Revisit: The Wayne Lynch Interview
Take audience with surfing’s original wanderer.Read more
*First published in Surfing World issue #340, August 2013
We overshoot the driveway and hit the brakes, hard. It’s easy to miss from the main road. The white wigwam – whose apex used to be visible from a mile away – has long been pulled down, the kids having grown up and moved out of it and the birdlife having moved in. Our wheels crunch in the gravel as the driveway snakes through the salt-stunted scrub and between the various sheds, caravans and dwellings that dot the Lynch family property. As we pull up Wayne Lynch shuffles out of his low-roofed fibro shaping bay, cardigan draped over his long frame, blowing his nose in a hankie.
Wayne’s due to fly out next week on a tour of the States, Europe and Japan to premiere his new movie – Uncharted Waters – and to say he’s not exactly enthusiastic about the prospect might be an understatement. He’s got a bunch of boards to shape before he leaves, he can feel the flu coming on, and he’s worried how the movie’s going to be received. Like, really worried. But it’s not the prospect of the critics lambasting it, nor the likelihood of tumbleweeds blowing down the aisles when nobody turns up to see it. Wayne’s worried the movie is going to be a raging success. You see, he starred in a surf movie over 40 years ago, which catapulted him from “local to universal in a year”. Wayne became a child star at 16 and, overwhelmed by it, fled home, a “victim of his own creation”. He’s been living down the coast ever since, charting his own course in surfing, far removed from both the apparatus and the gaze of the surfing machine. Having long since disappeared from the public eye he’s been mythologised in absentia, a surfing purist in an age when surfing’s purity is being questioned more than ever.
The past few years have been tough ones for the Lynchs. The passing of Wayne’s Mum, his Dad’s illness, his own heart attack and his daughter’s car accident have brought his focus squarely back on family. He’s sold his boats and is talking about moving north, a concept as unthinkable as moving the headland that sits in the Southern Ocean across the road. Wayne’s lived here his whole life, having sailed and surfed and hidden out in pretty much every corner of this coast, and their rhythms are linked. Today we’ll be taking a drive down the coast road, back into his past. He’s not exactly bounding with excitement about surfing however as we load the car. He hasn’t surfed in months and as he’s strapping the boards to the roof he says he probably won’t start again today. Having surfed so much, so good, he won’t compromise the surfing experience these days. But there’s a light offshore and a promise of swell so we pile in, pull out onto the main road, and head south to see what the day throws at us.
The Great Ocean Road was built as a war memorial by soldiers returned from WWI in memory of those who didn’t. They were paid 10 shillings and six pence a day for breaking rocks to carve the road out of the coast. The men themselves were just as broken, having returned from the mud and blood and fog of Passchendaele, the Dardanelles, the Somme, but after a day of toil they could at least sit around the campfire at night and talk about what they’d seen with men who’d bore witness to the same horrors. When Wayne Lynch drove down here in the early 70s, he was escaping fame, but was also escaping a war. He’d been called up for Vietnam at the time and disappeared down the coast as a conscientious objector. Those years on the run still resonate strongly.
Before we climb Cinema Point the road twists around a tea-coloured creek. “Looks cold,” I offer. “You wouldn’t believe how cold it gets when you’re camping there,” replies Wayne. “Bloody freezing. Nothing dries.” Wayne won’t divulge where he hid out during his years on the run from the draft, but we gather he’d camped out here sometime in the past. Down the road we cross a small river that has sanded up all the way back to the bridge. Wayne says he’s never seen it like that in 30 years, and recounts surfing there as a kid in the middle of winter wearing nothing but boardies and a black woolen vest. They’d thaw out between surfs by a campfire, an experience he laments is long gone as all campfires on the beach have recently been banned, even in winter.
As we drive through Wayne’s old hometown of Lorne we pass the fishing co-op and we talk about his days growing up in his old man’s fishing boat. From there we drift onto sharks – great whites – a subject Wayne has taken an interest in recently. He recounts the story of rescuing a guy down the coast who’d lost his board, bringing him to shore, only to later find out from the boys on the cliff that the whole time an 18-foot shadow had been circling them. It’s the beach around the corner from where we’ll be surfing today, and we stop talking about sharks.
We pull up to a beach Wayne knows well, although he’s struggling to recognise it. There are freshly graded roads, new campsites and toilets. He hasn’t surfed here in 10 years, although he corrects himself, remembering he sailed in here about four years ago and surfed down the beach on his own. But we paddle out and apart from two salmon fishermen we’re the only ones on the beach. There’s a left straight out the front of the car park and it’s so good Wayne has no choice but to paddle out. At 61 his surfing echoes the 16-year-old kid from Evolution. The drive off the bottom, the stylish compression of that tall frame, and the feeling that not even Wayne knows what’s going to happen when he turns off the top. He’s glad we surfed and says he needs to do it more often.
