Forty years since man-on-man surfing was launched at the Stubbies

Stu Nettle picture
Stu Nettle (stunet)
The Rearview Mirror

"It was the breakthrough pro surfing needed, and it was so good we're still using the same system today."

So says Andrew McKinnon of the very first Stubbies that ran at Burleigh Heads forty years ago today. Yet despite it's success, man-on-man very nearly didn't happen.

Just a few months earlier, as Peter Drouyn was selling his vision to sponsors, Rabbit Bartholomew and Kanga Cairns had their backs against the wall in Hawaii. The Hawaiian winter of '76 came to a head with Rabbit getting his front teeth knocked out and the Aussies charged by kanagaroo court of various cultural transgressions.

Into this hostile climate Peter Drouyn attempted to spread the gospel of man-on-man surfing. Yet for it to work, Drouyn needed the best surfers in the world and that included the Hawaiians. The promise of good waves, hassle free heats, and the not insignificant matter of prizemoney - $12,300 worth of it - made for a convincing argument. In early March eleven Hawaiians, including Eddie and Clyde Aikau who held court against the Australians, made the trek down under to compete in the Stubbies.

The very first man-on-man heat was between Australians Mark Warren and Brian Cregan. Coincidentally, the perceived antagonist on the North Shore, Rabbit Bartholomew, drew Hawaiian surfers in three successive heats: Mark Foo, Randy Rarick, and Sunset great Barry Kanaiupuni in Round 2.

Rabbit's run was halted by Michael Peterson who'd come out of semi-retirement just for the Stubbies. Like the Hawaiians he was also lured by the prizemoney. MP would go on to win, besting against Mark Richards in the final. It was MP's last big win.

Forty years later the prizemoney for surfing has grown exponentially - this week's Quiksilver Pro has a prize purse exceeding $1 million - yet despite superficial rule changes the fundamentals of man-on-man surfing remain the same as Peter Drouyn's original vision.

John Webber has footage of the Rabbit v MP semi then the MP v MR final.


Coaster's picture
Coaster's picture
Coaster Tuesday, 14 Mar 2017 at 8:56pm


zenagain's picture
zenagain's picture
zenagain Tuesday, 14 Mar 2017 at 9:00pm

I reckon they should still keep the same format but take away priority for the last 10 minutes of the heat (or the last 5 at the very least).

That way, the surfers can lock in a couple of decent scores without interference for the first 20 then gloves are off at the end and that stops the mind-numbingly boring tactic of holding off a surfer while waiting for the clock to wind down.

Maybe 4 man heats for the early rounds, down to 2 for the quarters onwards.

drodders's picture
drodders's picture
drodders Wednesday, 15 Mar 2017 at 9:25am

I like the Pipeline format, 2 man heats with 4 in the water, much more interesting. Also allows the contest to run in a shorter period resulting in better waves.

KiwiBob's picture
KiwiBob's picture
KiwiBob Wednesday, 15 Mar 2017 at 10:45am

did Rabbit nearly win that semi?

innatube's picture
innatube's picture
innatube Wednesday, 15 Mar 2017 at 11:49am

Interesting to see how early they were getting onto some of the waves with the thicker longer boards.

truebluebasher's picture
truebluebasher's picture
truebluebasher Wednesday, 15 Mar 2017 at 12:12pm

Should be acknowledged that surfing lifted seeded Knock-out format from Tournament Play of World Cup Football and World Tennis Circuit.
Much was made of the Tennis example by Peter Drouyn in the lead up to Stubbies.

ENTRY FEE was charged to those unable to skirt the hessian screening.
Screen made dawn patrol of The Point off limits for duration of comp.

70's Ad for ice-block kid is photo bombed by creepy moustached shady Bagman .
Cops/Whiteshoes sported sunnies also Rubbernecks/ Brisos with polaroids around necks.
Local skegz/Skaterz rules were absolute. No heroes/No sunnies/No photos yer girl.

Any recall Hang Gliding off The Point back in the day the circus came to town. Hooroo!

blindboy's picture
blindboy's picture
blindboy Wednesday, 15 Mar 2017 at 4:28pm

......and didn't Mark Richards hate that result.

frog's picture
frog's picture
frog Wednesday, 15 Mar 2017 at 8:47pm

Worth Noting that the 1974 USA titles at Cape Hatteras won by Rick Rasmussen was a man on man final. Rick beat Jim Cartland.

