Smooth/Radical: The Keith Paull Story

Stu Nettle
The Depth Test

Gold Coast author Chris ‘Swag’ Gudenswager is the third generation of the Adler/Gudenswager surfing dynasty. His son Jye is the fourth. As the shaper of the aptly named ‘Gen4’ boards, Jye supplies boards to the cream of Gold Coast talent. The up and comers from Coolangatta.

When the idea to research Keith Paull’s story first struck, Swag approached Jye’s team riders. Had they ever heard of Keith Paull? For each of them the answer was no. Swag then took a few strokes up the line asking Jay Phillips and Mikey Wright the same question. From them he recived the same reply. Reaching the head of the lineup, Swag threw the question at Mick Fanning, who’d heard of Paull yet didn’t know anything about him.

At this juncture, the budding historian has two options to choose from: flick the idea into the too hard basket, selling books is tough enough let alone books about little-known people, or alternatively, to embrace the collective blind spot and view it as a golden opportunity.

Swag chose the latter, and in doing so he’s filled a yawning gap in Australia’s surf history.

Keith Paull - for those who don’t know - was a successful competitor, he won the 1968 Australian Titles beating cultural heavyweights Nat Young and Midget Farrelly, he was a sought after shaper licensing his designs to Bing Surfboards in California and shaping Harmony Surfboards here in Australia, and he was the owner of “the most beautiful style in surfing”, as Rabbit Bartholomew once described Paull’s low-slung power crouch.

By the early-70s, the foundations for a long and memorable career were laid out, and yet neither eventuated for Keith Paull. Nothing can be done about the former, Paull quit surfing in 1976 and died alone in a hotel room in 2004, yet concerns around the latter form the undercurrent of ‘Smooth/Radical’: Why haven’t we remembered Keith Paull? There’s also a secondary query posed by some of Paull’s contemporaries: Why did he fall when I endured? In ‘Smooth/Radical’ the sliding doors are many.

It’s both a strength and a flaw that, when telling Paull’s story, Swag calls upon the great surfers of the era. Lots of them. 32 in fact. The table of contents reads like a program from Australian surfing’s hall of fame, and on the contributor list alone ‘Smooth/Radical’ is an almighty piece of work. Swag rounds them up - Merchant, Falzon, Lynch, McCoy, McTavish, and many more - asking each to recall their memories of Keith Paull. The story is largely told through their voices, the author acting more as a conductor weaving various threads together. The flaw is that it would’ve been nice to hear more from Swag himself. The later chapters show he has the authority and ability to hold the story.

Nevertheless, the portrait we get is of a talented, self-motivated, and self-assured man. Paull was a player in all the events and movements of the late-60s and early-70s. Healthy too, he was vegan and anti-drugs - at least for a time.

Even fifty years after the fact, the enthusiasm to celebrate the era’s excesses still endures. We romanticise the non-conformist spirit that fuelled the period, the liberation from stifling norms, yet forget the people who fell victim to those dangerous latitudes. For many people, Paull’s last stand is the one that persists, a truly horrible flame out on the Sunshine Coast that shocked the surfing world, terrified his wife, and almost took the life of his son. It’s never quite stated, but perhaps the reason for Keith Paull being forgotten is atonement for that event. He was cast into purgatory, his reputation too.

As he was finishing ‘Smooth/Radical’, Swag realised that it was exactly fifty years since Keith Paull won the Aussies titles knocking Nat and Midge off the peg. It was an anniversary to celebrate and give the man his due. But it was more than that. In this, the R U OK? era, conversations about mental health are encouraged when once they weren’t. And though some things can’t be changed, the conversations we have about mental health should allow us to alter our view of history - and that’s what Swag has done, championing the great feats of Keith Paull, and providing context and sympathy, a light touch, to a horrible event. Gudenswager shows us the man in full.

‘Smooth/Radical’ clocks in at 450 pages and is sure to become a reference source. It’s also been nominated for Surfing Australia’s ‘Surf Culture Award’, an irony considering Paull is the forgotten man of Australian surfing. Yet maybe one day he won’t be. Maybe after more people have read ‘Smooth/Radical’ Keith Paull will be entered into Surfing Australia’s Hall of Fame and he’ll finally get the credit he’s owed.

Smooth/Radical: The Keith Paull Story is available online at Swag Books, it's also available at the following stockists:
Surfworld Gold Coast
Cafe D'Bah
Book Room Collective: Byron Bay and Lennox
Torquay Books
Bay Life Books, Dunsborough
Bing Surfboards, Encinitas
HoDaddy

Comments

memlasurf's picture
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memlasurf commented Tuesday, 11 Dec 2018 at 6:01pm

Geez that second photo makes him look like Allen from the Thunderbirds (the original marionettes one). Or was it that poor bastard John who was stuck up in the space station while all the others were swimming by the pool?

crg's picture
crg's picture
crg commented Tuesday, 11 Dec 2018 at 6:50pm

Great review Stu and well done Swag...look forward to reading my chrissie present.

