SHIPS I N THE NIGHT

Surfing World - - Contents - Rab­bit Bartholomew, 1978 World Cham­pion

Igrew up in an era idol­is­ing Midget Far­relly, Nat Young and Peter Drouyn. They were my big three. You know that ques­tion, who do you like bet­ter The Bea­tles or The Rolling Stones? That’s what lov­ing those three guys was like when I was a kid. Midget was one of my boy­hood he­roes.

I didn’t get to know Midget much at all dur­ing his surf ca­reer. By the time we came along there’d been a great ex­o­dus. The 1970 World Ti­tles at Jo­hanna was the last event of an era re­ally. Midget, Nat, Drouyn, Ted Spencer, they all went in dif­fer­ent di­rec­tions af­ter that. They weren’t on the in­ter­na­tional com­pet­i­tive scene any­more. We were ships pass­ing in the night in that re­gard.

I do re­mem­ber Midget com­ing down and surf­ing at Bells in 1974. It was so cool to see him surf­ing and rid­ing very dif­fer­ent boards. I was al­ways aware that he was in­no­va­tive with surf­board de­sign. He was al­ways look­ing for ways to evolve and im­prove his surf­ing ex­pe­ri­ence.

It’s hard to fathom Midget was only a teenager when he won the World Ti­tle at Manly and that in ’74 he would only have been in his late 20s. At­ti­tudes to­wards surf­ing were very dif­fer­ent at that time. The mind­set was more like swim­ming. It was ex­pected that your peak years of per­for­mance were 19 to 21. Ev­ery­thing from the judg­ing to who was trend­ing was af­fected by it. Sport hadn’t evolved to the point where you could be in your 30s and still be per­form­ing at the high­est level. You were con­sid­ered an­cient at 25 and a di­nosaur if you were still on a long­board. Now thanks to sports sci­ence, ath­letes train bet­ter, eat bet­ter, con­di­tion them­selves both phys­i­cally and men­tally to peak later for longer, but none of this was known back then. That’s why it’s dif­fi­cult to com­pare eras.

Re­gard­less of the time or space though, Midget was al­ways the stylist. Mas­ter­ful, silky smooth, he was sub­lime when he walked the board. He was to us what Phil Ed­wards was to the Amer­i­cans. They were the two piv­otal stylists.

I got to know Midget much later in life. When­ever I spent time in Syd­ney I’d go for an early morn­ing surf at Manly, then head over to the Honolulu Café and have break­fast with Midget. We got to talk real surf story. About groups of Aussie teenagers hitch­ing boat rides to Hawaii and go­ing out and surf­ing the North Shore for the first time and go­ing to take on the gi­ant waves at Makaha. They were the pi­o­neer­ing days of Aus­tralians on the North Shore and it was trail­blaz­ing stuff. He was a great sto­ry­teller. You had to be lucky to get one, be­cause he would only open up when he felt com­fort­able. I felt like if he was telling you sto­ries, he liked your com­pany and I felt so priv­i­leged to be ed­u­cated first­hand by a guy who had ex­pe­ri­enced it all.

When­ever I surfed with him at Manly, he was very con­sis­tent about his style and flow and his touch with the ocean. His legacy is rich and his in­flu­ence un­de­ni­able. There’s no doubt you can still come across guys and girls from the Midget school of surf­ing to­day – beauty in ev­ery move­ment with not a drop of wa­ter out of place.

“When Midget won in 1964, he in­spired Aus­tralians to aspire to be World Cham­pi­ons,” said Rab­bit of his boy­hood hero. This photo was taken at Narrabeen in ’ 74, only four years be­fore Rab­bit would win his own World Crown. (Si­mon Chip­per)

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