Surf 'n' Ink 2013

Published: 26 March, 2013 - Featured in Skin Deep 223, April, 2013

Bikinis, exotic animals, a more than liberal dose of the yellow ball in the sky – nice work if you can get it. Aga Hairesis gets shipped off to Surf n’ Ink to make sure nobody is having too much fun out there… though, now she’s back, we’re not sure who was the winner of that scenario.

I arrived at Heathrow airport on Christmas Eve. Despite freezing cold winter weather, I was wearing sandal wedges and the only warm piece of clothing considered for the whole trip – my Levi’s jeans and favourite Knuckledust hoodie. With a suitcase full of bikinis I was ready for tropical weather; and with a backpack full of camera equipment, I was ready to fall in love through my camera lens with everything that Australia had to offer. Ready for the four-week adventure I sat in my window seat with a selection of books to keep me company, plane took off and the 33-hour journey began…

I was excited about visiting a friend in Townsville, Queensland, seeing friends from First Blood at their show in Brisbane and all the other attractions that were planned for this trip… but the main purpose of this from the beginning was Surf n’ Ink Tattoo Festival.

What were my expectations of this event? Hmm… after spending already a couple of weeks in Queensland, travelling down the coast and checking out some random tattoo shops on the way I had mixed feelings towards the potential quality of presented works at this show. Saying that I need to admit, that majority of the shops I visited were typical ‘tourist tattoo factories’, where I believe, even if the tattooists over there had some artistic skills – they’re pushed aside by the almost ‘copy and paste’ market demand. I kinda felt sorry for those guys when I realised how many kangaroo or koala bear tattoos they need to make daily. I should really be quiet though, considering that I got myself a souvenir tattooed on my arm too… I’m such a tourist!

However, after getting to know Ozzie’s amazingly chilled, fun personalities and very laid back lifestyle I knew the atmosphere at Surf n’ Ink would be totally different to what I’m used to at European events. Therefore, whatever happens quality wise, the overall experience will be definitely worth all the hassle of getting myself over there.

I arrived in Gold Coast on Thursday, January 10, and went straight to the famous Surfer’s Paradise – one of Australia’s most iconic coastal tourist destinations. I can honestly say, it became my favourite spot for its nightlife, shopping and beautiful, wide sandy beach contrasted with incredible cityscape. Pretty amazing to have such a great, busy location just 15 minutes away from the festival… speaking of which, let’s go back to the subject that brought us here in the first place – Surf n’ Ink.

The fourth edition of this event took place for the very first time in Mercure Gold Coast Resort in Gold Coast suburb, Carrara. A beautiful hotel with palms, pools and everything you’d need to enjoy your time in that heat wave, not so uncommon in the middle of Australian summer.

Conveniently, I stayed at the resort. After a nearly 5,000km road trip, sleeping in hostels and in the car, checking over 30 various locations between Daintree National Park up north and Byron Bay in New South Wales, walking into a bush fire and skydiving from 14,000ft… I was very stoked and hungry for more thrills and experiences. But I was also tired as hell, so when I walked into my hotel room I just hit the air-con to the coldest mode, slipped onto the bed and didn’t move for whoever knows how long…

The convention kicked off slowly early afternoon on Friday; with the entertainment repeating itself over the weekend I didn’t have to worry too much about missing anything. There was a hula-hoop and belly dancer, a couple of bands, capoeira show and fire performances. How cool is it to watch fire performers while sitting in the pool, ha? The highlight of the weekend however, was the Miss Surf n’ Ink contest with some real beauties participating.

I need to say here though, the entertainment itself wasn’t very exciting and there’s definitely room for improvement, but for European girl coming from a winterland, just having a pool was already pretty fun. Especially when after a long day of work I could just drop the equipment, the clothes and dive in.

The layout was quite interesting. The main stage where all the performances and contests took place was located just by the outdoor pool. What a great idea for visitors to jump in for a swim or just cool off in a Jacuzzi while following the program on the stage. Tattoo booths and vendors were located in the Masters Ballroom upstairs in the hotel. Space worked pretty well, and most importantly, was very well air-conditioned. It might seem like a minor detail, but considering 36°C temperature outside that felt like 45°C, it was very important! There was another area on the other side of the hotel, approx 100 metres away – a fun park with bouncy castles for children, DJ, graffiti and skate park. Great idea! But because of it’s separate location it was unfortunately quite forgotten by the visitors – I only managed to get there once myself.

