Riley Laing, 14 and a demon of Shipsterns
He can’t drive for another three years or buy a beer for another four years, but Riley Laing is already surfing Shipsterns, in Tasmania, at the kinda size that most men don’t want anything to do with. Riley developed his palate on some of the unfriendly bombies around North Entrance, where he lived on the Central Coast. He rides a 5’5″, steps up with a 5’8″, paddles Shipsterns on a 6’2″ and tows on a 5’4″ shaped by mentor Dylan Longbottom. He wants to surf Chopes and ain’t fussed on whether it’s a left or a right, s’long as he can push himself in as big as he can get at. Before reading, think, just for a moment, about what you were doing when you were 14. When Stab calls, the pitch in Riley’s voice is arresting. Only for the reason that after looking at these pictures, a manly bass-heavy reverberation is expected.
All photos by Sam Ross.
Stab: Hmm, 14 years old huh. Y’get scared?
Riley: You’re always a bit scared. If I wasn’t scared I wouldn’t do it, ’cause being scared makes you wanna do it that bit more.
How do you go getting days off school to chase a swell? I’m getting home schooled now. So, when the waves are bad I do extra school hours, and when it’s pumping I can take a day off and go surfing all day. Like, after surfing at Shippies, I had to come home and do school work all day.
You can’t drive a car or ski yet, so I imagine you have a network of water chauffeurs around Shippies. Whose wing do you fly under? Billabong have a ski down there, so if I’m gonna go down they’ll ring up Mikey Brennan and see what the swell’s doing, then I link up with him down there. But Mikey wasn’t there this time, so I met up with Laurie Towner and Wade Goodall, they towed me into a couple. Mark Mathews and Ryan Hipwood whipped me into some too, and Marti Paradisis always looks after me.
Steaming for the step. On his biggest one, Riley was lucky enough to bounce over and land on his inside rail, straight into a bottom turn.
What’d you eat for breakfast on Friday morning? We didn’t have the best breakfast ’cause it was so early. It was 4:30 and all that was open was the servo. We just grabbed water and some lollies and hit it.
Tell me about the step. It was funny when Laurie Towner whipped me into this big one in the arvo. I was going across and saw it and knew I was going down. I went over it and as I did, I fell back a bit and landed on my rail, but it was my inside rail so I landed into a bottom turn and it actually helped me. I pulled up into it and got spat out, and I could see everyone in the boat, Kelly Slater included, cheering me on and ya-hooing. It was the best feeling ever.
Any special recollections from Shipsterns? On Saturday, a pod of Killer Whales came through. They. Were. So. Big. It was so scary. I looked over at the boat and everyone was making these hand signals like there was sharks in the water or something. Then behind the boat I just saw the biggest shape come up. Mark was yelling for them to come get us but they were all on the boat laughing. Then Hippo came and picked up like eight of us on the one ski.
“I’ve had some bad wipeouts there,” says Riley of Shipsterns. “Had my both gloves and booties ripped off.” Looking at that lip, it ain’t hard to picture.
How many times surfing Shipsterns does this make it? I went last year in September, that was my first time. This was my second. This time around I paddled for a coupla hours with everyone and got three or four waves. Then it jacked up real quick and everyone started towing. That’s when I got my good tow wave. Then it went onshore and that was session over. The next day we paddled again in the morning and Mark and Hippo towed me into a few.
What’s your stance on towing? I used to tow a lot, like last time I went to Shippies it was all tow, but I’ve been wanting to paddle more and this time I tried to paddle as much as I could. When it got bigger everyone started towing so I thought I better swell. Everyone’s starting to paddle Jaws and those crazy waves. I’m starting to paddle a lot more at the bombies around home so I get more experienced. Then when I go somewhere like Shippies I’ll be better at it.
What kinda career trajectory y’envisioning? I’d like to be all-round, I want to do comps and be on the world tour one day, but I wanna be able to chase the swells with everybody too, and get big shacks. I wanna do it all. – Elliot Struck
When it all comes together, there ain’t a sweeter moment than this.