US UGLY BUGGERS
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.