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Trip: The Endless Summer 63-73
Thursday June 7 2007 09:16:13 PM
Date: from Nov 15, 1963 to Jun 7, 2007
Surf trip description:
The Swinging Sixties:
"It was the best of times it was the worst of times it was the 60's!" From the crack of a 6.5 millimeter Carcarmo on November 22nd 1963 to July 20th 1969 and the roar of the mighty Saturn 5's 7,648,000 pounds of thrust!
An era of tragedy, of hope, of idealism, of innocence and of triumph of sad tales of the short life (28) of superstar "Factory Girl" Edie Sedwick. (One of her many talents was to pop her eye's so she could see herself getting fucked ... while fucked up on meth!)
"Edie had an impressive family history of wealth and was very well educated. After her father discovered oil on their 3000 acres ranch, Edie and her seven other siblings started to live in their own world. They even had a private school! The Sedgwicks had a history of brilliance but psychiatric problems. Two of her brothers died at an early age:
Minty - after getting addicted to alcohol at the age 15, going to AA meetings and talking to a non-existent audience, he commited suicide with 26-years-old. The day before hunging himself, he called Edie and told her "she was the only Sedgwick he could ever hope for".
Bobby - he also had psychiatric issues and after being commited in Bellavue institution for ten days and the Manhattan State Hospital, died in january 12, 1965, 13 days after crashing into the side of a bus with his Harley Davidson without a helmet.
In 1962, Edie was admitted to the very strict Bloomingdale with anorexia. In her stay, she became pregnant and had an abortion. A year later she moved to Cambridge (still seeing a psychiatrist) were she started to hang out with the likes of Chuck Wein, a friend who saw her star quality and introduced her toeveryone he thought that mattered.
In 1964, at age 21, Edie moved to New York. A year later, in january, Edie met Andy Warhol at Lester Persky's apartment. She started to frequent the "Factory" with Chuck Wein (whose addiction to drugs were getting worse) regularly. After her Screen Test and a quick aparition in Horse, Andy put his newest darling in Vinyl and so was born a short but bright superstar. "
This was a trip the best decade in history when it seemed young people would rule the world ... a social and technological revolution ... a revolution in music and the golden years of surfing.
"Gidget" staring 15 year old hottie Sandra Dee had been released in 1959 with Mickey "Da Cat" doing the surfing. (Hear the story about Dora stuffing doo-doo into the vents of Sandra Dee's limo while shooting on a hot day at the Boo ... she reportedly opened the door and puked on PCH.) Bruce Brown came out with the classic "Surfing Hollow Days" and "Barefoot Adventure". Surf Music was king. In 1963 The Beach Boys "Surfing USA" was #1, followed by "Surfer Girl," "Wipe Out," "Surf City, "Pipeline" and more. White cotton pants with floral or seersucker shirts were the uniform.
In 1964 The Beatles ruled with "Love me do," "I wanna hold your hand," "She loves you"... the Mersey beat had taken over. Long hair, Beatle boots and duffel coats became the vogue. The future still held corduroy and paisley, the Tonkin Resolution & Vietnam, the draft, demonstrations, The Grateful Dead, Woodstock, acid, free love and the psychedelic era of Flower Power and the Love Children ... the Hippie years.
In Australia in the early sixties' surfers & surfies were becoming the rage competing with the pep pill popping Italian motorscooter riding group known as the "Mods" replacing the hard core "Bodgies and Widgies" Triumph "Rocker" or motorcycle "Greaser" gangs of the fifties. A "Surfer" was one who actually surfed and a "Surfie" was one who emulated the surfing life ... you got it ... bleached blonde hair ... and a popout surfboard bolted the to roof of his car!
Surfers and Surfies hung out in the city "Sound Lounge" clubs or at the beach. The popular drugs of this era were Bennies (Benzedrine) passed down from the Beat Generation and "Purple Hearts" ... marihuana was rare and cocaine unheard of. The drinking age in the state of Queensland was 21 but just 60 miles from the state capital Brisbane was Tweed Heads at the southern end of the Gold Coast (a 25 mile strip of sun & sin) in the state of New South Wales where it was just 18 ... and they never bothered to check. Needless to say this is where the action was for teenagers and droves descended on weekends.
"In the mid-sixties there were two strains to the popular music which changed everything so dramatically. One was the pop as charactized by the Beatles, the other rhythm and blues, as represented by the Rolling Stones. Of course there were elements of both strains in either of those actual groups, but the music of the day generally fell into one camp or the other. Australia tended more towards the "Rolling Stones" side of the ledger than the rest of the world, and the Purple Hearts were the local pioneers in the field.
Singer Mick Hadley and bass player Bob Dames met each other in England in 1963, when the Beatles' popularity had just started, and the Rolling Stones were the hottest new band on London's live scene; just before it all exploded internationally. Hadley and Dames emigrated to Brisbane, Australia, but they'd seen and heard what was happening in London with their own eyes and ears.
Initially they formed the Impacts together, to play that "Rolling Stones" style music. Adding Scottish-born rhythm guitarist Fred Pickard and local musicians Barry Lyde (guitar) and Adrian Redmonds (drums) the group was transformed into the Purple Hearts, named after the pep-pills that were fashionable (though illicit) at the time amongst party-goers. First and best at playing the music that was taking the world by storm, the Purple Hearts quickly became the biggest thing in Brisbane, and a rough recording made at a radio station studio was released as a single. 'Long Legged Baby' was the Purple Heart's version of a song originally recorded in London by cult figure in the new scene, Graham Bond."
