Catching Up With Steve Cooney

A moment in life with the man who rode the first wave at Uluwatu.

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People who’ve adorned Surfing World’s covers over 51 years are each caught in a moment of their lives – almost invariably the peak of their careers, and their physical prime. Appearing in portrait, in a barrel or high above a lip, the image is only ever a moment in a life. How the surfer got there – and where they went next – is a fascinating thing to explore. Steve Cooney will live forever in surf culture as the 15-year-old kid who caught the first waves ever surfed at Uluwatu in Albe Falzon’s seminal surf film Morning of the Earth (yep, he’s also one of the silhouettes on the cover). A regular on surf trips up and down the coast for SW during the early 70s, Stevo scored his first cover in November 75. He continues to live and shred on Sydney’s Northern Beaches today.

SW: The early 70s must’ve been a whirlwind for you. Do you remember winding up on the cover back in November 75?
SC: I remember it well. Peter Crawford took it. I was on an orange-rail board built by Bill Cilia down at Nirvana on the Central Coast. It was a nice little board, that one. The barrel was at Dee Why Point – it wasn’t a huge day, just average size, but really nice down the inside section. Peter was sitting down there shooting. I was often photographed in the first few years after Morning of the Earth came out in 1972. I think people saw me as a free-surfer in those days, and I guess I was known for my tube riding.

What was going on in your life in those years between Morning of the Earth and the cover shot?
When I went with Albe to Indo in 1971, I was 15. In between that trip and Peter’s cover shot, I’d left school and was sponsored to go surfing. Rip Curl did the wetsuits and Hutchinson’s Surfboards in Brookvale (now Byron Bay) did my boards. Paul Hutchinson in fact supplied me with boards for the trip with Albe. The Morning of the Earth board was one of his – a 5’9” rounded square single fin. I rode it in eight foot Ulus without a legrope. By 18, I was working for Tracks at Whale Beach, selling ads at first and then progressing to be art director for eight years. I did some editorial for them and took a few photos as well.

Where did your career go from there?
I stayed in publishing for many years after that – I did 16 or 17 years as senior art director with Federal Publishing Company. I left publishing about 10 years ago and I’ve worked in the car industry along the Northern Beaches ever since – I’m currently with a Mercedes dealership in Mona Vale. It’s about two minutes from home, so there’s time for a surf before work.

Good to hear you’re still in the water…
Yeah, and I’m pretty much the same kind of surfer I’ve always been. I surf a lot with my two sons; Tim, who lives in Bungan and plays with the Goons of Doom, and Jedd, who’s down at Fairlight. We go on trips together up and down the coast – it’ great.

Stoked then, stoked now. Image by Jedd Cooney

Do you have a preference for single fins? People must associate you very strongly with a particular kind of surfing, a particular era in board design…
Well, going back, my first board was a cut-down 5’9” balsa my big brother Butch made. The smallest board I ever had was a 4’6” double-ender Shane that Butch also made. He shaped for Shane and for TF at Hot Buttered. I think I‘ve always ridden my boards shorter than what’s current. At the moment I’m riding a 5’8” Ozzy Wright thruster, a Finch 5’10” quad and a Warner 6’4”. A lot of people assume I’d still be somehow stuck on single-fins, frozen in time, but it’s not the case at all.

Do you have much involvement with surfing, are you still involved with the crew at Northy?
Yeah, I was involved with helping the North Narrabeen Boardriders to compile their 50th anniversary book, sourcing materials and helping with layout and production. I’m enjoying life at the moment. As you get older, there’s fewer things that worry you.

Jock Serong
Jock Serong

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