We surf until the afternoon sun floods the valley behind us and a cray boat – owned by a mate of Wayne’s – sails past, on its way to anchor under Moonlight Head for the night. We drive out through back roads toward Colac, where Wayne was born, and he tells us how he used to drive past marathon running potato farmer Cliff Young shuffling along this road. “He’d run 10 miles into town to get a litre of milk.” He laughs as he tells us Cliff had a wife 40 years his junior, although the pair never consummated the marriage. “That was his secret. Qigong has taught me that all your regenerative energy lives in your reproductive system. That’s why Cliffy could keep running all day. No rooting!”
SW: Is this stretch of coast still a good place to lose yourself?
WL: No. Not now. Every nook and cranny is crowded. Everything. Everywhere. I mean, this coast is fickle and you’ve got to drive a lot, so there are moments when you get surf without too many people, but there’s no pristine situations. Not anymore. It’s long gone, probably 10 years gone. The surf is a finite resource – and I don’t like the word “resource” because it commodifies it – but there aren’t more breaks to pack more people in. You don’t want to be too cynical or negative, but it doesn’t look that flash.
So for you down the coast is no longer a sanctuary?
That hole in the wall feeling, that feeling of sanctuary, it’s certainly gone for me. I get that in other ways now. You adapt. But there are more factors than just the number of surfers that have brought the change. Once it all became national park 10 years or so ago they brought in a lot of rules and regulations. They developed camping grounds and then they promoted it. In short it’s what happens in the modern era.
So called progress, yes.
But we surfed really good waves to ourselves down the coast the other day.
That was a beautiful afternoon, and you can still get lucky. It’s hard though if you’ve experienced it in a pristine state to see it any other way. We surfed it by ourselves, sure, I didn’t recognise the car park we pulled up in and I’ve surfed it since I was a kid. I just like to remember it how it was, that’s all.
You mentioned the other day the banning of campfires on the beach, and how for you that was emblematic of the change on the coast.
That was part of it becoming national park; you’re not allowed to have a fire on the beach anywhere in Victoria. Fire is so much a part of our life – or it has been – that it just seems absurd. Man’s been sitting around fires getting warm forever. And suddenly a whole way of life has been taken away with the stroke of a pen. There was no communication about it, no way to make it flexible and just ban fires in summer or when it’s dry and dangerous.
You’re against the ban even after losing the houses here to fire? [The Lynch family property was burned out in the Ash Wednesday fires of 1983.
Fire’s a natural part of the landscape and has been for tens of thousands of years, it just needs to be managed correctly as it was during that time. For us as kids fire was central to everything we did. You had your fire on the beach, you surfed, and you’d come in and stand around the fire getting warm, having something to eat, talking to your friends. It helped cement a community and it helped cement friendships. We stayed there all day. Everybody did, and you formed a symbiotic relationship with the place as well as the people. Bells was a good example. There was a fire pit there and that fire burned constantly. Whoever got to the beach first lit it and everyone would bring a log and you’d stand there and watch everyone surfing, you watched the change in the surf, and without consciously knowing it you were building a relationship with the place. It was bigger than just the surfing. And that’s how I’ve grown up and how a lot of people have grown up surfing. I thought that [the banning of campfires] was the beginning in a breakdown of surfing culture down here. What I thought of as surfing culture anyway. Now most people go surfing; drive in, paddle out, then drive off home again. That’s the big shift. And in part by not staying and watching the changes through the day you lose a lot of feeling for a place. You don’t learn about tides and swell angles and cloud formations, which will tell you a change is coming. So the skills and knowledge it took to be a surfer are being eroded slowly, slowly, slowly, and the internet has done that with swell forecasts and cameras at beaches. People will look at a forecast and go and surf and they don’t even consider any of the elements that created that forecast. It takes away from their surfing, from the fullness of the experience, and what it takes to be a surfer, and suddenly there’s nothing to pass on.
I’m seeing a Leunig moment of a father showing a young son a surf forecast site for the first time.
I can do it with my son [Jarrah], I see him regularly, but a lot of people just aren’t interested in passing it on because they think they don’t need it. People are missing out on a lot, the depth of the experience and the enjoyment that it brings. Surfing’s not just catching waves and turning, there’s a lot more there, things that are surf enrichening and life enrichening.
“SURFING WAS ODD IN THE LATE 60S, IN THAT A LOT OF PEOPLE WERE FASCINATED WITH SURFING AND ITS INHERENT FREEDOM. PEOPLE CAME FROM OTHER FIELDS LIKE WRITERS AND PAINTERS AND MUSICIANS BECAUSE THEY WANTED TO SEE WHAT SURFING WAS ABOUT.”
How do you find space these days if it’s not down the coast?