My first foray into the surfing life began as a teenager when I joined the Currumbin Beach Surf Lifesaving Club. I would catch the electric Tram (Trolley Car) from Brisbane to the end of the line going south then hitch hike the rest of the way to the coast often joining a dozen or more fellow travelers waiting for a lift on a Friday afternoon. As a clubbie for the volunteer lifesaving clubs you were trained, given a dorm bed and provided food. On Saturday nights wearing your club jacket you went out on the town in Surfers Paradise looking to get lucky or at least get drunk ... it was usually the latter. The only problem was the training was extremely tough ... swimming out in heavy surf wearing a vest and pulling a line in practice rescues ... particularly with a hangover ... was no fun!
I soon discovered an easier path ... I could hitch further down to the "Twin Towns" of Coolangatta ,Tweed Heads ... sleep on the beach at Greenmount and on Saturday night either go to the "Cabbage Patch Beer Garden" over the border to the Tweed Pub or up to "Danceland" in Collangatta. Danceland was almost an institution, packed during the summer holiday months and featuring live band including the "BG's"... who were booed by the way ... we wanted to hear Surf & Stomp music. Here you could find many a girl you could ask to "go for a walk along the beach" after it closed ... but that's another story.
Another bonus was the fact it was possible to scale the back fence (avoiding the menace of the night watchman) and sneak in through the fire doors which were keep open on warm nights ... I could count on my fingers the number of times we actually paid, as working as a team, we became so proficient at foiling the best efforts of the night watchman.
Greenmount Beach, Coolangatta was were it all began ... that stretch of magic coastline than starts at Kirra Point winds south around PCH past the line of Norfolk Pines at Coolangatta Beach to Greenmount Point then Rainbow Bay and on to Snapper Rocks (now called "The Superbank") past Point Danger ending at Duranbah Beach, the Tweed river breakwater and the New South Wales border. A sleepy seaside community with some of the best waves in the world and home to Michael Peterson, Peter Townend and Rabbit Bartholomew. Searching for the perfect wave had become the holy grail that Jack Kerouac had been searching for in "On the Road", "Big Sur" "Dharma Bums" and "Desolation's Angles".
Another Coolangatta institution was "Kev's Diner" the so called "Chew and Spew" open 24 hours and home of that famous Australian bill of fare "Steak & Kidney Pie with Peas". It was also know like its "Spring Break" cousins, Fort Lauderdale in Florida, Huntington Beach and Palm Springs in California as the home of the New Year Eve riot. These affairs would typically get out of hand with police cars getting trashed until the Boys in Blue resorted to a full charge into the crowd by baton wielding members of the New South Wales Mounted Police ... with those big horses coming ... you got of the bloody way fast ... remember be chased down a dead end alley and clearing a six foot brick wall topped with barbed wire in one leap.
Greenmount Beach beside the seaside, beside the sea ... infected by tourists from down south over the summer holiday months featured year round live entertainment on weekends on a wooden stage in front of the Kiosk ... Battle of the Bands ... Beauty Contests ... Amateur Hour and Ron Rico the world famous hypnotist. (Now a topless beach by the way.) It was here under the stage (kept the dew and rain off) in the sand where I used to sleep I met my best friend John Breen and joined the "Brissie Boys" a diverse, loose knit band of brothers as you would ever find outside of the Journal of Albion Moonlight.
John Breen, George Meanie, Warren Markwell, Robbie Acton, Chris Nunn, Michael Eaves, John Hamilton and John Milkman to name a few. Some of this group would go on to become world travelers, some would settle down with families, some would become wealthy, some would end up in Bogga Road maximum security prison in Brisbane ... some would die!
(Bogga Road Gaol is the oldest surviving jail in Queensland. Construction of the prison was completed in June of 1903 ... it is now a tourist attraction).
Meanie and I shared a previous occupation .. altarboy. In his own words "Meanies last Mass, in which he minced, swished and lisped his way to excommunication, awed and inspired an entire generation of indentured choir/altar boys. When I went to New Zealand with Robbie Acton 1966, Meanie went off to Durban, South Africa where he played the bad guy in some low budget cowboy movies (South Africa had no television).. and had his Endless Summer rudely interrupted by being deported for among other things, interracial sex!"
Chris Nunn son of a sheep station owner in the outback was a medical student who shared many of our adventures, passing the time singing dirty limericks on our road trips, got hooked on Benzedrine and hanged himself due to being drafted and a supposed homosexual affair with a doctor.
Robbie Acton went to New Zealand with me and stayed on when I came home ... married the prettiest girl in New Plymouth had a family, went into business for himself, sold it, and now is a fund raiser for the University of Auckland. Warren Markwell who at one time dated Rabbits older sister Wendy Bartholomew, inherited the family fish business and expanded it into a million dollar operation still lives in Tweed Heads with Denise Charlton.
Michael Eaves was the son of a wealthy farmer from South Africa who had seen the writing on the wall, think the Mau Mau and Zulu uprisings, and had subsequently migrated to Australia. Michael owned a classic Sunbeam Rapier, which with surfboards stacked on the roof we drove on many a safari plying winding mountain roads at 90 MPG.
