Five minutes with Shane Stedman

Stu Nettle
Talking Heads

Crescent Head carpark doesn't have good phone reception. I can vouch for that as a recent conversation with Tony 'Shane' Stedman - he in Crescent, me in Thirroul - was patchy at best, interrupted by static, or periods of silence, none of which deterred Shane whose voice bellowed ever onwards. So the following is a best fit transcription of that intermittent recording.

The reason for the talk was the completion of Shane's autobiography, 'The Shane Gang'. A 300-page book split into three parts, two of which may surprise readers, namely his country upbringing at Crescent Head where surfboard riding played no part in his life until the moment he left town, and his Jekyll & Hyde years in Sydney where he alternated between diligent uni student and rock star on the rise, again with very little surfing.

The third part we all know about, the surfing entrepreneur, the "Summer Millionaire" as Mick Mock called him, inventor of Ugh boots, purveyor of popouts, but it's a treat to read it in Shane's playful patter, which jumps between present thoughts, historical fact, and direct quotes without ever losing the thread of the story. Thumbs up to the editor.

Swellnet: So what's the surf like up there today, Shane?
Shane: Looks really good, head high, clean. Gonna be a good day.

Excellent. So your book, I read it last night.
You read all of it?

Yep. Late night.
You did well.

The thing about it that struck me were the moments of serendipity…
What’s serendipity mean, mate?

It means good fortune, strokes of luck, you’ve had more than a few. Do you look back upon your life that way?
Oh absolutely. My daughter said, “Dad, you’re not smart enough to have come up with all these things, you’ve had a guardian angel.”

Yeah, between the idyllic place you were raised, the people you were introduced to or become friends with, and also the changing times, it reads like a movie script.
Oh there’s absolutely no doubt about that. I’m well aware of….the serendipity.

Thanks. I’m well aware, of course I am, that I was in the right place at the right time. But that’s only two out of the three things you need, you also need the right bloke. You need to work hard, and I always worked really hard.

My life in Crescent Head taught me a lot of things, like mixing with people from all walks of life, like Ced Button and all the rest of the black kids, and the white kids too. And really, it was pretty wild back then. You read the story about my old mate Lenny Bull shooting a bloke’s leg off.

Incredible. In the Country Club.
Yeah, and he didn’t do any time because the judge went, “Oh fair enough mate, he deserved it.”

You launched into each new chapter of your life with gusto. From a country kid, to conscientious university student, to rock and roll star, to the biggest surfboard manufacturer in Australia. All in the space of a few years.
Sometimes I’ve gotta pinch myself to believe it all happened. 

They may seem like separate chapters but I could always see how one thing led to another. For instance, I went to university and learnt how to be a production engineer, I learned all about motion economy and time study, and I learnt about production control and production planning, and all those things helped me run a surfboard factory. 

Plus I learned how to mix with other people, I learnt that at Crescent Head because you had to mix with other people. My mother, she was the last of the Victorian generation. She suffers from what they used to call ‘The Stain’, which was the recognition of having convict heritage.

Then along comes my generation and we’re proud of that! I was proud that those fellas, my ancestors, came here as convicts and made good. It’s a little like my life. I started off with very little in Crescent Head, which in those days was a tiny fishing village with no electricity, and I was able to drag myself up from those rough beginnings and made good in life - like my convict ancestors did. You would've read about them in the book.

Some of it was through timing - which I had nothing to do with of course - but I worked pretty bloody hard at it too. I’ve always worked hard. I’m still working hard! I’m building a house and writing a book. I’m promoting it! Doing all sorts of things. I’m dreading the time it all stops.

About this working hard. When Shane Surfboards was hitting its stride in the late-60s, the counterculture was also hitting its stride, and some of your sponsored surfers were anti-commercial while you were expanding your operation. How did you deal with that conflict?
It was something that I had to balance very carefully. I had to be careful with their feelings of anti-commercialism and say to each of them individually, “Look fellas, I know you’re not keen on this commercialism but you're living a good lifestyle and you’re making good money, and you’re doing all of that because of commercialism.” 

