Otis is a local indigenous surfer who travels the world following his passion. His sponsors have created a surf film about Otis’ experiences that will be screening at the Hoey Moey on Saturday, February 23.
Tell us about your Aboriginal heritage …
My Nan is from the Gumbaynggirr people and my Pop was from the Bundjalung people. My Nan was born in the dunes up at Red Rock, so we have very strong connections to the land and ocean up around Coffs. It’s always such an energising feeling coming back home for a few days after being away on a surf trip; it definitely keeps me grounded coming home.
Whether I like it or not, that natural spiritual connection I have with the ocean and the land has been given to me as a gift through my heritage, and it’s something I embrace to the fullest and something I’m very proud of.
Free surfing is your specialty. Tell us more.
I’m lucky enough to be able to surf freely and live the way I want to. It’s something I’ve worked very hard for and sacrificed a lot to get to do what I do today. Being paid to free surf and call the ocean my office is something very special to me. It’s something not many young people my age can say they have and in saying that, I couldn’t be more proud to achieve what I’ve achieved to have the job I have.
How has your surfing career progressed?
I grew up doing a lot of comps but as I matured, I became aware that winning is not always the key to happiness. Freedom in the ocean is what made me feel the happiest. The boundaries and rules in comp surfing just weren’t fuelling my happiness. So, I quit surfing comps and started paving pools and patios and doing a bit of landscaping work and surfed of a weekend and of an afternoon with friends. That’s what made me happy, so that’s what I did. After a few years, I packed up and moved to Sydney. I wasn’t surfing much at all – just working in a warehouse in the city. After a few months, it turned out that I got my ex-girlfriend pregnant … that was the fuel to the fire within me. It drove me to work hard for what I wanted as a career, which was professional free surfing. Sometimes in life you need a kick up the a**e to find the motivation you need to chase the things you want out of life … and that was my kick up the a**e!
So I started surfing a lot around Sydney and surfing a lot better. People started noticing and then a few months after my son Beige was born, I had a major sponsor paying my bills and letting me be free in the ocean.
What’s your proudest career moment?
I’m not sure! I’m proud of everything I’ve achieved. I’d have to say making it to the semi finals of the Boost mobile air show last year in Bondi. I was surfing against the likes of Jordy Smith, Craig Anderson, Owen Wright, Chippa Wilson, Ozzie Wright, and the list goes on. It was cool to hang out and surf with those guys. That’s something I thought I’d never get to be a part of.
Which five words best describe you? Ha ha … gee, I’m not sure. I’m not good at talking about myself. But I’d have to say I’m fun, nice, full of colours, creative annnnnnnd sensitive!
What’s the best lesson you’ve learnt along the way?
I’d have to say the best lesson I’ve learnt along the way is how important it is to stay surrounded by your family. Your family is the back bone of who you are. I think a lot of people often forget how important family really is. And I think it’s very important to have an open mind to the world and its colours and everything that surrounds you each day. The world is such a beautiful place; a lot of people get caught up in the mainstream media’s outlook on a lot of things.
I think the mainstream media puts a lot of negativity into people’s thoughts and minds. Being negative and having a narrow mind is a very contagious thing to be a part of, so I like to keep an open mind to everything I see and hear and to all of my surroundings.
What was the starting point for your feature film? And what is it about?
I was approached by a young man by the name of Patrick Pearse, who does a lot of documentary work. He put an idea on the table, and that idea turned into a year long project which took us all over the world. The film is an honest betrayal about punk meets surfing, the feature character being myself.
It’s basically just about my character in and out of the water, something fun to watch and something different to experience. It’s a very dark, lifestyle heavy film with fast music, soft music, fast surfing … a bit of everything all flowing together.
Why did you choose to feature it at the Hoey Moey as opposed to a cinema?
Corona are sponsoring the premieres, so there will be free beers. I don’t think the cinemas on Bray St would be too stoked on Corona throwing free beer around, ha ha! The Hoey is a great spot! The showing of the film will be in the beer garden at the Hoey. It’s a cosy little spot, and we love the Hoey.
What’s been your best decision?
The best decision I’ve ever made would be having my son. It’s a hard thing to get your head around being 21 and finding out you’re going to have a baby, let alone whether or not you’re making the right decisions on keeping the baby etc.
I’m so grateful he’s a part of my life and I’m a part of his. We get to grow old together and experience the world side by side.
Who inspires you?
I find my inspiration from a lot of different things. My son inspires me before anything. He’s my biggest motivation, but in saying that, my wife Renee (Daisy) is another big inspiration, my mum and dad, my brothers and sister, my family. My good friend Ozzie. The ocean, the land, the wind, the sun, the colours of the earth. Everything that gives me a sense of belonging and a sense of freedom inspires me.
What dream do you still want to fulfil?
I’d love to own a cute little house near the beach on a bit of land. I’d love two more little kids. I’d love to learn how to play the piano. I have a lot of little dreams I’d love to fulfil. All in good time, though.
What are you reading at the moment?
I read anything Eckhart Tolle puts on paper. That guy has a very special way of thinking.
This article was published in issue 29 of Coffs Coast Focus