Vale Kiwi White

Stu Nettle
Swellnet Dispatch

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)

Kiwi, at left with a broken arm, in Port Lincoln, 1963, with Tony Dudley and their 'West Coast Surf Chaser'. Next two shots also early-60s.

Kiwi in 1964 after being selected to compete at the 1964 World Titles at Manly

Kiwi pantsless with Mic Lindsay and Geoff Berry in the Gallows carpark, southwest WA (Dave Condon)

With Mic Lindsay again after driving back to Port Lincoln, stopping in to surf Cactus.

Hitchhiking around Africa in 1965

On the bog, '67

Holding a 7'6" in Mexico, 1968, as the shortboard revolution begins to take hold.

First real shortboard with era-precise artwork, Florida, 1968.

 

In 1969, Kiwi and Keith Paull, plus a number of local surfers, are charged for surfing within 200 feet of the Sebastian Inlet breakwall - the wave that later became world famous via its best local, Kelly Slater.

On African surfari with Bob Evans

Taking off at Waimea Bay, 1969 (Alan Rich)

And coming off the bottom at Sunset during the same season.

Lined up Lennox Head in 1973. Inscription on the back of the photo: 'Lennox Head was great on 20/8/73. Everybody was out'.

At Blacks in 1973. Photo taken from the deck of the fishing trawler, 'Flinders Star' (Bob Baker)

Kiwi at Elliston in 1973 (Bob Baker)

Comments

Dave Drinkwater's picture
Dave Drinkwater's picture
Dave Drinkwater commented Friday, 19 Jun 2020 at 3:51pm

Awesome story...Awesome life..

Clam's picture
Clam's picture
Clam commented Friday, 19 Jun 2020 at 3:58pm

Wow what a great tribute
And then some.

gsco's picture
gsco's picture
gsco commented Friday, 19 Jun 2020 at 4:04pm

Legendary. Great pictures - would love to see more.

wbat's picture
wbat's picture
wbat commented Friday, 19 Jun 2020 at 4:25pm

That's the real deal. Epic life. Makes today's travelers seems like fluff.

amb's picture
amb's picture
amb commented Friday, 19 Jun 2020 at 5:03pm

RIP K

zenagain's picture
zenagain's picture
zenagain commented Friday, 19 Jun 2020 at 5:14pm

Classic. What else can you say.

RIP

1173

spencie's picture
spencie's picture
spencie commented Friday, 19 Jun 2020 at 5:20pm

A life well lived. RIP.

easterly

maddogmorley's picture
maddogmorley's picture
maddogmorley commented Friday, 19 Jun 2020 at 5:34pm

He was a inspiration to us all. Only saw him last year and he was was still first out at the right at Cactus when it was on. Not bad for a bloke in his 70's! Loved listening to his tales of the west coast in the old days. RIP Kiwie.

35_degrees's picture
35_degrees's picture
35_degrees commented Monday, 22 Jun 2020 at 11:21am

always talked about his surf trips with the kids , hopefully his spirit of adventure and stoke rubs off a little on all us and the kids that were lucky enough to meet him .

@35_degrees

Phil Jarratt's picture
Phil Jarratt's picture
Phil Jarratt commented Friday, 19 Jun 2020 at 6:04pm

Great tribute, Stu. Kiwie (his spelling) was one of a kind, a bloke your warmed to at first meeting and could resume the conversation a decade later. He gave Peter Troy a nudge for best-travelled Australian surfer back in the day, and always left a light footprint. He'll be missed by surfers the world over.

Phil Jarratt

Charlie Brown's picture
Charlie Brown's picture
Charlie Brown commented Saturday, 20 Jun 2020 at 2:57pm

I'm pretty sure that spelling only came about because he forgot the password to his first Facebook account :)

Dale -Cooper's picture
Dale -Cooper's picture
Dale -Cooper commented Friday, 19 Jun 2020 at 7:05pm

South Aussie ledge. Vale.

“The dog leg. That dog had four legs. One you found in my trunk. The other three went out with the information you're thinking about right now. Two people you don't want coming around here if anything bad happens to me.”

ringmaster's picture
ringmaster's picture
ringmaster commented Friday, 19 Jun 2020 at 7:48pm

What a surfers life!

R.I.P you legend

goofyfoot's picture
goofyfoot's picture
goofyfoot commented Friday, 19 Jun 2020 at 9:05pm

What an incredible surfing life. Amazing.

Bnkref's picture
Bnkref's picture
Bnkref commented Friday, 19 Jun 2020 at 9:41pm

Classic story and photos. What a life.

SA Wetdog's picture
SA Wetdog's picture
SA Wetdog commented Friday, 19 Jun 2020 at 10:06pm

Great read, much respect. R.I.P

crg's picture
crg's picture
crg commented Friday, 19 Jun 2020 at 10:25pm

That's what it's all about right there. RIP 'ol mate. Thanks for the inspiration the one time our paths crossed. An indelible mark was made. Gratitude.

I'm not cheap,
But I'm free.