For me 1963 popped like a cork from a champagne bottle. Had often watched the surfers from the path that wound around the hill while listening to the Beach Boys, Rolling Stones or Beatles blasting from the speakers by the public toilets. Billy Rak had a board-hire business at Greenmount renting fiberglass monstrosities painted white with black stripes. Being an accomplished body surfer and Surfoplane rider (forerunner to the boogie board) said I can do that ... yeah right... went down an rented one for an hour.
Decided to take the shortcut and walk around the point to Rainbow Bay and paddle out straight to the lineup in front of the rocks. Should have been an omen. I had the board in front of me as I entered the water of course the shore break picked it up and hit me right between the eyes ... stunned I had to sit down in the sand for a while then noting Lesson #1 never do that again ... then paddled out.
Surf was perfect shoulder glassy high lines ... positioned myself in the middle of the pack turning the board around by sitting on the tail and paddling with one hand like the professionals and waited for a set. Took off straight down the face and pearl dived ... the board washed in over the nasty shell encrusted rocks ... suffering less damage than I did retrieving it.. so battered and bleeding I returned the board ... tail between my legs.
I tried again this time with some success riding the reform at the Coolangatta beach break ... needless to say I was hooked! Got quite proficient at lining up just where the outside waves broke on the sandbar ... catching the whitewater standing up and bouncing straight in ... then angling as the wave went green and reformed into the shorebreak.
Purchased my first board a used 8'6" x 21" x 2.75" single stringer balsa classic for $20. It had little rocker, round bottom , round rails, a half moon balsa fin and was quite waterlogged ... probably the worst board in the world to learn on and six months later sold it again for $20 and bought a brand new fiberglass custom "Joe Larkin" 9'8" x 21.5" x 3" three stringer with red white & blue pin stripes! John Breen had also bought a brand new 9'6" Joe Larkin with blue stripes and remember him paddling out into huge Snapper ... dropping into a monster peak and getting crushed ... "Eddie Would Go" ... good thing he was the best swimmer of any of us!
Learned Lesson #2 by paddling out at Kirra on an overhead day and trying a late takeoff on an overhead boomer, this technique may have worked on the Coolangatta reform as the waves had little power .... but not at Kirra! The wave drove me into the sand bottom picked me up threw me over the falls into the bottom again then flung me upside down into a washing machine ... my nose bleeding I now knew my limits.
In later years had Kirra dialed in ... one warm winter morning I paddled out at Kirra Point. It was mid week and not too crowded ... surf was chest to overhead and breaking cleanly on the rock bottom out on the point before they built the groin. As the swell wrapped around inside it began to section and suck up as it hit the foot or so of water over the inside sand bar in front of the rocks. Kirra is an extremely fast wave that speed up faster and faster as it wraps and boomerangs - you need sky rockets up your arse to make it all the way!
Was picking the smaller sets that lined up outside shooting down the line and kicking out as they hit the inside section to avoid getting caught in the rip that sucks you north at Kirra when ever its gets any size. Ready to go in I paddled out and waited for a final big set ... here it came ... took off ... hit the bottom ... turned fast ... trimmed and crouched low as the lip came over my head ... too late to kick out ... I realized I was committed! Grabbed the rail staring at the nose of my board and the discolored water being sucked up from the sand bar ... oh my god I hope I don't hit a rock or I'm a goner!
Normally when you get a cover up or tube its short and sweet, you can see the shoulder in front of you and its just a matter of making it or not.
On this wave I was already in the tube when a big section just closed right over me ... I was in the tube but there was no daylight just green sandy water. I guess the so called "fight or flight" survival reflex must have kicked in, time slowed down to a crawl, I stopped breathing running on pure adrenaline, the roar of the wave became silent, my eyes focused into tunnel vision, I could even feel the sticky wax on my board as I shot like a shell down the barrel of a cannon. It seem to go on and on forever, my body on auto pilot making the subtle adjustments to keep the board on track ... suddenly I saw a small patch of light ... was I going to make it ... yes ... the hole opened up to a green shoulder but just for an instant ... then I saw another big section rearing up ... I power turned from the bottom at full speed out and over the top ... exhausted!
1964 -65 were the heady years of innocence when we became idealists read Marx, and had long intellectual discussions in an underground cafe in Brisbane called "The Primitif " that played Jazz and was the hangout of students and left wing devotees. We were now surfing with the big boys and considered ourselves locals even though we lived in the city as we came down to coast every weekend of the year rain or shine.
We had progressed from hitchhiking and sleeping on the beach to driving down with Warren Markwell in a Holden FJ utility that smelled of dead fish to sleeping in an abandoned caravan in Rainbow Bay then later to a kind of a boarding house in Tweed Heads called "Topsey's" ran by a blue hair cigarette puffing old lady who called us her boys and would talk your ear off if you let her.
During this time we got to know many of the local surfers with nicknames like Snake, Jingles and Bonus. The routine was pub Friday night, Danceland Saturday night and hang out at Greenmount beach on Sunday. It was a period were girls wore tiny wooden mice on the side of their blouses one side meant they were taken the other the were available ... great! School girls were called "Globites" the name of a company that manufactured luggage and school cases ... older girls were known as "Spunk Rats".
This was the hey day of the "Snapper Rocks" surf club and I managed to squeeze in ... those black and orange board shorts were a badge of honor and I never took ‘em off ... in the line up you had right of way and no one messed with you!
