He’s known the world over for his stunning surf and nature photography and we Gold Coasters are lucky enough to claim him as our own.
We sat down for a chat with Sean about his recent run in with an Iceland snow storm and why he thinks our beaches are some of the most beautiful he’s ever seen (and he’s seen them all).
How long have you been a Gold Coast local?
I was born in Cairns and moved here when I was six and I’m 42 now, so 36 years, definitely a local.
You’ve travelled all over the world, what’s so unique about the Coast to you?
I’ve always loved the beaches, love to surf, love the southern end of the Coast, Burleigh and the community feeling here. It’s a little town within a city. You can still get away, go 30 minutes south and still have beaches to yourself and out into the rainforest. There’s a bit of everything here, it’s not too quiet, not too busy.
Is there a place here that never fails to produce a beautiful shot for you?
Burleigh cove is one place I always go, usually at sunrise. When I come home, I love getting down there because it just makes me feel back at home. I do a lot of stuff in the water at home, with the right conditions, getting out at Kirra and Snapper; you can always get beautiful clear water, It’s some of the clearest water in the world out there. You go to the Maldives and Tahiti but if you go to Kirra on those nice clear days, it’s as good as it gets anywhere. Those places never seem to fail to produce.
How often do you spend at home vs. away?
I never used to go away as much but I’ve been getting heaps of work for social media stuff, so the last two or three years I’ve spent maybe half the time away, which is a bit harder with the family. They usually fly in and meet me for school holidays and what not.
How did your photography career come about?
I worked on the Gold Coast for 11 years as an electrician for Energex and I used to take photos then and sell my work at the local markets. I did that while I worked full-time and opened my first little gallery in the arcade in Burleigh while I worked. I had a little one in Surfers Paradise too. Eventually the galleries and markets took off enough that I stepped out of my full-time job and stepped into photography. I made an easy progression and was able to continue making a living out of it.
Where do you find inspiration?
That’s the one thing I struggle with nowadays. Back when I first started, there was no Instagram or Facebook, I used the web a little bit and I didn’t buy a lot of magazines, so I didn’t really see much. You just went out with fresh eyes and saw things, now you’ve got the world’s best photographer sitting in your hand putting photos up every 30 minutes. Trying to filter that out and not copy stuff but keep original is something that still tricks me in my mind. I still love nothing more than when I’m finding new locations, even though it won’t be a location that no one’s ever seen before, to me it’s new. That’s when I seem to turn on my creativeness and photograph things the way I want to see them. When I was in Iceland, I would come across scenes that I’d seen from famous photographers and wish I hadn’t seen the photos but normally I move through it and find things I haven’t seen before.
Do you have a personal favourite shot of the thousands you’ve taken?
I change all the time. The popular ones aren’t always my favourites; I love the abstract ones more and the artistic style of shot. There’s one of the Golden Girl at Noosa surfing on a wave I’ve always liked.
How do you feel when you know you’ve absolutely nailed the shot?
With digital now it’s easy because you look at the back of the camera and have a bit of an idea but it still does trick you. Sometimes you think you’re nailing it and you get back and you’re disappointed and sometimes it’s the opposite way. When things really turn on and everything comes together, like if you’re chasing surf and ocean photos you’ve got to have the storm brew so a huge swell comes, the waters got to be clear, the winds got to be the right way, you’ve got to be in the right spot, when all that happens at once you get a bit of a feeling and that’s when I’m usually excited to race back and quickly look at them. If I don’t come back and look at them straight away, it’s usually a sign it wasn’t that special.
Your most memorable trips or somewhere you always love to visit?
I’ve been doing lots of Western Australia lately, which I’ve been loving. Iceland was pretty up there, I did Iceland, Greenland and Norway in the one trip. That was pretty wild with huge storms and icebergs. I was on my own driving through the snowstorms and almost getting blown off the road trying to take photos. It was epic though.
Any close encounters with Mother Nature in your time?
