A MAN OF MANY DI­MEN­SIONS

Surfing World - - Contents - Doug War­brick, Rip Curl Co-founder

Midget’s pres­ence was felt through all of mod­ern surf­ing. In the ear­li­est years, 16 foot pad­dle­boards had taken dom­i­nance and ev­ery­one was rid­ing on those big tooth­picks, un­til the US and Hawai­ian life­guards in­tro­duced what we called the ‘short­board’ at the Olympic Surf Car­ni­val at Torquay in late 1956. It lib­er­ated surf­ing. Midget had be­come the dom­i­nant surfer only within a cou­ple of years of this tran­si­tion. By the late ‘50s he was ab­so­lutely rip­ping, do­ing moves that these guys hadn’t seen be­fore. And he’s been there ever since.

I first met Midget in 1963, when he came to Torquay, Bells; on the surf coast af­ter win­ning the Makaha In­ter­na­tional. This turned out to be some­what of a Duke Ka­hanamoku tour. When midget pad­dled out, most of the Vic­to­rian surfers re­turned to the beach and stood there to watch Midget’s surf­ing. I par­tic­u­larly re­call him surf­ing at a storm surf break called Point Lons­dale, on front beach, rip­ping the smaller waves by him­self with al­most all of the Vic­to­rian surf­ing com­mu­nity at the time stand­ing around the nat­u­ral amp­ither­a­tre watch­ing his per­for­mance. In 1964, there was the Bells rally, which some years later be­came the Rip Curl Pro. The event was run at Easter at Bells Beach, and the Aus­tralian Surfrider As­so­ci­a­tion ran the Vic­to­rian surf­ing cham­pi­onships par­al­lel with the rally. We had a celebrity judge – Midget Far­relly. In­ter­est­ingly, Brian Singer ( fel­low Rip Curl founder) and my­self both qual­i­fied for the Vic­to­rian team, mean­ing a cou­ple of months later we went to Syd­ney to the first World Surf­ing Cham­pi­onships, where we surfed in the early rounds. The state cham­pi­ons and a few other top surfers from around Aus­tralia were seeded in the main rounds against the in­ter­na­tional com­peti­tors. Midget had a Cal­i­for­nian style ap­proach to his surf­ing in this pe­riod, with the clas­sic drop knee cut­backs. When he won the World Ti­tle at Manly Beach in 1964, my­self and Brian were among the 60,000 strong crowd that were very de­lighted to see an Aussie beat those top ranked Hawai­ians and Cal­i­for­ni­ans. That was a beau­ti­ful thing. Midget’s pop­u­lar­ity sky­rock­eted af­ter the win, and I re­call he dyed his hair black so no one would recog­nise him. Al­most 20 years ago, Mick Fan­ning did the same thing. It’s a lit­tle bit of go­ing incog­nito. I won­der if their pop­u­lar­ity might’ve been grow­ing faster than they could quite deal with at the time?

When Midget won the Aus­tralian Ti­tles a year later, at Mid Steyne in 1965, the fore­cast was for very small surf. By fore­cast, I mean there were a few wise heads around

One does not sim­ply turn up the beach and surf. One must con­sider ev­ery as­pect of surf­ing, from the small­est de­tail to the big­gest pic­ture, fac­tor it all to­gether and make con­clu­sions with ac­tions. All while wear­ing top hats and tails. Midget and Claw, Bells, 1975. Im­age cour­tesy of Keith Platt.

that could pre­dict the surf by the old school meth­ods. Midget was an ab­so­lute mas­ter of this. At the time, he was un­der at­tack from other strong surfers from around Aus­tralia. Nat Young was surf­ing in the open, as was Bob Mc­tavish. What Midget had done in the 36 hours be­fore the event, was pre­dict the surf was go­ing to be very small, and made a smaller, much lighter surf­board. No stringer, one layer of glass. He’d won the ’64 World Ti­tle on 9’6” three-stringer Cal­i­for­nia in­spired tra­di­tional long­board. And this next year he ap­peared on the beach that day, with a shorter, 9’0’’ stringer­less surf­board. The first stringer­less board we’ve seen. So that was a very in­no­va­tive, pro­gres­sive thing that he did. And he won. The board went well and he won. They at­tribute the short­board era to oth­ers, but Midget was right there. He was cer­tainly al­ways part of that move­ment. When the Amer­i­can club, Win­dansea, came out and surfed Long Reef in 1968, I re­call Bob

Mc­tavish and Rus­sell Hughes were surf­ing well. The ones who prob­a­bly surfed the best in re­al­ity were Wayne Lynch, Nat Young, and Midget Far­relly. Midget had his own vee bot­toms that he shaped him­self. Stringer­less, vee bot­tom, light­weight boards. He’d mod­i­fied his surf­ing style a bit, and he was rep­re­sent­ing that mod­ern style of surf­ing.

