STEP OUT AND TAKE THE RISK
Midget came to Lorne very soon after that first win at Makaha and we of course sat on the rocks and watched him surf.
I first met Midget at the Bells contest in the mid-sixties. I was such a young kid amongst men, but my first impression was that he was an encouraging person. I remember him there at Bells, a big smile with a lot of teeth, just being a sort of statesman, telling a young kid to keep on with it. He said to me, “What you need to develop is your wave selection.” And he was right. He’d seen me surf in the juniors at Bells and it was a little tiny day at high tide – fickle bloody Bells which I’ve never liked – and of course, I was struggling. Midget’s words were a nice affirmation, and a positive critique. You don’t need all the backslapping stuff, that’s useless. What Midget gave me was really good information as well as encouragement.
I always found Midget like that. He could be crusty and stubborn and judgemental, and I was never bothered by that. He didn’t have to be anything but himself for me, and a lot of people who are really, genuinely brilliant are like that. They live in a different world, they live in a different reality, and really, you have to just accept all of them. The whole person, all these different aspects. Midget didn’t fit the box for a lot of people, they couldn’t nut him out, so he tended to be overlooked or even marginalised. His contribution to surfing – which is enormous – was allowed to slide by and not be fully recognised or endorsed.
To me he was incredibly perceptive and he had such clarity about surfing. He was scientific in his approach, he was always experimental and exploring. He wasn’t left behind at any point.
Midget’s made as big a contribution to surfboard design as anybody’s ever done, and I stand by that. I don’t care who says anything different, because I was there and I know what he was doing because I always spoke with him and I always looked at his boards. I always looked at everyone’s boards. He was pursuing thinner, lighter, more flex, right at the beginning. There’s a beautiful photo of him, and all of the finalists at one of the Bells contests, I think it was ’66, and they’re all standing there with their boards. Keith Paull, Nat, Peter Drouyn, Ted Spencer, and Midget with his, the only stringerless, and the board’s a foot shorter than everyone else’s, at least. It’s right there in front of you. There are the facts.
I loved his approach, it was so individual and it was so Midget. I thought surfing should allow that type of freedom to express who you are and what you feel. I was very inspired by that, always. His love of surfing epitomised what surfing really was for so many of us, that sense of freedom to express who you are, that sense of freedom to live out your life without other people’s ideas imposing on you, and the way you surfed represented that. It’s an expression of something quite deep in you, it’s not just a contest result. And the thing that’s really unique about Midget – for a person who had competed a lot and won such significant events – was that he always saw it as a bigger picture. He realised competition was only one aspect of surfing. Despite the accolades, Think surfboards by Farrelly and the first word that comes to mind is “exquisite”. The second might be “expensive”. But the third, fourth & fifth are definitely “worth every penny!” (Albe Falzon)
despite how well known he is, he never pursued it. He was actually quite a shy man in a lot of ways and quite happy not to put himself in the spotlight. He didn’t seek self promotion or avenues like that.
I was there right through it all. I was even there as a kid at Manly when he won. The fact that he went out into the world and won Makaha, and was the first Australian to be recognised at top level, that his surfing was world class, broke down that door for all of us. A lot of people wouldn’t realise, and it wasn’t really nasty, but Americans had this attitude that Australian’s weren’t that good or there was always a bit of a tongue-in-cheek belief that ‘we’re the best, and Australians aren’t too bad for a colonial outpost’. That mental, psychological restriction was imposed on me even if it was not deliberate. And Midget tore that down for Australian surfing. World surfing. He was surfing brilliantly back then, but it takes a lot more to walk into a situation and succeed when the hard work’s still to be done. Think of it like surfing a new break that’s really intense and radical that no one’s surfed before. Once it’s done, and the knowledge is understood, and it’s given, it’s a lot easier for the next people to come and surf. Midget laid down the path and opened the gate for the rest of us. This is a huge contribution to Australian surfing. It connected Nat and Peter and myself later on, and
suddenly the world was taking notice. He could be such a cantankerous bugger in some ways, and he’d always slot me in with the Nat thing and all that. He’d try to bounce me but I’d always talk to him because I’d just walk through it and say, “Stop being a bloody idiot Midget… Stop being a dickhead.” And I’d just carry on talking to him, and then he’d open up and laugh. He’d put the door up to see if I’d walk through. And I always did.
