Catching up with Shark Island’s next gen ripper.
Above: Mr Fowler putting it on the line close to home (from the printed pages of #198). Photo: Sam Venn
Interview by Sophie Leathers
Reece Fowler is a 17-year-old from Cronulla who has grown up surfing one of Australia’s most infamous waves – Shark Island. The talented cat also made his way into the Youth section of Riptide #198. We caught up with Reece to find out about his future in bodyboarding and what it’s like to surf one of the country’s heaviest slabs. Read our past Youth interview – Spain’s Oscar Garcia – here).
Reece. Photo: Sam Venn.
I first got into bodyboarding when I was about 12 or 13, when my older brother Morgan got me my first board and took me out. I had so much fun surfing with all my mates and just being in the water and having a good time. I was hooked. I like [growing up in Cronulla] because of the friendly vibes from most people and getting to surf Shark Island. People in the water are always hooting and yelling at each other… the vibes are the best on a pumping day! Local guys [I looked up to are] pretty much all of the older guys out the Island. There are too many to name, but in particular Wazza [Warren Feinbeer] because as I was first getting into bodyboarding my mum started to date him and he taught me nearly everything I know.
Cute Cronulla invert. Photo: Sam Venn
My mate Riordan first took me out [to Shark Island]. It was only like two-foot, but I was still scared. I remember taking off on one wave and just looking at the rock and wanting to get off. It took a long time to get confident. I think I got over my fear by getting encouraged to go by my mates and the older guys. When I started taking waves I began to see that it wasn’t actually as bad as I thought.
Heavy days at home. Photo: Sam Venn
My most memorable day would have to be the 23rd of March 2011. It was the first time I went out at Shark Island, big and pumping. I paddled out by myself, but when I got out there Dez from Emerald and everyone else helped me out a lot, telling me where to sit and making sure I was alright. Everyone knows each other out there and if someone got hurt there would definitely be somebody to help. There’s also heaps of support going to younger groms, which is good.
He goes left too! Photo: Sam Venn
I have copped some bad ones [though]. One stands out in particular. I can’t remember how big it was that day, but nobody wanted the wave so I took it [but] I was in the wrong spot and couldn’t make it. I got wrapped in too much and gurgled onto rock. It sucked me over on to my face, cutting it up. I’ve seen some pretty gnarly beatdown’s. I’ve seen someone go straight on a good six-foot wave from the peak. I was out there when Kane Baker ruptured his spleen. That was probably the best afternoon session I had last year. There was only about six of us out.
For a 17-year-old who looks like a 15-year-old, the man has some figs. Photo: Sam Venn
The young guys [that are ripping] are still older than me, but the one that’s really pushing me the most would have to be Josh “Blacky” Kaihe. He always gets me keen to surf and he goes some real gnarly waves, which encourages me to go as well. The last thing that really impressed me out the Island was just seeing Andrew Lester surf. Everything in his surfing’s so clean and good. Watching him I get to learn a lot, like how he scoops, where he hits a section, etc. On a good day it’s really hard for me to get a good wave [at the Island]. All of the older dudes regulate. I’m still down the bottom of the pecking order.
It’s all about the scoop. Photo: Sam Venn
[Last year’s Shark Island Challenge] was the best experience. I was nervous, but I was really excited. I paddled out with Dez because he was in my heat. That kind of kept me calm and from overthinking what to do. Competing with people that are at the top of the sport – Ben Player, Ryan Hardy, Dave Winchester – watching them ride the Island impressed me. I learnt to adjust my riding to try and do what they do. I had a heat with everyone I’d met before except Hardy, but as soon as I paddled near him he gave me a friendly greeting and started to talk to me. At first I didn’t really know what to say, I was so excited. I didn’t end up going that well [in the contest]. I got one big one in my second heat, which was pretty low. It had heaps of steps and went really heavy. I didn’t make it and hit my back on the bottom. I’m not sure what I placed overall.
Reece on the big stage. Island contest. Photo: Cameron Staunton
My approach [with bodyboarding] is to try and surf as much as I can. I’d love to chase being a pro, but with school and being in Year 12 I can’t get as many days off to surf as I’d like. I try to surf before and after school as much as I can. If I don’t become a pro I’m not too sure what I’d do, but hopefully something in computers.