Downstream, with Nikki Van Dijk (The Gallery)

by stab March 08, 2016 4 min read

Photos: Kane Skennar
Words: Lucas Townsend

In this place, everything is slow. The traffic past Sunset Beach Elementary school. The wait for a marginal ride in any lineup. A green light for competition. A response from anyone to do anything remotely productive. Even the ranger who tried to debunk my lied answer when she asked if we were shooting commercially or not in her gorgeous waterfall park lacked quick wit. Hawaiian time, they call it. Slow.

The water now trickling past Nikki Van Dijk’s body runs slow, too. It’s much less frustrating than every other handbreak on this island. It’s therapeutic as it hums towards Waimea Bay. Nikki’s lying in a rock pool, 200m downstream from where the falls first spill from the cliff tops and onto the heads of Chinese tourists, marine-ready in lifejackets. There’s little light, blocked by a weather front, which teases to leave. What’s left cuts through a dense canopy and branches twist overhead, Avatar-esque, as we make for our own shoot. The theme: Blue Lagoon, the 1980’s romantic film by Randal Kleiser. Young Brooke Shields, sans the gent.


Nikki lies between boulders smoothed by centuries of sculpting. Her movements are light and the gentle water movement tugs her hair slightly, like smoke from incense. Her dress, loose and of fine fabric, wets fast and hugs her stomach and never did I have more motivation to stop drinking beer. Or eating anything. Ever.

“Your body is like a little car engine,” she says, running her fingers through her hair. “You put bad gasoline in it, it’s going to run bad. Put good gasoline in it and it’ll run forever.”

Premium. Got it.

Nikki, as opposed to this island, is fast. Remote beginnings will do that to a girl with ambition. Phillip Island, Victoria is home, a fisherman and a teacher, parents. It takes roughly an hour to check the whole island and variety breaks often here. Her brother, Joe, is an underground junior sure to put it together now that the burden of school is behind him. And sister, Nina, like so many other touring siblings, rides the CT as manager. There’s hints that this is a particularly tight unit. And Nikki is onstage wearing the Dutch name proud.


“The waves at home are really good,” she says. “From my house it’s 40 minutes to one end of the island and about 15 to the other. Smiths Beach is home, but there’s points and slabs all over the island. I’m so used to hanging out with guys all the time, because I was always the only girl out surfing.”

“Dad got me into the ocean. He loves it. He’s travelled over Europe, lived in France, and we grew up on stories about how amazing Hossegor was. It’s funny now, that I actually go there and for him to share that with me means a lot.”

She speaks with comfort, as if she’s known me for years, a friend I first met that one time, back at that place. She jokes and teases and giggles and it pains me to describe it as a giggle, because it seems forgettable that way. But it’s sweet, not quite a hard laugh but a voice for a warm grin. There’s a real Gilmore-quality to her. Happy to just be here, and to be surfing and tasting the world’s flavours and not much else. And with this comfort comes stories I didn’t expect to be told.


“Dad was hit by a train when he was 21,” she recalls. “He was saving his dog who was on the track and a train came, clipped him and he got thrown off. He was in hospital for months and months and his shoulder was destroyed. Being in the ocean is the best thing for him now.”

Time at home is rare when you’re on a tour with a new cash injection and a business plan. While Nikki’s rise was fast, too (world junior champ in 2012), it hasn’t been to the heights she’d hope since meeting the Gilmore-Wright-Moore-Fitz clique, so totally bitchy they won’t let anyone else into the top four. But, Nikki’s 20. The results will come.

We stroll through the park for hours. Spotting new angles and ponds of ideas. It’s nice. Pleasant.

“This is what I’ve been waiting for!” says our photographer, Kane Skennar, as he unpacks his camera and begins fixing lenses and changing SD cards rapidly.


I look at him puzzled. Nikki clambers over larger boulders this time, the size of oil drums, into a fast-running section of water. She lowers herself into the rapid. The water, icy cold, shoots goosebumps down her skin. It’s gushing over her shoulders, down her front and along her legs. She’s shivering. Gradually turning a deep purple. But, that ambitious quality sticks, and she grits through. Suddenly, Nikki is illuminated in light. Kane begins hurriedly shooting her, dropping his trigger for just a second to point through the trees to the mountain above.

“Bonus light!”

The entire mountain face was golden. The front had passed and the last moments of sun before it crept behind more tangible obstacles is on. Between the speed with which Kane moved, Nikki posed and the sun set… it was the fastest thing I saw on the rock.


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