Rabbit steps into the fray - again
He willed a vocation into existence, wrestled his way to a world title, and later he mended a broken sport to lead professional surfing through a golden period. Over the weekend, Rabbit Batholomew accepted his next great challenge when Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk announced him as Labor's candidate for Burleigh.
Putting specific issues aside, Rab talked to Swellnet about the process that led him to this point.
Swellnet: You made the announcement over the weekend, but some of us were expecting it twenty years ago. Is it something that's been on your mind for a while?
Rabbit: It sure has. I've considered different roles, from the local council, whether it was a division councillor, or something a bit higher up in the chain. But the reason it's taken so long is because it's been an evolving process within myself, and as usual, same with everything I've done in my life, I picked the absolutely hardest time ever to do it. There's no doubt about that.
Well you might as well get a baptism by fire because politics is going to be hard.
Oh, but that's right. It'll be harsh. It's a harsh landscape and it's a tough landscape. I've had to dust off the old tin helmet that I used to have when I was running the ASP. It was getting a bit dusty, so the old tin helmet, she's back on again.
You've always been a social fella, a noted Gold Coast celebrity who mixes with all manner of people, however you've joined a political party, and some of your compatriots may vote for the other guys. How are you going to bridge that divide?
Well that's the will of the people. That's the democracy we live in. I 100% respect people's opinions whoever they vote for, so it won't be a problem for me.
Are you expecting some tough conversations with friends?
Oh yeah, sure I am. I mean there are going to be issues that are dear to them and that maybe I can't deliver on. For starters, I can't deliver on anything until I get into office...
Yes, of course, but let's consider beyond that.
Well....in a way, when I took on the ASP, it was the same sort of lead up. I looked at the sport and I went, "Oh my god, it's such a mess right now." Kelly Slater had retired, he'd walked away from the tour. Six world titles and he said, "I've had enough of this. I'm not doing this anymore. I don't believe in this."
Meanwhile the tour was all about big Grand Prix events in the middle of summer at metropolitan beaches, and you're looking out at the surf like it is today. Just crappy onshore beachbreaks that aren't even worthy of putting on television, let alone generating a global following.
Derek Hynd had his Rebel Tour about to happen, and at that time Andy Irons had signed up for him. It was just a mess out there, and that's what I waded into. And it took a while. It took until I had some influence at board level. It was all boardroom battles; I had to undo a lot of things and then rebuild a new foundation, and this was all done because people trusted me. Even though when I started I had my sceptics...I definitely had my sceptics.
In a way it's no different to when I was having a daydream in 1971 about being called a professional surfer, and no-one believed me then. I'm used to riding a wave with a lot of sceptics dropping in on me.
When you put it like that and it shows you've earnt your stripes.
Yeah. I went to the SIMA [Surf Industry Manufacturers Association] Conference in Mexico first up, and I was walking past major companies and they were all going, "Tick, tick, tick, tick, tick." It was like a time bomb about to go off. I knew I was up against it, but I mentally readied myself for the battle, and that's what you've got to do.
You're clearly passionate about surfing, but what you're signing up for is battles over public transport access, housing, and other less glamourous issues. How do you prepare for that?
Well, that's true, it's less glamourous, but the thing that I'm most passionate about now is the Gold Coast. I care so much for the Gold Coast and particularly from Burleigh south and the pointbreaks.
There are a lot of issues there, there's going to be a lot of hard bridges to cross, and a lot of big battles, but that's OK. I'm ready.
As a professional surfer and later an administrator, you've lived a public life, but you're entering into a different kind of public life. Are you worried that opponents might construct a dirt file on you, Rabbit?
Oh well...I've lived a life, you know what I mean? One thing though, over that whole period I think I built up some goodwill as a pretty decent guy. So yeah, sure, I've lived a life. Surfing was a rebel sport when I was young and I was one of the leaders of the pack, no doubt about it.
In your favour there currently appears a backlash against career politicians. Do you think that that could weigh in your favour?
Well, I think people will just take me as I am. I think I bring a certain authenticity to the roles I play and the positions I take. Over the years I've had a lot to do in the community. I've sat on so many committees, dealt with people from local, state and federal governments, so I like to think that I'm a bit of a negotiator. I like to work things through to a positive outcome.
And you plan to continue that MO?
Yeah, I've always seen the light in people. I've always seen the light in things. I mean, even with all of the things that have happened, including in Hawaii, there's one thing that I stand by: you can go through all the archives, every story I've ever written, every interview I've ever given, and every quote I've ever provided, and I can put it on record that I have never said anything derogatory about any other human being. It's just not my style.
Quite a claim.
And I don't intend to play the man here either. I know that that happens, but I'm going to run on my own campaign. There'll be obviously differences along party lines - no doubt about that. I mean that's where the battle lines are drawn.
So it's going to be busy couple of months?
Oh yeah. I'm going to roll up my sleeves up and absolutely give this a solid crack.
I wish you all the best, Rabbit. Can't wait to hear the outcome.
Unreal. Thanks a lot, mate.