Well, I live in the bush and I’m very lucky in that way. And I’ve got a sailing kayak and I love getting out there in the summer when the winds are nice. I don’t have a boat anymore, but for 12 years I had at different times two catamarans and a trimaran. To me sailing is part of my heritage, having grown up on fishing boats, but it is also part of surfing’s heritage. The great watermen like Joey Cabell, Mickey Muñoz, Flippy Hoffman, Ricky Grigg, there’s a whole group of those early surfers who were sailors as well, and it’s like what I was talking about and the knowledge it took to be a surfer and how much fuller it was back then. Well sailing was a part of that. You had to learn about the winds and the ocean. I’ve read a lot and studied what I can about the star path navigators of the ancient Pacific – I can’t do any of it of course – but it fascinates me, the depth of their knowledge. They were such great observers of nature because they were immersed in it day and night. They accumulated a huge amount of knowledge and passed it on and that’s where surfing comes from. Surfing came from those ancient mariners in the Pacific. That’s our heritage. That’s what we belong to, and we can try and reinvent that in a modern context and that’s what I’ve tried to do in my life.
I was going to ask you about your old man and his fishing.
He fished in the 50s and 60s for couta fish – barracouta. They’d shoal up at certain times of the year and when they weren’t around they crayfished. They were in little boats out of Lorne, 20-to-25-foot open wooden boats, very seaworthy but exposed to the elements. Initially they were all sailboats, no motors, and it was a hard life in this climate. All my family were fishermen – my Mum’s brothers, my cousin, my Dad.
You started shaping at a young age, where did that practicality come from?
My Dad became a builder when the fishing began to die off. It really changed here – the amount of sea life that’s gone from this coast is phenomenal. Dad was a good builder, very thorough. So I guess I probably inherited some feeling for things like that, although I was not very talented at shaping at all.
How did the original Evolution board evolve, and how did it unlock your surfing?
The board in the movie was actually meant to be a replica of the one I’d made just before it. That was the board that made all the changes for me. That was the third board I’d ever shaped and it was quite remarkable it worked so well.
It seemed radically different in planshape to what everyone else was riding.
It was. It had the wide point back of centre and had a rounded tail. There were boards back in the early years called “teardrops” – very pointed at the front, they looked just like a water droplet. All the width and all the curve was in the tail. I had a mate who would come down to Lorne in the holidays and he had a teardrop and I was astounded at how much better that board felt than my balsa mal. When I started shaping my own boards I never forgot the freedom that board had and the way you could roll into direction changes. The transition from one turn to another was very fluid, and the front, because it was narrow, was light to turn. When I shaped that Evolution board I had no set theory at all, and over the years I’ve gone back to shaping like this, on instinct more than anything. After I did the planshape and they were being glassed (they glassed the decks first back then) I’d put bricks on the deck and I’d use broomstick handles underneath at the ends to create the curve. The blanks were stringerless and when you shaped them you couldn’t profile a curve. So I’d step back from the board and I’d get the glassers to move the bricks, and so I created a profile. Again I was so young, 15, and I had no reason behind what I was doing, it was just what I felt. Just instinct. So I can’t make any claims… [laughing] I honestly can’t. But the thing was phenomenal. What I didn’t understand then, and what was key with those boards along with the weight and flex, was the end curve. They just had more curve. So that board started to let me start surfing a different way, the way I wanted to, trying some new things.
So you had these turns in your head before you had a board that allowed you to do them?
I’m going to take you back again, because in 66 I was up in Queensland with my Mum for three months before the Australian Titles. I did a lot of surfing with Peter Drouyn. When I say with Peter Drouyn he didn’t even know I was out there, I just happened to be surfing near him. He didn’t know me from a bar of soap. But Peter’s surfing was amazing. It was the most dynamic surfing I had ever seen at that point, and I’d done a lot of traveling very young so I got to see a lot. He put his foot right back and had this low, squat cutback with all this power. It was a pioneering move. The amount of energy he put into that turn was phenomenal and it didn’t dissipate, it transferred perfectly, so he’d just drive that turn straight back at the whitewater. I was just astounded watching it, and I remember Nat coming out one afternoon at Currumbin and you could really see Nat was trying to adapt something of Peter’s technique. Nat was much more upright because he’d come off the mals, and he was surfing fantastically, but he didn’t have that cutback. Peter and he were wave for wave, while I caught a little dribbler to shore and got out of there! [Laughing] I might have got in the way and there were no beg your pardons between them. That’s how it was. But I wanted to learn and I could see Nat doing these beautiful turns but Peter’s were way more powerful. And in fairness to Peter that Australian characteristic of power surfing, that low centre of gravity, it came from Peter. He made that breakthrough, and Nat and myself and everyone else, we picked up off that. I remember the final at Coolangatta which Nat won and Bob McTavish got second and Midget third, and it’s when a lot of hoopla came in about this new era of power surfing. But watching Nat and Bob and Midget, all credit to them but their surfing didn’t have the same dynamic Peter’s did. I distinctly remember us talking about it. So, being a goofyfoot, every turn on your backhand is a cutback in a sense, so once I began to adapt this technique I picked up from Peter I kept working on it. So I made a couple of boards with extreme vees – one was for doing barrel rolls and 360 degree turns – I made a scaled-down version, then I made the board you saw in Evolution. This one was shorter and freer and far looser. Those turns in Evolution were almost accidental. The board would drive out of the bottom turn and I’d just follow it, and whatever happened from there happened. Then up into the lip and all the rest followed. And in that period I used to have dreams about surfing. I’d be watching people surf in my dreams, and what’s ironic is that they’d be naturalfooters, which was weird. Just as I was falling asleep there’s a point where you’re not awake and you’re not asleep, and I’d have these images of people surfing in my head and they’d be doing these amazing things off the lip – what we call today re-entries, and they’d do 360 degree turns, and it was all really fluid and I saw it in my mind and I went, maybe this is possible. And I’m a bit embarrassed about this, and I’ve only just started telling people about the dreams in the last couple of years cause people will think I’m weird or I was on drugs, which was not true at all – I was 14, 15 years of age. But I was very self-conscious of it, but I know now it’s how you learn.