A cyclone had brushed the coast and we spent a sleepless night rocking and rolling in the car after the wind blew the roof off the local pub and they closed up shop ... we were afraid to sleep in the units as they were constructed of flimsy firbo sheeting and corrugated iron roofing.
Next morning as dawn came up, the wind had abated, foam covered PCH and Kirra was going off. I saw that giant left hand peaks were breaking in the channel between Coolangatta and Kirra Point. As a powerful rip current was flowing north I paddled out at Rainbow Bay ... letting it quickly pull me across Greenmount point to Coolangatta. Lined up on a monster peak and went for it ... the wind rushing in my face as I pushed over the lip and slid down the face ... made the drop but caught a rail on the turn.
When I finally came up I was a long way out and being swept toward the rocks at Kirra Point. I swam until my lungs were ready to burst, my heart pounding and my arms felt like lead ... exhausted I drifted along still quite a way from shore when my foot touched bottom on a sandbar ... resting I looked around for help ... nobody ... OK one last push to the shore ... made it, threw up saltwater grabbed my board found a spot in the sand dunes and passed out for an hour or so! Lesson #3 never go out alone in big surf.
Big Kirra sorts the men from the boys ... the rip is horrendous and the waves are thick and powerful breaking on the shallow sand bottom. On big days you would find only a handful of people in the water Graham Black "Blackie" who surfed as well as Wayne Lynch or better but had an alcohol problem, Peter Drouyn, Paul Neilsen and Keith Paul, who like Michael Peterson lived life in the fast lane and sadly died in a flop house in Brisbane a couple of years ago.
I remember one of our early trips with Michael Eaves and Robbie Acton as it was yesterday. A Wednesday, November dawn in early summer at Crescent Heads on the North east coast of New South Wales, Australia. The first rays of gold and red upon the ocean revealed perfect lines marching in around the point with sets from shoulder to overhead feathering in the light SE offshore breeze. Warm water, sand and cobblestone bottom lined the rocky headland ... no one out!
We had driven several hundred miles south from Queensland on PCH in the Sumbeam Rapier after seeing some photos in a surfing mag of Nat Young arching on the nose at Crescent like Mickey Dora (my idol) at Malibu. We had slept in the car at the campground by the creekmouth in the bay and instead of walking all the way around the point to get out we began the mile long paddle from shore.
Sunbeam RapierEngine: In Line (Cast iron block aluminium head)Cylinders.........................................4 OHVBore and Stroke...................................81.5mm x 82.5mmCubic Capacity....................................1,725.c.cValves............................................O.H.V.pushrodCompression Ratio.................................9.2:1Carburetters......................................2 Zenith Stromberg 150 CDSFuel Pump.........................................A C MechanicaOil Filter........................................Full FlowMaximum Power (net)...............................88.B.H.P at 5200 rpmMaximum Torque (net)..............................100lb.ft at 4000 rpm Transmission Clutch..............................Borg and Beck- 7 1/2 inch diaphragm springTop gear ratio......................1.0:1 (overdrive-0.803:1)3rd gear ratio......................1.296:1 (overdrive-1.04:1)2nd gear ratio......................1.993:11st gear ratio......................3.122:1Reverse ratio.......................3.323:1Ovedrive type.......................Laycock D-typeFinal drive.........................Hypoid bevel 4.22:1 Maximum Speeds (MPH) Mean-lap (banked circuit)..........................98.7Best one-way 1/4_mile..............................102.2Direct Top gear....................................93.0O/d 3rd gear.......................................90.03rd gear...........................................72.02nd gear...........................................47.01st gear...........................................30.0 Acceleration times 0-60................................................12.0Standing 1/4 mile...................................18.5
After catching a few of the smaller waves Michael and I tookoff on a giant overhead peak ... hard off the bottom ... crouching through the bowl in front of the rocks then out onto the long glass wall ... we were climbing and dropping but as the wave boomeranged into the bay not called the Racetrack it got faster and faster ... I was inside and low Michael was up high in front and the wake from his board made the wave start to peel over my head ... I crouched down and grabbed a rail ... I could see light in the tunnel for a couple of seconds but then I was in the washing machine and making the long swim to the creek mouth. ... he rode it all the way!
Would love to go back in time to those waves today ... either lip smacking, tail sliding on my 7' 2" MR design Twin Fin "SuperFish" or screaming down the line on my super light, super fast, flat bottom ,down railed 9' 2" x 23" x 3" x 19" x 14" x 5" 2 +1 (3.25" sidebites + 7" center fin) hybrid ... single stringer, modern high performance John-Luc Robert's Longboard.
As usual during the crowded tourist infected summer on the Queensland , Gold Coast combined with typical strong NE onshore wind we would drive south down the coast past scenic Cabarita point over the hills and back along the coast road to the small community of Bryon Bay. Byron is most easterly point on the Australian coastline complete with a historic lighthouse (including wax eating wild goats) which overlooked the headland from where you can see schools of sharks patrolling ... no incidents of attacks as the surfing spots of "The Pass" and "Tallows" lie inside plus we figured they were not very hungry as there was plenty to munch on.