At one stage in Iceland I was standing on top of a cliff and the wind was blowing that hard it was sliding me along the ice so I had to scramble back to the car and leave. Obviously there’s quite often animals in the water, big shapes swim past and things like that. Big surf is always a bit tricky when the waves come and break right on your head and knock you around.
What advice do you have for aspiring photographers?
It’s a tricky one. If you’re doing it because you love it, it’s easy. It’s hard to just decide you want to be a photographer and that’s all you want to be. I started by being an electrician and kept this on the side so I had income coming in that I could put towards better gear. Don’t just do it for the likes and the follows, do it because you love it and the rest will come. There are a lot of people who try to do it for fame but if you love it, it will work naturally. Taking photos-wise, my biggest tip is to be in the right place at the right time, you’ve always got to be out looking. You start to get in tune with it but you’ve always got to be out. You’re not going to get a great sunrise at Burleigh if you’re sleeping in six days of the week. If you get a few bad ones, you know a good one is coming and when everything comes together that’s when you get that feeling that keeps you going and searching for the next one.
Anything exciting in the works for the rest of the year?
I’ve got the Maldives, which is a surf comp I’ve shot for the last seven years, in two weeks. I’ve got a trip to Switzerland, hiking through mountains up the top and then I’ve got a trip to Canada where I’ll be shooting the polar bears. Then I’ve got a festival at Moreton Island with Canon that I’m doing at the end of the year. Hopefully a lot of locals will come there and do a lesson.
Best piece of life advice?
There’s a few I always try to run by. One is always expect the behaviour you tolerate, if you tolerate people not treating you well, expect to be treated like that. Keep an open mind and get out there and stay positive and things seem to flow.
Being a Gold Coast local we have to ask your favourites…
Café: I like Canteen and Nook at Burleigh for a coffee
Restaurant: I love Etsu
Weekend hang: Probably the beaches from Burleigh to Coolangatta
Oh Burleigh you little beauty, what’s not to love right? Since the dawn of time (or the dawn of the GC at least) Burleigh has been one of the most-loved suburbs amongst a slew of strong contenders.
Sure, the beach is beautiful (that Hill is iconic for a reason) and James Street boasts all the best eats and acai bowls galore but it’s more than that, Burleigh has a soul of its own born of cruisy, barefoot, salty seabreeze vibes you simply won’t find anywhere else.
Gushing aside, we’ve found the best of Burleigh so you don’t have to.
We say when in Burleigh do as the locals do, so here’s our guide to the best eats, bars, shopping spots and places to visit so you can see why the locals love it and you should too (or else).
The fine dining venue has become part of the fabric of Burleigh’s bustling heart, but it’s also become one of the Gold Coast’s premier dining destinations. Tucked away on West Street, the five-star, seasonal produce-led restaurant is an absolute must-visit and your dining experience there is one you won’t long forget. The produce is sustainable and the wine list is filled with some of the most stunning natural wines in the world. The service is impeccable too, but in a fun, not-too-formal way. We LOVE.
Where: 2A/8 West Street, Burleigh Heads
Literally opening out onto the sand at Burleigh beach, Rick Shores is loved (not only locally) for its stunning sunset views and those tiny little taste sensations otherwise known as Bug Rolls. If you’ve never tasted one, you’ve been wasting your life, make a booking RIGHT NOW and order them all. Wash them down with one of Rick’s signature cocktails and you’re a bonafide Burleigh-ite.
Where: Shop 3, Goodwin Terrace, Burleigh Heads
Yum, contemporary Cantonese food, we love you. Mr Hizola’s is dishing up the goods in the form of tasty share-style dishes and we are here for it. Particularly the sizzling steak dish that is all kinds of delicious and an array of epic cocktails to match.
