Doug Lees has been on a Surfabout since 1978
Right at the end of my street at North Steyne, Manly Beach, I witnessed one of the greatest ever tube rides in a professional surfing contest. It was in 1978 and the event was the now-defunct Coca Cola Surfabout Classic. Competing in the final was a young, Eastern Suburbs surfer, Larry Blair, who was pitted against one of Australia’s greatest ever surfers, Wayne Lynch.
I’ll never forget that day. Courtesy of some classic North Steyne banks, a 2 to 2.5 metre swell was being sculpted into a flawless, funnelling lefts – waves that surfers, promoters and spectators usually only dream of. One particular wave featuring a deliriously long tube ride launched Larry Blair into another surfing stratosphere. It’s still one of the greatest ever waves ridden in a contest.
Blair also won two Pipeline Masters titles but his tube ride in the 1978 Coca Cola Surfabout Classic was seared into the memories of anyone lucky enough to be at Manly Beach on that day. Many of us have seen the footage and the wave, along with the contest, was even reported on all the national nightly news channels, this in the days when surfing on TV was largely ignored by the major networks.
Doug Lees, a friend of mine, who is currently SurfAid International CEO, skipped school that fabled day in 1978 and was on the beach to witness the magical final. Doug insists his life changed forever and his career path altered dramatically because of Blair’s mesmerizing tube ride. After that, he set his sights on making sure his work would put him close to the surf.
Recently I was in Manly reporting on the 2020 Manly Surf Pro and had the opportunity to sit down with Lees to reminisce about the 1978 Coca Cola Surfabout Classic won by Blair, and also talk to him about his new job as CEO of SurfAid
In January 2019 it was announced that surfing industry stalwart, Doug Lees, would replace Andrew Judge as the new SurfAid CEO. Lees has been immersed in the surf industry for decades and brought his extensive knowledge and connections to the role. Below he discusses his career journey and what it’s like to head up an organsitation that focuses on a region that so many of us take for granted – Indonesia.
When did your involvement in the surfing industry begin?
My first ever foray into the world of surfing was opening a surf shop in Manly with my friend Guy Leech called Australian Surf Headquarters which we opened in 1986 and I spent the next 20 years there.
Many years later and until recently I was General Manager of 3CMG, a multi-platform action-sports media company which included Surfing World Magazine and the surf website Coastalwatch. I’ve been the publisher of Surfing World Magazine for over 15 years, leading initiatives across the business, including but not limited to, all print and digital publishing. Books I’ve published include Thrust, the Simon Anderson Story, Live Like Sally with Sally Fitzgibbons, The 9th Wave, Archipelago, and Badlands.
I also enjoyed spearheading and branching into events and experiences such as The Surfing World Camp and distribution of the Andy Irons documentary, Kissed by God.
It’s been thrilling both personally and professionally to be able to share stories of the ocean with a passionate and involved global community. I’ve been involved for so many years now and it’s something I look forward to continuing in my role at Surf Aid CEO.
What are your educational qualifications?
I studied for my Master of Business Administration at the University of
Technology and also gained my Graduate Diploma in Sports Management at the University of Technology. Earlier I studied for my Bachelor of Education in Fine Arts at the University of NSW.
How did you get involved in SurfAid ?
I got involved with SurfAid via a shared office in Avalon Beach with 3CMG where I was based for almost 10 years. I’ve been fortunate to work on many projects alongside the SurfAid team, including many SurfAid Cups and Surfing Chefs events.
I have a lot of admiration for the entire SurfAid team, having seen the passion the Sydney staff bring to their work. I’m excited to take their skill and enthusiasm to the next level, making an even greater humanitarian impact.
I’ve been lucky enough to travel on many surf trips through Indonesia, both with professional surfers for work and with my surfing mates for fun. Any surfer can appreciate the incredible waves, but it’s the beauty of the islands and the wonderful people who live there that make the area unlike anywhere in the world, which is the main reason why I accepted the job of CEO.
What’s the history of SurfAid?
It was started by a group of concerned surfers in 2000 who were struck by the needless suffering and preventable deaths in the Mentawai Islands where they surfed regularly.
Founded by Dr. Dave Jenkins of New Zealand in 2000. In 1999 he was on a surfing trip in the area and saw the health problems of the local people. SurfAid is an international charitable organization working in the Mentawai Islands of Indonesia.
Today, due to SurfAid’s monumental volunteering effort and training, 95 per cent of the program staff are Indonesian nationals who work hand-in-hand with the communities of Western Sumatra, Sumbawa, and Sumba, to bring about positive, sustainable health changes while respecting the unique culture and customs of these island communities.
You have an incredibly busy life what do you do in your spare time?
I love travelling with my family, I’ve learned that when you travel it’s not where you are but who you’re with. My fondest memories are weekends camping at Treachery Headland (three hours from Sydney). I’ve got a van and with my two kids Kye (19), and Summer (13) wife Pam and dog we go surfing and camping in secluded locations. The perfect time away is when there’s surf for me and horse riding for my wife.
And my favourite overseas destination is Telos Islands, Sumatra. They’re a chain of islands off Nias, it’s untouched, uncrowded and has sensational surf. It can take up to two days to get there. For as long as I can I will be involved in surfing in some capacity.