Andrew Crockett on Peter Troy
Peter Troy is a name synonymous with pioneering surf travel, yet his most enduring legacy may well be the foundations he laid for our culture. When taking stock of Troy's achievements it becomes evident he embraced all surf history, while also promoting Australia's role via the original Australian Surf Museum, and he took every opportunity to shine the spotlight on lesser known figures within our culture.
Troy introduced surfing to Brazil, and along with Kevin Lovett and John Giesel he discovered Lagundri Bay on Nias, plus many other destinations during his pioneering trips of the 1960s and 70s. His life ended suddenly in 2008, less than a week after author Andrew Crockett had interviewed him.
Crockett, or AC as he is more commonly known, interviewed scores of surfing elders for his trilogy of surfing books titled ‘SwitchFoot’. Peter Troy was among them, and the conversations those two recorded led us to ask AC a few questions about the legacy of Troy and the recently reprinted book, ‘To The Four Corners Of The World’.
The first edition, a print run of only 500 copies, sold out very quickly. The second edition includes all the handwritten letters that Troy wrote back to his parents while on those famed adventures.
Swellnet : How did you first meet Peter Troy and what was your first impressions?
AC: He actually contacted me to commend me on the work I had done in preserving surfing history with my books and we struck up a friendship.
What were your first impressions?
It was obviously a stoke that he rung me, but just talking to him I instantly got this vibe off him that was more than just surf, surf, surf. He was the definition of a ‘worldly’ person. His interests were diverse and he had a keen interest in history, across many subjects, though especially surfing.
When you say he had a keen sense of surfing history, can you elaborate?
He was very interested in the lesser-known people. He was aware that there were people in the background that were sort of unheralded, yet had done so much for our sport/lifestyle.
Can you give us an example?
There would be a few, but one which still strikes me was when he asked, "Do you know who it was that ensured Bells Beach was made into a nature reserve?" I had no idea, but of course he did. I can’t remember the exact name or names of the crew that managed to stop Bells becoming a housing development, but Troy knew who they were and he thought that was perhaps more important than anyone who had won a contest, or been on the cover of a magazine.
To be honest, I resonated with that side of him, big time.
Yeah how interesting, I wonder if anyone knows who those surfers were that managed to protect Bells Beach like that?
I am not even sure it was surfers, but I can remember the admiration in Troy’s voice when he was talking about it. I remember him talking about surfing history and his passion for that were the embryonic phases of what are now the Australian surfing museums and of course the Hall Of Fame awards. Troy did that, he was instrumental at the very least and it was something he thought was very important, for surfers to understand where they had come from.
I can see how that would resonate with you.
Man, it wasnt just the history, it was his passion. I related to his passion and his desire to give something back to the thing that had given him so much.
That surfing had given him so much?
Well maybe…but also just life. He lived an incredible life. Can you imagine what it would have been like to make your way from Torquay in 1963 towards Port Phillip Bay and hop on a boat bound to England with basically no money and no agenda? It just reeks of that surfing spirit that runs through all surfers. You just want to have a crack and see what happens. For Troy, those travels became iconic. He writes about them in his book.
Yeah, tell us more about his book.
Well, I say it's ‘his book’ yet ironically he died before the book was made. They found all these letters he had handwritten to his parents. Dozens of letters. It tells a very real story. Good on his parents for keeping those letters, I say. It's an amazing document of that era, not just for surfing, but for how the world looked back then.
Very different to today no doubt.
In 1963 there were probably only three billion people for a start. Surfing was not that popular. In fact, it was fringe. Fuck, I wish it still was! [laughs]. Troy was rocking up in countries like Brazil and they had never seen a surfboard before. Almost every trip, and he had many, was a pioneering trip. Imagine the waves he would have scored! He had an incredible life.
And then he retired to that island off the coast?
I didn’t really talk to him much about what he did from the 80's onwards, but I am sure he at least had the lease on that island [Old Woman Island] for fifteen years or so. I remember him telling me that he took an old 44 gallon drum over there to put rubbish in. He had one drum solely dedicated to thongs. Of course they float and would wash in. He said after a few years the drum was full and he took it back to land.
He was laughing when he said, "You know, I emptied it out and went through those hundreds of thongs and there was not one pair".
I imagine he scored a few waves on that island.
Not sure, I know it gets waves but all I have ever heard is how sharky it is.
And he was also a pioneer in preserving our history?
Im not sure pioneer is the right word, but he was instrumental. A bit like Midget Farrelly was instrumental in the vee bottom design, or Geoff McCoy was instrumental in modern shortboards, or Drouyn was instrumental in power surfing. In 1993 he opened the Australian Surf Museum - now Australia's National Surf Museum - in Torquay, so he was instrumental in helping Australian surfing understand the importance of its own history.
Since then there's been many books and films that also preserve our history.
We probably need to talk a bit about the book. Where is it available?
I spoke to Peter's widow, Libby, who paid for the printing and I am pretty sure if you want a copy you'll have to look pretty hard. It wont be in KMart. It isn’t with any major distributors. It's a seek and ye shall find kinda thing, much like Troy himself.
Speaking earlier, you said that he won an OAM [Order of Australia medal] for his services to surfing, was that something he talked about?
Not really. He mentioned that it would be nice if more surfers actually gave back to society, rather than taking all the time. He was fiercely concerned with the negative impact surfers had in Bali and other places.
Also, his distaste for commercial airlines was palpable. We all forget that commercial airlines have only existed since, what, 1970-ish? For him, it was mostly travel by boat. He said that if you want to find uncrowded waves, go where the airplanes don’t go.
Though I'm not sure where that is anymore, Stu.
Been great to chat Andrew, any final words?
Not sure…I know I think about Troy often, his words still ring in my ears. Some of the things he said I will never forget. Like people living in the Jakarta rubbish dump, born there, work there, die there. He talked about families in India who lived on the high tide mark of the Ganges river and each day would have to lift their material possession up at high tide and wait for the water to receded. Every day. He talked of hitchhiking for thousands of kilometres, on a whim. He was that sort of bloke.
His later life passion with the history of the postage stamp in Papua New Guinea really tells a story in itself. He won the highest award you can win for his stamp collection. His passion for stamps was another little known fact and his collection was worth a small fortune.
He was an incredible man and surfing was far richer for his presence.