On the road into Margaret River, the faint outline of a graffito is scrawled on a sign marking the township’s boundary. The buffed tag is all that remains of the ‘River Rat Pack’.
The River Rat Pack were a fervent mob of grommets who religiously frequented the Margaret River mouth afterschool. Most kids made their own way to the beach, and were left to roam wild with their mates until it got dark.
In recent years the River Rat Pack has dissipated into the background, but in its heyday the group’s fierce competitive spirit helped spawn the likes of Creed McTaggart and Jacob Willcox.
Jacob attributes much of his arrival onto surfing’s world stage to the influence of his Rat Pack contemporaries, and says the brutal politics of unsupervised grommethood were all part of the fun.
“It definitely adds an extra competitive edge to your surfing, trying to outdo your mates,” he says.
“I used to look up to Creedo a lot when we were younger. He was probably the most inspirational out of that whole crew. Some of the other ones I didn’t really like cos they tied me to a tree at school. It’s pretty funny looking back at it. I actually think there’s not enough of that anymore, so it’s good. Surfing has become so serious.”
The wave itself is unconducive to high performance surfing. A mushy reform in a sheltered bay, its saving grace is accessibility and consistency. It offers respite from the relentless summer breeze, and in winter, it gets better as everywhere else on the coast gets worse.
“The wave is actually pretty dog shit,” Jacob says.
“Everyone just likes it cos it’s so easy. You get a lift down after school, or ride or walk down at whatever, and the car park is just there and you’re looking straight into it - most waves look pretty good when you’re looking into them. It’s just convenient. I reckon if it wasn’t so easy no one would really surf it.”
There was no definitive moment in the Rat Pack’s demobilisation. Instead, as the corporatisation of surfing cultivates our image from pot heads to professionals, many parents have realised surfing as a legitimate career prospect for their kids and the River Rats have faded away.
They’re now replaced by a new age of grommets, often watched by doting parents wielding video cameras and analysing every move. Jacob says he has mixed emotions on the loss of the cultural identity that helped define his childhood.
“The younger kids now, they’re not really exposed to a lot of things we were, there’s always parents around now, and kids can’t run free down to the ‘River Dog’ anymore,” he says.
“People take surfing real serious now, and that’s cool, I don’t have any problem with that. It’s pretty cool that parents have got more interest in it too. But you surf because of the fun. That’s why everyone started surfing in the first place. It’s not much of a pack anymore. Just a couple kids.”