Tom Kirsop is On A Mission

Stu Nettle picture
Stu Nettle (stunet)

One of the hardest things Tom Kirsop, 81-years old of Narrabeen, has ever done was learn to surf. Unlike most beginners Tom was middle-aged when he first picked up a board, and despite being previously involved in water sports, including springboard diving, water polo and whitewater canoeing, standing on a surfboard surpassed them all for difficulty. He persevered, however, and surfing became a large part of his life.

Tom began surfing at the age of 45 after his son, Dr Rod Kirsop, had already become an accomplished surfer. The notion of a father following his son into the surf confuses the concept of 'second generation surfer' but it says much for their father-son relationship. In 1978, Tom and his wife Margaret, paid for a young Rod to go to Hawaii as a reward for getting good marks in the HSC. Tom proudly tells me that Rod, who studied medicine and is now an obstetrician, has only missed one year in Hawaii since. "He just loves the big stuff."

Aside from surfing Tom has been a longtime environmental advocate, and it is for his dedication to the environment that Tom Kirsop was today awarded a Medal of the Order of Australia (OAM). The OAM was principally awarded for work that Tom has done with the Surfrider Foundation but also for other projects with coastal national parks.

In 1991 Tom took a trip to Fiji and while on Tavarua he got talking to two fellows involved with the Surfrider Foundation in the US. Tom thought the newly-formed coastal protection group was an excellent idea as it combined "the motivation of surfers with the natural environment" and he pledged to get involved. As it happened Brad Farmer had just created Surfrider Foundation Australia from a base on the Gold Coast so Tom became the Sydney representative and helped establish the three Sydney branches.

Since then Tom has acted in varying roles for Surfrider Foundation Northern Beaches, mainly campaigning but also as chairman for a time. He cites the forced upgrade of the Warriewood Sewage Treatment plant and the battle against the Collaroy-Narrabeen seawall as the two great victories of Surfrider Foundation Northern Beaches.

Tom admits that the second battle is ongoing as the NSW Government recently passed legislation that would make it easier for beachfront property owners to construct a seawall. As yet there is no indication this might happen on either Collaroy or Narrabeen beach and this is due to the awareness Tom and the Surfrider Foundation have placed upon local sand movement.

These days Warringah Council force any developer to dump excavated sand – from newly-constructed underground carparks and the like – on the beach. "Hopefully," Tom says, "this will improve the beach and improve the banks."

Tom's nomination for the Medal of the Order of Australia was instigated by Rod's wife, Sarah, and worked on by Rod and also Brendan Donohue. For a behind-the-scenes campaigner such as Tom this was "very big news" and he admitted to being a touch embarassed by the attention.

With a fun north-east swell running on Australia Day I asked Tom, who recently had both hips replaced and now has arthritis in his knee, if he'd be heading out for a surf. "No, I can only ride a boogie-board at the moment."

I then asked how boogie-boarding compares with stand-up surfing. "Bloody terrible. But if you asked me how does boogie-boarding compare with not being in the surf at all, well, I'll tell you it's alright."

The announcement of Tom Kirsop's OAM was made on Australia Day, the 26th January. He will receive the medal in a ceremony on the Queen's Birthday long weekend.

For the website of Surfrider Foundation Australia click here.


the-spleen_2's picture
the-spleen_2's picture
the-spleen_2 Wednesday, 26 Jan 2011 at 11:45pm

Hope those angry tradesman give him the waves he's due! Good to see some kudos getting passed on to those that deserve them.

fitzroy-21's picture
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fitzroy-21 Thursday, 27 Jan 2011 at 6:38am