The routine was to surf Tallows on the back side which was protected from the noreaster (not unusual to see Bob MacTavish, Nat Young and crew out there during the late sixties and early seventies) and spend Saturday night at the local bar where you might lucky or at least get bombed ... remember driving a Ford wagon off a side road one night down into ditch ... opened the door ... barfed ... fell in it and woke up next morning feeling very seedy to say the least ... lucky some mates came by and got us out.
Just south of Byron liesSuffock Park and Broken Heads. The first time I saw Suffock Park it was little more than a remote beach campground surrounded by scrub at the end of a sandy track off a secondary road. We had arrived the night before in a blue and white VW bus with the side windows covered by checkered table cloth curtains and a mattress on the floor. Dawn came and crawling out of our sleeping bags rubbing out eyes we walked around the point and checked out Broken Heads.
Broken Heads is just that ... broken headlands ... cliffs falling into the sea with offshore
rock islands that looked like they once belonged to the mainland. It was a hot dry day at the end of summer probably 85F degrees at sunup and a light breeze coming from the west blowing from the desert regions of the outback and bringing with it hundred of tiny flies that flew in your eyes up your nose and into your ears looking for moisture.
The wind was slight cross shore but the cliffs protected the bay between the bookend rocky outcrops. The ocean was oily glass and sets from shoulder to head high broke in two peaks, one out by the furthest rocks and one inside the bay in front of the cliffs similar to Zeros just north of Malibu in California. Quick breakfast of Kellogg’s corflakes with banana (now I cannot eat before I go out period) someone else had melted chocolate frogs washed down by a warm beer and a raw egg (true OZ breakfast of champions).
As we knee paddled out the sun burning on our backs the wax on our boards was already soft by the time we made it to the line up. There were only a half dozen of us out there sliding down the fat peaks and climbing and dropping the glass walls. The bigger clean sets were a little inconstant so as we sat in the line up the water dried on our baking shoulders leaving salt crystals and the flies found us all the way out to sea ... not only did you had to dive off your board to cool down and get rid of the flies you had also to turn your board upside down to stop the wax melting right off! By midmorning it must have been 90F degrees with 80F water.
We had no leashes in this era so were surfing the far point as there is no beach
whatsoever just rocks more rocks and undercut cliffs so if you lost your board it was history. The inside peak was better but just too risky ... one of our friends Mr. Jitters (from his Terry Fitsgerald style) caught a beauty inside but didn’t make it ... board was dinged from top to bottom but didn’t break ... two layers of 10oz cloth was common. (As a footnote this area is now considered a “secret spot” and is frequented by surfers including Nat Young seeking less crowded conditions.)
One weekend as the wind was strong onshore but with a huge swell so we drove further south past Broken Head to the small sea side town of Ballina. At Ballina you could surf the protected north or south breakwaters ... shark heavens ... where the wind was cross shore or if the swell was big enough inside the Ballina river itself.
This day ... across a sandbar in the river where the freshwater met the ocean by a bridge peeled perfect waist high left handers ... a few locals out and a bunch of kids making sandcastles at waters edge. We ripped it up for three hours ... 85F degree water 90F air temp sand and silt bottom with a gentle breeze. Queensland and northern New South Wales is the land of right hand pointbreaks ... lefts are hard to find ... if you are a goofy you surf your backhand better than your forehand!
On my last wave I snapped turned from the top walked up to the nose and stayed there ... used my knees to hold position as the wave broke perfectly all the way from the sandbar to the beach ... hoping some one was watching as I approached dry sand ... still on the nose ... pulled off a spinner and stepped onto a kiddy sandcastle! Sometimes the best sessions are not fleeting moments on giant waves ... a do or die adrenaline rush ... some times they are just pure FUN.
In 1966 Lyndon Johnson came to Australia and convinced the Holt government to send troops to Vietnam ... at this time our political hero's were SDS (Students for a Democratic Society) Che Guevara, Bob Dylan and Joan Baez so we joined the anti war demonstrations, plastered posters on railway stations and threw bricks at Johnson's limo. Things got serious when the Australian government began a military draft ... "hell no we won't go" ... so droves of us fled to New Zealand ... John Breen to South Africa and on to London.
Thus began the great voyage across the ocean. Robbie Action and I had booked a cheap third class cabin on the Sitmar Line's "Fairsea" from Brisbane to Auckland however as a storm had silted up the harbor we were flown from Brisbane to Sydney, our family's and girlfriends waving tearful good-byes from the tarmac (just like in the movies) and picked up the ship down there.
First day out was smooth sailing ... then we ran into the tail end of a cyclone! Giant seas, wind and rain. The ship retracted the stabilizers, so they would not be broken off, reduced speed to 8 knots and tried to sail around it ... no such luck! We rolled, we rolled again then we pitched. As the ship came up and breasted the waves she shuddered from stem to stern, you could feel the vibration and roar of the propellers as they broke free, then another shudder as she plowed back down again ... this went on for three days.
I lay deathly sick on my bunk watching the ocean and then the skies fill the porthole all the while dry heaving into a trash can. During this time the elevators were shut down, no one was allowed on deck and meals were restricted to one sitting ... oh what a lovely cruise. Another problem was the bathroom was down a long narrow corridor which meant you had to climb the hill ... run down the hill as you were bounced off the sides ... thank God the toilet had rails to hold on to!
