Fergal Smith and a short history of surfing politicians

Stu Nettle picture
Stu Nettle (stunet)

Earlier this month Irish pro surfer Fergal Smith announced that he's running for the Green Party in the next Irish general election.

"I am running for the Green Party for my daughter and all Irish children," said Smith. "We all appreciate the major problems our children are going to have to deal with, but perhaps less apparent is that the solutions for them already exist. The next generation needs leaders who are not afraid to lead them into these changing times."

Smith is somewhat of an anomaly as a pro surfer as he refuses to fly for recreational reasons, which severely restricts his promotional ability. He admits that the GFC, which hit Ireland particularly hard, was a blessing in disguise at it caused people to reassess their lifestyles and reorganise their communities.

"Politics was never my intention, but there is a responsibility on us all to be part of the solution, and I will take every step, no matter how challenging, to implement solutions that will safeguard our children's future."

See the video below for Fergal's announcement and explanation.


Good on Fergal and all the best to him. I'd like to say he follows a rich tradition of surfers entering politics but it just isn't so. While surfers have a long history of political involvement most examples are one-off political acts, think Tom Carroll boycotting apartheid South Africa, Wayne Lynch avoiding conscription, or even William Gocher who defied daytime bathing at Manly in 1902 paving the way for Australia's blossoming beach culture.

Many surfers have also joined political advocacy groups, such as Brad Farmer with Surfrider Foundation and National Surfing Reserves, Dennis Callinan and S.A.N.D (Surfers Against Nuclear Destruction), and the many beach-oriented environmental groups.

By and large surfers are absent from the corridors of power. And who can blame us? As noble as it is to serve the public and effect change it's not a vocation that blends well with the surfing lifestyle and the inherent need for flexibility. In other words, we're selfish.

Below are some of the few surfers who have donned the suits for civic service.

Fred Hemmings: Hemming's surfing career peaked in 1968 when he won the World Championships, held in Puerto Rico. At the time, surfing was in the middle of a counter-cultural revolution but 'Dead Ahead' Fred was having none of it. Hemmings arrived at the awards ceremony dressed in a blue blazer, tie, and leather loafers, looking, he recalls, "like an IBM salesman at a Cheech and Chong convention."

Fred Hemmings, at left, with George W Bush and their spouses (Photo Ben Marcus)

Hemmings retired the next year and turned his attention to promoting and administering surf contests, something he did up until 1984 when he was elected to Hawaii's House of Representatives. A particular bugbear of Hemming's was drugs in surfing and from the very beginning he campaigned strongly on an anti-drug platform. In 1988 he wrote a letter to then ASP Executive Director Graham Cassidy asking that the world tour "consider mandatory drug testing for competing surfers."

According to the Encyclopedia of Surfing: "In 1990, Hemmings won the Republican candidacy for the governor's race, then lost the general election. In 2000 he was elected to the state senate."

Fred retired from politics in 2010 his conservative views as pronounced as ever.

cohen.jpgIan Cohen: Cohen was a frontline environmental campaigner through the early 80s before making a tilt at politics. Befitting his beliefs, Cohen chose the Greens where he contested the Senate in 1984 and 1993. In 1995 he was elected to the New South Wales Legislative Council as its first Green member. In 2003, he was re-elected to the NSW Legislative Council for a second eight year term. He retired from parliament in 2011.

In 1986 Cohen made international headlines by clinging to the bow of the nuclear warship USS Olendorf as it powered down Sydney Harbour (see image at right). Cohen later told the ABC, "I think we sent a really strong message to the powers that be at that stage of the Cold War that there were Australians who objected strongly in a non-violent manner to the entry of nuclear warships into Sydney Harbour."

Cohen is a lifelong surfer who's lived at Byron Bay for the last 30 years. He's a stauch advocate of McCoy surfboards and Gath helmets.

