The Pursuit: Fraser Dovell
It's 7am in Bondi. It's grey, dark and cloudy. Outside the rain falls sideways. My sweater is still dripping from walking between the car and the front door. I'm sitting on the couch next to Fraser Dovell. Surfer, adventurer, chair-maker and star of "A Corner of the Earth". Steph Gilmour's just won her eighth Women's title & fortunately for me, I've arrived in time to watch the last heat of the Men's final.
FD - I remember when Sports Bet came out with surfing. I was like “oh I’m going to be really good at this, I know heaps about surfing. Then after three events I was like “okay I need to stop”.
Felipe wins. Neither of us had a bet on it.
What's been happening man? Surfing much?
FD - Yeah a little bit. I just surf Tama[rama] solo mainly. And Bondi sometimes. Bondi’s had fun banks the past few days. The last few months have been pretty terrible though.
What about when the surf isn't working?
FD - I’ve got too many hobbies. It’s just too much. My car is so hectic at the moment. It’s got like 5 surfboards in, golf stuff, a tennis bag. Diving gear. I need to rein it in
Sitting next to Fraser are three beautifully crafted, clearly hand-made, wooden chairs. Two are pristine, with deep brown wooden frames that have been sanded and polished enough to shine in the soft morning light. The third isn't finished yet. It's seat only half weaved.
What's the story with the chairs?
FD - I make them. This one is made out of old shelving. I built those two out of our garage in Avalon. I love this one. There’s a lot of detail in the legs here. A whole lot of planning & sanding. Weaving them takes so long too. There’s 8 runs and each run is 10 metres of cane. I love it. You just sit there and play records and fully relax.
Well that's awesome. Any particular records at the moment?
FD - Well my flatmate mixes vinyl so has heaps of old records. Check this out - Jay Z, Funkadelic, Roger Sanchez - this one is so good
On the wall above the chairs hangs a black surfboard covered with white sponsor stickers, graphic designs & what looks like Russian typography. The top of the board has obvious knocks & compressions in it's surface. More than you'd normally expect from footmarks.
Your board has taken a bit of a battering mate...
FD - Haha It’s got a hole in it from roof racks. It was pretty hard communicating with people from the resort we stayed at in Kamchatka. We had to strap the boards to the top of these four wheel drives & snowmobiles, but they had no idea that boards, like, break. They were strapping them down tighter and tighter on these metal cages. Trying to communicate “be careful" was pretty hectic”
This winter, we kitted out Fraser & the rest of the Corners of the Earth team (Spencer Frost, Guy Williment & Letty Mortensen) in our next generation of steamers and sent them off to explore one of the wildest, most isolated coastlines on the planet - the Kamchatka peninsula. In the name of "Research & Development" (and good, old fashioned adventure), the crew braved freezing cold water, snow storms and sub-zero winds, putting our wetsuits to the ultimate test.
What boards did you take with you?
FD - Misfit made them all especially for the trip. All in these amazing different colours. It definitely takes a few surfs to get used to 7mm rubber under your feet. You always put a little more volume in your boards. You’re heavier. The water seems heavier. Paddling is a bit restricted. You want that little bit extra in your boards. It’s nicer to have a bit more volume under your feet - You definitely pump up your normal shortboard a bit for support. I took a bunch of 6’0 and 6’4 twins too. They already had plenty of paddle power in so we didn’t play around with volume on them too much
I love the designs
FD - Rad Dan did all the little graphics. They’re all little Russian icons & sayings. Each board has different ones on them. The locals were frothing on them so hard. My grey board had a little Russian character called Chiperaski - that’s what we ended up calling ourselves for the trip. We were the Chiperaski gang. That board ended up getting snapped off my legrope and smashed into the rocks like kilometres out to sea. It’s hanging on a wall in Kamchatka somewhere now.
photo by Guy Williment
Kilometres out to sea. Freezing cold water. Completely inaccessible by road. Russian wilderness. It's all pretty gnarly. How did you cope with the conditions?
FD - I was okay in the cold. Most of the time when you’re catching heaps of waves its fine. It’s when your sitting out there for half an hour waiting for swell when it hurts. Duck diving was just the gnarliest brain freeze you’d ever have. You just sit there holding your head, waiting for it to blow over you. You can’t practice for it, you just cop it. It’s all fine in the end. There were times when we'd come in from a long surf and have lost all feeling in our hands. The worst thing is it’s warmer in the water than it is outside. Getting changed in the snow when you can’t move your hands is the worst. We were really lucky we had good gear. That was absolutely key. There was a real importance on having amazing gear this time. We were in places where things could have gone wrong so quickly, and there was nothing nearby. It was absolutely the middle of nowhere.
photo by Guy Williment
And the rest of the boys?
FD - Letty did so well. I thought he’d be terrible haha. He didn't have any previous experience with the cold. Spencer is such a machine. Funk did such a good job too. The place was just so beautiful, he was almost overloading. Every new set up he was sprinting around so excited, screaming. I never expected to see a landscape like that. There were a bunch of days where we’d surf in the morning, come back to camp & snowboard in the arvo. Then finish it off with a beer in the hot tub. The snow was amazing - just power. It was so good.
What did the locals think of you guys rocking up to surf in winter?
FD - The people were such legends. They were so psyched to have us there and pretty blown away that we were actually surfing in winter. Watching the guides work was amazing. They were so good at making us feel safe and comfortable in unsafe conditions. We're just a couple of lads from Avalon, they definitely looked after us.
Apart from the obvious, what sort of "unsafe" conditions are we talking about?
FD - Well while we were there a volcano exploded 4 hours north. Pretty sick. We were surfing at the time so didn’t really hear about it. I was pretty happy about leaving before the bears woke up too. Apparently 10 people in that city die from bear attacks every year. They were just waking up as we left. The guides saw three while we were still there. Imagine coming in from a surf and being met by a bear? Hectic.
You're all mad. I love it. Where's Next?
FD - I want to go back to Scotland so badly. There’s so much character there. It’s just so beautiful. The countryside. All the little towns. There’s so much culture. I miss the pubs. Everyone is so nice. Also, I’d love to go back to Iceland. I feel like there’s a lot more to be discovered there. The Northern lights, in particular, were incredible. It was perfect for me. I’d just park up with a few tallies (beers), laying in the snow watching. The boys were running around trying to shoot it. I’d have to say “hey lads, try and look up from time to time. It’s pretty beautiful". That whole trip was insane. I feel like we got away with something there. We put ourselves in some crazy situations. Living out of a car in remote Iceland for like three weeks. It was after the Premier of the last one (A Corner Of The Earth) that everyone really realised how good a job Spencer & Funk had done. We did that off our own back which really added to why it went down so well. It was us having a punt, not knowing what we’d get. It was sick that we ended up scoring, because there was a real chance we wouldn’t.
Over the next few weeks we'll be dropping conversations with the rest of the Corners team, as well as sharing some pretty exciting news... In the mean time, make sure you follow the trip's official Instagram page (@the.corners.of.the.earth) as well as our account (@projectblanksurf) for updates & announcements.