“THAT AUSTRALIAN CHARACTERISTIC OF POWER SURFING, THAT LOW CENTRE OF GRAVITY, IT CAME FROM PETER (DROUYN). HE MADE THAT BREAKTHROUGH, AND NAT AND MYSELF AND EVERYONE ELSE, WE PICKED UP OFF THAT.”
You visualise. And for whatever reason it was happening naturally to me. I was so absorbed by surfing at that point you can’t imagine. My entire focus in life was surfing. It was the greatest thing in life. It still is, that’s why I won’t butcher it. To me if I can’t surf the way I want to I just won’t do it. Anyway, sometimes they were full-on dreams but mostly it was just before I’d go to sleep or sometimes when I was laying on the floor listening to music. When this started happening on a wave it was like, wow, this is what I’ve been seeing. My board and my surfing had caught up to my imagination.
What were you listening to that fuelled the dreams?
The song that I got a really clear visual from was by a band called The Fugs, who were so avant garde they’d come on stage in trench coats and play their music in gold jockstraps. There was one track on the end of one of their albums called A Walk In The Black Forest and it’s when they first had synthesisers that made guitars sound like birdcalls and flowing water. The rest of the album was garbage, but it had that one bit of beautiful music that triggered something in me. I started trying 360-degree turns. They were just an idea then, but I actually did a few. Barrel rolls. I did more barrel rolls than 360 degree turns but I stopped doing them cause I’d go down into this funny little crouch on my board and get thumped when I landed. I got hurt a few times.
How did Evolution change things for you?
I became a bit self-conscious because I got all that attention. I’d only just turned 16. My childhood got cut off.
You said the other day you cringe today when you watch Evolution. How come?
People were very supportive and that film was huge all around the world. But we made the film and I met Ted and Nat and McTavish and they’d be talking about their ideas and I’d start to make my boards and I’d naturally start to experiment with other designs and principles and components, and my boards I surfed in the movie weren’t as good as the ones I had before. They were stiff and sticky and when I look at Evolution I’d lost that flowing lightness and that spontaneity. They were gone. I became much more conscious of my surfing. I was thinking about it, I was conceptualising it, and it lost its natural spontaneity. So I see Evolution as a downgrading of my surfing. I was trying too hard and the boards weren’t working and I had all this attention and I felt my surfing was shithouse. When I was a young kid I was never comfortable being filmed or photographed. I’m still not. I was a guy who’d paddle in if a camera appeared or paddle off down the beach, so there’s very little footage of me. This film, Uncharted Waters only has about four waves on a tri-fin. Most of it is single-fin surfing. In saying that, it’s a shame that the movie’s just me. It’d be nice to have other peoples’ surfing and thoughts in there. I still feel a bit reticent about the film being focused on me.
You’ve successfully avoided most forms of media attention for 40 years, why the movie now?
I’ve been asked by three or four different people over the years to do one, mostly because my life’s been quite unique, it hasn’t been that standard surfing career path – that strangely, being such a free, free-thinking and rebellious activity – has become quite mainstream and structured. I’ve been part of a subculture, which is surfing, I didn’t follow the given path within that subculture. And to Craig [Griffin, director] he thought that was interesting, as a social and artistic observation. That argument didn’t really win me over though.
I figured it might take more arm-twisting than that.
