I owe these guys, as I do Terry Fitzgerald. Bruce and Hugh took a punt on me in their ‘Ride the Tiger’ issue. It bolstered bitsa money from Hot Buttered and contests and pulled me from a 9-to-5 sure thing.
At the time SW and Tracks were having their one and only bonding moment. At stake, the artform. Pillorying Mike Hurst and his Bronzed Aussies quartet over their ‘surfing as mainstream sport’ putsch mostly united the general readerships. The legrope had only just been accepted at Easter Bells, parents in support of surfing sons and daughters had rocks in their heads, most city to country beaches had feudal pecking orders and dog catchers were being bashed for good measure. The BA’s were thumbs down for the sparklers after donning velour disco jumpsuits at coastal Sydney’s ES Marks Field 440-yard track. They took a fateful lap of honour before an international athletics assembly gathered to watch world’s greatest miler, John Walker assault the mile record when they could instead have chosen to surf at Maroubra not two miles away and later check ‘Stubbsy the Elder’ spitting the winkle at traffic from his naked rear end. The day summed up the looming great divide of just what constituted core Australian surfing. The BA’s riled the mags no end.
The swallowed words and mongrel satire of ironed and pressed surfing as the glistening new sport of champions drove a stake firmly against surfing as a predominant sport. However, it paled beside the one full page SW portrait of the surfers’ surfer at Burleigh Heads that screamed instability, not just of Michael Petersen but of a shrinking artform where sport – not art – was eating the lifestyle away. Not sure if it was Bruce or Hugh’s photo but 40 years on it still evokes the mindfuck of shifting sands; the pending death of a subculture.
Later that year – pre-Christmas – I’d come out of Sydney Uni with an economics degree and was in interviews at stockbrokers and insurance companies. The gut pull of walking into what was Australia’s biggest company, AMP Insurance, was like anticipations of surf or sex… only more powerful. I was staring into the barrel of 40 years 9-to-5. In I went to be a company man. Out I came with the job starting last week of January. I’d sold them on being their man in a rising industry, surfing.
Bruce and Hugh heard of me going to Hawaii to stay at Jack Reeves’ house and glass shop on the hill above Sunset from mid-December to mid-January. I’d submitted liner notes in the back of issues for a while, minor pieces on minor things. SW’s ‘Ride the Tiger’ issue was to be the North Shore from multiple perspectives. I was the rookie.
First prearranged assignment.
My first day there was the day after the day of the season, apparently all-time. Greats were coming by to check on boards from the maestro glasser. Word was that Terry Fitz had blitzed Sunset, soul arching and high lining to take the mantle off Reno Abellira at a time when Hakman, Shaun, MR, Hawk and some days BK were also peaking. It was the freesurfing artform in full cry.
I got rotten sick from bad water. I lived on the lounge room floor on my back staring at the ceiling for most of the next four days. I’d never seen or heard a gecko before and there were plenty. There was a champion beast though. I called it Rodin. There was a blowfly too, really big one. They fed without hassling one another but then the food pool shrunk during chilly weather. So started a battle of wills. When not violently ill I was just looking straight up. I still remember the way it ultimately went down.
The blowfly was so mesmerised that it couldn’t get out of Rodin’s hour-by-hour, closer-ever-closer stalking. The luck of seeing the gecko finally claim the blowie was something else – the flash and the kill. I hadn’t put a toe in the sea but there was the story, the moke and the haole in the wake of Bugs, the BA’s and Busting Down the Door which was still heavy beef. SW ran the tale, small story, but Bruce and Hugh were encouraged and asked for more off the wall stuff.
Thus, with three forms of small income – contests, boards, and writing – I quit the job I never started and surfed a life away. Over 40 years later, point blank, opportunity at Surfing World was the tipping point.