Influences: 1978 Coke Classic Surfing Comp

Mar 20, 2013 by     No Comments    Posted under: Surfing, Talented friends

To think that a 1978 surf comp could have been a formative moment for my career might seem a stretch, but it is not.  This event remains indelibly inked into my brain, and I can look back now and see its influence on the direction of my life.

Of the hundreds of surfing events I’ve been to in my life, this one has the most heritage to me.  I was 14, and 4’6″ tall.  A little grom, who had been surfing only 3 years, but surfing had become my life.  Manly, on Sydney’s Northern Beaches, was my home, and to have the worlds best surfers at my break (although as a good QBC member I’d claim that the Coke Classic was actually held at South Queenie) was a thrill beyond comprehension.  Its influence on my personal passions, ironically, projected me towards competing in, judging and eventually organizing surfing events, culminating in managing World Championship Tour events in California with the worlds’ best surfers.

The final of the 1978 Coke Classic lived up to its name.  Some of the best waves ever seen at Manly, although when I see video footage my child-sized perspective remembers it as being bigger.  The tubes were phenomenal.  I remember interacting with some surfers, and getting autographs, which was easy back then as nobody saw the need for security or VIP areas.  Somewhere I have the little autograph book, and it has in there the scrawly, water-dripped, smeared signatures of Larry, MR, Rabbit (who would go on to win the ’78 World title), Peter “P.T” Townend (the ’76 World Champ), Simon Anderson (the defending event champ and the man who invented the “thruster” fin design 2 years later), and anyone who would spare the time to take a pen from a shy, star-struck kid.  I remember Reno Abelleira shared a cookie with me from a pack he was consuming between heats, in a time well before sports science took account of nutrition.  I remember sitting on the sandstone block wall and talking at length with Mark Warren, who was gracious and shared what it was like to be a professional surfer on the world stage.  They say there are no coincidences, and I’ve since worked in a professional capacity, on event production, television programs and live webcasts with Mark, Rabbit and PT, among other legends.  Had I not been at that event on that particular day in 1978 I may not be doing what I do now, and I might be a very different person.

I remember Larry Blair, all smiles, a mop of blonde hair, and exuberant confidence.  He had surfed all the way through the trials, took to the ever present television cameras like a seasoned reality star, and his confidence (some might say arrogance) steamed through his pores like coffee through an espresso machine.  Wayne Lynch was all hair, and cool in that south Victoria cold-water hippy way.  The final was like a battle of Clash of the Titans, and with each increasingly long barrel ridden, the energy, and voice of the crowd, became larger.  I challenge anyone who was there not to remember it fondly.

As much as the surfing, and the interaction with the surfers was significant to me at the time, what lasted was the impact of the event itself.  This was a massive event, and a period of the largest outside industry support of surfing to this day.  I remember the tents, the set up, the television crews with cables, cameras, trucks, and all manner of cutting edge technology.  These days we are used to live webcasts and the ability to be able to see surfing as it happens, no matter where in the world.  Back in 1978 not only would the internet have been considered the whimsical dreamings of a scientific crackpot, but television coverage of surfing was virtually non-existent.  In a superb coup, the event directors not only convinced Channel 9’s Wide World of Sports that surfing made good TV, but that it would make good LIVE TV, something unheard of then.  Significantly, the man who made the decision to back live coverage of the ’78 Coke Classic was David Hill, who became one of Murdoch’s key men, and is now the head of Fox, and also living in America.  In another twist, I produced television shows about action sports for networks under Mr Hill’s control some 25 years later, and I deeply admire his continual maintenance of his Aussie larrikan personality despite the influences of Hollywood.

To this day the 1978 Coke Classic is the only event where live, in-water interviews, during a final not only took place, but worked (Nat Young’s interview of the winner Larry Blair during the final is all time).

I was just a kid in 1978, with no real idea of what I might do when I grew up.  I’m still wondering when I might grow up, but the Coke Classic gave me an experience that set my passions, and interest, which then took me across the world to where I contributed to what I hope were world class event experiences that other kids will remember for the rest of their lives. For that, I am eternally grateful.


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