Then they go, “But look, you’ve lived through all these social changes like Vietnam and we’re after someone who’s been involved in surfing but isn’t just about surfing.” I was going, “Well okay, this is sounding better… but it can’t be all about me.” And they went all right. [Laughing] And of course it kinda ended up being about me, which I’m still coming to terms with. It came back to how I was mythologised in surfing because I’d been part of that evolutionary era and part of that explosion and the whole scene around it, then walked away from what people would crave, the fame. They’d think you’re mad. And Vietnam was part of that, but I was going to walk away from it anyway because I didn’t want to live that life. I loved my life as it was; I just loved it. I grew up in a remarkably beautiful place and I had friends who were very similarly minded, and I went out into the big world of surfing and all the intrigue and the politics and the rivalries and I was just a kid. Think kid. And the attention started to be a little too much and I was expected to do amazing things every time I was in the water. I started to feel the pressure and I started to lose the joy of going surfing, of just being a kid and experimenting. And then it started; “Oh, you’re not as good as you used to be… why don’t you do this anymore? Why don’t you do that?” And that’d be me purely changing tack and looking for new ways to surf, and wherever I went I was stuck in this one place in time. I was a victim of my own creation. And I wasn’t going to do that. I wasn’t going to go out and do 10 re-entries for the rest of my life to please other people. They were well-meaning and that was one side of it, and the other side was that I was getting attention and there were people who didn’t like that at all. There were some of the fiercest competitors of all time in that era, and they’d do anything to marginalise you or keep you on the sideline and bring attention to themselves, so all these cliques and factions and political intrigues and stuff I’m not going to go into broke out, but let me tell you, it was full-on. In the end – and you’ll love this – I just went, these bastards are mad! I don’t want any part of this; I’m going home! And I was so stoked to get home cause there was none of that where I grew up; it didn’t exist. We all shared the surfing and we were overjoyed. It was the best thing we’d ever found. Those aspects of discovery: from surf breaks to what’s possible within yourself as a surfer, developing as a person because you’re developing your own physical and mental strength, surfing gives you so much. I just saw the rest of it as a distraction.
So you went underground from big-time surfing and the Vietnam call-up at pretty much the same time?
I wouldn’t have become completely invisible in terms of surfing, but I had to be with the call-up. But I just wanted time out. I was 18 and I didn’t know who I was, what I was, where I belonged. I just needed to sort myself out a bit, and Vietnam just made it more intense, it was another thing on my shoulders, so I really, really had to go underground. And I just dove back into my surfing eventually and kept doing what I had to do; found my own little hole in the wall where I lived like an outlaw and really got involved in my surfing the way I wanted to. Surfed the way that felt right to me, not how the collective voice expected or said I should. And immediately I started to surf better again, I went off into all sort of directions and tangents again to explore them. There was no pressure. I rode keel fins for years and no one saw it. In the film there are some shots of me at Uluwatu – five waves – and they’re the only ones of me riding a keel and I did some of my most interesting surfing on those. They were designed for 8-to-12 foot waves, powerful long-walled waves or deep, fast barrels. It was an idea that came from Joey Cabell when I was on Kauai in 1970. And that taught me more about surfing than anything else I ever did, cause it taught me about feeling the energy drawing up the face of the wave and where most of the energy was and where you could find it. It had its restrictions – you don’t really turn, which is the opposite of what I’d designed with the Evolution board. And people who did see me on it went, “What are you doing? Where are all those turns?” I went, “Sorry guys, I’m off doing this.” It took a lot of courage, looking back. I just went, no, I have to follow what I want to follow. And when I finally got off the keel fins and went back to a single-fin, the knowledge I’d gained was amazing. I could take on much bigger, heavier, thicker waves, I could take on longer sections when they dropped, and I understood new ways to develop pressure on a fin or a rail.
Can you recall the day your papers arrived for Vietnam?
No, my Mum got them and burned them. I never saw them. She was horrified. Mum was very socially aware, a woman who believed in all sorts of social justice. She taught me about the Aboriginal people at, I dunno, I must have been six when she first taught me. Every house Dad built she called it “Namatjira” in his honour. So I grew up not only with an awareness of Aboriginal people and their culture, but an awareness of their mistreatment and hardships, and Albert Namatjira personified that for her. So Vietnam for her was another form of disgraceful, oppressive, manipulative behaviour by governments for reasons they weren’t being truthful about. In other words Vietnam was a hoax. If Australia was being invaded that would be something very different, but this was a constructed war. And conscription to send men to that war was a disgrace to her. And the other thing was that you were being sent at 18 and you couldn’t even vote till you were 21. Old enough to die in Vietnam but not old enough to vote for the dickheads who were sending you. Something I should say is that I was never against the people who went. I had friends who went to Vietnam, friends whose lives were ruined by it. Some suicided. I mean, these are people I knew. And I was never down on anyone; I felt sorry for them, for what they’d been through. These people came back with no one to talk to, there were no structures to help them reintegrate into society. And they went through Hell. They went through Hell in Vietnam and they went through Hell when they got home. And I think some people… I’ve had some fairly odd things said to me in recent years. They think that I was sort of anti-all of this and I wasn’t. I was against the war, and if people don’t go, there’s no war. That’s the reality. But a lot of people went because they had no choice or they didn’t understand what they were being sent into. So those papers I never saw.