I'm not cheap,
But I'm free.

blindboy's picture
blindboy's picture
blindboy commented Tuesday, 11 Dec 2018 at 7:43pm

I received a copy of the book this week via a mate who knows Swag and although I have barely begun the journey, it is an epic achievement and is as much a history of the era as it is Keith Paull's story. It will bring back the memories for those old enough to have been there and, for those who aren't and weren't, I doubt if you will ever get a better recreation of the times. I never met him, but was on the beach on the Sunshine Coast for the incident and Rabbit's recount of the event puts it into a context most of us never fully understood.

Laurie McGinness

Santosha's picture
Santosha's picture
Santosha commented Tuesday, 11 Dec 2018 at 7:45pm

Now that is a coincidence ... coz I've been thinking exactly the same about your pic for weeks now I promise . Those glasses , that... that look , straight out of thunderbirds

goofyfoot's picture
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goofyfoot commented Tuesday, 11 Dec 2018 at 8:05pm

So what happened blindboy?

freeride76's picture
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freeride76 commented Tuesday, 11 Dec 2018 at 8:30pm

epic effort Swag, can't wait to read it.

blindboy's picture
blindboy's picture
blindboy commented Tuesday, 11 Dec 2018 at 8:43pm

It's a long story goofy, well worth reading. Buy the book!

Laurie McGinness

goofyfoot's picture
goofyfoot's picture
goofyfoot commented Wednesday, 12 Dec 2018 at 5:49am

Will do, Chrissy present for myself!

spencie's picture
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spencie commented Wednesday, 12 Dec 2018 at 3:58pm

Knew him and surfed with him in the mid-late sixties. A real gentleman and a brilliant surfer. Could have had a long career in surfing if he'd stayed at it .

easterly

blindboy's picture
blindboy's picture
blindboy commented Wednesday, 12 Dec 2018 at 5:31pm

Look at the photo of him doing a full rail bottom turn (p45) on a 7ft plus wide V-bottom. Ground breaking stuff!

Laurie McGinness

velocityjohnno's picture
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velocityjohnno commented Wednesday, 12 Dec 2018 at 6:38pm

The book seems very interesting, I will check it out. One fellow (the only other one at one stage) bothering with longboards on the local reefs in the early-mid 90's was a KP disciple, I never really looked into him too much. But I can appreciate a full rail turn. Yes I read Rabbit's account, and like the story of Boon going 52 not out on the flight to London (Walters was dismissed for 48) - we felt we had some big shoes to fill in the debauchery department. Maybe we weren't as extreme, but at least we did have the Dunsborough riot.
I've been surfing an Australian Vee bottom quite a bit recently and it really is amazing the squirt the flex in the fin (and probably the flex in the stringerless hull) give you on that initial takeoff-bottom turn. Maybe it's loading up and then springing back underwater. Haven't mastered it yet, it seems to respond to a quick back foot stall and pivot to your desired line as well, a bit like my 9'6 does. Will keep at it. Full rail bottom turns on a board over 7 feet are horn.
I wonder if the memory of KP, like Joe Engel, will inspire people much like MP has into the future.

velocityjohnno's picture
velocityjohnno's picture
velocityjohnno commented Wednesday, 12 Dec 2018 at 7:41pm

Oh yes, this was a pretty good link describing the shift from Aus Vee bottoms to the pintail 'hulls' of the late 1960s:

http://displacementia.blogspot.com/2015/10/friday-flashback-harbour-sphe...

Writer analyses the riding very well and you can see the improvement, KP is riding an area-back pin toward the end which is about half way between the V and the later widepoint-forward, less surface area in tail, pintails. Did these become the 'Tracker'? Or Brewer's 'Pipeliners'? (edit: figured it out, below)

Midget claims first vee bottom in mid '67 (vee did not extend beyond half way up board), then from what I've heard, they were gone in about 6 months to a year? BB do you recall it this way?

velocityjohnno's picture
velocityjohnno's picture
velocityjohnno commented Wednesday, 12 Dec 2018 at 7:39pm

Notice in the surfresearch link, when he is standing next to a 2nd generation foil, just how much like a modern board the outline is...

http://www.surfresearch.com.au/sPaull_Keith.html

Next, the UK's vintage surf collector site, a recount of his time there, with the first generation 'Aussie Foil', and everyone taking photos and copying it.

http://vintagesurfboardcollectoruk.blogspot.com/2013/09/tc-keith-paull-h...

Bing produced it, and then the 'Maui Foil' was developed (narrower version) - it was this Maui foil that Rolf Aurness came to Vic and won Bells on, defeating all the stubby shortboard and Midget's Slipper. That's the missing link - Aussie V>Foil>Maui Foil>70's singles. The boards then became the 70's downrailers, Brewers, HB Rainbows, MP's boards, etc.