I think Midget was the first president of the NSW surfing federation. And he would stand up and fight them tooth and nail over the things he felt were wrong. I think he even got banned from competing one year. He wouldn’t go to some of the functions in recent times because he felt they were ridiculous, he didn’t have to, and he didn’t want to play the game. He was very clear about what he felt was right and wrong, about what had integrity and what didn’t. I really respect that.
He’s gone... and it’s a travesty. What knowledge could you have gleened? The aspects of history that aren’t what we call mainstream, are where Midget could have filled in a lot of gaps. There’s so much more we could have learned from him. He came to surfing, not because it was a career, not because it was anything other than something he and his generation absolutely loved. They were pioneers, and in a certain way it transformed them as people. If you lose history you wind up not knowing what you belong to and that fundamentally means chaos. You have no sense of what it is you’re part of and what you’re doing. This is both from the point of view of surfing and the broader culture of our human history. It’s actually an enriching process and a transforming process. And so many surfers today have no clue about any of this.
I think the way the media more often than not ignored people like Midget, is a real travesty and a shame. It’s a huge loss now he’s gone. Imagine if you could have Jimi Hendrix and John Lennon and those guys in one room and sit down now and talk to them all – through their lives – it would be amazing. And here we are in surfing and more often than not, we’ve just pushed these people to the side, as if they somehow belong to the past. It’s absurd. And as the years go by now, they’re all going to be disappearing. What’s surfing going to look like when the only people who mean anything are World Champions? Midget’s gone for Christsake. He’s gone. It’s over.
Midget was one of those people who stepped out and created a life for himself, in a way and in a place and in an activity where there wasn’t any such thing. It takes a lot of courage and it takes a very strong individual to do that. The police and mainstream society thought surfers were just dole bludgers. They didn’t realise we were shaping surfboards and actually earning a living. It’s important to acknowledge his courage to step out and create a life, to take the risk. Pioneering people like Midget were right at the forefront of it and there weren’t many of them. That’s part of the legacy – what he gave to surfing was genuine integrity. This is what I mean by respect, people need to realise how he helped make our lives possible. He was as different as anyone. I made the mistake once of calling surfing an alternative lifestyle which I have regretted ever since. It wasn’t. It was a sub culture, and an interesting social development. It had its own way of talking, its own language, its own looks, its own way of living. We were very lucky. We lived at a time when socially and economically the ground was ripe for that to happen, and without those factors being in place it probably couldn’t have. Midget was very much a part of that, make no mistake. He may have seemed like he was a conservative man from the outside – but he wasn’t. He wasn’t at all. To step away from what was social expectation and not wanting to conform is not the act of a conservative mind. This is reflected even in the way he pursued surfboard design. He had a very lively mind. He loved that intellectual challenge.
Surfing is so unique, in its history and its culture. We still have much we can learn from Midget. I think it would be an absolutely wonderful thing, that in his passing, he actually contributes again. It would be a really appropriate response for people to look deeper.
I think I learnt this from life, but Midget for me always represented this: stay true to yourself, live your life and express the person you are and what’s important to you. Don’t worry about the ridicule or anything that may come because of it.
“HE CAME TO SURFING, NOT BECAUSE IT WAS A CAREER, NOT BECAUSE IT WAS ANYTHING OTHER THAN SOMETHING HE AND HIS GENERATION ABSOLUTELY LOVED. ”
Everything about this photo just... fits. The board, the positioning, the speed... it’s the Midget School and class is in session. (Falzon)