decent paddle to sand and safety.
“Oh well. May as well make a run for it,” you figure, as you start hauling arse towards your original planned disembarking point.
You make it to the five-metre mark with dead arms, cramps in the back of your thighs, and half out of breath. You look behind you only to see large wave after large wave, big set after big set, breaking out the back.
“Ah shit! Too close to shore, I’ll get slammed if I wait here – better paddle back out again,” and off you go towards the horizon, this time executing at least two Eskimo rolls along the way, until you’re back at the 15-metre mark.
You reassess the situation, keeping one eye on what’s happening on the horizon, and make another run for the shore. You make the five-metre mark and now you’re seriously tired. You look out the back, and here they come again – wave after wave, set after set.
“Far out, I’ve had enough! I’m going in this time,” and start paddling like a maniac, yet you feel as if you’re not going anywhere, ‘cos your tired arms feel like someone has tied cement blocks to them. You head to shore yet again, with terrified glances over your shoulder. Those big sets have broken and a giant wall of whitewash is heading your way with alacrity.
“Fuck! Fuck! Fuck!” is now your mantra – you are sooooo close to, yet sooooo far from that elusive beach.
You glance behind you again, and that monster whitewater is almost upon your fatigued little body, but you feel you’re going to make it, so you hop off your board expecting your feet to connect with sand, only to find your toes can just touch a grain or two, grains which now swirl mockingly around your feet.
You half swim, half paddle with ever increasing alarm, until just as your feet really connect with the beginning of that blessed shore, you get totally slammed from behind by the advancing whitewater. All that power needed to unload somewhere – may as well be on your head!
Suddenly you’re upside down, inside out, board God knows where, leg rope wrapped around an unfortunate extremity (hopefully not your neck), and you emerge from this carnage with absolutely no idea which way is up, and resembling a week-old crumbed cutlet.
You scramble to your feet, try to grab your board as it gets sucked back out in the receding shore dump, only to have the next monster unload on you once more. This one is just as brutal, but Huey has taken pity on you and washed you far enough onto the shore to be considered in the safety zone. Meanwhile your board, which is still attached to your leg, is doing dangerous flip flops in the shore break, and you’re already mentally ringing the local ding repairer as you observe this phenomenon.
You grab the leg rope and haul that bastard towards you, because you ain’t getting in that water again – no sireeeeeee! You succeed in retrieving your board, straighten up as much as your battered body will allow and head back on wobbly legs to the car park, only to see every person you’ve ever known sitting there looking at YOU! Humiliation at its most potent…
Does this scenario sound familiar to any surfers reading this book? I’ve done it, I’ve seen it, and to be perfectly honest it’s always bloody hilarious, so long as it’s happening to someone else!
I hate shore dumps! But then again, don’t we all?
Now where’s that latte…
Excerpt from Taking the Drop… Danielle’s story
I feel the need to share an experience, which is one of THE most humiliating of all. Anyone who has ever surfed will have endured this at one time or another and hopes there will never be a next time – the dreaded ‘Paddle of Shame’.
Hmm where to start? … I guess there’s only one place – the beginning.
OK, I’ve been out surfing for at least an hour – a great session. Slowly the tide has begun to turn and the waves are now too full to catch or the wind has come up and the waves are losing their shape – no longer holding up.
Suddenly the realisation that I’m tired and hungry hits me. The thought of hot coffee and an egg & bacon roll conjures up in my mind. I raise my index finger and point towards the beach, indicating to my surfing buddy that my next wave will be my last – I’m heading in. I’ve had a great time, had my share of waves. I am content. With that I sit and wait for my final wav … and I wait and wait and I wait – (I must have one more good wave, to take me all the way to the beach to finish off)! … Damn, that last elusive freaking wave just won’t come now.
Ultimately something resembling a wave builds and pops up. It has my name on it. I start to paddle, already visualising my cappuccino and food – damn, I fall off the back of the wave! Never mind I’ll wait for another… OK, here it comes… bugger! This time there are three guys on my inside; I’ll have to leave that one. So again I wait, … and wait… and wait. Finally another ripple dribbles towards me and I’m going to get this fucker if it kills me. Talking to myself, calling myself every name I can conceive, I struggle with stubborn arms which refuse to cooperate – I’ve now run out of steam, and once again I miss the wave. I’m too damned slow.
“OK now, keep it together.”
I mutter to myself as another bump appears. I go for gold, yahoo I make it, and I’m on my way to the shore. “Start cooking the bacon please.”… Oh oh, I spoke too soon.
Nope the wave didn’t hold up, so here I am again still in the drink, I’m only too aware that I now have no other choice than to paddle back out once more, far far away from the shore and the now much desired coffee and food, if I’m to get my last wave – all the way to the beach. I cannot, will not, end this session on half of a wave; nope it has to be a goody.
By now I’m seriously starting to get the shits, I’m cold and wilting and my surfing buddy, following my lead of my indicative last wave finger has already caught his/her last wave (all the way to the shore) and is making his/her way up the beach – SHIT!!!
I wait for what seems like an eternity, desperately and out loud I beg –
“Come on Huey send one down, pleeeeeeaaase!”
Mercifully Huey the surf god obliges and a nice little wave approaches yet again. This time with determination pulsing through every vein in my entire body I commence a thrashing action resembling an electric beater. I’m soooooo freaking keen that I get ahead of myself and the wave – the obvious result being, it pitches me down the tiny six inch face and I perfect an elegant nose dive – DOUBLE SHIT! By this time I’m too mortified to even glance towards the shore and I pray to God no one is watching me. Figure if I don’t look at them they won’t have seen me.
By now the cows have come home from pasture and the day has turned sour. I make the gut wrenching decision… I will do ‘The Paddle of Shame.’ I’ll have to paddle in, unless I want to freeze my non-existent tits off, whilst perishing out in the deep deep ocean. Yep that’s right, I will be reduced to paddling to shore because I’m just too plain useless to catch one final wave to take me in – UGH!!! Close to despair I pray no one is watching. Knowing now that greed just doesn’t pay, I should’ve been happy with the last great ride I had and taken it all the way in, but no, like an addict I paddled back out craving another and another, until now look what’s happened, I can’t buy a wave. Note to self – NEVER be greedy, call it quits whilst it’s still worth calling.
Slowly now with my head low (so I don’t make eye contact with anyone) I commence my paddle in. Keeping a very low profile I make my way toward the shore as I spot my exit point. H A L L E L U J A H and praise the Lord, I’ve reached the shore – Coffee time!