Wis­dom:

Bob Mc­tavish, 74, short­board rev­o­lu­tion­ary

Surfer - - Contents -

You never know what might change the course of your life.

When Bruce Brown came through Aus­tralia in ’61, I saw “Bare­foot Ad­ven­ture” and “Slip­pery When Wet” in a the­ater in Brisbane. Be­fore that I was an of­fice boy for an ad­ver­tis­ing com­pany and was fas­ci­nated by tele­vi­sion, so I was go­ing to take a job as a cam­era per­son. But then I saw Bruce Brown’s movies and I thought, “No way, I’m go­ing surf­ing.” That night I de­cided my fu­ture and en­tire ca­reer would be in surf­ing. I left Brisbane and never went back. It was just surf, surf, surf from that day for­ward. I didn’t have any plan. I didn’t know or care what I was go­ing to do for a liv­ing. How I sur­vived was just to cast my fate into the wind. I just fol­lowed my pas­sion.

Cre­ative think­ing is in­fec­tious.

Ge­orge Gree­nough has the most won­der­ful, me­chan­i­cal mind I’ve ever en­coun­tered, and I learned a real lot about physics and me­chan­ics and how things work from Ge­orge. He’s very ex­treme in that realm. He’s out there. He doesn’t re­ally func­tion in the so­cial world. He just fo­cuses on one thing: How can we make this work bet­ter?

Nat Young was the best nat­u­ral surfer I’ve ever seen.

Be­fore the Short­board Revolution, our thing was in­volve­ment with the curl. It was in con­trast to David Nu­uhiwa’s beau­ti­ful, end­less noserides. “To­tal In­volve­ment” was our Aussie thing. We’re go­ing ac­cel­er­ate when the sec­tion de­mands it. We’re go­ing to stall when it de­mands it. We’ll stall from the nose and hold back to get in the bar­rel. Then we’ll pump down the line and whip a cutty back into the curl. In­volve­ment with the curl was the thing and Nat was the great­est prac­ti­tioner of it. Big feet. Beau­ti­ful bent knees. Big shoul­ders and power. His surf­ing on the Magic Sam and In­volve­ment-era boards was much bet­ter than mine. And then, of course, he also showed the world what could be done on a short­board.

Chang­ing our foot place­ment was the all-time most in­flu­en­tial shift in surf­ing.

When we traded trim­ming for speed from the mid­dle of the board with stand­ing with your back foot over your fins and your front foot in the mid­dle, we built a pow­er­ful en­gine. That changed surf­ing for­ever. From then on, ev­ery­thing has been done from the tail. No more mov­ing around on the board. Keep your cen­ter of grav­ity low and drive off that tail. You’ve now got an en­gine be­tween your feet.

Al Mer­rick made the first per­fect short­board.

It was a Tom Cur­ren model with per­fect rocker, per­fect rails and all the curves were ab­so­lutely per­fect. It was made to do ev­ery­thing you could ever want to do on a wave. That was it. We kicked off the Short­board Revolution in the late ‘60s and by the mid ‘80s it was done. And I’ve got to thank Al for that.

It’s re­ally fun to give away waves.

We’re al­ways look­ing for that Zen as­pect of surf­ing. For me, you can find that by giv­ing more than re­ceiv­ing. It took me years to fig­ure that out. But a lot of peo­ple don’t ap­ply that out in the surf. If they did, we’d have a much bet­ter time. But it’s only ma­ture surfers who re­al­ize that. The frothers don’t get it. It’s re­ally a ma­ture spirit. Shar­ing waves, giv­ing waves away, there’s a spir­i­tu­al­ity in that. 28 Every­one should have a log.

When I moved By­ron Bay after the Short­board Revolution, I had a 7'10" short­board, but I also kept a 9'3" log. I’d surf Len­nox in the morn­ing on a short­board and I’d surf the pass in the af­ter­noon on a log. I had logs through all the eras, and I thought peo­ple were stupid for not hav­ing them. In the ’70s we’d surf per­fect waves at The Pass and Noosa by our­selves be­cause we had the right boards. Pro­gress­ing on the short­board was ex­cit­ing, for sure, but I al­ways had both.

You should al­ways be look­ing for new ways to have fun.

I’m not a nos­tal­gic guy. I’ll talk about the past when some­one asks, but I’m al­ways look­ing at what’s next for fun. That’s what has kept me push­ing for­ward all these years. I got into wind­surf­ing and de­vel­oped equip­ment to ride big, dou­ble-mast-high waves. I de­vel­oped the first wave skis. I made snow­boards start­ing in 1972, but never had the money to keep devel­op­ing those. Foil boards are next. In five years the bay at Wat­e­gos Beach is go­ing to be full of foil boards. It’s the only way to har­ness the power of un­bro­ken swells that could be rid­den for up to two miles. How fun does that sound?

Work­ing with your kids is a real gift.

My son Ben grew up in the short­board era. He started shap­ing when he was 14, so he’s been mak­ing boards for some­thing like 30 years. He can cut rock­ers, which not a lot of guys know how to do any­more. He can pre­dict what a board is go­ing to do just by look­ing at it. I ask him ques­tions. I learn from him.

“You should al­ways be look­ing for new ways to have fun. I’m not a nos­tal­gic guy. I’ll talk about the past when some­one asks, but I’m al­ways look­ing at what’s next for fun.”

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