Former Tracks editor, Phil Jarratt, reflects on surfing's salad days.
Phil Jarratt’s tenure as Tracks editor between 1975-1978 put him at the epicentre of surf culture during a period of dramatic evolution. Phil was uniquely positioned to observe and document the genesis of professional surfing, the rise of the surfing industry and the counter-culture purists who continued to rail against both. In this new column Phil reflects on the colourful characters, farcical adventures and timeless moments from his career as a writer and surf industry figure.
We were drinking beers with the guys from Harris Robinson Courtenay, Bryce Courtenay's boutique ad agency that had just got the Golden Breed account, in a tent on the beach at North Narrabeen. It was a hot January afternoon and the beers were going down well.
"See that little half-pint kid," said Vince Tesorerio, the GB account director, pointing at a scruffy little freckle- faced bugger heading off to the carpark with a board under each arm. (Little was a big call, seeing as Vince was almost a dwarf himself.) "That kid's gonna win the Pro Junior this afternoon. He's unbelievable."
Tom Carroll was out of earshot but he turned and smiled at us. I raised my beer and winked at him and he winked back. He was the cutest little urchin.
Christ this was a long time ago! Let me place it in context. TC was 15 and about to start fourth form. Golden Breed was the biggest brand name in surfing (maybe one day it will be again). The late Bryce Courtenay, who would become Australia's top-selling author, had yet to write anything more challenging than "I'm Louie the Fly". There had never been a "pro junior" until Vince and Mike Robinson got their clients together and created the Golden Breed/Pepsi Pro Junior. In fact the very idea of little groms surfing for money was quite controversial, particularly among the older "pros" who were struggling to pay their airfares on the gypsy tour. But here we were, drinking beers on the beach and getting ready to watch the hottest kids in the country go to town on some typically fun Narra summer waves. And the standard of surfing in the final was a total eye-opener. Living just the other side of the Bilgola bends, I'd seen plenty of Tom at the Newport Peak, and occasionally the Wedge, but many of the others were a mystery bag, so I really didn't know how he'd go in open company. But Vince was right. He was in a class of his own.
The other grom who'd been getting big wraps was Bondi's Cheyne Horan, a cheeky-faced platinum blonde, and in the final he was the complete points-for-manoeuvres competitor, wiggle-waggling through the flat spots and even pulling a couple of cheater fives. But Cheyne got a bit too smart and scored an interference, opening the door for two kids I'd never heard of. Dougal Walker turned out to be another Newport grom, a bit older and a lot bigger than Tom, a sunny-natured kid with a wicked sense of humour. He only got a start when girls champ Jill Sanotti was a no-show, but picking off the bigger lefts, he styled into second.
Third went to Jody Perry from the Sunshine Coast, later one of the world's best surf skippers, another stylemaster who seemed a bit over-awed and suffered from poor wave selection. The Horror was relegated to fourth, ahead of two Gold Coast mates, Joe Engel and Thornton Fallander.
After the final I interviewed Tom, then ran around and grabbed short takes from as many competitors as I could muster before Vince carted them all off to Elanora Fitness Centre for pizzas and surf movies. (The previous night it had been Luna Park.) We – the Tracks team of me, associate editor Paul Holmes, art director Steve Cooney and photog Marty Tullemans – were so impressed by the quality of the surfing, and the cold beers had been so good, that we had decided to devote most of the next issue to the Grom Storm.
Tom first: "When I leave school I'll probably do carpentry. There's not really a living in surfing. You'd have to be the world's best to make a steady income. There's always a bit of a hassle at the Peak, especially when me and my brother and Dougal and his brother, and Derek Hynd are out. It helps when you're in contests. You've got to hassle as well as surf good."
A lot of the groms whose opinions we sought on everything from surfing to sex and under-age drinking were happy to give them under the condition of anonymity, just in case mum or dad picked up their copy of Tracks. The Newport crew had no such compunction.
Dougal Walker: "We go away surfing every holiday. We just got back from up north. Nick's little brother Tom had a go at driving. He couldn't see over the dashboard and he ran us into the bush."
Robert Hale: "I'm gonna finish school and get a job where I can make a lot of money."
Michael Twemlow: "Sometimes we go to the pub. You just hang in the beer garden and get the older guys to get your beer."
Nick Carroll: "I've got certain leftist views compared to these other guys who are mostly inherited capitalist pigs." I can also now reveal that although he didn't put his name to it at the time, the late Joe Engel told us: "I've been drinking beer for about two years 'cause ya start young up here 'cause it's beer drinkin' country. We come down the beach on weekdays and smoke a few bongs, get off our heads and go surfing."*
Ah, Joey, lost to his demons far too young. It's strange to look back on these young groms with so much talent, so much promise, and reflect on where life has taken them. Some to the top of the tree, others lost or at least out of the limelight they seemed destined for.
When I see Dougal Walker, one of the industry's leading executives, at a function, I have to look twice to see him, but that funny, bad-ass grom is still there under the trappings of success. In fact, in most of us the eternal grom endures.
*Quotes from The Kids Issue, Tracks February 1977.