Where: 1730 Gold Coast Highway, Burleigh Heads
If you’re looking for fancy food but with the relaxed vibe that’s quintessentially Burleigh, look no further. The stunning space offers incredible Vietnamese dishes inspired by Head Chef Jake’s trip through Vietnam and a desire to eat some of the very best street food in the world every single day. Same. It’s a refined style of dining paired with mouthwatering cocktails and a sleek, paired back vibe. Jimmy Wahs is one of the Gold Coast’s most impressive eateries and we are big fans.
Where: 1724 Gold Coast Highway, Burleigh Heads
Burleigh Town Hotel
If you haven’t seen this new reno, then where have you been? One of the best glow ups on the GC recently (in our humble opinion), Burleigh Town Hotel has nailed the pub-style menu and good vibes. The perfect place to set up for the arvo with your besties and the kids, there’s loads of space for the little ones to roam and plenty to keep them entertained while you kick back with a beverage in hand. Say less.
Where: Tsipura Drive, Burleigh Heads
Burleigh Gelato Co
We’re softies for the sweet deliciousness that is gelato. Burleigh Gelato Co know how to deliver on flavours worth melting for, they’ve got all the classic Italian flavours you know and love along with their own signature specials. Guaranteed you’ll love them un-cone-ditionally.
Where: 9 Connor Street, Burleigh Heads
The guys behind Seadog know coffee. Starting as a humble little hole in the wall – literally – Seadog has become the go-to for a quick bite and a brew. And don’t worry, your eyes aren’t playing tricks on you – you really are seeing double because you’ll find the crew on the bustling James Street or down the other end at the old faithful Burleigh Bowlo, perfect spot for a piccolo and park hangs.
Where: 8/50 James Street, Burleigh Heads and 1, Bowls Club, Connor Street, Burleigh Heads
Tarte Bakery & Cafe
There’s good reason this gem is heaving at all hours, the home of the iconic muffin top (IYKYK) and some of the best coffee in town, it’s not just locals who love it – you’ll find Gold Coasters and beyond flocking here for a taste of the goods. Come for a coffee and to get around their huge menu with something for everyone – literally, it’s impossible to not love something. Plus, we’re pretty sure it’s mandatory to leave with a pastry in tow – go on, you deserve it.
Where: 1748 Gold Coast Hwy, Burleigh Heads
Social by name, social by nature – Social Brew is one of Burleigh’s best coffee hangouts whether you’re looking to catch up with the crew or a spot to work for the day, there’s a reason these guys have stood the test of time. A staple spot to visit in Burleigh for their signature iced coffee, come for the caffeine and stay for the bites.
Where: 34-36 James Street, Burleigh Heads
The baked goods that come out of this friendly little bakery are honestly something else. Owners Geoff and Lisa are passionate about baking and opened Burleigh Baker to provide us with the best tasting and most nutritious Artisan Sourdough and boy do they deliver. They use only the finest ingredients and the traditional process of fermentation. Do not buy bread anywhere else. You’re welcome.
Where: 13/50 James Street, Burleigh Heads
Something To Drink
Paloma Wine Bar
From the brains that brought us Labart is the one and only Paloma. This small but mighty wine bar has one of the largest selections of boutique wines (we mean, it is in the name) with some seriously epic eats to accompany. We can’t go past the steak frites – seriously, don’t sleep on this – and if you don’t know where to start on what to sip the expert team always nail the reccos. Pop a Pet Nat on your must-try for something a little bubbly or if you’re more of a red drinker, their signature chilled reds are the ultimate for a hot summer’s day.
Where: 12 James Street, Burleigh Heads
It’s the good time, slightly fancy Australiana bar of your dreams and it is perfectly at home in Burleigh Heads. Rosella’s very quickly became a firm local favourite when it opened last year and with both a drinks and food menu made up entirely of Australian produce, we are in love. There are cocktails made with Nutri Grain, some of the tastiest toasties around and all the very best Aussie beers. It’s refined, beautifully decked out and created by a couple of absolute legends. Love.
