Imagine it! You’re 15, from Puerto Rico, hoping to make it as a pro surfer, when you get the call. You’ve got a berth on the latest leg of the Quiksilver Crossing for two weeks with Kelly Slater, Tom Carroll, and a heavyweight crew of the world’s best big wave riders, heading to some of the most remote surf spots on the planet. And you leave in two days.
“I was in California when they called me. They said, get your mum to Fed Ex your boards over,” laughs Dylan Graves.
After two days of travel, by four separate flights, a mini-bus and an overnight cruise in the Indies Trader, the tiny 15-year-old suddenly found himself being called into dredging set waves at this far-flung surfing outpost by his hero, and six-time world champ Kelly Slater.
Riding a tiny 5’7″, Dylan charged the rearing peaks. “I was a little under-gunned. I think I need bigger fins or something,” Dylan said afterwards.
Western Australia’s Ry Craike, 16, also found himself plunged into the midst of the elite crew at a couple of days’ notice. “I was like, whoa? Really? None of my friends could believe it,” says Ry, a strong goofyfoot with a taste for big barrels and wild airs.
The grommets have responded to the dream trip by charging the ledging reef waves with aplomb, egged on by the eager encouragement of their esteemed company. Slater has taken a special interest in Dylan, the current NSSA explorer boys’ champion, coaching him into late take-offs at every opportunity.
“Kelly really attends to the young kids very well. He loves to see them flourish and improve,” says two-time world champ Tom Carroll, who himself mentored Slater in the early days of his pro career. “It’s really beneficial to the kids that come in contact with Kelly. He really wants to have a positive effect.”
Dylan’s having a ball but is keen to see some more swell. “It would be fun to see it get a little big,” the gutsy pint-sized kid reckons. “They’re all going off now. I can’t imagine what they are going to be doing if it gets a little bigger.”
Will this trip improve his own surfing? “Definitely,” says Dylan, who’s already set his heart on a career in pro surfing.
Ry Craike, meanwhile, brings to mind a young Tom Carroll, as he charges the heavy right barrels on his backhand. “He’s a keen kid with a classic look in his eye,” says Tom, perhaps recognising something of himself at that age in the hard-charging teenager.
Ry’s no stranger to heavy reef surf, brought up on the infamous waves of Kalbarri, and regularly dragged out to some of WA’s offshore reefs and islands by his father, an abalone diver by trade. “Dad’s got a jetski and he takes me out all the time,” Ry explains, coolly.
It’s classic watching the interaction between the generations, and the passing on of surfing wisdom – Tom telling Ry of his own early surf travel adventures, Kelly checking out Dylan’s tiny boards, and the elders always looking out for the youngsters in the lineup.
And so far, the well-mannered, respectful grommets haven’t attracted any of the dreaded grommet abuse sometimes suffered by the youngest surfers on a boat trip.
“We’ve always got Code Red up our sleeve,” Tom cackles a little fiendishly, referring to an incident several years ago when a youngster was bound with duct tape for some alleged transgression of proper surf trip protocol. “But I don’t think we’ll need it. There’s no rogue elements on board.”