I had to gently tell them to swallow their pride a little bit and work out if they wanted the money and the lifestyle, or did they want to walk around with the arse out of their pants. Some were harder than others, but it worked. Some of our top surfers were getting paid just to surf, and if they did some work, shaping or whatever, then they got paid on top of that. It was a very good living, but I had to explain to them, “For me to pay you just to surf, you have to put up with having stories about you in magazines. If you don’t want that, that’s fine, I’ll just stop paying you”.

Well, guess what happened…?

It’s ironic that many of the surfers came from the city and adopted country soul, yet you came from the country and made good in the city by being commercial. You moved the opposite way.
Yes, but I think I had a mix of both, you know what I mean? I had the country soul. I lived it, barefoot doing it rough, you know. My life at Crescent Head was amazing, we were always on the beach, fishing and surfing, though as I wrote in the book no-one surfed the point when we were young. It was until I finished school and I was leaving to go to Sydney and start university when three older blokes bought malibu boards and paddled out the point.

So what year was that? 1957..?
Exactly right. The summer of 1957, 1958. I was in Melbourne in 1956 for the Olympic Games staying with my Godmother when the shortboards first came to Australia. They were shorter but they had that single fin, and that fin allowed surfers to ride the point. They weren’t just going sideways, they were also going up and down the wave. I mean they werent doing re-entries and floaters and things, but they were doing something that no-one else had seen.

It was a revelation and it stuck with me right through my university years. I reckon seeing that before I left Crescent lent me towards what I did later in life. I think I might’ve known even if I didn’t fully realise it at the time. I knew I wanted to run my own business, I’d been doing that all my life, you know collecting the cow dung off the reserve and selling it to the old ladies for six pence a barrel load, and getting the pippies off the beach for tuppence a dozen - two cents per dozen!

Can you believe that?

Ha ha...but I’d get eight bob by the end of the day. That’s almost a dollar! I only had to do that 30 or 40 times and I’d paid for my guitar.

That was another thing that surprised me; there’s very little surfing in the early part of the book, but lots of country life and also lots of music. A lot of people may not know about your country upbringing or your musical background.
No…that’s why I wrote a book!

Where can people buy it Shane?
At this point people can only buy it from surf shops. From good shops.

POSTSCRIPT: Shane may go on a speaking tour, and he may also sell books online (if he can figure out the online thing), if either of these things happen we'll announce it on Swellnet.


amb's picture
amb's picture
amb commented Tuesday, 6 Aug 2019 at 3:40pm

Be keen to have read, but i always thought John Arnold invented the Ugg Boot?. not that id know, just what i was lead to believe.

stunet's picture
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stunet commented Tuesday, 6 Aug 2019 at 3:53pm

Shane's pretty upfront that he didn't invent them as sheepskin boots were worn by shearers since colonial days. However, he did "evolve them", gave them a name, and trademark them - though not comprehensively, as is explained in the book.

Not sure what John Arnold did with Ughs.

freeride76's picture
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freeride76 commented Tuesday, 6 Aug 2019 at 4:33pm

great talent as a shameless self promoter but well deserved.

He gave a classic interview on ABC radio the other day and delivered an anecdote about hooking up with some flight attendant in New York who ran him a bath and then came in with a glass of champagne in her birthday suit.

Stunned silence from the radio presenter.


mr mick's picture
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mr mick commented Tuesday, 6 Aug 2019 at 5:14pm

Heard that interview FR, lots of laughs, you could tell by the way he spoke he'd be a real character. There's a mistake he made not taking advantage of the situation..... or so he says. Book would be a great read i reckon, along similar lines of Barrett's aussie character Les Norton....., probably with less biff ha ha, currently on ABC tv. There's a movie/series in that fella!

