Rod Kerr: On Surfing, Lifeguarding And Reality TV
Rod Kerr had one of most successful amateur careers in Australian surfing history, and he seemed destined for big things when he went on the ASP Tour in 1987. However, his undeniable surfing talent was equally matched by an insatiable desire to have a good time and there’s no doubt he set benchmarks for partying that will never be matched. The downside of that is Rod never realised his full potential as a pro surfer, but he is adamant he has no regrets. Known by many as Kerrbox he was given the nickname as salute to the clean-living Hawaiian surfer Buzzy Kerbox. Darn irony.
After leaving the Tour, Rod knew he didn’t want to be far from surfing, the ocean, or Sydney’s Eastern Suburbs so he ended up as a lifeguard for Waverley Council. He is now a senior lifeguard at Bondi with over 20 years experience and, thanks to the successful reality TV show Bondi Rescue, Kerrbox is known worldwide, and enjoys celebrity status in his home town. It sounds perfect for someone who still enjoys having a good time, but Box has discovered the notoriety that comes with the show can be a double-edged sword.
Competitive surfing. I started competing when I was young, did all of the Aussie events, amateur, pro juniors and turned pro when I was 18 or 19. I’m the only surfer to ever win the Regional, State and Australian Titles in all age divisions: cadets, juniors and opens. The undefeated king of the world. I didn’t even think about it at the time, but no one ever beat me. I pride myself on that. I did the Tour for eight or nine years. We used to have to surf the trials, four or five rounds, to make the main event and surf against the top 16. I made the top 44 the first year that was introduced. Sometimes we were lucky to pay for our next meal, and you had to win to make ends meet. It was a bit of a working holiday travelling around the world, surfing, and making a bit of money. Being a professional surfer was the most amazing experience of my life. I’m still into pro surfing and I try and watch every event now and I’m blown away. It’s hard to comprehend how good these guys are. The top five or six are just way above everyone else. Mick, Joel and Kelly are incredible and the young guys like John John and Medina amaze me.
John Shimooka. I was in England for the World Title in 1986 where I met John Shimooka and we ended up partying a lot. I was the number one seed from Australia in the opens and he was Hawaii’s number one junior. I saw him in the surf the first day we arrived, had a bit of a snarl at each other, and then I ran into him at the bar that night. Ended up having a good night and then we travelled together for 10 years.
Having fun. During those first years on the Tour in the late 80s we had a big reputation for parties and we used to like getting the boys together. Once in France, Shmoo and I both made a final. We went out the night before to celebrate because we were both about to surf in the same final. Probably celebrated a night too early because we got so blind we ended up sleeping on the roundabout on the main road in Hossegor. Woke up in the bushes at about 10 in the morning and went oh, no, we missed it. I think Jeff Booth and Chris Frohoff were the other guys in the final. One year the ASP had a new award, the Cultural Ambassador Award and I was the first recipient. I was kind of honoured cause all the boys voted on it. I think Simon Law won it the year after me.
No regrets. On the other side of the coin, who knows what I could have done if I was more focused? But, you know what? I wouldn’t change it. People often say to me, “If you pulled back a bit on the partying, you would have had much better results,” but I don’t care. I had the most amazing time while I was surfing professionally and travelling with the Tour – I wouldn’t change it for the world.
Friendship. We were all friends on Tour back then, all mates. We travelled together, shared houses, cars… money! I talk to the guys now on Tour and they are not mates anymore – it’s dog eat dog. They are more professional and that is a good thing, but we were like family. I still talk to them all of the time – Shmoo, Dooma, Law, Barton, Beau – those guys are my best friends. I think the Tour lacks that camaraderie now.
Lifeguarding. I’ve been here for 20 years and I’m one of the bosses and it gets full on. This past December/January we had perfect beach weather – Bondi has been like a zoo. On a weekend or during the holidays we’ll get 40 to 45,000 people there. We have had so many rescues this summer, 40 to 50 a day, five or six dislocated shoulders, we’ve been under the pump. Everybody that comes to Sydney wants to be at Bondi. 99 per cent are really cool, but we have drunks, heart attacks, OD’s, people on ice, general injuries… the list goes on. We are not just lifeguards, not just doing rescues in the water, we also have to manage the beach. Honestly, it is such hard work and there are some days when you go, oh my God, what am I doing… but I love it. We get an hour every day to train and I’ve been surfing heaps. All the guys I work with are surfers and they are all good blokes. I’m pretty lucky.
Celebrity. After the Tour I had to go and get a job. I wanted to stay with the ocean so lifeguarding was a natural pick, but who’d have thought it’d turn into this, where we’re on a television show? It’s been going for nine years now and it’s so popular, it’s crazy. The hard part is my whole life has been spun on a wheel – it’s changed a lot. Mainly cause we can’t go anywhere without people recognising you and you’ve got to behave yourself. And if you don’t behave? Well, I learnt the hard way with Today Tonight. Yeah, I got smoked. Lost my phone, carried on at the counter accusing people, made an idiot of myself and someone filmed it and sold it to them. I hid under the bed for two weeks after that and I’ve never been more ashamed.
Home. I still live in Bronte, across the road from the beach where I grew up and I work at Bondi. I don’t leave the Eastern Suburbs. This place is my home. I stick to my family, the people I love and I don’t go too far. Stick with what you know and the people who are good for you. The Roosters beating Manly in the grand-final is probably the biggest thing that’s happened here in 10 years. Dooma and I were on the phone 24/7 before the grand-final and then he had to fly out to Portugal at half-time, so he’s lucky he missed that second-half. He owes me two cases… I’m still smiling. I love it here and I love what I do. I’ll keep surfing until I can’t walk and stay at work as long as I can. I’ll never be away from the ocean and surfing.