You were told it was a good idea to have a holiday down the coast for a while?
I was living in Lorne with Mum and Dad and I had a shaping room under the house and I’d shape a couple of boards and had my car locked up in the garage so no one would know I was there. I had a little vegie garden around the back, and I’d come home for a bit of time and tend the garden, get a little bit of money and go off again down the coast, go off for two, three, four weeks. That’s how I lived.
Were you bivouacked in different places?
I had certain places down the coast that I’m not going to name. Even today, there’s something built into me that I won’t name them. Once I was there I’d live in my car, or I had a little lean-to tent that I’d live in. Later on I would rent a place because down there no one knew anything. I went up north a couple of times, traveled out the back of Lennox and behind Ballina. We stayed there for a winter, living out of my car with my dog and my girlfriend. That was actually great; I had some great surf. I mean, it was still a burden – you never knew when someone was going to appear. I know they sent military people down to Lorne who interviewed some of my friends, wanting to know if they’d seen me. They’d make up ridiculous stories – one told them he’d seen a big pool of blood in the water the other day and thought I’d been taken by a shark.
What, and they didn’t believe him?
I don’t think they did. The local cop got onto me too, so I really had to watch myself when he worked out that I’d absconded. The other thing about those years that people don’t understand, young people in particular, was this explosion of youth, the music and the surfing, youth finding its voice and suddenly not being subservient to older generations. A long conservative era was coming to an end and some people could see the change and some people were very, very upset about it and very vindictive toward youth. So surfing copped the brunt of a lot of negative press from a lot of sections of society. Then Vietnam and the call-up became a way to kind of get them. So there was a lot of enthusiasm back then to round up these “Draft Dodgers” as we were called then.
And considering your profile you would have been considered a big fish?
Yes. And that’s brought a lot down on me. They were really looking for me, not just the military. There was always a divide, there was always a for and against. In a strange way it’s a lonely place to be; when your society has turned on you for something you’ve never done. Living like an outlaw and you don’t really know who’s your friend and who’s not. Most people I never told. The best way to keep a secret is not to tell anyone. I mean, Nat knew, but I don’t think I told anyone else in the surfing circle. And that’s what caused all that intrigue. Where is he? Why is he hiding? They didn’t know. So I had, at a very young age, a very significant look into the psychology of our society and the structure of its institutions, and a lot of it came from being a surfer and being a well-known surfer.
“IN THAT PERIOD I USED TO HAVE DREAMS ABOUT SURFING. I’D BE WATCHING PEOPLE SURF IN MY DREAMS, AND WHAT’S IRONIC IS THAT THEY’D BE NATURALFOOTERS, WHICH WAS WEIRD.”
Can you remember the day you stopped running?
I remember driving back to my parents place from down the coast as the counting was fairly advanced in the election and it looked like Whitlam would get in, and the sense of relief… I can’t describe it. Even though I was living a great life it was still like getting out of jail in a sense. Forever and a day Jim Cairns and Gough stood tall in my world. It’s a shame it had to happen like that. Even the Liberal people after that said we shouldn’t have done it but we towed the party line. It’s ridiculous, that’s where it all goes wrong. You should follow your conscience, you should follow your heart. You just become part of the machine otherwise.
And you started surfing contests soon after. How come? I always loved the irony that you of all people won the Coke Classic.
What happened was that Mex [Dave Sumpter] took me to Bali. I remember years before sneaking into a theatre so no one would recognise me to watch Morning of the Earth and I loved the film. I think the music and the lyrics captured what so many of us thought about surfing in that period. It was very inspiring to me while I was on the run, but it also inspired me to go to Bali as soon as I was able to. Suddenly I’m in Bali with all these lefts and it was a great trip. I went back soon after and had some amazing surf, but I had a motorbike accident. I went to hospital, mainly for my girlfriend who’d landed on her face and had teeth knocked out and she was in a bad way. I was in hospital to look after her for a few days and while I was there I got malaria. The place was full of mosquitoes. Long story short I came home and for two years I couldn’t surf. I nearly died from the malaria. They couldn’t diagnose it and when they finally did the doctor said I would have had a week to live. I was down to eight stone. If you look at photos of me around 75 to 78 you can see I’m really skinny; I’ve got bones sticking out of my wetsuit. For two years I could hardly walk and the specialist said literally that surfing was over for me. The quote was that I should just be grateful to walk again, cause you’re not surfing. And I went, no, there’s a way through this. I’ve got a strong will which is a nice way of saying I’m a stubborn bastard. It took two years, and during the latter part of those two years friends dropped some magazines around and there were things written by people brushing off my contribution as I saw it, kinda saying I was over the hill and gone, and it really pissed me off. To be honest I’ve never had that motivation before about contests, but I just went, I’m going to get back and I’m going to show you bastards. And it was actually the best thing that happened because it made me try so hard. And then I went to the Coke and I was lucky enough to win it and got some money cause I’d been so broke. I had nothing. Three-and-a-half grand in 1975, that was like 30 grand now. But people were so enthusiastic and supportive toward me at that contest. I was quite surprised.
