Watch and read: Maurice Cole // The First Wave
I was drawn to Maurice's story because when I started surfing down the west coast of Victoria in my mid-teens, I used to go to the beach with another family and surf with their son, Geoff Allen. Geoff was my age and he had this beautiful 6’3” swallowtail shaped by Maurice under his label, Maurice Cole Soul Creations. I was in awe of it and was amped to try to persuade my parents to get me one, however one of the other parents said it wouldn't be possible to get a board from MC because he'd been put in prison, they were really sad about it and couldn't believe the harshness of the penalty he'd gotten from the judiciary, plus the added indignity of being stripped of the two Victorian titles he'd won at Bells.
It stuck with me and has always been in the back of my mind.
Later I got to meet him while making one of the Billabong Challenge movies up north in WA with Jack McCoy. I got to sit around the campfire at Gnaraloo with Maurice and play some tunes on guitar. He had a didge there as well. I got to know him a little bit and he struck me as a really interesting character. Slater and Machado were also there and brought their instruments. It was one of the most enjoyable working experiences I've ever had, and Jack's idea of bringing together eight of the best surfers in the world and taking them somewhere like that was groundbreaking and fantastic.
I moved back to Victoria a few years ago and got in contact with Maurice, having done a bit of research about his story and spent a fair bit of of time talking with him. He's a very inspiring human to be around, he has such a passion for surfing and shaping and that's what's sustained him throughout his life, as well as his love for his family. He also thinks a lot about about politics and community and he's not afraid to voice his ideas about anything. He's got a real integrity about him and it doesn't take much to ignite the fire in his belly. He calls a spade a spade (or a f’ing shovel!). He’s taken the lead on creating and preserving the Bells Surfing Reserve - the place is pretty special and sacred to him.
In the film, which is very short, I tried to concentrate on how things changed when he caught his first wave because I could identify with it and thought others would too.
Feeling like he didn't really belong anywhere until he found surfing is something I, and I think quite a few other people, can relate to. We all have challenges and obstacles and sometimes those things are ongoing. I can recall the time I first stood up on a surfboard really clearly, and the sense that this was something I'd always want to be doing, so I relate to that and am sure others do too. Maurice's story is one that I hope is as inspiring to other people as it is to me. He's a survivor. His story is massive. He's lived a very big life with a lot of different chapters and it's not done yet, there's more to come.
MC almost goes into a trance-like state when he's shaping a board, You can see how he's fully engaged and pouring his soul into what he's doing when he's shaping, even though he's done it tens of thousands of times before. I asked him what's going on in his mind when he's shaping and he said he's thinking about the person he's shaping it for and how to make something that will work best for them in the kinds of waves they'll be riding. He often calls the person he’s making it for on the phone when he's finished to tell them what's done.
Maurice knows Bells better than probably anyone and when the CT contest is on visiting pros look to him for advice on equipment, which waves to choose, and where to sit in the lineup. He's shaped boards for world champions, boards that themselves have become famous. He’s made equipment for Tom Curren, Tom Carroll, Occy, Taj and others that gave them an edge. He's well-known, loved, respected, and he's accepted with open arms all around the world.
Just quietly, I think it’d be great if Surfing Victoria decided to re-instate him as Victorian champion for the years he won it in the 70’s.
// PETER BAKER