Ellie Francis misses her white horse named Blue that she rode as a kid on her family’s wheat and sheep farm in Appila on the tip of the Flinders Ranges, but right now she is enjoying the ride of her life – on a surfboard.
From that backyard filled with farm toys, to having a spectacular surf playground living on the edge of a cliff at Middleton in 2009, her life probably could not have changed more dramatically.
A wave of success has seen Ellie, now 21, progress into the World Surf League Women’s Qualifying Series, but it’s not easy… another 208 equally fiercely competitors also have her amazing desire to make the big time – finishing in the top seven to compete in the Women’s Championship Tour for just 17 of the best surfers in the world.
Ellie is currently ranked 81st, and in this professional world of surfing it is a magnificent effort. By comparison with the world’s current best, Australia’s Tyler Wright, Ellie is still like that “kid from Appila” in terms of experience and body strength – 5cm shorter and 8kg of sheer muscle lighter than our world champion.
However, a day doesn’t pass when Ellie doesn’t work amazingly hard to be better. She moved to the Gold Coast to live with family friends shortly after completing Year 12 at Investigator College, and is now back home to compete in the inaugural Southern Surf Festival right in her Middleton surf playground from April 27-29. The event brings a great community spirit and a history of surfing treasures together for a three-day festival of surfing state titles complemented by live music, surfing films plus art and culture. This is the first festival of its kind in the state, and has received magnificent support from Surfing SA, and the Alexandrina Council, which has pledged backing for the next five years. That’s brilliant.
These three days are obviously also crucial to Ellie – the elusive series points; the fact that her greatest fans – mum and dad Vicki and Kim, and sister, Georgia, plus friends will be watching. However, Ellie also sees the bigger waves in this picture – what it means to Middleton.“This event will bring more attention to the sport in South Australia, and an opportunity for more events on the coast with good sponsorship,” Ellie said.
“Surfing is a big part of our coast; it brings tourists to our region and it’s why we need top surfing events for them and locals to watch. It’s great for our small businesses.”
Most days Ellie’s quest to be the best she possibly can in surfing starts at 5am doing 90kg squats at the Hurley High Performance Centre in Casuarina, northern NSW. At six she has surf training with a coach, and during the day surfs to work on techniques.
There is the intense surf training, including twice with a trainer who specialises in competitive work, plus working on the technical aspects of the ever-limit pushing routines that these days have more mid-air twists and big, strong turns.
“Yes, the routine restricts my social life big time,” Ellie says. “I mean, I sacrificed a lot of things here back home. A lot of kids at school wanted me to go out with them, but I couldn’t. I still don’t go out much on weekends.
“I am not a big fan of alcohol, which is good. There is this perception of surfing being about heavy drinking and playing up, but it’s not like that really, certainly not for the ones who have goals. There are some who surf for fun and compete locally, but at the higher level everyone is very strict on their health. Going out late at night can be very costly; it’s the real game changer.”
It has been a personally rewarding national and overseas journey from when Ellie first started surfing as a 12-year-old with her dad, and learning from renowned local coach Mark Longhurst, and his son Max, who competes on the incredibly tough men’s Qualifying Series.
Ellie’s aim now is to finish in the top 20 this year and then top seven to get into World Championship Tour. “You are then the best,” she said. “It’s not about the money, even though it’s getting better; an event can carry $5000 prizemoney.
“Roxy (part of surfing manufacturer Quiksilver) supports me with product, and it helped me find a part-time job, but I work hard to pay for rent and just living costs on the Gold Coast. I now live with my sister, and without the support from my whole family I wouldn’t be able to do anything.
“There have been a lot of challenging times, but my family has always been there for me.”
Yes, like most people searching for ultimate success, there have been a lot of sacrifices, indeed challenges. Try leaving a beautiful white horse named Blue.
What the Festival is all about...
The Southern Surf Festival from April 27-29 will be a true celebration of surfing in South Australia, incorporating all aspects of our unique and inclusive surf culture. It will feature moren than 200 competitors vying for state championship status in shortboard, longboard, stand-up and kneeboard surfing along with a wide range of family friendly activities.
The event is more than just great surfing action over the three days – there will be a board swap, music, art and surf movies.
The state titles for seniors, juniors and veterans will be predominantly at Middleton Point, with some at Waitpinga and Parsons beaches, on the Friday from 8am-4pm and on Saturday until 5pm. The Sunday from 8am-5pm is a more “fun day” including a twin-fin event and an interclub teams competition attracting SA-based clubs from Yorke Peninsula to Robe. Of course, a surfing festival needs a big night of live music and entertainment – its at the Middleton Tavern on the Saturday night from 7.30.
Surfing SA chief executive Craig Potgieter said the support from the wider community and Alexandrina Council had been outstanding. “This festival brings together a wonderful community and surfers,” he said.
“There is so much surfing history in this region, and for the community to help put together this event to celebrate surfing is a magnificent achievement.
“We want to make this surfing festival something special for Middleton and the south coast for many years to come.”
Friday – Surf Film night at Middleton Hall.
Saturday – Surfing championships, market, beer garden at Middleton Point and live music at Middleton Tavern.
Sunday – Surfing championships at Middleton Point, vintage board display at Abbott’s Reserve.