Love, Lust and Jazz at the Single Fin Mingle
“There’s this weird feeling of happiness, this feeling of, ‘Oh! We’re back!’. It’s so exciting… it’s going to be hard not to drink tonight”.
Dawn at Wellington airport. I waited to board a plane to Christchurch. I was a zombie, trudging around the gate half-awake. I had a terrible night’s sleep. Not because I was sick or because my feet were numb again or because cats were fighting in my front yard.
But because it was the night before the 2019 Single Fin Mingle.
As my body lay sluggish, my mind summersaulted, excited like a small child before Christmas. Sometime around 2.00am, I drifted away…
If coffee wasn’t going to wake me up, a phone call with Hello Zukeen photographer Cam Hay would. He was already in Sumner with a freshly minted hangover, rambling away.
“There’s this weird feeling of happiness, this feeling of, ‘Oh! We’re back!’. It’s so exciting… it’s going to be hard not to drink tonight”.
And so, the Mingle beckoned. The migration was underway. Hoards of blonde-haired, board-lugging surfers had already descended on Sumner from all corners of the globe.
The annual trip to Sumner has become a well worn path in recent years. And for good reason. Attending the Single Fin Mingle is like catching up with an old friend - the jazz, the the sunshine, the surf and of course, the people. Attend one year and you’ll be back the next. For most, it’s a vortex too good to consider escape.
But let’s not get too sappy here. We’ll save this kind of sentimentality for the outro. And who knows what would happen at this years Single Fin Mingle? It could have been a fucking disaster! Highly unlikely, but let’s cut to the opening ceremony shall we?
The Mingle Begins
As the sun drifted westward, low across the Christchurch sky, a crowd of Minglers made their way to the Sumner Surf Life Saving Club, beachfront in the little seaside town of Sumner.
To the someone walking past the club, unaware of the happenings inside, the event probably resembled some kind of 70’s themed dress-up party. Of course, it wasn’t a dress-up party. It was the opening party of the Single Fin Mingle. Wearing all sorts of vintage tweed, flares and turtlenecks, the excited crowd gathered about and the reunions began:
“Woah! Shit! Evan! Evan! Good to see you mate!”
“Oh my goodness! Noel! Good to see you too! Wow!”
“How long has it been? Shit it’s been a while!”
“Since the last Mingle! Oh my gosh you are looking dapper…”
Vintage garb has become a trademark of the Mingle. Event organisers Ambrose McNeill and Bradley King actively encourage Minglers to dress retro for the occasion. This is something repeat attendees take very seriously. Very seriously. So much so, that the winner of this years best dressed award admitted that she’d spent the past year “getting her shit ready for the Mingle”.
Each year, the event opens with the Mihi Whakatau welcome - a traditional Maori ceremony that brings the Sumner locals and the visitors together as one family.
Soon after, registrations began and delicious cider and beer began to flow, courtesy of our fine friends at Three Wise Birds and Corona. Bless their little hearts. The Minglers do love a good tipple. There were only a handful of parched moments at the Mingle.
Complimentary beer and cider in a movie theatre? At the Single Fin Mingle gala night, naturally. After the opening proceedings had come to a close, we shuffled across the road and pilled into Sumner’s Hollywood theatre for one of the rowdier nights one can have at the movies.
So, after a stellar array of films, we dragged ourselves out of the cinema for some healthy kick ons. To be honest, most Mingle nights run away from you and blur into the early hours in a whirlwind of vicious carousing. The kind of antics that take place between 12pm and 4am at the Mingle are a true indicator of the anti-competitive element of the surf ‘competition’.
A pleasant hangover
Thank goodness for the Allpress coffee caravan at the Mingle. I really mean that. With scattered minds, we dragged ourselves down to beach, straight for the Allpress caravan for a brew.
The Mingle area at the beach is a cute, amicable haven, humming along like it’s set up there, doing it’s thing every weekend - people sipping coffee, chatting about the night before, reuniting, competitors making their way through the crowd, jazz music playing out over the PA. It’s a very pleasant way to spend a hangover.
Each heat at the Single Fin Mingle seems to be a loosely contained kind of affair - a good natured, nonchalant, ‘you take this wave and I’ll take the next and afterwards we can talk about what happened’ kind of scenario. I can almost imagine a 30 minute heat go by without a wave being ridden:
“Do you want this wave? It’s all yours mate!”