You felt welcomed back?
I did. And MP – who after Nat, was the fiercest competitor I ever struck – of all people, he was the most pleased for me. He really spent time with me, and he’d never done that before. Probably never did it with anyone. But I think he really understood what I’d been through. So I had a go at a few more contests but I didn’t like it for the reasons I didn’t like it the first time. I only went in a couple and I was very mercenary. I was very clear why I was there. I didn’t care about being World Champ… I was there for the money.
Sounds a bit like MP.
He really wanted to win as well, and I didn’t like that approach. I think that’s what stuffed MP up. I knew MP when he was really young; we surfed together in 67 on the Gold Coast and we all got along and surfed and had a ball. But that obsessive behaviour – and it really was obsessive with Mick – it’s reductionist. He’s reducing his enjoyment of surfing down to having to win and it’s not a good place to be as a person. It’s not balanced and it went further and he got into drugs, got into heavy drugs for a long time before people knew, and that was filling the hole. He obviously had potential for problems psychologically, and the drugs just compounded them. And you know, I talked to him in the years before he died and he was really gracious. He’d always talk about the early days say, “I used to nail pictures of you up on the wall and lay on my bed and look at you in the mirror, because then you’d be a naturalfooter!” It was a nice way to remember him after all those years. And another thing he did in the Allan Oke contest one year, I won it and he came second. Of course MP was pissed off, but he asked me if he could get a lift back into Melbourne. I gave him a lift that night and I’ve dropped him off and he’s grabbed all his stuff and said goodbye. Well next day I’m cleaning out my car and he’s stolen my first place trophy and left me his second place trophy! [Laughing] And there was no mistake, cause one was twice the size of the other! He’s unreal. I was just laughing about it; it’s all you could do. I thought, you bastard, Mick!
What’s a day in the life of Wayne Lynch like today?
My last few years have been really hard. My daughter [Merinda] was in a head-on car crash and nearly died. She did die – they brought her back to life two or three times. I came around the corner two or three minutes after it happened and had to deal with it. That really was a big turning point. I’ve always really loved my family. I think… in a way some of my youth that was captured by being famous, I was able to get that back through the kids. I really spend a lot of time with them. I love their creativity, and life is fresh for them. There’s all this potential. And I think Merinda’s accident set my Mum off – she had dementia – and my Dad has Parkinson’s. We looked after them as well here, down in the Namatjira house for two years before Mum died. Dad’s still alive and I look after him a couple of hours a day, and I work and shape a bit. Sailing was a big part of it that’s now gone. I didn’t own the boats – one of my bad jokes I used to say was that I managed them on the banks behalf. But I loved that, it gave me a great escape when all that intensity was around, even more so because the surf is so crowded. I could pull the sail up and head out and just be free, immersed in the natural world again. I hope to get back to it one day. But I study and practice Qigong now and I used to do yoga. I don’t know how I would have coped without that to be honest; it’s given me that nice steady emotional ability to deal with whatever comes up.
You’re pretty open-minded to different ways of seeing the world, to different belief systems, which is pretty rare to encounter in small town living. Where does it come from?
I’ve always had a tendency to look beneath the surface. Mum and Dad were both like that. I think growing up in the bush with parents who foster an understanding and appreciation of the natural world is really important. Mum really went out of her way to let us fulfill our own destiny, and I think for me, a lot of those difficulties like Vietnam, they compound things. Your value system gets very defined. You become quite sure about what your values are because you’re forced to.
Why do you think people have built this mystique around you?
I have no idea, honestly. I think by the fact I became the centre of attention in the surfing world and then suddenly didn’t want to revel in it. I think that’s part of it. And having my surfing develop at a very young age I was one of the first to be in that position. I think maybe Jeff Hakman did a similar thing in Hawaii, surfing Waimea at a young age. Kevin Brennan was very young when he won the Junior and Open NSW Championships which was a very rare thing so he experienced that a little bit, but his life went totally off the rails. Nicky Wood perhaps lived it. So not even a handful of examples. Making a film took my surfing out into the world so quickly I went from local to universal in a year. Suddenly it’s there and there’s a new way of surfing, then just as suddenly you’re gone. Everyone’s asking, “What’s going on?”
“THEY SENT MILITARY PEOPLE DOWN TO LORNE WHO INTERVIEWED SOME OF MY FRIENDS, WANTING TO KNOW IF THEY’D SEEN ME. THEY’D MAKE UP RIDICULOUS STORIES – ONE TOLD THEM HE’D SEEN A BIG POOL OF BLOOD IN THE WATER THE OTHER DAY AND THOUGHT I’D BEEN TAKEN BY A SHARK.”
How about people referring to you as a Messiah?
