Bob McTavish: Under The Influence

Stu Nettle picture
Stu Nettle (stunet)

Recently Surfing Australia held its annual awards night at Star City Casino in Sydney. As it was their 50th anniversary Surfing Australia rolled out the finery and marked the milestone with a special presentation, 'Australia's Ten Most Influential Surfers.' The list was to recognise those who, through their surfing, and their wider contribution, have had the most profound influence on the national character of Australian surfing.

Bob McTavish was deemed Australia's tenth most influential surfer, and, as they were announced in reverse order, he was the first to accept his award. Bob began his speech by opening up on an old topic: Is surfing a sport or an art? He went on to explain that the difference is sport is measurable, art is not. He noted that Surfing Australia had taken care of the sport side of surfing rather well, but he favours that which is immeasurable - the art of surfing.

As the speech progressed it felt like we were heading toward an awkward faux pas, a black mark on a black tie night, yet Bob pulled back from the precipice with good grace and a glowing smile. He noted that seven of the ten surfers were world champs and that put him in good surfing company.

Following the awards night I approached Bob and asked him about the award. I then hit him up with an idea: Tell me your ten most influential surfers; the Australian surfers that he, Bob McTavish, thought deserved the gongs.

Bob treated the matter with utmost gravity, even flying off to the Telos Islands to get lost in thought. I admired his dedication to the project. After a week of thinking it over this is what he came back with - Bob McTavish's Ten Most Influential Surfers:

1.Bob Evans

"I'm amazed Bob Evans didn't get a mention," said McTavish, "Ridiculous! He started the movement of 'free' surfing, rather than the institutional SLSC style of surfing. He created the first real mag that kept going, the first surf movies, the first coastal searcher with a hot crew, the first World Title organiser...crazy!"

After Bob Evans there's a mix and they're in no particular order:

2. Nat 
3. Myself - I've gotta get in somewhere!
4. George Greenough - He's been naturalised twenty years.
5. Rabbit Bartholemew - For setting the early pro template.
6. Occy - Aussie hero.
7. Kong - Smash that lip!
8. Midget Farrelly - 60's hero
9.Tom Carroll - Animal attack
10. Simon Anderson - Power on three fins.
10. Wayne Lynch - The first goofy to equal the score and liberate the goofies. He's more important than some others in my top ten.

Bob signed off his special list with a quote that summed up his Surfing Australia speech: "All surfers identify with the unmeasurable, the art of surfing. Only a chunk of surfers identify with the sport of surfing."

Postscript: Sharp-eyed readers will note there's eleven surfers in Bob's top ten. Those same readers should also note Bob said art was immeasureable.

Bob's Blog.


whaaaat's picture
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whaaaat Friday, 8 Mar 2013 at 11:08pm

Did Bob play Adam the space hippy in Star Trek???

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blindboy Saturday, 9 Mar 2013 at 9:19am

Nice to see Bob Evans get a mention but it would be interesting to hear Bob's reasons for excluding Michael Petersen and Mark Richards. They were both highly visible, hugely influential and extremely successful in competition.

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lindo Saturday, 9 Mar 2013 at 9:44am

Good on Bob for noting the artistic side of surfing in his speech. It was refreshing for some of us old enough to have watched the development of the whole pro-era, and the associated mass commercialization, over- (ultra-) crowding and 'monkey-see monkey-do' style surfing of just about everyone on the contest circuit (with a couple of notable exceptions)and all the would-be-if-they-could-bees buzzing around the planet with their attendant entourages of camera-people, groupies ad nauseum. The carbon footprint of our petro-chemical intensive 'sport' must surely rival any other going around these days. And we've even got the overly-pushy parents trying to make their kids into 'pro-surfers' - what a great civic-minded career path to aspire to. Whatever happened to John Severson's classic 60s line about 'In this crowded world, a surfer can still be alone in the ocean ... '? And as for surf camps, surf charters etc. etc. - no doubt it's all for the 'good of surfing' as (if memory serves) Monty Webber pointed out a while ago in Tracks. In any case, the genie's well and truly out of the bottle now, and there's mega-$ to be made - better get the kids down the beach and training to be the next superstar.