AndyM's picture
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AndyM commented Wednesday, 12 Dec 2018 at 7:49pm

Those knee bumps in that first photo are pretty wild.

blindboy's picture
blindboy's picture
blindboy commented Wednesday, 12 Dec 2018 at 7:54pm

Midget designed the first wide tail V-bottom board and there are some great photos of him carving deep turns on it. McTavish then popularised the design with his Fantastic Plastic Machine model and everyone else copied it. I think it probably lasted longer than 6 months but by the time I had saved enough to buy one things had moved on and I got a pintail from Peter Clarke instead. By the time Rolf Aurness came along I was surfing a 5'8" double ender that we glassed in my bedroom while my parents were out!

Laurie McGinness

velocityjohnno's picture
velocityjohnno's picture
velocityjohnno commented Wednesday, 12 Dec 2018 at 8:03pm

haha that's gold!
The times M&D had a little 'them' time, when they'd come back I'd have a new guitar... (glad I kept them)

blindboy's picture
blindboy's picture
blindboy commented Wednesday, 12 Dec 2018 at 8:47pm

What have you got vj? I only have two, a Cole Clark FL3 and a GibsonSG standard.

Laurie McGinness

velocityjohnno's picture
velocityjohnno's picture
velocityjohnno commented Wednesday, 12 Dec 2018 at 9:42pm

The Cole looks beautiful, and the SG my young one would approve!
In 1990 got a '83 Squier Strat, one of first 10,000 Jap produced, still with 70's headstock and 3 bolt neck
In 1991 got 1964 Fender Jaguar, L-Series, although it had had a beat up life. Couldn't afford an old Strat at time. Then what do you know, Cobain, Sonic Youth etc make Jags famous shortly after.
In 1995 I got a black Washburn acoustic. Still got all guitars.

But it's more about my young one, I'm 5% of the player he is, at 10 we were in Vancouver for Christmas and at Tommy Lees (?) they let him pick any one off the wall to play, and he got hooked on Gibson. This year from his work savings he bought a 2017 Gibson Les Paul Black Beauty Nashville special. & as a player he is worthy of it. It sounds just so heavy and fat! But with the BB you have a fairly unique 3 pickup setup (unique for a LP) and he's able to tune almost as many sounds as you get out of a standard from it. You just achieve this a different way.

Finding the LP was stressful! Gibson fell out with their distributor, then Gibson went into receivership in the US, everyone bought the last Blueberry burst ones, we were told there was no reliable supply, you can't ship certain woods like Rosewood between countries; so we rang all around Oz and went around all shops in Vic and just played every LP we could. We learned that not all are created equal in their sound, there was one very good Traditional locally that went, and the BB was it's equal in sound - it just achieves its range in a different way.

In this process he got very good at finding the best sounds out of a new guitar/new amp combo.

truebluebasher's picture
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truebluebasher commented Thursday, 13 Dec 2018 at 3:21am

velocityjohnno back at the start of winter blindboy gifted an empowering ballad.
'Kilministers-confession' is the real deal of The Myall Creek Massacre.

With respect to blindboy one can commemorate this event through his song.
Best I direct you to Myall Creek Massacre Memorial page to keep ballad in context.
Thanx again to blindboy for sharing epic track. Highly Recommended *****
https://www.swellnet.com/comment/573538

blindboy's picture
blindboy's picture
blindboy commented Thursday, 13 Dec 2018 at 8:57am

Thanks tbb it is still on SoundCloud if anyone is interested

Laurie McGinness

velocityjohnno's picture
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velocityjohnno commented Thursday, 13 Dec 2018 at 1:31pm

Thanks blindboy, that is wonderful! I've kept on listening as I start the afternoon's work.

truebluebasher's picture
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truebluebasher commented Thursday, 13 Dec 2018 at 2:59pm

I reckon Smooth /Radical will stoke up my Sillyseasoning!
Thanx Stu for listing Trad GC stockists Cafe D'bah/Surf World?
I surfed Grom Comps with Chris, if he's gone off the rails then he's heading my way.

Do please carry on with fellow Gold Coaster's excellent story...

I'm merely loading our finest swellnet backing tracks to bookend it.

Stu run a piece on Ben's band 'Grun'
https://www.swellnet.com/news/talking-heads/2017/04/04/grun-music-thats-...

Manyana LP is cool enough but track 4 'The Vicious' is outstanding*****
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OFQZpbVw0zY

Shit hot swellnet playlist also make great Xmas gifts! (Straight out ruthless plug)
Thanx also to Ben for sharing. How fortunate we are!

blindboy's picture
blindboy's picture
blindboy commented Thursday, 13 Dec 2018 at 3:05pm

vj Richard Kearney on lead, Dan Mauger on Drums, Ronald John Neal on Bass ...... and me on barely audible acoustic. Never managed to get them all together in the same room since ....... but I live in hope.

Laurie McGinness