After quickly familiarising myself with what’s going on where, I could finally pay some attention to the artists working at this event. From not such a long list of names I knew only a few, so I was pretty excited about checking out some new and local artists that I’ve never seen or heard about before. Besides, I was never that up to date with the Australian tattoo scene, so it was a great opportunity for me to broaden my horizons. My first impression after checking a few portfolios of some local artists was how inconsistent they are! Not only quality-wise, but theme-wise as well. I’ll always advise everyone to stick to what they do best or what they enjoy doing the most, because there’s not many people who are great at doing everything.

It was a great relief finally coming across Christopher Jocobson’s portfolio. A relatively new artist, working at local Frontline studio in Surfer’s Paradise. As it turns out, he’s a Denmark-born artist who moved to Australia as a young child. His main thing clearly is traditional, but doing some more research about his work and visiting his workplace, I was amazed by his incredibly well-executed and composed oriental pieces. His eye-catching paintings are also worth mentioning. Chris won Saturday’s Best of the Day award – young blood and already very successful, way to go!

Another great Australian artist, already quite well-known in Europe for his realistic works and vividly coloured portraits, as well as beautifully detailed, contrasted to perfection black and white pieces, is Benjamin Laukis from Pure Vision Tattoo in Melbourne. Ben ended up winning five awards this weekend, including one for Best Colour Portrait, Best Chest Piece and Best Male Sleeve Black and Grey.

Talking about awards, I need to mention that I unexpectedly  became one of the judges for the Saturday and Sunday contests. It’s the first time in my life I was in such position and I can tell you all right now, it’s not as easy as it seems! Especially when judging Best of Day or Best of Show pieces!

During this experience I had the opportunity to see countless tattoos up close, including some stunning works completed at the convention. But I also saw many tattoos damaged by the sun too… so when two colourful, bright racing themed sleeves by Grame More from Gothic Realm appeared in front of my eyes, I was like “when did you have that done?” Both were over three years old. Dean the owner of one of them said that he never exposed them to direct sunlight; even at work or for driving he wears long sleeves. Grant, the owner of the other sleeve perfectly summed this up saying “you gotta take care of your art”. On this note, let’s get back to the artists…

Another one well worth mentioning is Horihui from Taiwan. His choice of colour and execution of detail is simply stunning; it was no surprise one of his pieces won the Best of Friday award.

The last artist I need to mention here is our European representative – an incredible artist I hope I don’t need to introduce – Remis, from Remis Tattoo in Dublin. Let me tell you, he made us proud! Not only did he produce a few fantastic black and grey portraits, but he also won a well-deserved Best of Convention prize for one of them.

The overall quality work was definitely better than I expected. The overall atmosphere however was exactly as I imagined it to be; very friendly, fun and laid back. I had a great time! To end, I’ve got a little suggestion to European tattoo convention organisers – when choosing a new location for your next event, please consider having a heated pool. This will never fail you!

As usual, everything that’s great comes quickly to an end. Surf n’ Ink and my road trip are over, and from 36°C I had to go back to -6°C. Thanks for the warm welcome London!

Winners List

Best Chest

1st place - Benjamin Laukis
2nd place - Jeremy Cook
3rd place - Margo Ho

Best Black & Grey Portrait

1st place - Levi Barnett
2nd place - Benjamin Laukis
3rd place - Remis Tattoo

Best Colour Portrait

1st place - Benjamin Laukis
2nd place - Joel Salter
3rd place - Sean Henry

Best Foot/Feet

1st place - Marco Ventura
2nd place - Marco Ventura
3rd place - Rachi Brains

Best Hand/Hands

1st place - Nathan Lavell
2nd place - Travis Smith
3rd place - Benjamin Laukis

Best Oriental

1st place - HoriHui from Taiwan HoriHui Tattoo
2nd place - Damien Gerrding from Empire Oxenford
3rd place - Justin Swallows from Fat Ink

Best Male Black & Grey Sleeve

1st place - Benjamin Laukis from Pure Vision Tattoo
2nd place - Neil Braithwaite from Coolum Tattoo
3rd place - Damian Leigh from Empire Tattoos

Best Male Colour Sleeve

1st place - Grame Moore from Gothic Realm
2nd place - Grame Moore from Gothic Realm
3rd place - Justin Swallows from Fat Ink

Best Female Black & Grey Sleeve

1st place - Alee Jane from Helensvale Tattoo Mafia
2nd place - Sean Holdinghausen from Loco Tattoo
3rd place - Neil Braithwaite from Coolum Tattoo

Best Female Colour Sleeve

1st place - Marco Ventura from SURF n Ink Tattoo Studio
2nd place - Renee Lee from Art n’ Soul
3rd place - Neil Braithwaite from Coolum Tattoo

Best of Friday


Best of Saturday

Christian Jacobson

Best of Sunday

Remis Tattoo


Text & Photography: Aga Haireisis