The first photographs I ever had published were in Surfing World. I’d met Bob Evans when he was moonlighting as a salesman up and down the coast, but by then he’d formed this relationship with Bud Browne. Both of them were making surf films. It was early days for them, so they were scratching for money. I met Bob when he came through up the coast and we developed a friendship. He had one of Bud Browne’s films with him and it blew me out of the water. It was the first surfing film I’d ever seen. It was of Hawaii and various other places. I had a camera, and I was interested in photography at the time, so I started to send Bob pictures and he published my first photograph that I ever took of surfing. I don’t remember the exact photo, but I remember it was a bit blurry. He also had a photo contest in the magazine and the prize was a Gordon Woods surfboard. I think there was a bit of underhandedness here because I walked away with it, which was a fucking blessing because I only got $2 for a photo published in the magazine.
Next thing you know, I move out of the Central Coast and I’m down working in Farmer’s Store in Sydney, in the photographic division. Bob walks in one day in his suit – he always had a suit on just in case he happened to run into someone with money – and he came up to the counter. He said, “Look, I’m going up the coast to do a filming trip. Would you like to come?” I resigned and walked out of there in two seconds. I went up to the manager and said, “I’m out of here.” The manager said, “You can’t leave, we’ve got plans for you.” I said, “Well, sorry, I’ve got plans for myself.” So, I went up the coast with Bob; he was filming, and I was shooting stills.
That’s where our relationship really started to blossom. Two or three surfers came on the trip. Midget was one of them. That was the start. A few months after that I was working with Bob at Surfing World. There was just the two of us in this little office in town [Sydney], because he always wanted to stay close to the money source. He fortunately had a silent partner who had a printing company and they supported him with the printing, so he didn’t have a big expense base.
Bob was the finance man and he wrote stories. But when it got down to putting the magazine together, I did the rest. I did a crash course and learned the ropes. I loved designing things, particularly artwork. I was moving more into graphic arts. I really found it fascinating as a photographer to be involved in publishing, because you’d see your photos going through the transformative stage of getting out into the public arena through a magazine. That fascinated me and I loved it. Because I was putting everything together, I was able to utilise some of my work in there, which was also great. I ended up doing everything, from selling advertising to the art direction, sometimes writing, and taking the photos for the ads and editorial. Bob wrote a bit and found the money and keep the show on the road.
John Witzig was just around the corner doing Surf International for Gareth Powell. Coming out of England, Gareth Powell could see the potential of printing these magazines in Hong Kong and saving a huge amount of money on the printing costs. So, he turned us on indirectly to Dai Nippon, which was the biggest printing company in Japan. Bob made an approach to Dai Nippon and next thing you know we’re printing in Hong Kong, and we had the opportunity then to go to stage two of Surfing World, which was to take it up to a bigger format with higher quality.
I just liked Bob’s grassroots approach. Even though he was a businessman, he was also a surfer. For me, being able to lock in with him at that early stage – which wasn’t planned, it all just unfolded – was an incredible opportunity. To be able to share my experiences with him, and also to then meet some really incredible surfers at the time because Bob tapped into them because he wanted to develop his film career. It worked for all of us. It was like we all had a wonderful time without much expense, but great personal development for everyone, surfers included.
So, it turned out that with making the magazine we had two weeks on and two weeks off. The two weeks before deadline, we’d be going crazy. Then once the magazine was finished, we had a breather, and that was the opportunity for Bob to then dart up the coast if the swell permitted and for me to tag along. It was wonderful, because we got the opportunity to surf places with not a lot of people out.
I was only reading the other day about how Bob discovered Angourie. You know how that came about? His brother stumbled on it. Dick Evans was an amazing guy. He was one of these guys who was fearless. Bob was a surfer, but Dick was into bodysurfing, and he went out at Angourie. It was a pumping swell at the time and there was no one there. It was all bush and nature. Dick walked out to the point, put his fins on and jumped off and started bodysurfing the place at eight feet. I think Dick was probably the first guy who ever surfed Angourie, and he passed that on to Bob. So, we had the opportunity to go into Angourie and surf it, which for me was unbelievable. It was like we were the only people on the planet. It was a perfect place to photograph, and such a perfect wave.
I just loved surfing it. And you know, I’ve never surfed there since.
These were places that resonated with people from the city because they were doing trips up and down the coast, and there were so many beaches that were untapped. Bob was always curious. He’d take the off-track from the highway and drive into these places. I probably went into more places along the East Coast travelling with him than I’ve been in all the years since then. I think the Endless Summer came out pretty soon after, and Bob had this curiosity, trying to find the perfect wave, so he’d always drive off down the track. We had a lot of incredible days in places that only a few fishermen ever went to. That was one of the joys of going up the coast with him. It was wide open, it was new and it was undeveloped.
I think that that’s one of the things with surfers in the ’60s, they’ve radiated out along the coast in Australia and had these experiences. In years ahead, surfers would travel the world, through Asia, and had these amazing exploratory situations and experiences, finding all these perfect new waves. But in the ’60s, coming from the city, driving up to the North Coast was just like that. Everything was new. They were moments that stay with you through your life as all the other stuff just flows past. But we had a lot more opportunities on that level. There were empty waves everywhere, and I think that gave us a great respect and love for the experience.
And the thing is, you weren’t exposing it. It wasn’t naïveté. It was innocence. It was sharing, that was what you were doing. We just shared our experiences and wanted to turn other people on to those experiences. There weren’t a million surfers hanging out with a magazine waiting to just jump on board and go paddle out like there is today. There was no fear of loss. That innocence and that naïveté… which wasn’t naïveté, we were given a gift, which was the ability to be able to go into these beautiful wilderness places and national parks and ride these incredible waves that didn’t cost us anything. Why wouldn’t you want to share that with people?
Once competitive surfing came in however, that changed surfing and it definitely changed publishing. A lot of the publishing from that point really focused on the competitive arena. That’s when the money really started to roll in, and the corporations were involved. The innocence disappeared and it became like a travelling circus and a travelling business enterprise. That was reflected in the magazines, and that’s when I stepped out of it. I could see that tsunami coming. It got competitive, very competitive.
And when Bob left, I left.