STEP OUT AND TAKE THE RISK

Surfing World - - Contents - Wayne Lynch, Evo­lu­tion­ary

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)

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