The epigraph for Midget Farrelly’s 1965 autobiography This Surfing Life is brief. “When you’re comfortable, you’re dead.” The man was 21 years old, reigning world champ, and the toast of Australian sporting—yet he chose to introduce his book with that little nugget of gloom. Here’s what I’m getting at: The bitterness that would come to at least partly define Midget Farrelly in years to come—that was inborn. Some of it, anyway.
And some of it was forced down his throat. For almost 50 years now, Midget has been surfing’s most ill-treated figure. Most surf media tastemakers lost interest in Farrelly not long after This Surfing Life was published because, A) he didn’t get stoned, and B) he was roughly 85 percent less charismatic than his protege-turned-rival Nat Young.
Farrelly was made to pay for these crimes. Young, the 1966 world champ, cast some kind of surf media voodoo that made everyone ignore the fact that Farrelly was actually the better contest surfer during the shortboard revolution. (Midget was runner-up in both the ’68 and ’70 world titles; Nat placed 4th and 6th, respectively.) Farrelly’s treatment as a boardmaker has been even shoddier. Who knows what was happening at Palm Beach in ’67, when Farrelly and Bob McTavish were riding side-by-side during the birth of the deep-vee. Twist my arm, and I’ll say McTavish (with Greenough as his muse) got the jump on Farrelly. But if Midget didn’t make the world’s first shortboard, I would argue that he did, consistently, over the next four years, make the world’s best shortboards. There’s footage out there from the ’67 Bells contest, and the ’68 and ’70 world championships, and Midget always has the fastest, smoothest, most user-friendly equipment under his feet, by miles in some cases.
Still, year after year, decade after decade, Midget’s star continued to fade. How far? In a 1992 Australia’s Surfing Life list of the “The Top 16 Shapers of All Time,” McTavish is on top, while Midget didn’t even make the cut. SURFER’s 2009 “Fifty Greatest Surfers of All Time” issue found room for Christian Fletcher, Mike Stewart, and Taj Burrow, but not Midget.
Bob McTavish talks about the Midget he knew in the early ’60s as being almost a different person than what came later: laughing easily, borrowing riffs from his favorite comics, pub-hopping, double-dating. Farrelly later developed a kind of grimace, which he seemed to use as a kind of protective shield. But in the early day, McTavish says, Midget had a quick, easy, unaffected smile. I kept that smile in mind while making this video.