Good on Tom, another good story Stu.
On another note in regards to the sand issue in the Narra-Collaroy stretch, it was sad to see at my recent visit home at xmas, the lagoon slowly choking to death with all the sand suffocating it. Is it to suffer the same death as say DY lagoon? Could the councils/government not adopt something like the Tweed bypass out of the lagoon to mid beach leaving it up to seasonal currents to distribute it sth & nth? Puts more sand on the beach protecting the foreshore for when the big storms come. This would leave greater volumes of water to flush in and out of the lagoon giving back its life, particularly in the upper areas not to mention improving the original bank at Northy.
Sorry, this is probably not the place to raise this as it was about Tom, but he is Narra and surfrider and I grew up in those waters, so it is close to the heart to see it like this.

waverider's picture
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waverider Thursday, 27 Jan 2011 at 9:42pm

Hearty congratulations to an elder statesman with heart - Tom Kirsop. Inspiring stuff! Australia need to take a leaf from the TK example of what's possible with passion to question those who seek to degrade our beaches and lifestyle.

I've known Tom for almost 20 years through the Surfrider Foundation - what a gentleman, leader and warrior for the tribe. Let's see the new generation step up to continue his legacy.

Stoked for you mate.

stunet's picture
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stunet Thursday, 27 Jan 2011 at 10:26pm

Hey Fitzroy, I think this is exactly the place to raise those issues and I reckon Tom would agree.

freeride76's picture
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freeride76 Thursday, 27 Jan 2011 at 10:54pm

Never met Tom but Rod charges like a maniac at Sunset Beach.

Good to hear about blokes putting in and making a contribution.

fitzroy-21's picture
fitzroy-21's picture
fitzroy-21 Friday, 28 Jan 2011 at 1:25am

Thanks Stu, firstly I need to point out that I am not an expert on these matters. It is based only on 42 years of observation.
The upper reaches of Narra lagoon is dying. When you walk in the shallows it bubbles up and smells. It was not like this years ago. It regularly got good flushes of both fresh from the hills and salt from the ocean. As a lagoon works, it closes and opens naturally at the mouth.
Now, Tom and others would know more than me on this through what they saw previous to my existance, but talking with the old locals in my youth, the entrance to the lagoon would occur anywhere from between the headland and just below the surfclub.
Then along came the councils and engineers and extended a big dune along from the surf club, vegetated it for stability and put a rock wall along the northern bank to the bridge, leaving the shallow coffee rock section as the entrance.
This was reletivly fine whilst the deep water was just inside the entrance right through to the upper reaches, enabling massive volumes of water to flush through with each tide keeping the entrance open most of the time.
Now over the years (many), the sand choking up further and further past the bridge and now pretty well past the end of the caravan park, and although it looks like the water is fast flowing and clean, because it is so shallow, the volumes of water is minimal.
So, with all the carry on about foreshore erosion and sea walls for years, well before I moved away(13yrs ago), why isn't energy put into a smaller scale Tweed bypass style set up that will suit the area. Has it not done wonders to the foreshore and erosion, not to mention the bonus of the surf up there?
Those that know can determine the best place for the sand to be pumped out up the beach,leaving it to seasonal currents to move it nth & sth. It might even create some great banks and spread the croud out a little. The foreshore is better protected for when storms hit, Northy's bank may improve with the larger volumes of water coming out of the lagoon and grooming the bank, the lagoon will improve its health along with the whole food chain that is dependant on it.
There are endless benefits. Can anyone fill me in with any downsides to it? Is it too simple a solution? Or is it something all the councils and governments want to hand ball around each other saying its someone elses bill to foot?
Appologies if I'm rambling on!

heals's picture
heals's picture
heals Friday, 28 Jan 2011 at 4:25am

The downsides will be the cost Fitzroy. I think it's as simple as that. At present everything (sort of) works and is (sort of) stable. As long as that situation continues then I can't see why council would invest in a project of that nature.

That's not to say it wouldn't work, however.

On another note, I was shown an old photo of Manly lagoon recently. Not sure when the photos was taken (colour but very grainy - 1950's?). The lagoon had a much wider mouth and the main current flowed out 100-20m south of the headland. Another lagoon system that has been tampered with?