Tom Kirsop is On A Mission
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.