Drouyn made it huge though

frog's picture
frog's picture
frog Wednesday, 15 Mar 2017 at 8:56pm

A question for those who saw MP live in his prime. Is the surfing in the Stubbies representative of his best?
The stills in the surf magazines back then looked great but the actual surfing of MP and rabbit etc in the above clip is not what I expected to see. No real vertical stuff, short little snaps. I just expected more from all the raving about MP.

blindboy's picture
blindboy's picture
blindboy Wednesday, 15 Mar 2017 at 10:46pm

I think he was probably past his best by that time, but on the evidence of that clip, clearly still ahead of the pack. He might not have gone 12 O'clock vertical but he was much closer to it than the others. The extraordinary thing about Michael in his prime was his speed of manoeuvre. He was doing more on a wave than anyone else and, given the opportunity, was hitting it harder through turns and snaps. To put him in context you need to look at the surfing that preceded him. It was much more linear with far fewer manoeuvres. His athleticism was also a big factor in his competitive success. He had a huge motor inside him and, in his prime, could maintain the highest work rate of any of the pros.

truebluebasher's picture
truebluebasher's picture
truebluebasher Thursday, 16 Mar 2017 at 1:40am

frog! One hell of a awkward question but most definitely the right one to ask !

Speaking as ultra keen Point grom of that era,I saw all Stubbies competitors.
Rabbit/Shaun'75 see Free Ride ... Influential to deep bodybash'n lines .

I also expected more from M.P. Knock! Knock! Oh shit, don't scare me like that!
M.P. was filmed often enough riding epic point waves. That's legendary... right ?

Understand mates of mates Judged thru all comp levels of the day.(Pass the bong)
More often than not Stubbies judging scores raised ire of locals.
Pause the film on score board ... Judge for yourself.

Stubbies Grom's pick of best 1970'sBurleigh Point Surfers. No shock to locals here.

You want vertical frog! I was paddling out to point and saw Shaun Tomson take off on backwash into rising face in same motion riding the lip down then slotting the barrel. Ala skimboard number before its time. Very few skegz could pull off that move today.

Joe Engel (R.I.P.) wings it top flight then snaps a complete over head out stretched submarine turn to re emerge it behind curtain to get real real deep and out he comes. Shocked many as he'd only do this when wave became critical.
Never thought I'd see his signature Burleigh Point submarine snap again.
2013 Kelly reels one out of his bag of tricks against Joel at Kirra.(Full submersion also)

Hawaiian Micheal Ho was consummate competitor unlocking The Rock Break to all.

Local Stubbies Champ Peter Harris could manoeuvre his way outta crazy barrels.
Loudest & best Stubbies moment ever with champ doing just that!

Host of local Goofy's getting plenty vertical by end of '70's...another story. Hooroo!

frog's picture
frog's picture
frog Thursday, 16 Mar 2017 at 7:44am

The stills from the 77 Stubbies looked great and had me in awe back then but the footage is pretty underwhelming.

One interesting one showing how the stills from the 70s looked a lot better than the reality was the Richard Cram cutback where it was lauded as a hero move. Well I saw footage recently of the actual turn that created the photo that was in the mags. It looked a bit lame and his style was all stiff.

Tom Curren and Occy are some of the first to do surfing in the early pro era that still looks good by today's standards.

blindboy's picture
blindboy's picture
blindboy Thursday, 16 Mar 2017 at 5:19pm

If you can find footage of any other sport from the seventies that does not show a similar degree of improvement, I would be surprised. Sport science really kicked in during the eighties; better training methods, better equipment etc etc. If you think this is insignificant, I remember a pretty serious competitor, who will remain nameless, asking me if surfing counted as exercise!

frog's picture
frog's picture
frog Thursday, 16 Mar 2017 at 8:54pm

My main realisation is that the gap between the pros and the better surfers where i grew up was much smaller than i thought back then . Perhaps not at deepest kirra tube riding of course.

truebluebasher's picture
truebluebasher's picture
truebluebasher Thursday, 16 Mar 2017 at 10:16pm

No legropes or spare boards warranted tighter lines. If you fell off just once... you're out of comp & flying home.
Impossible to bodybash in, climb over hidden rocks clobbered by heavy swells...
Onto gathering board peppered dead centre in fish trap ...
Next tippy toe up The Point thru 5,000 packed sitting crowd...
Top of Point rip open hessian screen with whatever it took...
Then skate down wet'worn slippery Nat Park track...
Scramble more hidden danger rocks and paddle out thru cove in a running swell.
A brazen few shambled this batshit crazy decathlon to score dream win on hooter.
Good luck crew... Hooroo!