Finally on the fourth day things calmed down somewhat, I went to the ship's doctor and was given a shot of "Composine" by a burly Italian nurse and told to eat something. Problem was the storm had delayed us an extra day and we were running out of fresh food. Plenty of pasta but powdered eggs, powdered milk and brown wilted lettuce. All I could eat was salad and dry bread. Up on deck it was still blowing a gale and waves sloshed up and down the unheated salt water pool and the smell of fresh lead paint made me retreat back to my bunk.
The ship was packed with young punk Aussies including "Pye and the Forty Thieves" as they became known ... some more about this later. During this ordeal several managed to get themselves thrown into the brig for drunkenness (Robbie stayed drunk the whole time) or fighting, a passenger had taken exception to someone mauling his spouse and complained ... he was promptly punched out!
As we disembarked in ... Auckland I kissed the ground! We had to pass through customs however as I was carrying a Sako .243 hunting rifle over my shoulder (with which I intended to shoot deer ... I had read they were everywhere) I wandered about trying to find the person you checked in with to bring a rifle into the country and found myself outside on the street. Great security ... can you see that happening today ... anyway a bunch of us were standing around on a deserted late Sunday afternoon (they used to roll up the sidewalks in NZ on the weekends) debating our next move.
It was decided to pile everyone into 2 taxi's tie all our boards onto the roofs with rope and drive over the hills about 20 miles to the tiny west coast beach of Phia.
Phia is a large bay bounded by Lion & Elephant Rocks like bookends. It was (and probably still is) a tiny black sand beach town with beach rentals or "batches" as they call them a gas station a couple of shops and a movie theater that only opened on weekends. We arrived early evening and were amazed to find it still bright daylight at 8 PM ... left out belongings on the sand and most of went surfing in a clean chest high beach break. Others had rented a couple of batches which we agreed to share and we all moved in.
We stayed in Phia for a memorable few weeks, surfing every day ... collecting giant mussels from the rocks at low tide (there is huge tidal difference in NZ waters) boiling them in a trash can and having a feast of bread butter mussels and ketchup. On weekends there were "Toga" parties to raid over in the guest house. It was during this time Stuart Adams from the Gold Coast was filmed surfing by a tire company for a TV commercial (we later saw it every night) and we hit some of the biggest surf I have ever seen!
A pacific cyclone in the Tasman Sea was producing giant surf added to the fact that NZ (being volcanic) has little continental shelf and has a huge tidal difference we had to wait for high tide to even think about trying to get out.
After high tide we watched from the shore and waited half an hour for a lull before we made it out through the mass of white water. We picked off a couple of the smaller (cleaner) but still overhead peaks that did not totally wall out when we looked out to sea and saw mountains marching in ... feathering on an outside reef in deep water a mile out!
What to do ... too far out to paddle in past the impact zone ... not far out to make it over the top ... I looked at my buddy as we scratched for the horizon and said "I'm going to take off on the first wave and prone out." "Yeah me too he said!"
As the first mountain walled up we both spun around ... and took off. I made the drop ... shot way out in front of the wave ... then proned out lying way back by the tail holding on with a death grip ... took the concussion and bounced, slapped and skipped engulfed inwhite water all the way to the shore.
Robbie Acton made it also but Stu Adams kept paddling out to sea .... finally he took off on a monster ... must have been 20 feet. He made the drop and turn then just got wasted ... (we looked around for help none he was on his own) took him an hour to swim in ... got swept a mile down the beach and just collapsed on the sand ... his board disappeared!
Eventually Robbie Action and I decided it was time to move on. Checking out a map we agreed to hich boards and all over to Gisborne on the East coast ... after spending a couple of days in Auckland staying with fellow Australians in a rented mansion (complete with marble columns but no furniture whatsoever apart from a grand piano probably to large to remove and subsequently used as the kitchen table) and sampling the night life in the red light district (we met a couple of strippers who turned out to be girls we knew from Sydney on a working holiday) we set off over the mountains to our next stop Mount Manganui.
We finally arrived on the outskirts of this small seaside town late ... we were walking along the beach road, dark night, cat paws of fog blowing in from the ocean when I saw a red light shimmering in the sky ... "Oh my god Robbie its a fuckin UFO!". What should we do ... find some on to tell ... then it dawned on us and morning light confirmed it ... it was a radio tower beacon on the hill (Mount ... Mt.) duh! Poor quality beach break with white sand beach covered with a million shells ... so off down the coast to Gisborne.
We moved in again with a bunch of other Australians packed into a small cottage. Our first job was picking "Yellow Clung" peaches for canning at the local "Watties" factory ... what a joke... we were given ladders and aprons and a container ... the idea was to climb the ladder and only pick the largest, best quality peaches, not to ripe, not to green and layer them in the bin ... and when the bin was full you waved to the fork lift driver to pick it up.
You were paid by bin ... some of the Maroi ladies actually made good money but for very hard work. We discovered it was far too hard for us and devised a plan: we layered the bottom and the top of the container with prime peaches ... in between we loaded with green ones or rotting one lying on the ground ... filled the container, collected our money and split before they caught on.
Later we lucked into jobs as casual labor working on the wharf loading and unloading ships ... great job ... great pay ... they made you work hard the first few days but if you made it through if was a piece of cake. Example: the union required three people when the ships crane lowered containers and crates on to the dock for the forklifts to pick up ... one to give direction to the crane operator, one to unhook and a "safety officer" to observe ... one person could do the whole thing ... we took it in turns!