Peter Garrett: Raised in Pymble on Sydney's North Shore, Garrett got his first board, a Barry Bennett noserider, in 1966. Through the late 60s and early 70s he surfed Sydney's northern beaches and early tours with Farm/Midnight Oil were often chosen for their access to quality waves. Early songs such as 'Surfing With A Spoon' and 'Koala Sprint' epitomised surfing and north coast road trips.

Garrett's first attempt at entering politics was in December 1984, when the Nuclear Disarmament Party invited him to stand for a seat in the Australian Senate at the federal election. Garrett's primary vote fell short and he was unsuccessfull.

He joined the Labor Party in 2004 as a member of the House of Representatives until 2013 when he resigned after Kevin Rudd won back the leadership in a spill.

Somewhere along the way Garrett stopped surfing on boards but kept bodysurfing, even bodybashing Pipeline where Nat Young dropped in on him. On that note, Nat had his own interlude with politics when he donated his 1973 Surfabout prizemoney to the Labor Party.

Tony Abbott: It appears we've switched from surfers who enter politics to politicians who pick up a soft board. Whatever, it gives us an opportunity to rerun this photos and that's a good thing. And by the way, the surfer about to scalp Tony is current NSW premier and another politician-cum-surfer, Mike Baird.



thermalben's picture
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thermalben Monday, 11 Jan 2016 at 2:13pm

How about almost-politicians? Dustin Barca's gotta be the only MMA fighter (plus pro surfer and environmental activist) on the list.


Shelby's picture
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Shelby Monday, 11 Jan 2016 at 4:50pm

How about Nat Young almost winning the 1986 Pittwater b-election from the Liberals on a platform of stopping ocean pollution.

browbrewer's picture
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browbrewer Monday, 11 Jan 2016 at 11:15pm

How about Avalon local Alex McTaggart, knocking off the Libs Brogden on the northern beaches in mid noughties for State politics. Also sitting councillor and former major in Pittwater. Bit crook at the moment, so get well big Al - the Ments are calling again! Cheers from PI

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Shelby Tuesday, 12 Jan 2016 at 11:52am

Yep, 2005 by-election after Brogden resigned the seat the Liberals tried to impose an outsider from, I think, the Ryde area, Paul Nicolaou. McTaggart's campaign was the 'no Baywatch at Avalon", got a 25% swing against the Libs (2-party preferred) and won it quite easily. Unfortunately for McTaggart, he backtracked on saving Mona Vale Hospital (agreeing to a site in Warriewood) and was defeated by the current Liberal member Rob Stokes in the 2005 General election. Not bad by McTaggart, 14-15 months in State Parliament. I think David Barr the independent at Manly for a few terms also enjoys a few waves now and then.

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freeride76 Monday, 11 Jan 2016 at 3:18pm

Wayne Swan is a keen surfer, or at least as keen as Toned Abs. He rides a Byrning Spears.
Rob McClelland, former Attorney General is too.

So adding up all those names , with Mike Baird and Aussie politics is full of try hard surfers.

stunet's picture
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stunet Monday, 11 Jan 2016 at 3:20pm

You ever surfed with Ian Cohen? Does he go alright?

freeride76's picture
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freeride76 Monday, 11 Jan 2016 at 3:41pm

hahahah, many times. I used to live with Ian, well he was my landlord and housemate. he loves to surf naked with nothing but his gath helmet. Bit confronting.
Yeah, Ian goes pretty hard, not scared of the big stuff.

