First South African Surfing Pioneers Inducted into Surfers’ Circle Walk of Fame in Muizenberg
The first 12 pioneers of surfing to be inducted into the Surfers’ Circle Walk of Fame were announced on Saturday at the launch function for the national landmark that will celebrate the past, present and future legends of South African surfing at Muizenberg in Cape Town.
Honoured for their inspirational and influential contribution to the surf community in the period up to and including 1964, the inaugural group of honourees consists of three pioneers each from Durban, East London, Port Elizabeth and Cape Town where the majority of the country’s surfers resided 50 years ago.
The crowd of nearly 400 surfing and local celebrities were treated to the wacky antics of MC Deon Bing, a thought provoking talk on community spirit and songs by Verity Price, the grand niece of Heather Price who in 1919 at Muizenberg became the first South African recorded riding waves standing on a surfboard, and presentations on the background and aims of the project and the need to raise funds to design and implement the landmark.
Tony Smith, chairman of the Muizenberg Improvement District (MID), explained that the non-profit company that is driving the Surfers’ Circle project and obtained permission to use the traffic circle at Surfers’ Corner for the landmark was inspired by Heather Price’s historic achievement, the role surfing has played in the economic development of the town, the way it has fostered cultural diversity and social cohesion and gained international recognition for Muizenberg as a destination of choice in South Africa.
He noted that the MID’s mandate included maintaining the landmark once it was built, but that all the estimated R2 million required for the design and construction of the centrepiece, walkways embedded with plaques honouring the country’s surfing legends and the landscaping would have to come from fund raising efforts such as the Big Jol and donations.
An audio visual production on the landmark, live music from the Robin Auld Trio and a heartfelt rendition of Andre de Villiers’ tribute to the late John ‘Oom’ Whitmore, the Doyen of South African surfing, were followed Grant ‘Twiggy’ Baker celebrating his recent crowning as the 2014 Big Wave World Champion and inspiring everyone to follow their dreams.
The highly anticipated announcement of the names of the first surfers whose names will be honoured in perpetuity on the plaques in the Walk of Fame, and particularly the appearance and comments by Cape Town inductees Dave Meneses and John Grendon, were the highlight of the evening..
Meneses, 76, commented wryly on the rigours of surfing in the frigid waters of the Cape Peninsula in the 1950’s and early ‘60’s before wetsuits and leashes were invented and the effort required to hang onto surfboards that weighed 20 Kgs or more in giant waves at the Outer Kom and other powerful West Coast breaks to avoid having to swim 300 metres to the beach to collect them after a wipe-out.
Grendon, an extreme waterman and multiple SA Veterans champion, who is credited as the first surfer to ride a wave at Jeffreys Bay in 1964, laconically replied ‘Lonely’ to a query on what it was like surfing at Scarborough back in the early ‘60’s. He went on to explain that he, his brother Robert, who graced the cover of the SA Surfing magazine in 1966, and sister Jane, an early women’s surfing champion, shared a single surfboard and were the only surfers in the town that is now home to more than 100 wave-riders with many more visiting when conditions are good.
The Cape Town pioneers include Whitmore whose energy, inquiring mind and pioneering spirit saw him experiment with innovative board building techniques in the ‘50’s before introducing the polyurethane foam and polyester resins that the vast majority of surfboards are constructed of now. He also imported the first international Surfer magazines and surf movies (including the iconic Endless Summer where he starred in the SA segment), invented surf racks, hosted the first daily surf report (which ran for more than 30 years on Good Hope Radio), was the first Chairman of both the Western Province and South African Surfing associations, managed the first official Springbok surfing team at the World Surfing Championships in California and won the SA Masters surfing title twice.
The Durban contingent comprises George Thompson, a three-time SA men’s champion and four-time Springbok acknowledged as the country’s best surfer of the ‘60’s, along with George Bell, a standout in the early ‘50’s who introduced fins to the hollow wooden surfboards of the era enabling surfers to ride across waves instead of straight towards the beach and the late Leon ‘Dux’ Coetzee whose equipment innovations after returning from representing South Africa at the lifesaving championships held alongside the 1956 Olympic Games in Australia led to Finn Anderson surfboards becoming the equipment of choice for the country’s surfing community between 1957 and the introduction of urethane foam in 1961.
The trio of inductees from East London comprise the late Bobby Joubert, a legendary man-mountain who mastered many of the breaks in the area, led Border surf teams in the early national surf contests and manufactured Joubert Surfboards before introducing Rick Surfboards under license from the USA. He is joined by supreme surfing stylists Roger Taylor and Mike Hornsey who discovered new surf breaks in the area and motivated their peers with their dedication to the surfing lifestyle and inspirational surfing.
Port Elizabeth is represented by John Heath, who was also nominated as a Cape Town inductee for his surfing skills in the late 50’s before becoming influential in the Eastern Cape in the early ‘60’s by taking many youngsters along on his regular trips to nearby Jeffreys Bay and forming the Eastern Province surfing association that hosted the first interprovincial surfing contests. The evergreen Leo Davis, who still travels to exotic equatorial surf locales, inspired generations of 60’s PE surfers by forming the Commodore surf club and fellow inductee, the late Sandy McGillivray, became the era’s ‘Mr Surfing’, operating the first surf shop and building Seal Point surfboards.
The party continued with nine recipients awarded prizes totalling nearly R25 000 before legendary surf muso Steve Walsh joined the Robin Auld Trio for another rocking session and the evening closed out with dance music from the Bacardi mobile disco.
The success of the Big Jol launch party was made possible by the support of True Blue Travel, African Perfection Guest House, RVCA, Quiksilver, WaveJet, Roxy’s Surf Emporium, Boekenhoutskloof Winery, Hurley, The Drift Villa and Winery, Blue Bottle Liquors, Khuluma Meals, Soundworx, Grit Security and the staff and students from the False Bay College Catering Department, along with many dedicated volunteers and unsung heroes.
Surfers’ Circle Walk of Fame
2014 Inductees – The Pioneers
Leon ‘Dux’ Coetzee