On The Java Ridge
I used to have a little rule.
Don’t trust people who have an article of clothing as a name.
Crazy I know, but no more than the prejudices against black cats, Fridays on the 13th of the month and magic number combinations.
At least 3 cigarettes off the same match has a basis in history. Three people off one match in wartime supposedly gives an enemy sniper enough time to draw a bead.
Anyway that was a rule. Then some very good friends named their son Spencer and he is a cool kid and the name works so I had to bury that weird little superstition.
So imagine my thoughts when reading a book by a man who is named nay glories in the strangely odd and yet attractive moniker of Jock Serong.
Yes I know the spelling is different, hell for all I know the pronunciation could be different than the western appropriated wrap but Jack Serong?
Double barrel clothing name. Freaky right?
I mean nobody is ever going to be named Singlet Boardshorts are they?
Or Tuxedo Bra?
Or Spencer Tunic? Actually that one is real, look him up. He specialises in asking otherwise sane people in their hundreds to take off their clothes and go group nude swimming in freezing waters so he can photograph them. Surely only a demon using evil spells could do such a thing.
I raise these important issues because Jock or the Jockster as I am going with is an Australian novelist of some skills and his third book manages to combine boat people, surf travel in Indo and Canberra political machinations in a good book called On The Java Ridge.
Now from the research I have found out the Jockster is a former lawyer and is lucky enough to live on Victoria’s south west coast where if you surf you need to have some get up and go because headhigh is a small day and as characters like Wayne Lynch have shown, surfing double overhead on your own in sharky water after jumping off rocks and paddling a lazy 200 metres to the break is kind of par.
Now I am not saying that Jock is doing these moves but in terms of writing about surfing and more precisely surf travel on a boat he is on the mark. And more importantly because in the end this is not a surf travel novel but a thriller he can cover his characters’ motivation in Canberra politics, our plucky heroines’ thoughts and actions and the agonies of refugees searching for a better life all very well.
When he writes about being in the ocean on a boat when bad weather comes and things turn to shit and you are a refugee who can’t swim and has never even seen a body of water larger than the width of the Yarra I think he really nails it. His refugees risking everything for a better life have seen fear and war and they have desperation and a resignation at the same time.
What is always interesting too is when the characters are in a paradise and it is then that things go to shit. It makes for much more entertaining books, movies and TV when people are jerked without warning from a life or even a brief sojourn they have really desired and worked for.
I guess it is the opposite to The Walking Dead for example where the show’s title is showing its true meaning and every day now is an endless fight for survival. So a day where no zombies are spotted, they eat well, find a bottle of unopened single malt and a cache of military weapons and just sit around behind a big wall talking and playing guitars is a rare relief but no longer has the shock.
But back On The Java Ridge if I have any criticism the first twenty pages didn’t grab me by the throat but the longer it went the better it got. I would have also liked to have seen a bit more character development because if the very beginning was a little slow the narrative really fires up after that and some of the characters who seemed interesting miss out on some detail before disaster strikes. However the plot is solid, the action comes thick and fast and the conclusion is shocking and I think believable.
I will be reading more Jock’s work and I suggest you give him a run too.
On the subject of surfing in fiction writing the area has seen some spotty results. Tim Winton has been Australia's best at it but even some of his work seems to get a bit overwrought. And this is a writer who is really one of the finest Australia has produced.
I prefer Kem Nunn who is not so well known but very worth checking out. His books based in California feature surfing much more than On The Java Ridge and are good reads even for non surfers because like Jock’s book they sit in either the crime or thriller genres anyway.
Tapping The Source, The Dogs Of War and Tijuana Straits all have strong film noir elements in them and as well as being bloody good reads would make pretty good movies in the right hands. And lets face it if surfing in novels has not fared well its portrayal in movies has been even worse. A successful attempt is well overdue.
So the six mainstream movies that have surfing as a core feature of the plot that are worth watching?
Slim pickings really, I guess we have to have Big Wednesday, Point Break and Blue Crush, although they all have some good points none of them are great movies.
Gidget and Ride The Wild Surf are better than any of the other beach party movies of the 60s so they scrape in.
Best of all though might be Australia’s own Puberty Blues. The movie doesn’t have anyone catching Indo perfect pits or 30 foot closeouts but like Blue Crush your protagonists are female and in a different way trying to make it in the male surfing world. Very Australian and in some ways dated, the events portrayed are spot on for the beach culture of the 70s into the 80s.
At times funny, sad, tragic and wince educing Puberty Blues rings truer of long hot Aussie summers at the beach to me than any of the others.