The Rum Diaries: 2 Mates & 50 Years Of Surfing
COASTALWATCH | THE MATE SHIP SUMATRA COMPETITION
In honour of the Coastalwatch Plus Mateship comp, we celebrate the stories of friendship, cemented through saltwater.
The rum diaries: How two mates developed a friendship through surfing that spanned 50 years.
John Smythe and Bob Hardy started surfing as teenagers in the 1950s and are about to hit their 70s. The pair became mates during trips down the South Coast of NSW, surfing glassy, uncrowded waves all day long (when they weren’t causing havoc elsewhere) and yarning over rum-fuelled campfires and salted mudcrab feasts.
“I’ve known Bob since school days. He was my brother’s age and I was his brother’s age. It was Bob who gave my brother David the nickname ‘Miff’ and I was also called Miff, so Dave became Big Miff and I became Little Miff.
We all got into surfing in the late 1950s, early ‘60s at Manly and then North Steyne. We were in the surf club first, and when it formed, The Manly Pacific boardriders club. Surfing was taking off with the World Championships in Manly in 1964 and boardriders clubs on all beaches of Sydney.
The best thing for us young grommets at the time was that Bob and the other “old blokes” got their driver’s licences and bought cars. This meant we could go on surfing safaris. Grommets came in handy to help pay for petrol, collect wood for the campfire, coax unsuspecting chicks into our camp and generally be dog’s bodies. I used to take a brownie box camera on these trips and captured loads of moments.
When I finished my school leaving certificate, Bob took myself, Macca and Jim for a South Coast surf trip. We basically took every road that went left off the Princes Highway looking for surf, from Ulladulla to Mallacoota in Victoria. Sometimes we found gold and sometimes we ended up in the middle of nowhere.
A short time later, we took another trip down south in another “old bloke” Murph’s FJ Holden. We arrived at Bawley Point late on a Friday night and awoke to an enormous swell which was totally closing out all the points in that area, so we headed for Green Island. We had to drive through the town of Milton, which had a pub so it was suggested we drop in for a schooner. One schooner turned to two, three and so on, until we got to about six… and then we headed to Green Island.
In those days, the road into Green Island was a renowned goat track over Conjola mountain. Very narrow, winding, tree-lined - dangerous at the best of times, let alone with six schooners under the belt. And there were no seatbelts in those days.
But Murph was an expert driver, as he was older and had had a licence for at least two years. I must say he handled it well. Well, most of the way. On one tight bend, he spun out and ploughed straight into a sandy mound, missing the closely spaced spotted gums that lined the road.
When we got to Green Island, the surf was pumping and we got our boards down and began to wax up… and that was as far as any of us got. We awoke hours later in various positions around the carpark. We’d all passed out on our boards or close by.
After a surf, we’d light a huge fire, cook crayfish in billies and sing zulu warrior songs after a break we’d found and named Zulus, in honour of the South African guy with us who spotted it first. It was a scene straight from Lord of the Flies.
On one trip back to Zulu’s in 1966 we needed to stay for the week as the brakes on Bob’s Holden went. We tried to fix them, despite having no mechanical skills whatsoever. Eventually we drove Bob’s car into Bateman’s Bay using the gears as brakes… and the hand brake got a workout too.
That same trip, we woke one morning to a ten foot swell, glassy and consistently breaking so we headed out and ended up catching some huge waves. Having no leg ropes, if someone lost a board we would help each other to retrieve their board.
We’d go down to Merimbula and camp out in this old fisherman’s hut on the beach. Bob wasn’t in some of the photos I took then, because he was probably still asleep with a hangover. We’d drink until ‘blinds down’ at the local pub, then being full of beer some smart, wiser, older bloke suggested we drink rum. Which we did, until we were finally kicked out. So we grabbed a bottle of rum to take back to the hut, enjoyed that while we had the fire going and by 2am, when the fire had died out, the westerly was blowing up through the floorboards, we froze half to death.
Needless to say, it was Bob who’s responsible for leading me astray. I was an innocent grommet with no-one else to look up to but these elders of the surfing kingdom.”
“I first met John through his older brother Dave while surfing at Manly, would have been around '62 I think. Back then they were Big Miff and Little Miff.
I remember that trip when we “discovered” Zulus. Good trip, great waves. I don’t remember any grommet abuse though. We always treated them nice!
There was one trip down south when John and our other mate Macca flipped the bird to a cop who was following us through Kiama. He promptly pulled us over, gave me a fine and a defect notice for a bald tyre!
We don’t see enough of each other now but those days, the surfing and the hi-jinx we got up to made us friends for life.”
Create a legacy of your own: You, three mates and boat trip in Sumatra you’ll be still be talking about 50 years from now. Get your ticket to the Coastalwatch Mate Ship comp now!
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