This article originally appeared in SURFER Magazine, Volume 59, Issue 4. Subscribe here.
You never know what might change the course of your life. When Bruce Brown came through Australia in '61, I saw "Barefoot Adventure" and "Slippery When Wet" in a theater in Brisbane. Before that I was an office boy for an advertising company and was fascinated by television, so I was going to take a job as a camera person. But then I saw Bruce Brown's movies and I thought, "No way, I'm going surfing." That night I decided my future and entire career would be in surfing. I left Brisbane and never went back. It was just surf, surf, surf from that day forward. I didn't have any plan. I didn't know or care what I was going to do for a living. How I survived was just to cast my fate into the wind. I just followed my passion.
Creative thinking is infectious. George Greenough has the most wonderful, mechanical mind I've ever encountered, and I learned a real lot about physics and mechanics and how things work from George. He's very extreme in that realm. He's out there. He doesn't really function in the social world. He just focuses on one thing: How can we make this work better?
Nat Young was the best natural surfer I've ever seen. Before the Shortboard Revolution, our thing was involvement with the curl. It was in contrast to David Nuuhiwa's beautiful, endless noserides. "Total Involvement" was our Aussie thing. We're going accelerate when the section demands it. We're going to stall when it demands it. We'll stall from the nose and hold back to get in the barrel. Then we'll pump down the line and whip a cutty back into the curl. Involvement with the curl was the thing and Nat was the greatest practitioner of it. Big feet. Beautiful bent knees. Big shoulders and power. His surfing on the Magic Sam and Involvement-era boards was much better than mine. And then, of course, he also showed the world what could be done on a shortboard.
Changing our foot placement was the all-time most influential shift in surfing. When we traded trimming for speed from the middle of the board with standing with your back foot over your fins and your front foot in the middle, we built a powerful engine. That changed surfing forever. From then on, everything has been done from the tail. No more moving around on the board. Keep your center of gravity low and drive off that tail. You've now got an engine between your feet.
Al Merrick made the first perfect shortboard. It was a Tom Curren model with perfect rocker, perfect rails and all the curves were absolutely perfect. It was made to do everything you could ever want to do on a wave. That was it. We kicked off the Shortboard Revolution in the late '60s and by the mid '80s it was done. And I've got to thank Al for that.
It's really fun to give away waves. We're always looking for that Zen aspect of surfing. For me, you can find that by giving more than receiving. It took me years to figure that out. But a lot of people don't apply that out in the surf. If they did, we'd have a much better time. But it's only mature surfers who realize that. The frothers don't get it. It's really a mature spirit. Sharing waves, giving waves away, there's a spirituality in that.
Everyone should have a log. When I moved Byron Bay after the Shortboard Revolution, I had a 7’10” shortboard, but I also kept a 9’3″ log. I'd surf Lennox in the morning on a shortboard and I'd surf the pass in the afternoon on a log. I had logs through all the eras, and I thought people were stupid for not having them. In the '70s we'd surf perfect waves at The Pass and Noosa by ourselves because we had the right boards. Progressing on the shortboard was exciting, for sure, but I always had both.
You should always be looking for new ways to have fun. I'm not a nostalgic guy. I'll talk about the past when someone asks, but I'm always looking at what's next for fun. That's what has kept me pushing forward all these years. I got into windsurfing and developed equipment to ride big, double-mast-high waves. I developed the first wave skis. I made snowboards starting in 1972, but never had the money to keep developing those. Foil boards are next. In five years the bay at Wategos Beach is going to be full of foil boards. It's the only way to harness the power of unbroken swells that could be ridden for up to two miles. How fun does that sound?
Working with your kids is a real gift. My son Ben grew up in the shortboard era. He started shaping when he was 14, so he's been making boards for something like 30 years. He can cut rockers, which not a lot of guys know how to do anymore. He can predict what a board is going to do just by looking at it. I ask him questions. I learn from him.