Review: 'Kanga: The Trials and Triumphs of Ian Cairns (Vol 1)'
It takes an ego as big as Western Australia to think that your life story is so important it can’t be told in one fat volume. It takes a passion as great as Ireland’s to make that fat volume work.
That’s my strapline take on Kanga: The Trials and Triumphs of Ian Cairns (Vol 1), by Wayne Patrick Murphy with Ian Cairns. The detail is a bit harder to address, for a couple of reasons. One, the subject of this mammoth biography and I have a chequered history. I am quoted within it and referenced, by Ian Cairns, as a “fucken [sic] hypocrite”. Two, the author is a friend of mine, a man of great goodwill and spirit, and an accomplished storyteller.
But if I’ve learnt anything from a more than forty-year association with Ian Cairns it is this: don’t let ignorance or prejudice hold you back, just “fucken” go for it like a bull at a gate. So here we go...
As a young surfer in Scarborough, WA, Wayne Murphy grew up idolizing the surfing persona of Ian Cairns, who, although he wasn’t born there, had very quickly adopted the Wild West/Big Country crash-through or crash attitude to everything in life, including surfing. From those early connections in Perth and along the south-western coast, author and subject both took the road less travelled: Murph to decades of self-funded surf bummery, before finding a place for himself in surfing officialdom as a distinguished ASP judge, and then following his creative spirit back to the land of his ancestry; Cairns to a storied and controversial career as a pioneer pro surfer and big wave charger, and then as a coach and administrator. But what ties them together here is not just the job at hand, it is a shared passion for the total experience of surfing, the whole damn enchilada, and when all is said and done, it’s what saves this book from being a rather turgid recitation of Ian’s unwavering belief that he always did everything better than anyone before or since.
Instead, what Murphy has crafted is a flawed but engrossing saga of one man’s journey through the formative years of professional surfing. Let’s deal with the flaws first. The errors of fact are too numerous to go into – and unnecessary, given that one good edit would have cleaned most of them up – but one that got up my nose was calling Midget Farrelly’s widow “Di” instead of Bev. Okay, a small thing, but wouldn’t you think that, given that Midget’s mentoring and influence on the young Cairns is a recurring theme, they would have taken the trouble to check!
Structurally, the opener about Kanga flying to Hawaii to testify against Fast Eddie Rothman to keep him in jail on a dope rap he would eventually beat, is annoying and unnecessary. It gives a small-time stand-over man far too much ink, and also runs the risk of the sins of the father being passed down the line to two fearless young men who are doing what Ian did all those years ago. Love him or loathe him, Ian Cairns is ten-times the man (in every sense) that Rothman could ever be, and his story is strong enough to stand alone.
On the positive side, as I noted earlier, Murph thinks and feels before he writes, and it makes him a feckin’ good storyteller. I particularly enjoyed the detail about the surf trips up and down the coast, stuff that a publishing house editor would probably have chopped. And although there a couple too many “the horizon went black” monster wave stories for my taste, some of them are really in-the-moment gripping, and let’s not forget that taking on the odds is what the Kanga story is really all about.
The book recounts all of the stand-out personal memories I have of Cairns as a fierce and fearless pro competitor - at Fairy Bower in the 1974 Surfabout, at Sunset and Haleiwa through the mid-70s, and at Express Point, Phillip Island in 1977 – and Murph’s excellent telling of them reminded me just what a giant of surfing Kanga really was in those years. And he deserves to be remembered for that by generations that never saw him in his prime.
It’s also important to remember about Ian “Kanga” Cairns that when he’s slinging the shit so hard there’s collateral splatter, there is often a smile in his head even if you can’t see it on his face. And I hope it’s there now as he reads this review.
'Kanga: The Trials and Triumphs of Ian Cairns' is available at select surf shops in Australia, on Amazon and on-line booksellers, and at kangacairns.com