Pattherat's picture
Pattherat's picture
Pattherat commented Saturday, 20 Jun 2020 at 7:52am

RIP Kiwi
Our paths only crossed once surprisingly and at our favourite right. Had a great chat about lots really but mainly the promised land. Funnily enough I often thought about you. For a 70 year old you surfed bloody good. I was devastated to see this article but great to see you affected so many. I just had to register and comment!
Bye mate

bipola's picture
bipola's picture
bipola commented Saturday, 20 Jun 2020 at 8:12am

love them photos and the fins tell a story. anyone know what the first fins where called?

shraz's picture
shraz's picture
shraz commented Tuesday, 23 Jun 2020 at 11:46am

Skegs, or if you go way back - rudders?

andy-mac's picture
andy-mac's picture
andy-mac commented Saturday, 20 Jun 2020 at 8:57am

Inspirational, a life well lived.
RIP.

Botak

Hucky's picture
Hucky's picture
Hucky commented Saturday, 20 Jun 2020 at 9:38am

Wow, what a champ and a legend for South Australia and the Country in General for surfing .
Fantastic history!
RIP.

Thank you “Swellnet” for the sad but moving story about a true Australian surf hero.

From Hucky.

Hucky

BlueySWWA's picture
BlueySWWA's picture
BlueySWWA commented Saturday, 20 Jun 2020 at 10:28am

What a walk down memory lane. Some classic photos.
But a sad reminder of the legacy from the Blue Sky Mining Company.

BlueySWWA

Terry Hussey's picture
Terry Hussey's picture
Terry Hussey commented Saturday, 20 Jun 2020 at 10:31am

Peter Pan of Surfing. Eternal and ever young surf grommet.Shared times and waves out west were special. Had a wave for you on Thursday am.RIP

Terry

Blowin's picture
Blowin's picture
Blowin commented Saturday, 20 Jun 2020 at 10:42am

In the end the rain comes down

https://youtu.be/Ofrqm6-LCqs

Cookstar's picture
Cookstar's picture
Cookstar commented Saturday, 20 Jun 2020 at 11:03am

Beautiful tribute. Did they cross paths at all Phil Jarratt. Kiwie,s life story would be awesome to read.

Cookie

belly's picture
belly's picture
belly commented Saturday, 20 Jun 2020 at 12:26pm

Wasn't familiar but great story and RIP. And yes to more of those photos, fabulous shots.

freeride76's picture
freeride76's picture
freeride76 commented Saturday, 20 Jun 2020 at 12:36pm

Sounds like he had a wonderful life to cherish in those last months as he realised he was dying. That makes me feel he went out like he lived. He left a great template, lots of stoked crew who met him.

I love the shot of Lennox before the coast road went in and the little track went down through the cow paddock to the point.

dingoslee's picture
dingoslee's picture
dingoslee commented Saturday, 20 Jun 2020 at 1:16pm

RIP Kiwi.

seahound's picture
seahound's picture
seahound commented Saturday, 20 Jun 2020 at 2:53pm

Sad loss, one of the friendliest fellas you'd ever meet. His love of life, fair-mindedness and curiosity of different cultures, with an ability to communicate evenly with people from all walks of life, is an inspiration for all traveling surfers. Far west coast of South Oz was his spiritual retreat. Condolences to all who loved and knew him. Long will he be remembered.

a65yr-old-grommet's picture
a65yr-old-grommet's picture
a65yr-old-grommet commented Saturday, 20 Jun 2020 at 4:48pm

RIP young fella .Loved your stories

NDC's picture
NDC's picture
NDC commented Saturday, 20 Jun 2020 at 4:52pm

Love the photos from this era - always makes me a) wish I was born into that epoch and b) that I’d have been brave enough to make surfing the centre of my life when it was not a mainstream choice

Also great to hear underground stories of characters like this who must’ve pursued a surfing life for nothing more than the adventures and thrills it entailed - beautifully uncomplicated by the duplicities and hypocrisies of the modern incantation

You can’t wind back the clock, but I reckon there’s still some opportunities to taste moments of the same unsoiled bliss if you make it your priority and seek it out, and these stories make me look back wistfully and gratefully for peak periods in my own surfing life

Didn’t know you kiwi but I appreciate the chance to glimpse into your life and thank you for the memories of my own it provoked - travelled ur coast only once, and it was a fortnight I treasure

RIP kiwi

kerri.watson's picture
kerri.watson's picture
kerri.watson commented Saturday, 20 Jun 2020 at 5:09pm

Great story & pics - reminds me of the wild days of the mid70s driving across the Nullarbor from Perth in eyeball baking heat, searching for Cactus with my surfer boyfriend. First venture over the WA/SA border in the Holden station wagon, to southern & eastern shores......Kiwi must have been out there then, or beyond these shores. May this amazing soul, surf on.......

ChakraKerri

surfstarved's picture
surfstarved's picture
surfstarved commented Saturday, 20 Jun 2020 at 5:50pm

Vale Kiwi, a life well-lived by the sound of it. I love the look of that Mexican 7'6" and the bottom turn at Sunset is timeless.