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damo-b Sunday, 10 Mar 2013 at 1:52pm

I agree with McTavish.

I kinda see it like McTavish and G.G worked together as a collective.

Nat Young for sure, and Rabbit. Greenough was the brains or was just stating the obvious with his thoughts regarding design,leaving the rest in his wake...

McTavish was the face man and Nat, the ego.

Those three guys are the basis of the evolution in design and style of that particular era, of course there were others who contributed.

Rabbit picked up the ball and ran with it, he is a very clever man.

There are others behind the scenes like John Gillis.

My top 5 would be: George Greenough
Bob Mctavish
Nat young

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abc-od Sunday, 10 Mar 2013 at 2:52pm

At the risk of measuring the immeasurable...

1. Bob Evans
2. Bob McTavish
3. Geoff McCoy
4. Wayne Lynch
5. Big Simon
5. Nat

BTW what was Surfing Australia's final list?

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blindboy Sunday, 10 Mar 2013 at 3:14pm

So it was all over by 1978 abc? Don't think so! Even up to that point how anyone can leave out MP and MR is beyond me.
So concentrating on what people did in the water rather than with design or through the media.

Wayne Lynch, Nat Young, Michael Petersen, Col Smith (NN version), Mark Richards, Tom Carroll, Mark Sainsbury, Mark Occhilupo, Mick Fanning, Joel Parkinson,

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abc-od Sunday, 10 Mar 2013 at 7:17pm

When I think of influencers I think of pioneers. For the life of me I can't think of what Parko or Fanning did to pioneer of influence surfing. Great surfers no doubt, but influential? Maybe to groms, but all good surfers are.

Anyway, I'll expand my list as the SA list was 10 anyway. So add:

6. Tom Carroll - crossed full rail power surfing with self-discipline and purpose.
7. MR - speaks for itself
8. MP (shouldve been on the shortlist)
9. Bruce Raymond - surfer cum businessman, established the 'jobs for the boys' schemes
10. Albe Falzon - created a movie that keeps on influencing.

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stunet Sunday, 10 Mar 2013 at 8:16pm


Surfing Australia's list is, from 1st to 10th: Mark Richards, Simon Anderson, Nat Young, Michael Peterson, Midget Farrelly, Tom Carroll, Layne Beachley, Wayne Bartholomew, Mark Occhilupo and Bob McTavish.

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uplift Sunday, 10 Mar 2013 at 9:07pm

Gidday, its a shame Larry Blair didn't really crack the boy's club. He won Pipe twice, in real surf, against all the masters. The Hawaiians snapped though, and hated it (a bit like how the Japanese Sumo's get ruled by a Hawaiian) and made sure he couldn't do it 3 times in a row. He nearly did though, despite all the attempts at stopping him. But he won the famous Coke Surfabout, one of the biggest contests ever (Pro surfing had sponsors and tons of coverage back then). He was way ahead of his time as far as visualising and professional performance goes. Plus, he had Geoff McCoy making the perfect, superior custom boards for him, and the waves, another nightmare come true for the boy's club. I used to talk to Geoff tons about those boards when I wanted boards for Blacks. Blair's boards were soaked to overflowing in genuine experience and passion.

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sideslipper Sunday, 10 Mar 2013 at 9:29pm

1.McT- leader of the revolution
2 nat- the test pilot
3 midget- surfer,stylist,waterman,still surfing beautifully 50yrs on!
4 wayne lynch-invented the modern backhand
5 MP-a great!
6 peter drouyn-gr8 surfer who revolutionised comps with man on man

7 MR-so good on twins that a new design had to be found to match him
8 simon anderson-he came up with that design!
9 greenough-for inspiring McT
10 alby falzon-he 'got it'&made a movie that still influences
HONORABLE MENTION-baddy,chris brock&others like them that stayed true
SPECIAL MENTION-geoff mcCoy who re introduced wp behind centre&so influenced the modern surfboard shape

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blindboy Sunday, 10 Mar 2013 at 10:06pm