[Laughing] I think anyone referring to me as a Messiah needs to have a closer look at their own life!
Where does your interest in indigenous cultures stem from?
Aboriginal culture has always interested me. I’ve always had a fascination cause we had a neighbour in Lorne who during the WWII had met some Aboriginal people up in the Northern Territory and one of them would later come down and stay with him. He was an amazing man. As a kid I’d go, “Wow,” because he was one of those Aboriginal people from Arnhem Land whose skin was so black it was almost purplish. He was such a great guy. He had the big eyes and the big smile, their whole culture is so affectionate and supportive toward kids, and he’d take time to notice you. He’d talk to us about his life up there, the animals, the mythology, the whole thing. And everywhere I grew up surfing down here there were middens. It was quite eerie living in a world that had been inhabited by other people who no-one talked about and suddenly you were seeing signs they’d been here. After a while I got to learn well that’s a midden, that’s a mens’ spot, that’s a tool making area, and over here is a living area. If you used your imagination you could see the landscape with them in it.
You could still sense their ghosts?
It’s like a memory imprinted in the landscape.
Do you think Australians as a whole embrace our Indigenous culture enough?
Not enough. I mean, before I say anything here, Aboriginal culture is flawed, because it’s human. It’s like any culture in that way. A lot of new age philosophies pull a lot from these cultures as being perfect, but they’re not. It was a way of life and a very hard way of life, but for them it was also a very dynamic and enriching life. I mean, it was alive; the mythologies and social structures, and when those were taken away and replaced by alcohol everything fell in a heap. But their inherent wisdom and their understanding of the land and the natural world and their part in it is so inherent they don’t even have to think about it. That means that even though they burned the landscape and they changed it, they never diminished it. The well was never run dry.
“WHEN I SHAPED THAT EVOLUTION BOARD I HAD NO SET THEORY AT ALL, AND OVER THE YEARS I’VE GONE BACK TO SHAPING LIKE THIS, ON INSTINCT MORE THAN ANYTHING.”
Where’s the sport and art divide at in surfing right now?
I think particularly in Australia, the mentality that surfing is a professional sport has done some damage, for sure. It’s certainly a professional sport if you make it that way, but it’s just one aspect of surfing. The culture of surfing offers so much more than that. Where are the goalposts in surfing? You put a golf ball in a hole, you kick a football between the posts, there’s a start and an end and there are lines and rules that make it a sport, but surfing is subjective and artistic and expressive and that’s the bottom line. It’s unique. It’s not a sport. And I keep saying this – I am not an athlete. I might be a lot of other things [starts laughing]. But the way pro surfing is presented now it could be tennis or golf. You get interviewed and you talk about the heat and it’s all slick and marketable and it ruffles no feathers, and I’m a bit disappointed to see things like that. I think in Australia the focus in the media is caught up in the business and the sport and no one’s really sitting back and saying, “Hang on, what are we actually doing?” I’m not bagging pro surfing. I’ve always said I’m not anti anything, but I’m interested in balance and I’m interested in the big picture. For what its worth the young guys today surf brilliantly and the way they surf sometimes astounds me. Stuff I dreamt of as a kid and could never get there. But I’d like to just break it up a bit and not be afraid to step outside that reductionist paradigm. It’s chanted like a mantra in Australian surfing right now – pro surfing is a professional sport. Yes, but it’s more. Surfing is about relationships: your relationship to the ocean, to the wave, to the world and to the other people and it’ll never go away from that. It can’t.
What does surfing still have to offer the world?
If surfing’s going to make a contribution to anything wider it has to make a contribution to how you’re feeling about yourself first. The way you’re feeling about your surfing and the way you’re feeling about your life is going to translate into the people around you; your community, your society. I was an idealist in my youth and I thought I could change the world by telling people what to do or by politics, but the change has to come from within you. Surfing gives us this incredible opportunity to connect with the natural world. It’s like a therapy. And that’s the approach we need to look at and find a balance. If you want to bring young kids into surfing and bring them up to be glorified clubbies, it’s not going to work. Somewhere at the end they’re going to be disappointed or run away from it or try and fill a hole with booze or drugs or whatever. And we’ve got to recognise people who contribute as much as we recognise champions. There are champions and they should be respected as champions, but champions aren’t always contributors. Kelly obviously is both. But there are people who aren’t champions but are great surfers and have contributed profoundly to the culture. And they deserve the same acknowledgment as the champions… design-wise or artistically or culturally or whatever it is, that’s the big, rich picture. Surfing has it’s own indigenous culture. I think that’s what we need to talk about more – this is what you’re part of, you came from these amazing mariners in the Pacific who became the Hawaiians who became the first surfers. That’s what we’ve inherited. That’s who we are.
[At this point in the interview Wayne’s phone starts making a beeping sound. Wayne’s unsure of where the sound is coming from.]
[Cracking up] What’s that? Is that the bullshit meter going off?