The Animal. (Albe Falzon)


Wisdom from a life spent in the ocean with Nat Young.

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NAT YOUNG: World Champ, Legend, Animal

Alter Egos… I think age tempers the animal instincts, but youthful exuberance is fantastic too. I was a brash young man, who wanted to be the best in the world. When you find success, it never tastes as sweet as you thought. After I was successful at winning surfing contests I just thought ‘so that’s it?’ The flavour really wasn’t there. I wasn’t doing it for the money, I was doing it for the glory. I never made any real money from surfing contests – it didn’t work like that in the 60’s. I was given a Chevy Camero for winning the ’66 title which I smashed up and was lucky to walk away from. Ironically I got my photo taken in a new Chevy Camero at the 50 year reunion of the ‘66 World Championships, they didn’t give it to me but it looked like a good car. I still don’t see a differentiation between me as ‘The Animal’ and me as the person.

Pushing your limits… The fact that I’m still out there should be encouraging to other surfers because there’s not a lot of people who are prepared to pull in at 70 years old. When in doubt, paddle out. It’s really good to challenge yourself, it’s good for you to go ‘shit man, I’m scared shitless but I’m gonna paddle out!’  Worst comes to worse – and I’ve done this at Sunset when it’s closed out – you’re out there with one other guy and paddle all the way down to Waimea. These are the lessons of life that surfing teaches you. Nature will put the perimeters on it, you just have to be receptive to that. I love to see waves being ridden properly. I like to ride a few myself but these days but less is best, I don’t need so many anymore. A couple of good ones are just fine. 

Fashion… I was surfing the Ranch last month, in Northern California, and I pulled apart my wetsuit trying to get into it one morning. It was a pretty old suit. On the way back I stopped in at the Rip Curl shop in San Clemente and they said “Ok Nat whatever you want just take it.” They talked me into one of these suits that haven’t got any zips in the back, completely zipless. They fit like a condom. You’ve got to get the knack down to put the bastards on. Getting out’s easy, but getting into them… oh Jesus! So I walked out of the change room and said, “is this right?” and they said “no, you’ve got it on backwards!” Once I got it down, it was fantastic, twice the warmth. I think it’s wonderful to have these innovations come along. The condom model was really different.

“I wasn’t doing it for the money, I was doing it for the glory.”

The Gnat in the hat. (Miller)

Today’s Hot GenerationThe top 44 are really talented athletes but there’s more to it than just being athletic. I had to be commercially orientated. I had to really work at being a professional person. Luckily, I had some people that could steer that a bit. Like Bob Evans, the founder of Surfing World. Like Richie Benaud, the Australian Cricket Captain, who gave me the time of day, and hooked me up with writing for the Sunday Telegraph for ten years. These are the things that I had to do each week in order to have a house and a car and eventually have a life and a family. You may say they’ve got it much easier these days, and I think that’s fine, but it’s a different era, a different time.

The Vote… When I ran for the Pittwater bi-election, the issue was the extent of ocean outfall in Sydney. They were spewing shit out a hundred yards from Fairy Bower. There were turds all through the bloody lineup. Peter Garrett was helping me out on this whole project. It all happened at a dinner party at his house – he was basically to blame. On the day of the count, I called Peter and said “Listen I’m in the shit here because it looks like I might win this thing!” And he said “We’ve done the numbers, you can’t possibly win,” and I said “I hope you’re fucking right!” Because I could see my whole life changing before me. The thought of it was just so alien. Lucky for me I dodged that bullet, but I think it’s an amazing bullet. Public service is tough. Seeing what the Labor party did to Peter over issues where he had to play the game instead of doing what his heart was telling him… They used him, abused him and spat him out. For me that was the end. I will never again give my time to the Labor party.

Feuds… Get over it. If I’ve done wrong by people, I apologise, because I didn’t mean any wrong by them, but essentially you’ve got to let it go. If not, you’ll end up a very bitter, twisted, person. I realised it’s a poison a long time ago. It’s a cancer. If you let things get inside you like that, it will kill you.

The ‘Soul’ of surfing… The ‘powers that be’ should really adhere to the actual spirit of surfing. To me, these views are absolutely sacred, views which are not being sold genuinely by professional surfing. The fact that the WSL does not have a concept of this, and will not consult with any of the tribal elders really sticks in my craw. They think that as a marketing exercise they understand surfing, but it doesn’t deal with the essence of our sport. They need to understand that our culture goes back much further than fucking New York Madison Avenue, you know? You can’t base surfing solely on competition, that whole concept of killing the other guy is bloody ridiculous! It’s not fucking football, and it’s not tennis. Our thing is a sport of the next century and they made it boring. You keep doing the same thing month after month and think that it’s entertaining? There’re so many interesting ways they could do it. I think they’ve lost the plot, but that’s just me.

Obsession… It’s all about balance. As soon as you become attached to other people and other human beings, then you don’t want to do something which is just for the self. You do something which is best by the people that you care about. I think family should be that. It’s very easy to go the other way but it’s not very satisfying after you start to realise that people really love you, and you really love people. If that’s true, you’ve gotta put time in. It’s just like a flower, if you don’t put water on it, it’s not gonna grow.

SW Vol. 14 No. 1
Hugh Wyllie