It's 2013 abc. If you are talking about influences on how people surf now then Fanning and Parkinson have got to be on the list. I know retro is in fashion and Surfing Australia fell in to the same hole by ignoring everything after 1980 except for a female surfer who had no influence at all on the 90% of surfers who are male. But then who am I to dispute such a politically correct example of tokenism? However, you did do slightly better than side slipper who got stuck somewhere about '75.
I suppose it all comes down to the criteria. I departed a bit by ignoring design and the media which gives some clarity to things. If you include design and media then Simon Anderson is probably number one, Midget is unavoidable and Alby Falzon and Bob Evans have to get in there somewhere while Geoff McCoy would be a strong contender but it's really like having a dog show and.including cats and parrots. It doesn't make much sense.

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brutus Sunday, 10 Mar 2013 at 10:48pm

Hmmm...SA and no greenough...the genius that started the shortboard revolution.....go and watch the Inner Most Limits of Pure Fun...and watch ol' george barrel riding,and doing bottom and off the tops when surfers were still trimming and nose riding...

I think SA's awards reflect the competition side of australias surfing culture.....which is real,east coast centric......and maybe Cheyne horan coulda got a mention...

but the list goes on and on and on........even Simon A.....only put 3 fins on a s/bd...which he popularised,as it already existed for 20 years or so....but what actual s/bd hull design did he invent??

great bloke ,great surfer,great shaper.....and the media luv him...ah the subjective content of an opinion......

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whaaaat Sunday, 10 Mar 2013 at 11:02pm

Speaking parochially, I reckon Claw and Sing Ding greatly influenced a whole bunch of us [unintentionally pre-hipsterish] Mexicans who otherwise had to use beaver-tailed scuba suits because footy jumpers weren't too flash at keeping the Southern Ocean at bay.

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uplift Sunday, 10 Mar 2013 at 11:47pm

Gidday, Stunet's probably gone to bed pissing himself, I bet he knew this would happen.

You and your teams were everywhere on the planet for a long while too brutus, (that name's ridiculous), reverse v fever, especially the WA era, like McCoy earlier, Australia's Ben Aipa.

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zenagain Monday, 11 Mar 2013 at 2:45am

Isabel Letham,

Just sayin'......

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1963-malibu Monday, 11 Mar 2013 at 11:25am

Just like a surfing competition the results of this 'surfing australia influential surfer' competition are also a load of horseshit.

Wayne Lynch and George Greenough were not even in attendance. Two of the most 'influential' surfers of all, they were going 'vertical' before anyone and ushered in the modern style/approach to surfing. Does that mean they should be on the list? No, because as stated, it is another surfing australia contest and the results are a load of horseshit. The whole thing reeks like a pile of dung.

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blindboy Monday, 11 Mar 2013 at 4:12pm

Brutus I excluded Greenough on the basis that his influence was brief and that it was part of that whole Nat/McTavish push whose most direct impact on mainstream surfing came through Nat rather than GG himself. But having said that it was Wayne Lynch who was the most important surfer of that era. He just redefined the whole thing.
To say that Simon simply stuck three fins on an existing surfboard is just factually wrong. He began experimenting by adding fins to a single fin but very quickly came up with the thruster which had a very different plan shape to anything else around at the time and I suspect a substantially different rocker.
I don't know what you were doing at the time not to notice but it almost instantly changed the way people were surfing. If I had to put it into a single word it would be "options" . Thrusters allowed track changes through a turn, were faster down the line, allowed for increased length of bottom turn, and opened up a whole new world of lip slashes etc etc. They define the point at which the mid-period surfing begun by that Nat/Greenough/McTavish/Lynch axis gave way to the start of the modern era.

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brutus Monday, 11 Mar 2013 at 5:58pm

.........BB.....GG was a creative innovator that allowed guys like Nat and Bob see and adapt GG's design,to longer bds than his spoons.....but the basis of his designs were and are the foundation of the shortboard tha nat and Bob surfed and wayne also...

have had this conversation with WL many times and GG wAS THE MAN..and was the biggest influence on his bds and surfing.....

as for S A....he actually had trouble with the looseness of the twinny and put a back fin on......