AndyM's picture
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AndyM Monday, 11 Jan 2016 at 5:27pm

Ian Cohen is a legend - talk about having big fucking brass ones...

sypkan's picture
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sypkan Monday, 11 Jan 2016 at 3:31pm

nice to see someone living true to there convictions re fergal

and having the balls to point out the benefits of the GFC, I've heard others make this point, it's done more for the environment than all the 'movements' and rhetoric combined, good onya fergal...can't until the effects finally reach Australia, we're still living in denial

thermalben's picture
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thermalben Monday, 11 Jan 2016 at 3:47pm

Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard apparently surfs too (note: not much surfing in this clip, and hardly any after 1:20). 

wally's picture
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wally Monday, 11 Jan 2016 at 6:58pm

Not a board rider, but Harold Holt would be a fair inclusion.

dandandan's picture
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dandandan Tuesday, 12 Jan 2016 at 11:05am

Too soon Wally, too soon.

rhys1983's picture
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rhys1983 Tuesday, 12 Jan 2016 at 12:01am

I wish I was a greenie. It's so easy just to say everything's bad and evil and the worlds black and white!

stunet's picture
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stunet Tuesday, 12 Jan 2016 at 12:55pm

"There are two primary choices in life: to accept conditions as they exist or accept the responsibility for changing them."

dandandan's picture
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dandandan Tuesday, 12 Jan 2016 at 11:05am

Current Tasmanian Greens senator Peter Whish-Wilson is up there too. I've surfed with him a bit and he is a bit of a charger. I think Tracks did something on him once. Great bloke and a pleasure to surf with, and I'm sure he'd pants any other surfers in Federal politics at the moment.

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stunet Tuesday, 12 Jan 2016 at 1:57pm

Garth Dickinson also ran for the Greens in Wollongong when he was living at Stanwell Park back in the 90s. Unfortunately he was unsuccessful, but while we lost a surfing pollie we gained Garth's curried lentil pies.

sypkan's picture
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sypkan Wednesday, 13 Jan 2016 at 12:56pm

put on your stockbroker suit sid

strap yourselves in folks, the beginning of the end is nigh


this negative prick I subscribe to, and has been calling it for a while, desribes things so well

The following article was first published in The Daily Reckoning on 19 September 2015.

‘Recent global economic and financial developments may restrain economic activity somewhat and are likely to put further downward pressure on inflation in the near term.’

The above quote is an extract from the US Federal Reserve statement on why US interest rates remain at zero. ‘Restrain economic activity somewhat’ is Fed speak for deflation. But Janet dare not utter the ‘D’ word and spook the crowd.

After all the concerted stimulus efforts the best they’ve produced is further downward pressure on inflation…

These people should be ridiculed not revered. I don’t get it.


Add this vital book to your Christmas reading list if you want to know what’s going to happen in the financial markets in 2016…

‘Vern is pointing up and shouting “watch out!” He is one of the few who dare to notice and dare to say anything.’

-- New York Times bestselling author Bill Bonner

Click here to download your copy now


This is the Fed statement I would have liked to have seen:

‘Clearly the global economy is telling us our seven-year long experiment in suppressing interest rates and printing US$4 trillion has been a dismal failure.

‘Therefore, we, the undersigned members of the Federal Reserve Board, forthwith tender our resignations.

‘However we would like to make a few apologies before we clean out our desks and head off to the warm embrace (and payroll) of our mates on Wall Street.

‘We apologise to savers for forcing them to take unnecessary risks (chasing high yield and low credit worthy investments) by suppressing interest rates for seven years.

‘We apologise to the average American for making the top 1% so rich they can afford to spend the price of a hospital on buying a piece of art. And also for our misguided wealth creation theory — believing the really rich would share their wealth around in sufficient quantities to boost the economy.

‘We apologise for making credit so cheap companies went on an unprecedented share buy-back spree to artificially goose up earnings per share which in turn triggered the payment of multi-million dollar executive bonuses.

‘We apologise for providing Wall Street with the fake liquidity that has turned it into the Las Vegas of the North.

‘We apologise for providing the government with a tool to build a level of public debt that has condemned unborn taxpayers to a life of tax servitude.

‘We apologise for indirectly financing government deficits that enable politicians to continue promising you free healthcare and welfare for life. Sorry, but it’s a con.

‘We apologise for never having got a real job or built a business. We know we have all the letters in the world after our name but we lack the ones that really matter. The ones that spell out — COMMON SENSE.