Mr mick

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Elliedog commented Tuesday, 6 Aug 2019 at 4:46pm

Can't wait to read this one. As with Bob McTavishes books i know i'll feel very jealous.


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GODS QUAD commented Tuesday, 6 Aug 2019 at 4:53pm

Shaneo is an absolute classic character, filled with endless stories from the golden days. I remember chatting with him a few years ago and he was always rattling on about his huge book he was writing... looks like he finally got it all out! Can't wait to check it out.

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glasserguy commented Wednesday, 7 Aug 2019 at 9:55am

in my teens sat in the glassing bay at Shanes Brookvale for many hours in the 70s Shane was driving his Jag, His new shaper Simon A had just started working there, Shane was making many different fiberglass products in the factory including the bathroom sinks probably at his entrepreneurial prime. would love to say hi and buy his book ... signed of course

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Tony Jack Clancy commented Wednesday, 7 Aug 2019 at 10:31am

I can't recall a lot of Shane boards, but recall several in the 60's on the Nth Shore but he did have a good name....I think I have one or two of his here...but...I'm struggling to recall; was he in business on the Sth side or at Brookie?...I'm sort of picturing him down towards Harbord Rd but am suffering 'cognitive dissonance' something keeps saying 'he was South side"...can anyone set me right.

Shane must have done well at school to get into Uni but once 'in' Uni was free...not like today where I have paid around $3,500 for the twelfth time now and there are much more expensive courses. That Uni was free didn't see it as a rort.

Back then when wanting leaving certificate results early, you'd go early, to beat the masses if possible, to the Sydney Morning Herald building in Sydney and about 1am. all results were posted up there.

I liked Shane's answer "that's why I wrote the book"....There were some brilliant chaps around then and hard workers. Uni students I knew were truly serious learners, more so than the next generation the 'Honi Soit' era..

Mechanical engineers and production graduates were in great demand and many companies were Board driven by returned officers who had a special feeling for the youth and for virtuousness. Doug Heasman (Heasman Steering) is a good example, his rather a returned RAAF chap. Many stories could be told.

If interested in the human emotions of justifiable love and yearning of that emergence ,grab a copy of "Khaki and Green" and read "My Son"...In my opinion, it should replace the "our Father" in Parliament as a daily reminder to those guilty of dragging this nation down for their party gains..

Early on in "My Son" I recall "Ghost moon chained in cobwebbed creeper, Mad witness to the act I play, Spreads cold fingers o'er the sleeper...I fall...I throw my gun away...(guess he got me too...)" then he reminisces and speaks to his son, our Nation and Parliamentarians (avoid suave stealth) in his dying moments. Parliament and our nation have failed him and those like him, but people like Shane lift us...well, lift me anyway.

Shane came through a wonderful period, 12 years post WW11...think of say 2007 now...seem long ago? As with Doug, I admire Shane in his outlook and achievements as in this short interview.... He was highly regarded back then and probably more so, during the time I was busy bringing up children and surviving....Beach-fishing, one does a lot of thinking and the rurality breeds 'solutions' to things that happen which can get carried through to the city...and fencing wire was one of them. Country folk really had to be 'fixers' and obviously Shane was one who went on into enterprise and adventure. I must read his book.

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bipola commented Wednesday, 7 Aug 2019 at 3:06pm

Its good to see Shane is still going, brings back good memories of days gone by

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Kookaburrapa commented Monday, 19 Aug 2019 at 9:55pm

I remember in about 1970 Shane took out my sister. I had just purchased a Shane Popout and was excited to hopefully meet him. We lived up the back in a battleaxe block in Beecroft in the Northern Suburbs. My parents were quite conservative and were intrigued by this surfer from Brookvale. I remember we all stood on the front verandah as he drove up. My father exclaimed, "Who ever heard of someone putting roof racks on a Jaguar?" Shane made quite an impression.