One Saturday morning we had just "knocked off" just before noon after working overtime to get a ship ready to sail on the high tide and were walking towards town when Gisborne was hit by a 6.9 magnitude earthquake! We watched the Post Office bell tower collapse, telephone poles dancing and wires snapping, plate glass windows blowing out and people pouring out of the local pub ... we ran away toward the open beach. Being from Australia which is geographically stable we knew nothing about earthquakes ... New Zealand or "The Shaky Isles" lies in the ring of fire an has an active volcano on the north island.
This would prove to be a boon ... most houses in NZ are brick with fireplaces and chimney's ... every chimney in the city was damaged ... the government announced disaster area status and the one company in Gisborne that manufactured bricks and flues was overwhelmed ... they advertised in the local paper for anyone with any experience to apply ... great money with all the overtime in the world. Of course we knew nothing but announced we were experts and were immediately hired.
We learned on the job by trial and error ... mostly error. I was left by myself on a roof to install a fancy Japanese chimney ... finished up and climbed down the ladder to admire my work ... oh oh ... looked like the leaning tower of Piza ... what to do ... got it ...went back up measured the degree of lean, cut wooden chocks ... pounded them in the bottom ... covered them with mortar and success!
Robbie had an adventure of another kind ... while hauling up to the roof a heavy concrete double flue by block and tackle it slid down the roof, bounced onto the roof of the garage went right through and landed on the owners Jaguar! Believe it or not we were never fired.
1966/67 ... was just prior to the Dora era in Gisborne NZ a bunch of ex pat Aussie terrorists surfers including myself, Robbie Acton, Peter Sawtell along with a couple of girls (one who cried herself to sleep ever night over her boyfriend ... shutup) were living packed into a tiny house ... even had a sleeping schedule posted to the fridge, two per available bed ... the rest on the floor ... in rotation. Gisborne apart from one hill is dead flat and it seemed everyone rode bicycles so we would "borrow" to get back and forth usually leaving them at a church ... eventually we read in the local paper the police had found 40 missing bikes at the church ... they never solved the mystery.
We surfed the local beaches and went on some trips with Lumpy Loagan the son of the owner of the local rag in his English Ford sedan to Makorori Point and Wainui ... he almost killed us one afternoon while driving too fast on an icy road in the Mahia Peninsular when a gust of wind from the mountains blew the car off the road and upside down into a shallow stream! However he also provided us with the local "groupie" girls if you know what I mean ... to whom we assigned colors : Little Red, Big Blue & Miss Green ... forget why ... anyway enough said about that!
A giant winter storm system was producing huge south swells closing out all the local beaches so we drove out to a place called Sponge Bay on a gray nasty day. Sitting on the cliff above we could see the entire bay and Island more than a mile offshore ... huge pipes the equal of Banzi Pipeline, not just peaks but massive walls.... set after set were peeling, spitting and grinding off the island! Way out to sea perhaps half a mile inside the bay and breaking almost sideways to shore was what looked to be a clean 6' to 8' A frame left-hand peak.
Sponge Bay and "Inside Island" as it is known today was rarely surfed a that time before the advent of leashes and wetsuits except for a few hardy local Midway clubbies and HSOB Rugby Club surfers. Only really gets good a couple of times a year and really big south swells are needed to line it up properly.
We decided to go for it ... no easy matter as the bay has no beach just shallow water with sharp layered rock formations up to the cliffs and a bottom covered with sea urchins. After scrambling down we paddling out boards upside down until it was deep enough and made the long trek out to the lineup in cold murky water with floating debris from the storm surge.
Waves that had looked to be 6' to 8' from the cliffs were up close and personal in reality ... 10' to 15'. We all sat around and watched the sets roll by ... finally Peter Sawtell took off on a double overhead peak and disappeared into a huge bowl then popped up a hundred yards inside ... he made it! Gathering some courage I started paddling for one of the smaller ones ... it was hard to push through with the wind and spray rushing up the face of the wave into your face until I looked down into an elevator shaft ... I pulled back hard! As some one once said "big waves are not measured in feet .. but increments of fear".
I knew I was in over my head ... with my inexperience in big waves and riding a totally unsuitable 10' log I was definitely flirting with the Fates and paddled inside. Peter caught a couple more standup tubes and not wishing to push his luck also called it quits!
In the dead of NZ winter Gisborne picks up the full brunt of storms from the South Polar regions with gale force onshore winds and sleet (can remember making out on a blanket in the snow ... my bare ass blue) so we figured that we would go over the mountains to New Plymouth.
We arrived in New Plymouth on a Saturday afternoon and after paying for a place to stay we were low on cash and the banks were closed until Monday ... what to do ... I had noticed a park with a duck pond ... how about duck stew? Armed with rocks and a loaf of break we got our duck ... plucked it ... burned the feathers in the fireplace ... raided some backyard vegetable gardens and dined.
That Saturday night we went to the local hang ... a downtown coffee shop where Robbie met the prettiest girl in town (eventually married her, raised a family opened a business and settled in NZ). Once we got organized we moved out to a batch on Fitsroy beach ... it was very cold ... slept in sleeping bags with the gas stove on full blast all night. Fitsroy is a powerful left hand beach break with peaks on the outside sand bar tubing inside ... we had no wetsuits so after a hour session we hit the hot showers in the pavilion ... by the time the hot water ran out you had just about stopped shaking.
