Bob and Tom...and Nelson Mandela
In 1984 Tom Carroll came second to Barton Lynch in marginal waves at the OP Oz in Bondi. Within the span of Carroll's career the result had little distinction. Of far greater significance was a meeting with Australia's then-Prime Minister, Bob Hawke, that occurred after the competition.
Hawke was riding a wave of patriotic fervour following the America's Cup win and by attending the surf competition he was further securing the youth vote. It was a brazen political manoeuvre and it worked.
The Bondi crowd, according to a story in Tracks, 'went berserk' when the 'national hero' made his way onto the stage. The same story contained a photo of Hawke and Carroll chatting and, although brief, the meeting would have a huge bearing on Carroll's future.
Six months later Carroll startled the surfing world by announcing he would boycott the upcoming South African leg of the world tour due to apartheid. By doing so he jeopardised his chance of maintaining the world title that he'd won the previous two years. Following the Bells competition Carroll held a press conference in Torquay to give his reasoning. It was a divisive issue and many people within surfing blamed Carroll for politicising the sport.
As a shy 23-year-old Carroll had put himself into an uncomfortable position. By now the national media had picked up the story and he was forced to justify his decision alone. However an unlikely ally came to his aide in Hawke. The Prime Minister had a long history of campaigning against apartheid: while he was president of the trade unions he'd organised sanctions, and he'd continued to campaign in federal politics by supporting international pressure against the South African regime.
Hawke took great interest in Carroll and they organised to meet in Canberra and discuss his situation. The topic may have been serious yet Carroll's impressions of Hawke were, "that he came across as quite a bloke. Underneath that there was a very clever, and very calculating person, but, you know, he came across as an ordinary Aussie bloke."
Carroll, who was taking a personal stand and hence saw himself as a bit player, was taken aback by Hawke's interest, "I was very surprised by how much knowledge he had of my situation. If any injunctions were forced upon me to go and surf he said he was going to help me legally. So that was a great support."
As it happened Carroll wasn't forced to surf in South Africa but he did lose his main sponsor, Instinct Clothing. Instinct were a US and South African-based company who had South African pro Shaun Tomson as their main rider and the decision riled. Within weeks Carroll's manager Peter Manstead negotiated a contract with Quiksilver that, at one stage, made him the world's highest paid surfer. It's a relationship that continues to this day.
In 1990 the apartheid system began to be dismantled in South Africa, beginning with the release of Nelson Mandela in February. Later that year Mandela visited Australia where he told Hawke, "I want you to know, Bob, that I am here today, at this time, because of you."
Three years later, at a testimonial dinner to Carroll, Hawke gave a stirring speech applauding the surfers principled stand, "He'd won the world championship in 1983, he'd won it in 1984 and he was obviously a top contender for it in 1985, and there was the championship in South Africa and Tom Carroll refused to attend. Because for Tom Carroll the Australian concept of the fair go didn't know and recognise geographic boundaries.
"But his beliefs, his principles, were so strong that he put those in front of everything else and as I recall there has been no example in the history of Australian sport where a champion has been prepared to put principles so manifestly in front of his or her own interests as Tom Carroll did in 1985"
But it didn't end there.
In 1997 Nelson Mandela came to Australia to speak and both Hawke and Carroll were in attendance. Following the speech Carroll thought he'd like to meet Mandela so approached his old ally for an introduction. Hawke obliged telling Mandela the surfers story about boycotting South Africa. In reply Mandela said to Carroll, "I really thank you for that support. When I was in Robben Island I needed support from the international community. Thank you."