For the ma­noeu­vres of the day, he could do all of them. If we take the era im­me­di­ately be­fore that, in the late ’50s and early ’60s where he was re­garded as far and away the best surfer in Aus­tralia, his style of surf­ing at that time was very rep­re­sen­ta­tive of the Aus­tralian surf­ing to­day. He was young and fast and en­er­getic and made a lot of ma­noeu­vres. For that era he was do­ing a lot of Aussie rip­ping and tear­ing. Then he smoothed the style out when he went to longer boards, but he didn’t stay on them. He was al­ways a clas­sic surfer, he took a lot of in­spi­ra­tion from the lead­ing Hawai­ian and Cal­i­for­nian surfers. He had a lot of re­spect for them, but he was an Aussie and he did rip and tear like an Aussie. He was a lit­tle bit of a sur­prise to peo­ple who were sup­port­ing other Aus­tralian surfers and styles of boards. At that time the Aus­tralian pack stood out head and shoul­ders above the Amer­i­cans, be­cause they hadn’t changed the equip­ment or their style of surf­ing. They hadn’t adapted to the new thing, so there was a stark dif­fer­ence in per­for­mance. Midget, who may have been re­garded in that style of surf­ing, had made the change and he was dis­play­ing the high per­for­mance surf­ing of the era. Where the board de­signs changed rapidly from late ’67 through to the early seven­ties, there was rad­i­cal change in surf­boards. Cer­tainly by months and even week by week at times. Midget par­tic­i­pated in this as a shaper. In 1969, his most rad­i­cal de­sign was the side-slip­per. It was called this be­cause you could slide the tail out. A lit­tle bit like what you can do with an alaia or the fin­less boards of to­day. The board al­most had a slightly tri­an­gu­lar shape, a bit like a kite. The wide point was in the mid­dle of the board, quite straight, ta­pered to the nose, some­what squared off nose, very dis­tinct hip or bend in the mid­dle, then quite straight to the tail that was some­what square. So you had this pivot point, where you could jam the rail in and drop the tail out. Midget Far­relly was quite a mas­ter of slid­ing 360s. Surf­board de­signs were chang­ing

rapidly through those years, and the side-slip­per just be­came a piece of the puz­zle in de­sign­ing the mod­ern surf­board. As a mod­ern shape it was passed over, but the slid­ing 360 en­dured.

There were dif­fer­ent schools of surf­ing and each had their he­roes. As surf­ing de­vel­oped, the com­mu­nity branched into dif­fer­ent styles and tech­niques. As a re­sult, there were huge ri­val­ries be­tween the lead­ers of those schools, whether they re­ally wanted to be the leader of that school of surf­ing or not, Midget was cer­tainly the leader of his own style and al­ways did things his own way. I think the pop­u­lar­ity was di­vided for a while there; di­vided be­tween your favourite surfers, and it still is to­day. With the judg­ing to­day, they’re the best judges and they’re not judg­ing to suit a cer­tain school of surf­ing or a cer­tain na­tion­al­ity but back in those days all of that was in play, or sus­pected to be in play. It was cer­tainly po­lit­i­cal at dif­fer­ent lev­els. To­day it’s more ac­cu­rate and con­ducted in a far more bal­anced and ob­jec­tive kind of way.

Midget was com­plex, a very com­plex per­son with many di­men­sions to his per­son­al­ity. He al­ways con­ducted him­self with style, with a lit­tle bit of the Aussie lar­rikin in there too. He did have that Aussie hu­mour and once you un­der­stood his take on it, he was a lot of fun to be around, but a lot of peo­ple would mis­un­der­stand him, or not get it. He was a true gen­tle­man. He would share and of­fer that you pad­dle for waves. He also had a great un­der­stand­ing of the ocean, and a re­mark­able eye for a wave, a qual­ity which I’ve only seen since from Tom Cur­ren and Michael Ho. Whether it was Bali on a reef­break, Syd­ney beach­breaks, Hawaii or any sort of wave any­where. He had a great sense for the ocean, and not nec­es­sar­ily text­book. He had his own ver­sion of that. If you were surf­ing with him, and the known in­tel­li­gence was you surf this break on low tide. Midget would of­ten come up with a vari­a­tion like “Oh let’s not go out on ex­actly lowtide, be­cause I no­ticed yes­ter­day that some­thing a lit­tle bit dif­fer­ent was hap­pen­ing. I’m sens­ing that the swell is a lit­tle bit dif­fer­ent to­day.” Nine times out of 10 he’d pick the eyes out of it and they would be the best waves of the day; it was both in­tu­itive and learned prac­tice knowl­edge. Typ­i­cal of Midget, there might have been a cou­ple of other di­men­sions there that I can’t iden­tify, but he had ’em.

He was a real stu­dent of all the breaks and never prob­a­bly had a bad ride. Cer­tainly never had a bad ses­sion. He was one of those guys like Tom Cur­ren – at a new break, his first wave would be ab­so­lutely com­mand­ing. But I know in Midget’s case, he stud­ied the surf a lit­tle more closely than oth­ers be­fore he pad­dled out. While ev­ery­one was goof­ing around I think he was siz­ing up the break and how the waves would form and run.

Midget was a good friend. Whether it was the Aus­tralian Ti­tles, the in­dus­try events, buy­ing surf­board blanks from him, go­ing on surf­ing ad­ven­tures. Mul­ti­ple lev­els. I re­call be­ing at Noosa 35 years later, and they had a re­match of the ’64 World Ti­tles. Un­for­tu­nately Bobby Brown wasn’t alive, but the five re­main­ing fi­nal­ists surfed at Cast­aways Beach. The surf was pretty good, 4-6 foot rights and lefts, solid beach breaks, and Midget beat all those guys once again. He’s been a part of ev­ery era of surf­ing. Some­times clearly in a lead­er­ship po­si­tion and other times maybe not seen out front lead­ing, but cer­tainly pro­vid­ing his own an­gles. It’s a long time, more than 50 years that Midget’s been at the fore­front of Aus­tralian surf­ing as a sig­nif­i­cant el­der. Things will be dif­fer­ent now with­out him. His is a big loss to Aus­tralian and world surf­ing.

Above: Was Midget the first guy to pull fully func­tional slid­ing 360s? He cer­tainly had the equip­ment to sug­gest so. Op­po­site: Far­relly’s fa­mous side-slip­per. A brief yet ex­cit­ing de­vel­op­ment. (Kid­man)

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