“No, no, no. It’s all yours! Go on, take it!”.
“Woops! There goes another set unridden! Oh well, we can sit here and chat until the next set comes!”
Something like that.
But of course, that’s ridiculous. Waves are ridden. Beautifully.
The forecast looked pretty rubbish all week - small with a devilish cross shore wind. And to be honest, on arrival, the waves didn’t look too good either. It proved to be more than enough. The surfing, as usual, was spellbinding. These are, inarguably, some of the best longboarders in the world.
I’ll let the photos do the talking. Here’s a bunch taken by the two event photographers - Hello Zukeen’s Cam Hay and Brett Johnson of Walk Wild Studio. Brett hoped the ditch from Sydney, Australia and took some stunning shots both in, and out of the water. Cam was up to his usual high jinks, talking to nearly everyone, shutter clicking away. Together, the boys did a hellishly good job of capturing the event.
Goodbye day, hello night
As the Christchurch sun began to fall from the sky, day one of competition came to a close. It was high time to move from the beach to Sumner for a frisky evening of art and music.
Stop numero uno was the LEstrange gallery for the Mingle art show. Californian artist Ty Williams was the man of the hour. He brought his enchanting ‘SEA-peration Anxiety’ exhibition to the Mingle.
I think surf art has a tendency to get a little same-same. Not Ty’s. His style is uniquely his. Here’s a neat line from his website bio:
“His work is playfully sarcastic and fancifully sublime with an element of innocence and heartbreak.”
Fancifully sublime! The work was colourful, irreverent and yes, fancifully sublime. The Minglers were enraptured. Little red dots, marking sold work, sat next to most of the paintings. I think most people at the exhibition would give their left foot to have their homes full of Ty’s work. I would.
Stop numero dos was The Village Inn car park for the Single Fin Mingle Village Party. It would be the biggest social event the Mingle has hosted. 600 Minglers. Double the capacity of last years event.
Pre-event, event organiser Ambrose McNeil was touting the event as, “the best party Sumner has ever seen”. We were all feeling dangerously excited.
Sumner locals, The Butlers kicked off proceedings. Like the Mingle, or a fine wine, or maybe a stinking block of cheese, they seem to get better every year. Onstage, they play through their songs with the finesse of a lusty bull finally let out of it’s pen.
Next up was China Beach, an outrageous seven piece disco funk outfit from Melbourne. It would be a gross understatement to say they got the crowd dancing. It was as if the band had time-travelled straight from a 1970s disco club to present day to play the Mingle.
A sea of Minglers drifted to a fairly notorious flat in Sumner to mingle a little more. The flat is perhaps the most hated (neighbours) and loved flat in the country. About 40 visiting surfers stay there each Mingle. The parties are indisputable.
I lived in Dunedin (read: dirty, drunken student grotto) for six years and I’m taken aback every time I visit the Sumner flat. That’s saying something. In the backyard there’s a half-pipe and 50 or so longboards scattered about the lawn. In the garage there is a full band set-up. And in the lounge, spray-painted in splattered all caps on the wall is ‘BOWL CUT WANKERS NO LEASH?’.
It’s a wonderful institution. It took us through to satan’s hour.
Finals day at the Mingle
Another heaving morning, another slow trudge to the beach, straight to the Allpress caravan for a long black.
The Esplanade was humming. It was a beautiful day for the finals. The swell was slightly larger, a tad disjointed with a funky wind, but still more than enough for the finalists at the Mingle.
Now, a note on competition. Ambrose is pretty quick to downplay any serious notion of ‘competition’. Each year he reminds the competitors, “you won’t win the contest if you go home early”. And no one does.
But I tell you what, by the second day, many of the competitors really do want to win. And that’s not to say it’s grossly over-competitive. There’s no hustling, no pre-heat stretch routines. None of that crap. It’s all fun and good-natured.
But people do want to win. The Mingle is a world-renowned event. It attracts competitors from all corners of the globe. The international contingent is as big as the kiwi contingent.
And now we’re talking the finals of one of the most loved log festivals in the world. Of course you’d want to win. I talked to surfers who admitted to nerves. Surfers who were disappointed to lose before the finals.
And so, this competition thing - what if no one cared about the results? The surfing would be nowhere near as impressive. I guess that’s the point. The Mingle is a fine balance of surfers having a good time and surf in front of their friends.
