Vale Mike Perry
1946 ~ 2023.
As a kid in the late ’70s I’d score random hand-me-down surf mags from my cool older cousin. In one of the Seppo mags – between articles on The Ranch and the ads for Katin surf trunks – there’s a disconcerting article called 'Shaping By Chainsaw', which opens with a full page portrait of the author, Mike Perry. Mike’s brandishing two chainsaws like a steam punk pistolero as he menaces the camera: white tee shirt, Magnum P.I. moustache, reflector aviator sunnies: a fricken Artisanal Serial Killer.
The article sets out the argument that the chainsaw is an effective, one-size-fits-all board shaping tool. And for the life of me my kiddie brain can’t tell if it’s legit or a piss-take. The measured tone of Perry’s writing makes it all seem plausible, sensible even. Even as a 12-year-old, I have a sense that Seppos are an earnest bunch – so if this actually IS satire, then well fucking played to the murderous man in the aviator sunnies.
It’s some time around 1990. I’m doing a tip run with Surfing Life’s editor, Mike Perry. Back in the day ALL unsold mags nationwide were returned to our cramped office in the Old Burleigh Theatre Arcade. Five years of returns all add up, so the back of Perry’s Landcruiser is fairly chockers with mags. We’re jamming on the little road that runs parallel to the Gold Coast Highway, coming up on the Tugun turnoff, when the back of the troopy flies open and several bundles of mags fall out and explode all over the road. Perry – who’s kinda over the mag game by then – just chuckles, throws a U-turn, drives back to the hundreds of mags on the blacktop, starts weaving madly, trying to run over as many mags as he can. We’re both unable to stop laughing. It’s a vaguely defiant, mildly cathartic, and utterly absurd act. Once we regain our composure, we re-pack the mags and finish the tip run.
Mike passed away on the last day of 2023, aged 77, and I’ll miss him heaps.
Here’s a quick, barely-scratching-the-surface sketch of this wonderful fella.
He’s born in ’46, raised in Los Angeles, begins surfing at 13, and learns to shape aged 18 at the feet of Hawaiian big-wave surfing pioneer George Downing. He mows foam for Roberts Surfboards, Hobie, Blue Cheer, Con, Natural Progression. Starts his own label, Mike Perry Surfboards, in 1970. All the while surfing his arse off everywhere. Loves Baja and Mexico.
He’s a renaissance man, our Mike, as good with a pen as he is with a planer. A few months after having his first article published in Surfer mag, he locks in as the mag’s associate editor for a few years. In the early ’70s, at the suggestion of buddy Peter Townend, Mike visits the Gold Coast and falls hard for the abundance and quality of the point break surf. After a few years boomeranging back and forth between the GC, California and Hawaii, he moves to the Goldy full-time.
Mike’s rep as a quality boardmaker sees him get the gig of shaping nine ‘Bear’ boards for the filming of ‘Big Wednesday’ in ’77.
The ’80s are busy: raising kids Mikey and Caitlin with wife Trish; meeting the steady demand for shooters; getting tapped for swell forecasts (a long-held source of fascination for Mike’s keen meteorological mind); and he reconnects with surf mags again, this time editing the fledgling title Australia’s Surfing Life. When I start work for ASL in ’88, Mike’s gentle and patient with his designer as I fumble my way forward, learning on the job. Nothing if not versatile, Mike also launches and edits SLAM skateboarding mag, as well as Riptide bodyboard mag.
Not long after the Tugun tip run hit & run, Perry bails on the mag game to pour his energies into his forecasting business, Surf Alert, which has been ticking over since the mid ’80s: there’s a daily pay-per-call update on conditions and forecasts, a fax (then email) subscription service, and special event forecasting – Mike’s the go-to guy for surf comp organisers from Kirra to Narrabeen to Bells to Nor’West WA to Tavarua.
Meanwhile Surfline’s doing its pay-per-call thing in the US, but no-one enjoys it more than Mike.
“I'm up and on it every day at 5:00AM and I can honestly say that it’s a constant buzz forecasting and studying the surf around the world. The better I get, the more I enjoy my work and play. Who wouldn't be stoked?!”
Surf Forecasting as a vocation: Mike must be the first in Oz, and it’s not a stretch to see him as a true pathfinder in that specialised space. (Fitting, then, that this fine website hosts his tribute.)
A single fella again, Perry winds down Surf Alert in the mid noughties, but keeps forecasting for various media outlets, shaping, writing, mentoring. GC-based pros like Parko and Luke Egan idolise him. And you’ve never seen a more content fella than Mike, with his new partner Lee by his side. It’s a glorious ‘second act’ in love that’s as special as it is deserved. They live by the ocean just up the road from Kirra, the elements and atmosphere scrolling along the horizon, never not noticed or appreciated by Mike’s Weather Eye.
Mike beats leukemia, but bowel cancer gets him in the end. The first round of chemo in ’21 staves it off but the second bout in mid ’23, is so harrowing Mike removes himself from all treatment. I’m sure he wouldn’t mind me sharing this message from when he made that decision.
“After three years of treatment: radiation, chemo, surgery – chasing a cure – now that it’s confirmed spreading, I reckon I’ll live until I die. Seems better than dying while I yo yo between treatments! That’s it. How long? It’s the old ‘piece of string’ question. Don’t care. I’m driving the bus now.”
When Mike passed, on 31 December, he rode out on a furious summer storm front. “The clouds had more energy than I’d ever seen on the Gold Coast before,” says Mike’s great pal and former colleague, Glen ‘Rocky’ Rawlings. “There was an extraordinary unrest and fury in the sky that night. It was fitting for the man who understood weather better than anyone. He lit the night sky in a frenzy of flashes, blasted out to sea with the roaring thunder.”
Surfing’s richer for having Mike give it his heart and soul, so freely and for so long. And what a loyal, loving, hilarious and uplifting friend he was to us. Thank You for everything mate.