‘We apologise for being part of a system that tortured the employment statistics to indicate our hare-brained stimulus strategies were actually working. We know from the stories told to us by the waiters, cleaners, greenskeepers and caddies at our country clubs that the only jobs their friends and family could get were flipping burgers and serving coffee. We even heard that some people had just given up on looking for a job. In spite of these stories we went with the doctored data.

‘We apologise on behalf of all the former Fed members and Chairmen that played a part in keeping the illusion of economic growth going by encouraging you to take on more debt than your household could reasonably afford. We’re sorry we didn’t have the strength of character to stand up to Wall Street, politicians and didn’t protect your long term financial wellbeing.

‘We apologise for being intellectual, self centred and totally clueless on how an economy really functions…we now know the less we do, the better it is. We were abject failures in our stewardship of the economy. We realise that all we achieved was the creation of a system that is completely reliant on the financial sector to stay afloat. Too big to fail, too big to bail.

‘We apologise for duping you into thinking we could cure a debt crisis with more debt. We should have known this wouldn’t work when we saw Dominique Strauss-Kahn (former IMF chief) and Silvio Berlusconi (former Italian PM) try to cure their sex addiction by hiring more hookers. We just didn’t see the correlation at the time. In hindsight we can see that we’ve ended up at the same place…we’re all f****d.

‘We apologise to Bernie Madoff for letting him think he ran the biggest Ponzi scheme in town. Sorry, it‘s us. And we are oh so sorry to spring this nasty surprise on you at the 11th hour and 59th minute.

‘We are truly sorry for the financial hardship you are going to endure in the years and decades to come because of our continuous meddling in the pricing mechanisms of the market. We have made a bad situation worse and for this we express our deepest regret.

‘We apologise for having accepted our generous pension payments, lucrative consultancy positions and highly paid speaking engagements while you are forced to stay in the workforce for the rest of your lives because we blew your retirement capital to smithereens.’

Unfortunately it’ll be a cold day in hell before we ever see such a mea culpa from these pompous windbags.

Please accept my apologies for giving you any hope that one day (week, month, year or even decade) soon you might be told the brutal truth about the system our esteem central bankers and politicians have created.

They say many a true word is spoken in jest. My dig at the Fed board members is, in reality, anything but a light hearted matter.

We are sitting atop a US$200 trillion debt powder keg with a lit fuse. When it blows is anyone’s guess. But history tells us it will blow.

If you don’t take the time to understand the situation we are in and the severe risk this represents to your financial wellbeing, you will be the one who is sorry. And that will not be a laughing matter.


Vern Gowdie
Editor, The Daily Reckoning

Narrabren's picture
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Narrabren Thursday, 14 Jan 2016 at 3:06pm

I have met all of those mentioned in the the article aswell as most in the comment section as I am a longtime Surfrider Foundation volunteer.
The current standout surfer activist in Australia is Senator Peter Whish Wilson when it comes to issues that affect surfers.
Peter was a former Director of Surfrider Australia and strong Tassie surf advocate particularly with regard to standing up to Gunns and that friggin proposed pulp mill (still not entirely dead and buried!).
Whish Wilson is currently setting up Senate Hearings into Marine Plastic Pollution and Surfrider is working with his office to put a National Ban on all products incorporating plastic micro-beads,help by signing the petition (wwwsurfrider.org.au)
State Government in NSW has Planning Minister Rob Stokes as an informed and committed influencer of coastal policy and indeed Mike Baird has a strong affinity with the ocean as evidenced by his cool head with regard to calls for wholesale shark slaughter.
Ian Cohen is a bloody gem and Nat's Nat and that's that!
Peter Whish rips aswell, Tassie gets plent-o-swell as we know.
We can all help protect what we love by simply joining Surfrider, active 'round the country with strong international affiliations and at $25p.a.it's the least we can do!!!!