Vale Scott Dillon (1928-2018)
One of the great larrikins of Australian surfing, and one of our greatest treasures, has left the building.
Scott Dillon was born in Bondi in 1928 and was bodysurfing with his father before he could walk. He began riding a scaled-down hollow 'cigar box' at the age of six, or so he claimed in later years. A diminutive figure but a larger than life character, Scotty was always a storyteller, and sometimes the yarns seemed embroidered with the years.
But what is undisputable is Dillon’s bold and fearless approach to life, from tackling the biggest waves he could find in Australia, California, Mexico and Hawaii to stamping his authority in the boxing ring and putting his neck on the line as a professional speedway driver.
The bling king in his kingdom, Legends Museum late ‘90s (Dick Hoole)
Scotty became a skilled toothpick rider during his early teens, and by the late 1940s he was a regular at Ben Buckler off Bondi when the swell was running. One day in 1949 he was surfing off the Ben Buckler rocks when the shark meshing boat pulled alongside him to disentangle a four-metre white pointer. A pack of sharks then surrounded the boat and the surfers as they attacked and ate the maimed white pointer. Far from deterring Scott, the incident turned him into a celebrity when it made the front pages the next day, and he subsequently became a spearfisherman and shark hunter.
But throughout his teens at Sydney Grammar School, Scott also trained as a boxer and the ring took precedence in the years after World War Two when he won two Australian championships as a bantamweight and only just missed out on selection for the 1952 Olympics in Helsinki.
Brushing aside this disappointment, he travelled to California with his great mate Barry 'Magoo' McGuigan and surfed until the money ran out, when he sought work in the logging camps of Canada. Back in Australia in the mid-1950s, he married Mitzi and, inspired by the arrival of the Malibu chip surfboards in 1956, decided to join fellow Bondi surfers Bill Wallace and Gordon Woods in the surfboard manufacturing business. Because he insisted on making the time to surf whenever the swell was up, Dillon took on Noel Ward as a business partner to share the load, and opened Ward-Dillon Surfboards in a Bondi shed in 1957. The partnership lasted less than two years, but it was long enough to give Dillon a business grounding and establish his name as perhaps the best Australian shaper of big wave guns. He was also considered to be one of Australia’s best big wave riders, tackling the Queenscliff and Bare Island bomboras on the very biggest days.
Scotty takes on Queenscliff bommie, 1962 (Ron Perrot)
At the beginning of the 1960s Dillon joined Woods and Wallace in the move across Sydney Harbour to establish the hub of the surfboard industry in Brookvale, a group that later became known as the 'Brookvale Six'. By then he was regarded as a master craftsman whose experimental designs and cutting-edge fins attracted the attention of leading surfers and shapers like Bob McTavish, who did a brief shaping apprenticeship with Scotty.
At the same time he was making his name as a leading surfboard craftsman, Scotty’s eye for an easy buck also saw him contract to the Nock & Kirby retail chain to mass produce 'Bombora Surfboards' at the height of the surf boom. These were the first Australian popouts, and it is to Dillon’s credit that the many department store brands that followed could never match the Bombora quality.
Always looking for new thrills, Dillon became a respected speedway driver at the Sydney Showground and Liverpool Speedways in the mid-1960s. He captained NSW in midget speed cars and sedans between 1966 and ‘71.
In the late 1970s Scott moved his surfboard business north to Coffs Harbour, and gradually began to scale down his operations. In 1999 he opened Legends Surf Museum, just off the Pacific Highway, where he introduced busloads of backpackers to surfing’s rich history, until the building of the new motorway forced its closure. He was inducted into the Australian Surfing Hall of Fame in 2004.
In late 2015, filmmaker Shaun Cairns and I interviewed Scotty at length in Coffs Harbour for our film Men of Wood and Foam, and although he was a bit hazy on his personal history, he still had his spark and his wicked sense of fun. Local shaper Billy Tolhurst and I subsequently arranged for a blank and some shaping tools to be set up outside his room at the Legacy Nursing Home. Steve, his main nurse, phoned me in great excitement a couple of weeks later. “He’s shaping again, and it’s not bad! He wants to start a new label.”
The last time I saw Scotty was in January at the ScreenWave International Film Festival at Coffs Harbour, where he was special guest at a packed-house live music screening of our film. I sat next to him as the film played, watching him grow more animated as the familiar figures graced the screen. “That’s me! That’s Midget, bloody Midget, he was good.”
A fist pump for the crowd, ScreenWave International Film Festival, January 2018
I asked his daughter Lindy if we could take Scotty on-stage for the post-screening Q & A, and we guided him backstage as the credits rolled and got him seated on a comfortable lounge. I asked him just one question: “Scotty, now that you’ve returned from the surf scene, what do you miss the most? Shaping a beautiful board, riding a big wave, after-work beers with your mates?”
He spoke clearly into the microphone: “Nuh, I miss the chicks!” He smiled and gave a weak little fist pump. Cue standing ovation.
Ah, Scotty. They threw away the mould. And now it’s the Brookvale Three. Gonna miss you, mate.
// PHIL JARRATT