WON­DER YEARS

FOL­LOW­ING THE LINES THROUGH SURF­ING HIS­TORY.

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In an in­ter­view with Nat Young (the orig­i­nal one) that I did just a few months be­fore the tragic pass­ing of his neme­sis Mid­get Far­relly, the 1966 world cham­pion re­called his first years of surf­ing on Sydney’s northern beaches.

He said: “Mid­get was my hero. I wanted to do ev­ery­thing ex­actly like him. I wanted to surf like him, I even wanted to walk and talk like him.”

Of course in Sydney in 1961 Nat wasn’t alone in that, but his suc­cess in em­u­lat­ing his early surf­ing men­tor and then sur­pass­ing him was as pub­lic then as it was ran­corous later. More than half a cen­tury on, it is the feud that we re­mem­ber, rather than the fact that this was the first real case of lin­eage in mod­ern Aus­tralian surf­ing. Af­ter 1966, while Mid­get and Nat con­tin­ued to com­pete against each other, there was no re­la­tion­ship be­tween them and the younger surfer went out of his way to re­move all traces of his men­tor’s style from the new in­volve­ment school he pioneered with Bob McTav­ish. Nat, in his turn, was a huge in­flu­ence on Ted Spencer and later Michael Peter­son and Ian Cairns, while Mid­get’s legacy could be seen in the smooth lines of Rus­sell Hughes and Keith Paull, and later Peter Tow­nend. (Oddly, in the late 1960s, Wayne Lynch’s smooth ap­proach to power surf­ing owed more to Mid­get than Nat, al­though he surfed around the world with the lat­ter, and was con­sid­ered part of his school).

These early ex­am­ples of lin­eage were by no means clean­cut, but over the years most surfers at the top of their game have looked around at what other peo­ple are do­ing, ab­sorbed it and tried to em­u­late it. For ex­am­ple, a whole school of low cen­tre of grav­ity power surf­ing flowed from the Sun­set Beach bot­tom turns of Barry Kana­ia­puni and Jeff Hak­man in the early ‘70s, while the tracks on a wave pioneered in dif­fer­ent ways by Reno Abel­lira and Terry Fitzger­ald in­flu­enced an­other school of surf­ing whose most no­table ex­em­plar was Mark Richards.

And then, of course, lin­eage can some­times work the other way. Si­mon An­der­son was a di­rect throw­back to Nat, as were Joe En­gel and Gary Elk­er­ton, with per­haps a tip of the hat to MP as well. In the cur­rent arena, Joel Parkin­son is a near perfect hy­brid of Mid­get and Nat, while also owing a few licks to Kelly Slater.

But prob­a­bly the most in­ter­est­ing cases of surf­ing lin­eage are also the most clearcut. Al­though he wasn’t the first “Mr Pipe­line”, Gerry Lopez smoothed out the rough edges of Butch Van Ars­dalen’s ap­proach and made the Pipe left his own, un­til a bunch of fear­less young goofies be­gan to em­u­late his ev­ery move. The best of these was Gerry’s Light­ning Bolt team-mate and un­der­study Rory Rus­sell, who did not have Gerry’s fe­line grace or nat­u­ral tal­ent but was a bet­ter com­peti­tor and all-rounder. Jackie Dunn and Jeff Crawford were also con­tem­po­raries who were in­flu­enced by the Lopez ap­proach at Pipe­line, as was the next gen­er­a­tion’s Tom Car­roll.

Lopez’s fluid ap­proach to surf­ing Uluwatu (and later G-Land) was as tech­ni­cal and pre­cise as his Pipe act, and it in­flu­enced a whole gen­er­a­tion of Aus­tralian charg­ers in Indo in the late ‘70s, in­clud­ing Terry Richard­son, Tony “Doris” Elther­ing­ton, Larry Blair and Jim Banks. If you watched Larry Blair tear up a Sydney beach break, or Ri­cho hook his back­hand high un­der the lip at San­don, or Doris thread­ing through the Burleigh Cove, the last per­son you would think of would be Gerry Lopez. But put them into a perfect left crack­ling over a trop­i­cal reef, and their in­ner Gerry shone like a bea­con.

To­day, the Lopez legacy lives on in the form of Rob Machado, and it was won­der­ful to watch the old mas­ter and the merely mid­dle-aged drifter surf­ing Ulus to­gether in Nathan Myer’s The More Things Change.

Fi­nally, one would ex­pect that the great­est surfer of all time would have a cor­re­spond­ingly vast lin­eage to be traced around the world, yet Kelly Slater’s su­pe­ri­or­ity in ev­ery facet of surf­ing some­how ren­ders him be­yond em­u­la­tion. Of course, you can see parts of him in al­most ev­ery surfer of the new gen­er­a­tion, from John John to Con­nor Cof­fin to Ethan Ewing (who also brings Andy Irons to mind), but there is too much go­ing on for any one per­son to clone.

At least for the time be­ing.

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