Don't let the bastards grind you down

Island Bay's picture
Island Bay's picture
Island Bay commented Saturday, 20 Jun 2020 at 7:17pm

Well done, Kiwi.

And well done, Stu. That was a fine tribute.

Panman's picture
Panman's picture
Panman commented Sunday, 21 Jun 2020 at 5:57am

I bet Kiwi’s up there sharing a yarn with Peter Troy and Keith Paull

roger-ramjet's picture
roger-ramjet's picture
roger-ramjet commented Sunday, 21 Jun 2020 at 9:12am

Spent a month on a boat doing a tuna tow with him when I was early 20’s.
Awesome fella, great storyteller and extremely selfless.
7 blokes six bunks “ I’ll sleep on the top deck “ he says. What about rain and sea spray? “ I’ll use that old tarp if it gets too much and I like the fresh air, you blokes take the bunks”.
A few weeks later we get in some real shit. Mechanical dramas in horrendous weather. Skipper calls us to the bridge to put survival suits on. 6 suits 7 blokes fuck here we go again. “ you blokes put them on I’ll wear my dive suit and use a life ring if it comes to that” he says.
“ how are you going to check out the places I’ve been telling you about if you don’t put it on , ive lived a full life now no more arguing “
That was 20 years ago and I bet he did more travel and surfing than me in that time.
A normal bloke cold not cramm that much surf, experience and friendship in 10 lifetimes.
Will be missed by everyone here and worldwide
RIP KIWI

davestybay's picture
davestybay's picture
davestybay commented Saturday, 27 Jun 2020 at 11:13pm

You summed Kiwi up - Kiwi went hard at everything he did but was always considerate of others

spiggy topes's picture
spiggy topes's picture
spiggy topes commented Sunday, 21 Jun 2020 at 10:55am

It's blokes like Kiwie that cemented surfing into my life 55 years ago. Selfless, generous, eyes on the horizon always. There's a gentleman we have lost.

liplauncher's picture
liplauncher's picture
liplauncher commented Sunday, 21 Jun 2020 at 1:13pm

fantastic images. what an interesting and inspirational character.
love to see some of him surfing as an old bloke

thermalben's picture
thermalben's picture
thermalben commented Sunday, 21 Jun 2020 at 1:21pm

Not sure on the date of this, but I suspect it's within the last five years.

Craig's picture
Craig's picture
Craig commented Monday, 22 Jun 2020 at 10:24am

Yep that's in the Phillipines just before Super Typhoon Haiyan moved in, he got out of there just in time, so a bit over 6 years ago. Ripping.

Craig's picture
Craig's picture
Craig commented Tuesday, 23 Jun 2020 at 9:09am

Here is a link to Kiwi’s funeral service today.  Feel free to share so people can pay their respects...

For those who are unable to attend in person:

Sophie White is inviting you to join Kiwi White's funeral service via videolink:

The meeting online will be available from 

 -  Tuesday 23rd June 12:45pm CENTRAL AUSTRALIA TIME ZONE (South Australia)

Funeral service commences at 13:00hrs (1pm)

Join with this link:
https://us02web.zoom.us/j/85627941254

Other time zones please take note of starting time:

 - 13:15hrs Australian Eastern Standard Time

 - 11:15hrs Australian Western Time

 - 12:15hrs Japan Time

 - 23:15hrs Washington DC Time

Please check the start time if you are in other time zones.

Meeting ID: 856 2794 1254

INSTRUCTIONS:

You don't need to have a ZOOM account to participate (but fine if you have one)

1. Click on the link above

2. If you have the ZOOM app downloaded, click on 'open zoom.us' in the pop-up window

3. If you cannot download or run the application, join from your browser.

Please bear with us and hold tight if you join the meeting before we do!

Please ensure that your MICROPHONE remains muted throughout.

Kind Regards

Sophie and Robyn

jacksprat's picture
jacksprat's picture
jacksprat commented Tuesday, 23 Jun 2020 at 4:14pm

Hands down the best article I've read on Swellnet. Cool guy. Traveler. Charger... I wish I'd met him. Sincerest condolences to his family and friends.

onetimeonly

davestybay's picture
davestybay's picture
davestybay commented Saturday, 27 Jun 2020 at 11:07pm

Kiwi was an adventurer who would have crack at just about anything. Enthusiastic, positive and energetic. Kiwi had a knack of including everyone in whatever was going on around him. It was a privilege to have chatted to and surfed with Kiwi over four and a half decades of surf missions up the coast where we seemed to cross paths randomly. Cheers to a great bloke that gave life as good a nudge as you can give it. Kiwi will be remembered by many for a long time to come.

tonks's picture
tonks's picture
tonks commented Sunday, 28 Jun 2020 at 2:38pm

R.I.P. ‘KIWI.’What a great & adventurous life,a great example to us all.
Photos absolutely amazin,.cool memories.