Vale Kiwi White
This week, ten emails worth of photos arrived in the Swellnet inbox. All of them documenting the wonderfully well-travelled life of Ken 'Kiwi' White, a fellow who, we'll clarify from the outset, was not a New Zealander.
Ken's nickname was born when, as a tot, he was playing Cowboys and Indians and Mum White painted stripes on his face using boot polish. The brand? Kiwi polish.
Born in Cheltenham, Adelaide, in 1945, Kiwi's life was taking a well-worn trajectory from school into his first job. He worked on the factory floor at Elders with faint hopes for elevation into the office, which was occupied by a certain class of character: conservative, well-mannered, short back and sides, on the rise.
The first surf films were coming out of the US and Kiwi suddenly saw a different future for himself. He politely informed his manager he didn't share his vision and took off.
Coming of age during Australia's first surf boom, Kiwi was a nimble natural-footer who tasted minor competitive success. In 1964, he surfed in the World Titles at Manly, the year Midget won announcing Australia as a force in world surfing. Yet it was Kiwi's appetite for adventure, and his Forrest Gump tendency to cross paths with fate, the '64 titles just one example, for which he's most well known.
Setting up base in Port Lincoln, Kiwi and mates explored up the Eyre Peninsula in their 30s-era wagon emblazoned 'West Coast Surf Chaser', copying the 'South Coast Surf Chaser' belonging to the guys back east across the gulfs. Other crews also had their 'chasers', The Surf Seekers, The Malibu Maniacs, Murphies Mob, Joie De Vivre, and later the Roaders.
Arguably, the West Coast crew had the richest pickings, but every crew put in the highway miles - that's the lot of being a South Australian surfer.
The difference with Kiwi, however, was that his travels went beyond the state - he surfed all around Australia - and they also took him beyond Australia to the best surf in the world, to Hawaii, California, Mexico, Indonesia, during an age that leaves a modern surfer green with envy, and he didn't even stop when the crowds came. Kiwi was travelling into his seventies and collected passport stamps from 101 different countries.
Back home at Port Lincoln he did seasonal work, first on the trawlers and later as a tuna spotter from a plane, and then leaving when the fish did.
Active into his seventies, Kiwi hit a stumbling block early last year. He began having trouble breathing, struggling with his surfing, and, unusual for Kiwi, he didn’t feel like eating or doing anything active.
So he had tests done, and the doctors initially gave him the all clear, but Kiwi insisted on further testing. Two weeks later, he was called back into the doctors for his results.
He had mesothelioma, an aggressive cancer caused by exposure to asbestos.
Kiwi claims it was an early surf trip to WA, telling the ABC: "We were getting ten shillings, or one dollar, to fill up a big wool bag. The asbestos would come in and we'd rake it down and then we'd pick it up in our bare hands. No mask, no goggles, no protective gear at all, we had boardshorts, T-shirt, pair of thongs."
"I had a feeling this wasn't doing us any good. Both of us lasted ten days."
Despite the disease, Kiwi continued surfing and competing. Even winning the Over 75s division at Crescent Head last year with a bung lung and a grim diagnosis.
Kiwi is survived by his wife Robyn and daughter Sophie.
(Information and photos courtesy of Andrew Close. Photographers credited where possible)