Where: 6/1734 Gold Coast Highway, Burleigh Heads
Justin Lane Rooftop
Don your finest frock and rally up your girlfriends for a Sunday session and a spot of people watching on the roof at Justin Lane. With cocktails in hand and a balmy breeze blowing in through the windows, you need never go anywhere else again. After a few hours, pop downstairs for one of Justin’s famous pizzas and that’s your Sunday sorted.
Where: 1708 – 1710 Gold Coast Highway, Burleigh Heads
A somewhat hidden little speakeasy in the heart of Burleigh Heads, Lockwood Bar specialise in all of the very best varieties of whiskey along with many a local tipple transformed into tasty cocktails. It’s a laidback, jazz bar kind of vibe, low lit, often with live music and once you’re inside, you likely won’t want to leave. We dig it.
Where: Justin Lane, Burleigh Heads
Burleigh Brewing Co.
If there’s one thing Burleigh deserves (the big legend), it’s a brewery and Burleigh Brewing Co. certainly delivers. After opening in 2006, Burleigh Brewing Co. has produced nine delicious drops with delightful names such as ‘My Wife’s Bitter’ and ‘FIGJAM’ – perfectly Burleigh. Get a sixer for Netflix and chill or head into the brewery from Wednesday to Sunday afternoons to get amongst it. There’s live tunes too, what a combination.
Where: 2 Ern Harley Drive, Burleigh Heads
Something To Do
Well hasn’t this simple little piece of Mother Nature become a local legend? No matter the day of the week (but particularly Sunday arvos) “the hill” as it’s affectionately known is packed with picnic rugs, ball games and groups of revelers basking in the sunshine. Looking out over the ocean and with the city in the distance, it’s the perfect spot for a late afternoon lemonade or early morning coffee date with the crew. If you’re feeling energetic, take a stroll around the hill to Talle Creek for some Insta-worthy scenery or if you’re into hill and chill then order some takeaway and perch up on a picnic blanket to soak up the scenery.
Where: The south end of The Esplanade, Burleigh Heads
Burleigh Bowls Club
A relaxing little beachside club loved by young and old alike, Burleigh Bowls has been around since 1937 and is certainly a prime piece of real estate these days. Barefoot Bowls roll on from 12 to 5pm every Sunday and it’s a measly $5 per person including coaching and bowls (AKA ball whipper snappers). Live music can be heard on Sunday arvos from 2 to 6pm. Get down and support your local while sipping on a schooner.
Where: Connor Street, Burleigh Heads
David Fleay Wildlife Park
Nestled in the heart of Burleigh Heads, David Fleay’s is a wildlife park with a difference. Stroll through the tranquil surroundings to experience some of Queensland’s most iconic natural habitats and meet the resident wildlife — all in just one day. Explore the park solo or join the dedicated Park Rangers at the daily wildlife shows.
Where: Corner of West Burleigh Road and Loman Lane in West Burleigh
Shop With Us
If you’re in need of some retail therapy then James Street is the only place you need to go. The range of shopping has everything you need whether you’re looking for some new additions to your home from Maison & Maison or to update your wardrobe at Emte you’re guaranteed to leave suitably more stylish. If you’re looking for the perfect piece of art to dress your walls at work or home, Art Yarramunua is our pick for their incredible collection of indigenous art, expertly curated to celebrate the rich cultural history of Australia’s indigenous communities.
Where: James Street, Burleigh Heads
Burleigh Farmers Markets
Everyone’s favourite Saturday morning market adventure. Get up early, grab your basket and set out in search of fruit, veggies and of course, your first coffee of the weekend. These days the farmers market also boast locally made clothing and homewares, flowers, meat and seafood and delicious breaky and lunch options. There’s also live music and plenty of laughter floating around. Happy days.