WL was one of the first to get SA's thrusters and we actually went to the West and did a movie called Stormriders with jack Mc coy....there wasn't anything really different about SA's bds planshape or rocker wise....but the 3 fins worked insane,,,as i made myself a couple of bds like a twinny and just copied SA's fin placements.....

there are so many components to history,as you can see from the opinions above ....but having actually been there at the time ,dusting off the old cobwebs from the it as i remember it,because most of the journalists of the time were very east coast centric....and there were favourite surfers and not so favoured.....Midget is a classic example.....

anyhow all good.....

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blindboy Monday, 11 Mar 2013 at 7:04pm

I don't think we are too far apart on the Greenough thing but I think you might be wrong about the thruster. I've had a few boards off Simon recently so I'll see what he says about it. I think the width 12" from the tail would have increased. I surfed a lot with Simon around that time but that was east coast so the boards he took west may not have had the wider tail measurements. Stay tuned I can feel a new board coming on. Funny really, I never really liked his boards back in the day and I surfed them quite a few times but I love them now. He's done me three great ones in a row!

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stunet Tuesday, 12 Mar 2013 at 2:11pm

Bob McTavish presses the immeasurable point, and I also get the feeling he thinks more credit should be given to certain people. This comment on behalf of Bob: "What about Peter Drouyn? Most entertaining surfer for more than forty years. Still knocking them dead!! And he designed the man-on-man format - that's influential. Maybe Terry Fitz, or Geoff McCoy, he developed the no nose template with wide point half way leading to modern back foot surfing - that's huge. Not world champs but hugely influential."

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the-spleen_2 Tuesday, 12 Mar 2013 at 2:48pm

Was Drouyn's man on man system THAT revolutionary? With all due respect to him as a surfer it is this concept that people usually consider his legacy, but I don't see what all the fuss was about. So instead of having 4 surfers (or 6, or 8) we have 2. It's hardly a fundamental change. Kind of like changing heat times from 45 minutes to 30, a mere technicality.

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1963-malibu Tuesday, 12 Mar 2013 at 8:46pm

Drouyn - if you read the comments from Mctavish, 'most entertaining surfer for more than forty years + the man on man.' If you were at MP's funeral you would have heard MP's brother, Tommy, saying how much Drouyn was the inspiration for a lot of epic surfing. The fact is the surfing media (owned by the corporates) has tried to eliminate Drouyn and Geoff McCoy and good on bob mctavish for giving them some respect, .... he KNOWS what they did!

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blindboy Tuesday, 12 Mar 2013 at 8:46pm

the spleen I have to call you out on that. Man on man was an enormous improvement. A six man heat has, I think, 720 possible outcomes, without allowing for ties. A 2 man heat has 2. Then consider the number of waves that have to be accurately assessed. At that time also, it being a small world of conflicting interests, The judges were often far from unbiased and those six man heats gave them plenty of scope to exercise that bias, consciously or not. There's nowhere to hide in a bad call on a two man heat. So the accuracy and integrity of the whole process got an instant lift.
As a surfer Drouyn was one of the the few who made a successful transition from longboards to shortboards. He might not have been the greatest of that era but he was up there.
There has been a bit said already about Geoff McCoy but I'll throw in a few words about Terry Fitz. I can't claim to be unbiased here since I rode his boards and shared innumerable great sessions with him. At his best he could and did beat them all but by the time the modern pro era kicked off he was a married man with children running a successful business and those commitments made it hard for him to compete against those like Shaun Tomson, Mark Richards and the Bronzed Aussies who were surfing full time with no distractions.
In terms of design he was certainly influential but would have had more impact if he had stayed closer to the mainstream. Terry was absolutely his own man going his own direction and that limited his influence. I did the best surfing of my life on his boards......and so did many others.

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whaaaat Wednesday, 13 Mar 2013 at 12:17pm

Speaking of boards and glory days of yore

Sad. Very sad.

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blindboy Wednesday, 13 Mar 2013 at 1:33pm

Thanks for that whaaaat great to see Barry King get a mention. The last thing be said to me before he died was
"Wasn't it great before everyone wanted to do it?"
You won't any argument about that!