Tina and I are on our way to my first-ever stand-up paddleboarding lesson. “Hilarious,” says Tina. “I refuse to miss this!” She’s even dragged out a bulky, ancient camcorder to document the occasion. She will mercilessly record it all, whether I skim effortlessly over the water or gracelessly get dumped off the board.
We’ve hired the gracious Paul to drive us around the Gold Coast. He chatters away about his expat life in Dubai where he worked as a engineering project manager for six years. Dubai is on my list of places to go so I grill him about the details. As he talks about Dubai schools for his four kids, and starting up his taxi business upon his return to the Gold Coast, the beach communities south of Surfer’s Paradise tick by.
Like a child I tick off the name of each town out loud, interrupting Paul. “Broadbeach, Mermaid Beach, Miami, Burleigh Heads, Palm Beach.” They sound exotic yet familiar. Jokingly, I say it looks just like Florida. Paul and Tina don’t get the joke. Why should they? Miami Beach and Palm Beach are names that belong as much to Australians as Americans.
The Gold Coast kind of does look like Florida. It shares the same DNA as any beach community worldwide. The low-slung buildings, the glimpses of ocean, pedestrians dressed in perennial lightweight clothes even though the sky is overcast and it is the beginning of the Australian winter.
In fact, the next few days are the coldest on record for the Gold Coast. I’ll wish I had packed more than my L.A. standard-issue jacket that doesn’t block out the wind.
The restaurants, shops, service industries all begin to blend into one another as we whiz by. This isn’t the usual blurriness as a result of staring out a car window. There is something about Gold Coast signage that nags at me. It is difficult to differentiate one sign from another. There is no individual branding reflected on any of the signs. The typeface on the signs, the size of the signs, the color of the signs – the same. Sans serif black type on a white background. Is there an ordinance against capitalistic individualism? Neither Paul nor Tina knows.
The issue of the Australian individual capitalist ‘rocking the boat’ becomes more pertinent after a conversation with son Justin and father Paul Mitchell, owner of the stand-up paddleboarding company that give me a lesson. Despite being world-class paddleboarders, Justin and his brother Jamie can not find sponsorship at home and must look for it abroad (i.e. USA). They give me an earful about Australians not being bothered (“Laid back,” says Tina) or rushing to endorse something new with dollars and cents (“Really laid back,” says Tina). These dudes just taught me how to paddleboard in five minutes or less and they have to go knocking on another country’s door for sponsorship dollars. Now that is really hilarious.