Where: Burleigh Heads State School, Gold Coast Highway, Burleigh Heads
The Village Markets
Our beloved boutique fashion and lifestyle market, The Village Markets, is home to hundreds of local makers and has helped to launch the international careers of countless creatives. Head down for an early morning coffee and breakfast while wandering through the stalls until it’s time for lunch. Oh, and there’s always live music if you need a breather. It’s the best way to spend a sunny Sunday
Where: Burleigh Heads State School, Gold Coast Highway, Burleigh Heads
Authentic Italian food is a rare luxury in Burleigh Heads, or it was, until the arrival of Pepé Italia.
Connor Streets’ latest eatery is owned and operated by three friends (one a chef) all of whom moved to Australia three years ago from northern Italy. Sounds good so far, right?
Using traditional recipes handed down from Nonna, the menu is filled with all the Italian dishes you know from arancini to homemade gnocchi, but there are a few lesser well known dishes that will have you preaching ‘Viva Italia’.
For entrée, don’t go past the house specialty Olive All’ascolanaa – green olives filled with pork, beef and chicken then crumbed a fried. As if the tangy goodness of olives wasn’t enough, now they’re stuffed and fried. Mouthfuls of salty perfection.
Prepare to have your mind blown by Spaghetti Alla Positano in Crosta di Pizza – a mouthful in more ways than one. It’s calzone cooked in the pizza oven filled with spaghetti and Napoli sauce, cherry tomatoes, prawns, calamari, clams, mussels and parsley. Even the biggest eaters will struggle with this one.
Make room for the Pepé, this is the pizza of choice made on a truffle puree base and topped with fior di latte (a soft Italian cheese), porcini mushrooms, sausage, rocket, Parmesan cheese and evo oil. It’s all your truffle dreams come true on a pizza.
An all-Italian beverage menu offers the original red Peroni (who knew) and imported soft drinks all the way from northern Italy to your grateful tastebuds.
Every minute detail has been taken care of to ensure an entirely Italian experience. Open for lunch and dinner, prepare yourself for a feast.
HOURS: Daily from 8am to 10pm
LOCATION: 11 Connor Street Burleigh Heads
Words and photos by Kirra Smith.
Viking wannabe’s rejoice, you can now tick axe throwing off your bucket list thanks to newly opened Lumber Punks in Miami.
That’s right Gold Coasters, you’re actually allowed to throw axes (at a wall, relax) of all shapes and sizes in the name of good times and ultimate satisfaction.
It goes a little bit like this. You roll up to Lumber Punks, get yourself a safety briefing, learn the correct throwing technique and let the fun begin. You start small and work your way up to the quite heavy, need-two-hands-to-throw-it kind of axe.
You can go by yourself, on a Tinder date (hey, it happens) or with a group of friends. Each session is 1.5 hours and you can make a competition of it or simply release a little bit of pent up frustration.
Be warned, it’s a strange sensation, throwing a sharp object as hard and fast as you can at a wall and not getting in trouble but, once you’re over that little hurdle, it’s a very good time.
The sport is popular the world over, with over 30 centres in the US. There’s only one other axe throwing centre in Australia and Lumber Punks is Queensland’s first.
Owners Tyson and Sam, former hospo pals, literally had the idea to open the venue during a “business meeting” in the backyard, consuming beers and partaking in their favourite pastime, you guessed it, axe throwing.
The two threw around a few other ideas including a restaurant and outdoor furniture but ultimately wanted to share something they loved and give Gold Coasters something a little bit thrilling to do (you can only throw so many bowling balls in a lifetime right).
Oh and ladies, in case you’re thinking it’s more for the fellas, think again. 40% of the worlds axe throwers are women and we’re quite good it turns out because it’s more about accuracy than brute strength. Go girls.
If you’re after a bit of an adrenaline rush without the whole risking your life part, chop chop, sharp pointy objects await.
LOCATION: 19 Ozone Parade, Miami
HOURS: Thursday, Friday and Monday 4pm until late and Saturday and Sunday 11am until late.
Words and photos by Kirra Smith