Duke Kahanamoku - Wayne Murphy
Inspiration comes in many guises. So can big surprises, chance meetings and images that send us onto new life trajectories. Sydney 1968, Ian Cairns was competing at his first Australian Championships. The Father of modern day surfing, Duke Kahanamoku, had passed away earlier that year. The Australian Surfriders Association thought it would be a good idea to commemorate the great Hawaiian for helping establish surfing Down Under. The Duke Kahanamoku Award was inaugurated with a perpetual trophy to be presented to the nation’s most promising junior surfer at the Australian Championships each year.
After ten days of close scrutiny, judges from each State gathered in private to share their wisdom and nominate who they thought was the junior most worthy of receiving the Duke trophy. It was the highest award an Australian junior surfer could ever receive, other than winning the national title. The deciding judges hoped the winner would represent Australia well and become an ambassador of goodwill for surfing, like Duke.
IAN - When they called out my name as the winner of the Duke Award, well, I was genuinely shocked. It was a total surprise. I was just a young kid with a bowl hair cut from Cottesloe Beach in Perth. Now I was holding the Duke trophy and being recognized nationally as an up and coming junior. It was a huge boost to my confidence.
Next day Ian had the good fortune of crossing paths with Charles “Snow” McAlister. The old man was on his customary ramble around Manly Beach. Snow was one of the early pioneers of Australian surfing.
He won the Australian title three years in a row from 1925. At the 1926 event, Snow rode his final wave all the way to shore in a headstand position. He beached his surfboard onto the sand and remained upon it perfectly still in his upside down position until an official came over and informed him he’d won. In the early 1960s he helped establish the Australian Surfriders Association. Even as an octogenarian Snow was still active and happy out in the sea every day at Manly catching waves on his surf ski. Ian knew about Snow and was eager to spend some time with him when they met. He gladly accompanied Snow on his regular walk. Ian listened intently as one of the greats of Australian surfing talked about the early days. Snow told Ian how he witnessed Duke’s surfing demonstrations back in 1915 at Freshwater Beach, just around the headland from Manly. Together they ambled along to where Aussie surfing all started. Hearing Snow’s story was manna from heaven for the stoked young West Aussie who’d just been awarded the first Duke trophy. Seven years later Ian would achieve one of his biggest dreams by winning the Duke Invitational in 20 foot plus surf at Waimea Bay. Making his dreams a reality was something Ian worked hard at after being inspired by people like Duke and Snow. There are many people who inspired Ian mentioned in Kanga's books. In 1969 Ian saw this magazine picture of California's Corky Carroll who had just won the first Smirnoff Pro at Santa Cruz.
It was the image that first sparked a strong desire in Ian to become a professional surfer, even though no such profession really existed then. A year later in 1970, Ian was working at Midget Farrelly's surfboard factory at Brookvale. As the World Titles in Victoria loomed Ian was still in Sydney looking for a lift south.
IAN - I got hooked up with this car load of surfers. It was Corky Carroll and Dru Harrison from California, along with Hawaii’s Dana Nicely and Kiwie White from South Australia. We drive down, the windscreen wiper doesn’t work and its pissing rain. They are moving the wiper by hand and lighting up these doobies while I’ve got my head out the window breathing fresh air (laughter). They were all classic guys with a lot more experience than me. I was listening to them and they opened my mind to a whole different world. Corky was California incarnate and such a funny guy.
Despite all the doobies getting passed around Ian managed to arrive at Torquay suffering no ill-effect from any passive smoke he may have accidentally inhaled. His smile might have been bigger than normal though. Those World Titles marked the beginning of the end for the International Surfing Federation and its running of the world amateur titles. San Diego in 1972 was the end of the ISF's run. You can read Corky Carroll's insights about what really happened at that event in Victoria, with the drug bust, surfers revolting against the authorities, the surprise winner Rolf Aurness, the radical down sizing of surfboards and how performances needed to be judged differently with all the new equipment now being ridden. Ian, Wayne Lynch, Nat Young, the Witzig brothers and Rip Curl co-founder Doug "Claw" Warbrick contribute with Corky Carroll. You can order Ian's book at www.kangacairns.com Thanks again for your time. Stay salty. Go surf. Enjoy. Cheers.