Surfing World - - Contents - Garry Bird­sall, Artist, Shaper

Midget and I were both shapers at Danny Keyo’s the year he won the World Ti­tle at Manly, so we had quite a bit to do with each other.

Af­ter the big win at Manly Midget bought a new car, a Holden, and we took it away to go surf­ing. I’d never been in a brand new car at that stage and I re­mem­ber the plas­tic smell of it be­ing pretty won­der­ful. It doesn’t last mind you, all surfers cars even­tu­ally stink, but I knew as soon as I got in the Holden we were in for a great lit­tle trip.

We left Syd­ney and headed north to An­gourie with the Amer­i­can surfer Linda Ben­son, and her friends in an­other car, with Snowy Mcal­is­ter act­ing as chap­er­one. He was mak­ing sure us ugly buggers stayed away from the girls. Snow was a man of such prin­ci­ples and he wouldn’t have wanted any mis­chief go­ing on, not that it stopped me from try­ing my hard­est to get bet­ter ac­quainted with Linda; she was just gor­geous. Albe Fal­zon came along too and we got fan­tas­tic waves at An­gourie, and some beau­ti­ful waves at Cres­cent Head too. There was good swell run­ning at the time, so we were very for­tu­nate.

Af­ter all the at­ten­tion of the World Ti­tle, the trip north felt like a fan­tas­tic re­lief for every­body, par­tic­u­larly Midget. He was re­ally start­ing to get no­ticed by all sorts of peo­ple. I re­mem­ber stand­ing with Midget one day when these kids came run­ning up to me with their pens out and their lit­tle books and say­ing “Would you get a sig­na­ture from Midget for us?” I’d never seen this be­fore. It was like some­thing out of the movies. So Midget signed their books and all of a sud­den they turned to me and said “Would you give us a sig­na­ture?” Well, it was the weird­est thing I’d ever done in my bloody life. That stuff’s for movie stars, not a bloody old dick­head like me! Midget was busy sign­ing au­to­graphs all the way up and down the coast. As soon as some­one knew he was the Midget who’d won the con­test, they were all over him. It was a funny ex­pe­ri­ence be­cause that sort of be­hav­iour hadn’t ex­isted in surf­ing be­fore. Midget was the first guy to ex­pe­ri­ence it and as a rep­re­sen­ta­tive of Aus­tralia, and a cham­pion, we couldn’t have wished for a man more suited to the role of be­ing our first hero. Midget’s well-spo­ken man­ner, thought­ful­ness and abil­ity to han­dle the me­dia and fan­fare set surf­ing off on a very pos­i­tive path.

I al­ways en­joyed surf­ing with him. Midget was one of these guys who would ap­pear, have a surf with you, and dis­ap­pear just as quickly. While the rest of us would all lay around on the cars and yabba and so forth, Midget’s pro­gram was turn up, surf, then go straight home or back to work. He’d be happy and po­lite to every­body and then boom! He’d be gone.

I do be­lieve Midget strived for ex­cel­lence on ev­ery wave he surfed. I don’t know if that’s be­cause as a recog­nised cham­pion he felt a re­spon­si­bil­ity to per­form. We all have our good days and our bad days and if we’re just a reg­u­lar surfer we don’t re­ally give a shit. Midget didn’t seem to have that free­dom once he be­came fa­mous, the free­dom to surf and frolic. What­ever it was, he went surf­ing to surf well, put on a good ex­hi­bi­tion and clear out. When­ever he surfed, he surfed to his best. He didn’t see the wa­ter like a lot of us surfers see it, as a place to play.

I re­mem­ber surf­ing the Long Reef Bom­bie one re­ally big day with Midget and he was ex­per­i­ment­ing with a tun­nel fin. Tun­nel fins were ideal for noserid­ing in small waves, be­cause when peo­ple walked up to the nose the wa­ter would be go­ing through the tun­nel fin at the tail and hold­ing it down. You could dance around on the nose for­ever on those things and so peo­ple thought they worked. I don’t think Midget was con­vinced and he wanted to try it out in big­ger surf. So we’re out in the line-up when this mon­ster set starts com­ing in. Midget turns, puts in a cou­ple of strokes, and goes pow­er­ing down the face. As he leans into his bot­tom turn, the tail fin rips straight out, the tun­nel does ab­so­lutely noth­ing and he skips out and gets ab­so­lutely whacked. When he came up he was fu­ri­ous! When he got to shore he picked up the board, then yelled “Fuck­ing use­less thing!” threw it down and stormed off. Mate, he had the shits! Fun­nily, that was pretty much the end of the tun­nel fin. Word must have got around cause al­most overnight no­body pur­sued them af­ter that.

Midget knew surf­boards and was a fine shaper. When he shaped a surf­board there were no flaws. He was very ac­cu­rate and, like his surf­ing, if he was go­ing to bother do­ing it then he was go­ing to do it bloody well. In my opin­ion he’s the finest shaper I’ve ever known. You couldn’t fault his boards, he wouldn’t let it hap­pen be­cause his name was on it. Midget was a per­fec­tion­ist in ev­ery­thing he did.

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