Running low on funds ... time to get a job ... we noticed an add for work in a local foundry ... sounds warm ... lets do it. They started us off breaking up V8 engine blocks for scrap with sledge hammers (actually it was fun ... we had contests to see who could break one with the least blows) once again we made it testing period and Robbie progressed making aluminum gas rings and I relined boilers with a special refractory clay.
At this time we met Nigel Dwyer an ex-pat Sydney boy who owned Dell Surfboards and moved in with him in a rambling old house at the end of the trolley car line called "The Castle" complete with a "haunted" glass house ... at least that's what we told the girls ... we had installed a four poster bed in there and convinced girls to spend the night to break the spell and allow the ghost to move on ... I'm not making this up!
This was to be our home for the next couple of years. We all had brand new Dell's ... mine had blue paisley cloth under the glass ... and surfed the local beaches. Waisys, Stent Road, Waitry river mouth bar, Weld Road and other unnamed breaks.
I met my first true love Lynne McFarlane ... until her parents shipped her off to college in Wellington to get her away from me ... wise move on their part. Lynne later went on to London and worked with "Pacific Promotions" to bring entertainers from the UK and USA to NZ the last I heard she and her husband have a couple of kids and own a pub in Christchurch ... my other flame Sue Flett from New Plymouth went on to have her own local TV show.
During our first winter we went skiing on Mt. Egmont a perfect volcanic cinder cone like Mt. Fuji in Japan an hours drive from New Plymouth. Facilities were rather primitive consisting of a couple of rope tows powered by a big block Chevy engine ... you were given a belt with a "nut cracker" and on the very steep upper slope this was no joke ... the rope ran at top speed ... you had to stand sideways edging in the snow ... jump up and forward gradually engage and lock the nut cracker ...then wham bam you were hauling ass up the slope. Its a wonder we didn't break every bone in our bodies.
We were given lessons by a local Olympic ski team member and the Swiss team who were training in the southern hemisphere ... learned to drink snaps, snow and raspberry juice. Bought a pair of used French Plume 207 downhill racing skis and we would "bomb" the lower hill on the last run before they shut down ... full tuck ... 60 MPH.
The Swiss team talked us into climbing up a slope with them that was basically just a cliff face with snow on it and had never been skied ... they took off one after another leaving us stranded ... Robbie and I chickened out and got down by a series of slip slipping traverses back and forth across the sheer face ... Nigel Dwyer went for it and went head over heels bouncing off an exposed rock and sliding all the way to the gully at the bottom ... battered bruised and bleeding he had to climb out.
We also got talked into skiing the "creek" which in summer was a mountain stream ... you skied down into a canyon which started off OK but quickly got steeper, narrower and deeper until you were bouncing off rocky icy walls into a dead end and had not only take your ski's off and climb out but hike back ... we followed the tradition by introducing others to their doom with much laughter as they emerged shaking their fists.
The second winter we became members of the ski club and went up and stayed in the mountain hut every weekend rain, snow of shine from the first day to the last. One night we awoke with a start by a huge roar like a freight train ... we rushed outside and watched in the star light as the whole back side of the mountain let go in an avalanche down the ravine behind the ski area ... spooky stuff ! It had taken out the pathway and bridge from the parking lot so we had to traverse the towering mass of snow, ice and boulders blocking the ravine to get out ... it took us a long time picking our way worrying all the time if another avalanche was going to come roaring down and take us out!
Fitzroy Beach is located just a couple of miles north of New Plymouth and is also home to the New Plymouth Surfriders Club. A little further north lies the Waiwakaiho River Mouth, Waiseys or Spot X, so called by Tony Florence. A classic example of what a good river bar break should look like. Takes any size swell ... better at half to full tide.
We caught a super session in late December. Wind was offshore but not the typical howling 25 knot gale but a crisp 10 knots ... just enough to hold the lip in suspension. Peaks were running head high to a couple of feet overhead and running into a chest to shoulder high wall.
Tip toed across the cobblestone creek fed by melting snow from Mt. Egmont to the ocean and paddled out. The style at that time was to take off deep in the peak they trim forward in a “Paul Staunch” crouch as the lip came over your head across the bowl ... once you made it to the wall you could climb and drop until it dropped to waist high as it curved into the shallow river mouth bar then run up the nose and hang a heel, the wind holding up the wall.
On big days, way out to sea, the outside reef breaks in huge peaks reminding me of a cold water Sunset Beach, Hawaii without the massive rip current, however howling winds make it difficult to drop in and the surface chop will bounce you into next week!
Robbie and I were joined in the Castle by Stu Adams and Magilla Gorilla from Cronulla. In 1967 we drove in the Dell Surfboards white Chevy Impala, in NZ the equivalent of a Rolls Royce, to the "world" surfing championships in Gisborne. That story coming up!
(Most exotic surfed spot ... Florence Bay, Magnetic Island.)
Modified: Thursday June 7 2007 11:22:36 PM
This is an interactive map! Use controls to pan and zoom this map.
|Date||Surf spot||Session's Rate||Wind direction||Waves height||Author|
|Show||16-11-2007||Waiwakaiho River Mouth Reef, Waisys||DrC123|
|Show||13-01-2007||Waiwakaiho River Mouth Reef, Waisys||DrC123|
|Show||31-12-1969||Ballina North Wall||DrC123|