Contesting the final was Luke Oneill of Sumner, Christchurch, Euricoro Maguero of Portugal, Mike Lay of the United Kingdom and Joshua Wollett of the Sunshine Coast, Australia. Before paddling out, the finalists deleted a Corona each, apparently to “level the playing field”.
The attendees took their positions on the rocks, lusting, ready to groan orgasmically with each wave ridden. And groan they did.
Eurico’s style seems to be the embodiment of European finesse. Between his groomed moustached, freshly ironed shirts and jazz hands mid cutback, Eurico is inarguably the slickest competitor in and out of the water at the Mingle.
The guys traded waves in rapid succession. They were on a tear and everyone was feeling a little sorry for the judges.
Riding in the womens final was Daisy Thomas of Dunedin, NZ, Ivy Thomas of Collangata, Australia, Roisin Carolan of Noosa, Australia and young-gun Teegan Bishop of Rangiora, Christchurch.
Ivy seems to be trickster of sorts. Is she goofy? Is she natural? I could hardly work it out at the rate she was switching her stance.
The wave of the final, no doubt, was ridden by Daisy. A smooth walk to the nose, toes hanging and then back to the tail for a hail-mary, rock and roll floater, disappearing in an evil explosion of white wash, only to reappear, Houdini style to ride out of the manoeuvre. Gnarly.
Like the mens, it was nearly impossible to call.
The Mingle came full circle as we gathered back at the surf life saving club for the closing ceremony. The sun shining, the Minglers glowing. It was a fitting end to another beautiful day at Sumner.
A couple more beers, a couple more ciders, it didn’t feel like a Sunday at all. After many, many thank you’s, it was time. The results:
1st: Daisy Thomas
2nd: Ivy Thomas
3rd: Roisin Carolan
4th: Teegan Bishop
1st: Mike Lay
2nd: Josh Wollet
3rd: Euricoro Maguero
4th: Luke Oneill
At risk over over-romanticising the Mingle, here’s five thoughts to finish:
1- After last years Mingle, I made a vow to quit short boarding for good. I would become a shortboard celibate and dedicate myself to logging. I lasted two days, mostly because I didn’t own a log. But a year later, at this years Mingle, I got my mitts on a spiffy Harry Bergman custom.
In the weeks following the event, back in Wellington, I found myself paddling out in demonic, howling on-shores and cross-shores, pushing my stubborn log through appalling wind-slop at Lyall Bay - conditions most surfers would consider offensive. Such is the power of the Mingle.
2 - The Sunday night of the Mingle was a howler.
3- The surfers aren’t allowed to use leg ropes at the Mingle and not all heroes wear capes. This legend ran into the sea during the finals to catch one of the competitors boards floating towards the rock wall.
4- There’s a real lack of pretension at the Mingle. For a festival that combines jazz, traditional longboarding, arts and retro get-ups, it’d be a safe bet to assume it would be frequented by a big crowd of too-cool, no-good hipsters.
Not at all. The Mingle is down to earth and dare I say it, heartily kiwi. One of the competing surfers affirmed this to me at the event, explaining that friendly atmosphere at the Mingle is unmatched at any other long boarding festivals around the world.
5 - Mike Lay’s acceptance speech. We were all feeling a little tired and sentimental by the closing day. It was a moving piece of work.
“Also, I’m going to bring in the attacks from a couple of weeks ago, because with them as the context to this contest, this feeling of community, of togetherness is something that I think, as humanity we can learn from. There’s a lot of love here. Everyone shows a lot of love. And if only we can spread this love to people, then hopefully we can make a positive change in the world.
And I think surf contests like this can seem like insignificant things, but when they’re done so well and the spirit is so full of passion and enthusiasm and love, then it can have a positive effect on the world. So thank you for bringing these people together and making a really special event. And thanks guys, I had a really, really lovely time surfing with you. It was the only time I felt human today, in the water. So yeah, thank you very much”.
Put simply, the Mingle is a unique event. It takes all the things we love about surf culture - wave riding, style, music, fashion, art, people - and jams them onto one classy, vintage clothed, booze soaked weekend.
It’s hellishly fun, so fun that one Mingler told me “as long as the Mingle runs, I’ll be here every year for the rest of my life”.
Every year? Who knows. But 2020? Count us in. We’re already counting down the days.
Words by Sam Fraser-Baxter