BURNING VAN FESTIVAL
By Chris Binns
Legend. This title isn’t thrown around lightly in Australia. One must earn it.
Partying: Copious amounts and always the life of it.
Surfing: Holding your own in the brine. Not an easy task on the Gold Coast.
Nudity: The more unexpected it is and the bigger the crowd around to witness it, the better.
Wetsuits: Never. Those are for sailors.
Chris Binns - aka Binnsie - is not only the Editor of Australian Surfing Life magazine he is a legend and has spent a lifetime achieving this status around the world. They say for every city he has visited there are 1,000 broken hearts, 1,000 empty pints, and 1,000 epic tales. Here is one of them.
Through a friend-of-a-friend type deal, I had two American guys passed out in my lounge room. These two Seppos (Aussie rhyming slang for Americans – Yanks – Septic Tanks), AY and Tyler, were in despair as their dream three-month surf vacation had gone pear. Their trip started off well enough. They bought a typical backpacker van in Brisbane, cruised north to Noosa for a few waves and then intended to point it south and spend a month or so rolling and surfing the 2,500 kilometers to Melbourne.
First though, a big weekend on the Gold Coast, my hometown, was required. So big in fact that the lads pulled into town, got out of their van and jumped straight on the booze without bothering to unpack anything. Not on Friday night, not all day Saturday, and definitely not that evening as we staggered out onto the town. Unfortunately for the boys, from the dizzy heights of a Saturday night of mayhem in Gotham City (GC, think about it…) they soon came crashing back to Earth with one hell of a thud.
“My friend Tyler and I returned to Nobby’s Beach at 4 a.m. in a taxi to find our van on fire with police cars parked around it,” read AY’s police statement. Welcome to Australia. Turns out an icehead had broken into the van (badly painted backpacker mobiles are thief magnets around these parts), lifted a couple of iPods and a wallet with two hundred American dollars in it, and stolen off into the night. But not before he had casually lit the seats ablaze. By the time the boys got back to the hood the police had collared the crook, but their van was engulfed in flames. Inside? Everything. Four surfboards, five fin sets, two laptops, a couple of cameras, two backpacks full of clothes, and one of their passports.
The boys went to the station as the sun rose and gave two hilarious statements, more focused on their adventures leading up to 4 a.m. than anything to do with their van. The first thing my mates and I heard was when the pair met us at breakfast at a local café. AY stumbled over, slurred something about “everything is burned” and threw a pair of charred playing cards down on the table. He pointed at the empty car park across the road, asked us what was missing, and that was when the penny dropped. The photocopied police statements filled in the rest of the blanks, and suddenly I had two homeless guys, owners of nothing more than the clothes they were wearing, moving into my house.
The next week saw the boys to and fro’ing from the cop shop, trying to sort out their travel insurance situations, and drowning their sorrows. Every night I’d get home from work to find the fridge stocked with beer and the boys itching for action on the town. They were allowed access to their towed van and Tyler’s passport was the only thing they could salvage. Eventually, everything was falling back into place. A good friend at Billabong put a call to action out amongst the GSM brands (Bong, Nixon, Kustom, Von Zipper, Palmers) and buffed the boys from head to toe in new clothes and all the luggage they could want. They left with better gear than they came with. A friend in Melbourne had some boards for the pair, so they booked flights to get down there and resume their original round-the-world tickets, next stop Bali.
It was all of a sudden Saturday again, and AY’s birthday. There was only one thing to do: send the boys on their way in style. And goddamn we did it once again. I woke groggy the next morning to a text message from AY saying, “Lost my passport and in jail. Might be staying longer.”
Thankfully he was joking, but when I dropped the boys at the airport a few hours later and they told me they’d left a thank you gift in the fridge, they weren’t kidding. I got home to find litre bottles of tequila, vodka, rum, and two bottles of Chivas Regal. The couch surfing bar had been set. Maybe Seppos aren’t so bad after all.