Rob Ward on surfing Cactus during the early 1970’s

Rob has now made it down to Cactus but before he left I asked him how he was getting on with his preperations for the trip and about the early days of surfing cactus during the 1970’s and if he ever met Paul Witzig (Surf movie maker during the 70’s) who bought up alot of the land around Point Sinclair.

I’m getting there!  (I mean I am getting through my “To Do” list. I mean, I’ve ticked off job no. 1:  “Make a List”!

I guess what follows have/might come out in the Desert Diary.

I knew Paul Witzig’s brother, John – who started Tracks magazine – quite well. (I had a double page centre spread entirely given over to pics of me at Caves.  In case you think I am a raging ego-head there is a funny story to them. Mary, my gf, took them and showed them to a South African photog called Howard Owen. (His goat ate all my muesli at Angourie but that’s another story.) He sold them to Tracks with no word to me. Tracks interviewed me when I brought Orinoco Flo into Sydney and I went to the Tracks office and found them. May issue 1972 if I remember right. I also found some shots taken at Aussie Pipe  (there are half a dozen pseudonyms). The shots were taken by Frank Pithers and Tracks made the mistake of thinking it was the Hawaiian Pipe. Not a hard one to make on the day. One was captioned, “This guy and Rory having a great day at Pipe.” The foto was taken from the water looking up into the barrel and you can only see my left leg and left arm.  (I was surfing in shorts with a long set of green sleeves. Oh, and no legrope. I’d been hurt there before by one. Fame at last! A legend in my own mind, at any rate.  (I mean of course that I WAS ‘This guy”)  I remember running straight over Frank’s head. (He ducked). John, I met in WA where he photographed us at Smiths. I met him at Johanna during the 1972 Bells contest with Simon Anderson and Mark Warren. And when I lived in Sydney I visited him at his house quite often. He built a shack at Angourie when I was there in about 1973/4. I stayed about 3 months.

Paul I did not meet for a while. In fact it was on about my third Cactus trip and I was there for some months.  Paul came along during the making of his film Rolling Home (which I have never seen!) You may not know this but Paul made his money with a film called Evolution which was the first film to the show to the Americans what Australians were doing with short boards, The wunderkind was Wayne Lynch – about 16 at the time. Paul reputedly made a $US million with that movie in the US.  Yes, he bought Cactus. The word was around the area that he had been totally ripped off. He paid 1c, 5c or 10c a hectare. And hey! you can’t even run sheep there!

Well Paul rocked up with Reno Abellira and Gerry Lopez. Gerry Lopez was a cynical s.o.b.and thought it was fine to drop in on the basis that he was Gerry Lopez and making a movie. Reno was different  and we had a few laughs. One was when I was out at Caves by myself. This is not something a lot of people used to do for reasons you will imagine. Looking at it on a big day on Google Earth the other day I measured about 300M out for the peak. Anyway, Reno paddled out and came up to me with his deadpan Phillipino/Hawaiian face and said, “The crowd shits yuh, doesn’t it?”

It took me several seconds to process this. First I suffered from the error that all Americans are born with an irony by-pass. Second, he delivered it so cool that he “got” me.  My first thought was, “F**k! does the bastard expect me to paddle in?”  Then I realised the bleeding obvious. Two is not as many as he’d have been surfing with at Pipe or Ala Moana, even at night.  Since we surfed just the two of us for an hour or two he pulled a couple of classic Hawaiian tricks. One was hooting me into a wave. I don’t have to say that the wave was one that had a clear message written all over it: do not take off unless you wish to go over the falls and get severely dragged. The peak at Caves on a good, larger day is a sort of double peak that dredges horribly and you often find yourself too deep as the sweep is generally toward the critical part. Of course, I went. Who doesn’t go when Reno hoots them “in”. I made it. Not bad for a caulkhead.

Later, having been shown how to fish for the Australian salmon and with Reno was standing by my shoulder, I hooked into one. I had cast out a yellow-eye mullet on an un-weighted hook. I’d been shown how to do this by a surfer from WA who was also a professional fisherman. The thing gave a real good show, leaping and pulling away. I’ve got a picture of it (pre-pan) right here.  Reno had brought some wood-carving tools with him and made a couple of Hawaiian style totems for Paul’s house door from driftwood..

At some point nearly all the best Australian surfers came by on their way to the Australian titles in WA. Among them was Terry Fitzgerald. I had the opportunity of observing the contrast between his and Reno’s styles.  Terry’s was the forerunner of the modern surfing style. bottom turns taking him way out in front of the wave followed by flashy cutbacks. In a clause… he covered a lot of ground. Reno was compact, he rarely strayed from the most critical part of the wave, his bottom turn very often consisted of a scalpel-like edge-set that had him running along the bottom of the (top to bottom) curl line. Then one slice and he was up and in the barrel. I thought it was exquisite. Also, for me, Reno had the advantage of not being a complete arsehole.  Terry was big on the idea that the newly invented leg ropes were a travesty of surfing. (A-bit-like the attitude to tow-in surfing.) Tom Hoye and I were the first WE knew of in Australia to use them – leg-ropes. Ours were an improvement on the string-through the-fin that I had used the previous year.  Tom had found this dense rubber which garages lay on the ground at fuel pumps. If you drove over it a bell rang and someone would scuttle out before you pissed off without paying. It was about 12mm diameter and of a slow reluctant stretch with no recoil. (Later leg-ropes used shock cord. Jack O’Neill lost his eyed when his board sprung back and the fin took his eye out). And it had a lot of strength. It was hollow and you had to insert a piece of knotted parachute cord in there greased with vaseline, after boiling the fuck out of the rubber. They lasted indefinitely and would keep you attached in a wipeout at 10′ Margaret River..  Tom had heard of his Santa Cruz friend Dennis Conquist using one in New Zealand a year before – about 1969. So Terry had a go at me about the leg rope. It was with exquisite pleasure I saw him lose it way out at Caves.  First, the long sharky swim in;  then I watched his board come all the way to the headland at Caves. The tide was quite low, so the water on the rock ledge was ankle deep. You can’t run across the ledge as it (may be) limestone and has continuous concaves with sharp edges, each a little smaller than your foot. It hurts to walk over it with bare feet. But your board has NO trouble flooding over it, faster than walking pace. And when it has come all the way across the ledge it starts to belt against the foot of the headland, and it makes satisfying crunching noises as the glass collapses along the rails. Of course, I’m not a complete twat. I didn’t say a thing. But I think he would have seen my leg-rope dangling over the edge of the headland. And maybe waving around a little bit. Needless to say, it was not long before he lost his faith and got himself a legrope. But not before he’d made himself a twat with a whole load of people.  You’ve got to admire his principals. Are you kidding me?

To understand how good Reno was it’s worth remembering that he won in Australia at 3′ Narrabeen on a very short twin fin. And in the same year took out the contest at Waimea at a gazillion feet. That kind of thing impresses me!