Bush to Boogin’

From the sticks to Aussie Champ, sessions with Hardballs and a stint with Riptide.
Above: Sophie, her brother Lachy and the one and only Ryan Hardy.

Sophie Leathers is a Year 10 student from Dorrigo, NSW – about 60 clicks west of Coffs Harbour. She spent a week with Riptide last month.

By Sophie Leathers

To most surf addicts, living an hour’s drive from the beach would provide plenty to complain about. Especially being stuck at home, watching five-foot waves pump through over the surf-cam and then later having to constantly hear about what you missed out on by everyone lucky enough to have been out. Then there’s the painful drive to and from the beach…

But there’s something about driving down a winding mountain covered in rainforest at 4:30am, hanging out the window, passing waterfalls and listening to the music scream through crappy speakers in your brother’s 1984 Telstar. Bodyboards and fins are piled in the back, you can see the ocean on the horizon and your face is already decorated in zinc, even though you still have 60 drawn-out kilometres to the beach.

But that’s what we surf addicts do, right?  We do anything for that one wave, that one rush of adrenalin, that one moment where nothing else in the world matters. Or even that one closeout where the view was incredible, which helped build your confidence in the water. People must think we’re all crazy and, in all honesty, I guess we’re not far from it.

My name is Sophie Leathers and I’m from a small town called Dorrigo. Yep, you guessed it – one of the most beautiful places on earth, but boring. Very boring. There’s not much work about and nothing much to do. It can be miserable and, worse still, extremely cold. I go to school down in Coffs Harbour and every chance I get I disappear for a few hours to the deep blue. My story, however, is a little unique.

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You might not believe this, but I can easily say I’m the only teenage girl on the Coffs Coast that practises this incredible sport. I wish more girls would get on boards and I hope I can inspire a few to get into it!

I started bodyboarding at the very end of 2012 as I wanted to do surfing for sport’s class, but was unable to cart a surfboard on three busses to and from school. The first time I went out I had next to no knowledge about reading waves, let alone bodyboarding, highlighted by the fact I put my flippers on the wrong feet… Fast-forward a year and I’m the reigning Junior Women’s Australasian Bodyboard Champion.

Before you get any ideas, no, I can’t Stone Flip, invert, ARS, air reverse or backflip… The day of the National Champs I went only to watch the event and be inspired. Next thing I knew I was being watched and hopefully inspiring other teenage girls. I was itching to surf at the time and as I was walking back up the beach Newcastle filmer Geordie Tarren asked me which event I was in. I laughed and said I was just there to watch. Everything after that all happened really quickly. The officials of the competition signed me up as a wildcard, and local DK legend, Adam Rose, taught me the rules and even called Dave Winchester over for a photo and a quick chat.

I competed in the Open Women’s event, but was judged as a junior. This led me to win and become Junior Women’s Champion. This opened up many opportunities and continues to do so. I have the opportunity to compete in the International Surfing Association World Games later this year. I try to take any chance I get to make bodyboarding a bigger part of my life.

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The champ is here!

We mentioned to Geordie that we were heading over to Western Australia over the Christmas holidays and he hooked us up to attend a few lessons with Ryan Hardy’s Bodyboarding School.

After the stunning drive to WA, my family and I first surfed at “Chappies” in Esperance on Christmas Day. Santa definitely brought us plenty of waves, not to mention a pod of 20 dolphins. We also surfed First Beach, where we met lots of locals and told them my story. Margaret River and Yallingup contributed to my knowledge of bodyboarding. We were lucky enough to have swell the entire week, surfing at North Point, Boodji Beach, Smiths Reef, Supertubes, A-frames, and Yallingup main beach. Rabbits claimed my older brother’s two fins in one go so we decided not to mess with that wave too much!

Surfing with Ryan Hardy was a big part of my progression. I learnt how to specifically read different waves to allow me to begin spins and rolls. Lots of the locals help me out too. The adults and the groms all look out for me and give me tips and advice. My Dad has always loved the set waves, close-outs and all. He always seems to be screaming down the face of some insane closeout, getting rag-dolled and eventually surfacing again. Watching him encourages me to take waves out of my comfort zone and build my confidence. Every now and then there are a few negative comments about a girl bodyboarding because my bodyboarding ability seems to get judged differently to the guys. I’ve learnt not to take anything to heart because at the end of the day I’m always improving, having fun and keeping fit. My parents are always supporting me – paying for me to do surfing as a school sport and planning trips to events. Mum puts up with our endless bodyboarding conversations when I sound like a broken record, and when she’s not shopping with me she’s driving me down for a surf. I’m so grateful to have such supportive parents who provide me with a healthy lifestyle and a good education.

My favourite place to surf in Coffs would be Gallows as I find it unique compared to other waves around. It’s really fun all the time and can get pumping when the swell’s solid. Coffs Reef is also lots of fun and can get pretty hectic at times, especially when it’s really shallow! The wave is hard to read because it’s not easy to tell if it will slam you into the reef or wrap around you, producing one of your most memorable barrels. On a good day the older guys all come out and they’re really impressive with their riding.

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In West Oz with the Ryan Hardy Bodyboarding School.

We spend countless hours watching the swell reports and surf cams waiting for the big swell to arrive, but invariably we miss it or “should have been here yesterday”. We have to make the best of a one-hour drive. Generally in Coffs you can get a wave in all conditions, which helps us adapt to the different surf we may encounter.

On a really big swell the boat ramp works well and, with a take-off behind a rock wall, it’s not for the fainthearted. I guess this is what bodyboarding is all about – the quick short take-off, bottom turn, shooting across a reef or rock-wall and then on to a clean face to do whatever seems right at the time. The wave, the energy, the ride – it’s all yours free from Mother Nature to be enjoyed. I love it!

I recently joined the Coffs Coast Bodyboarding Association and I’m looking forward to a future with bodyboarding and the journey this year. I spent a week with Riptide magazine for work experience and enjoyed every minute of it! All the guys there are really nice and taught me lots. I really enjoyed interviewing Reece Fowler and Tristan Roberts for the Youth section online. I hope to do something similar in the future as a career. Enjoy the ride that is life!
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Soph on the Gold Coast last month.

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