I've been on the hunt for vintage shots of PE surfing, and Gavin Rother had a coupla beauts to add to our collection. Gav’s a born n bred PE surfer, as local as local gets! Decided to catch up with him....
What got you into getting some fibreglass under your feet for the first time?
My younger brother, Tony, started it all. My folks got him a board, but it was more like an ironing board. We spent a day giving it a new coat of dark blue resin to make it look spiffy, but all we got was a board that weighed like 30 pounds, and resin coming out of our ears!! After that, we progressed to better boards and left the ding repairs to the pros! My first board was a Country Rhythm single fin pintail. Surfed it until it got deck lift.
Any good memories as a lightie?
I remember going to JBay when I was about 7 to watch Midget Farrelly surfing Point. He was World Champ at the time and it seemed like the whole of PE was there to check him out.
Before I had my own car, I used to have to catch the bus from Newton Park to varsity (having to switch buses in town). As we drove past Denville the one day, I saw the surf was pumping! So I jumped off the bus, ran across the road, and caught two busses home. Grabbed my board and bussed all the way back to the beach for a surf! No classes that day!
You were part of the UPE Surf Club – you guys must’ve had some kiff missions! Guessing that Seals was a regular stop-off?
Ja, UPE Surf Club was legendary in those early days. Andrew Honey was a prime mover on that score. I think we got Cheron started too cos we ordered team baggies from her!! We made many missions to Seals for Club contests. UPE even sponsored the transport AND prizes for our comps. One weekend, it was blown out by easterlies so myself, Peter May and Dave Charters helped ourselves to the prizes – we had more than a case of beer each cos no-one else turned up.
Of course, when we did have waves for a contest, we had like 30 guys sleeping in a hired house. SAU comps those days were epic as well, but I’d rather not go there!!
That shot of your boet in a dry suit is a beaut – what’s the story behind that!?
The drysuit – well, you get into it in the stomach area, and then tie a knot. You can blow yourself up to look like the Michelin man! Hectic. Difficult to surf in it though. I guess if you fart in it a lot, it also blows up like that. West Coast diamond divers used that trick to try stay warm!
The board he’s got there is a Larry Levin – it was a great twin fin and was under my feet when I had the barrel of my life in the Transkei. I can still recall dropping into this 8 foot wall of water, almost falling as I did a top turn and then just getting pitted on it for about 30 seconds or more. Haha! That was the proverbial magic board. Wonder where it is now - hopefully surfboad heaven. You can tell it is early 80s – lumo was in.
Diamond diver – means he musta had access to some restricted areas of virgin west coast….did he tell you about any gems hidden along that coastline?
Tony was in the old SA Navy when the okes could still swim, and when he left, he went diamond diving on the West Coast. I don’t think he found many places to surf cos it is pretty difficult to explore the coast when you are sitting on the seabed holding a huge vacuum cleaner all day and night!
I did make a trip up to Elands the one year, with Richard Rath and Peter Gilchrist. Well, we were royally skunked that trip. Not only was it about one foot for a week, but the wind blew the skin off our legs below the knees and we had to sleep in a sand dune – I think they said it was the camp site.
Anyway, once we had no skin left, we raced from Elands to Mossel Bay in about four hours – Volksies doing the business again – and surfed Outer Pool. That night was the start of the Laingsburg floods and we ended up sleeping in the baths at the Point Caravan Park cos the rest of the place was flooded! We literally had to save our boards from being washed away. It was quite a trip.
You wrote a classic piece for us a coupla years back about one of your Transkei trips. What got you amped to start making trips there?
My first trip – when I got the barrel – was in 1981 I think. I went with Peter May, Peter Gilchrist and three other guys who had just started surfing. As you can see in the photos, Volksies were the mode of transport again. And believe me the roads were no better than they are today. All we had in those days were pencil drawn maps from Andrew Honey. His folks owned a trading store in the TK somewhere, and he’d explored the area together with another PE local, Jonty Hansford. No GPS or Garmins in those days.
Lately, I have been going with Richard Rath, my son Andrew, and his friends (Brownie, Robbie, Spoen, Hubble and others) – you know, passing on the tradition. We have had some epic times away from the chicks, I mean crowds. No more camping though – we found our own country club house! With car guards.
Is it still a pretty safe spot to go on a surf mission – both in, and out, of the water?
Like I said, we now got car guards! But seriously, we just leave our valuables at the country club where it is safe with the kitchen engineers and leave our cars unlocked and windows open. Prevents unwanted broken glass, you see. There is nothing better than surfing with three or four of your best mates in cooking surf and then walking back along a deserted beach knowing the domestic help has made some lekka bread. Beats camping and being chased away by some Joburg prick who thinks he is the mayor of the tribal land. Actually the prick did us a favour cos now we stay in a country club and pee graffitti against his wall when we get back from surfing.
Any close encounters?
Luckily not really – only dolphins. Although I was riding a wave at Seals once when one of those other big fish swam under my board from the shore side!! Needless to say, I rode all the way to the beach and got out.
Any other spots that you’ve stamped your passport for with a board under your arm?
I did a fantastic trip to Madagascar with Peter May, Peter Gilchrist and Richard MacDonald in 2006. Flameballs is heavy especially if you don’t surf lefts a lot. JellyBabies is much softer but still a fun wave. We had a blast there – no electricity, no running water, great food and just a fantastic adventure. Want to go back for sure.
Have also been to Bali for my 25th wedding anniversary. Wife Sharon had to carry my board all the way from the hotel to Club Med so I could surf. She is such a trooper! Surfed a spot called Sri Lankas – great fun in boardies in 28 deg water. You know what it’s like hey! Surfing is living.
What’s still on the bucket list?
Well, I would like to surf all the places in the world that start with M. Done Madagascar, but think of all the others. Morocco, Maldives, Ments, Mexico. Not to mention the surf spots that start with M. Plenty of surf out there.
You’ve just got back from a stint in Saudi Arabia – I know PE’s flat, but eish – that place is worse! How’d you end up in the desert?
I was getting bored sitting at home having taken early retirement from the NMBM in 2011. Don’t get me wrong – I surfed plenty as well! Anyway, got this call just before Christmas from my boet Tony who works for a diving company. They were looking for someone to join their Logistics team in Khobar. Its near Bahrain – which is like Sin City to the Saudis!! Three weeks later I’m on a plane.
Spent 60 days there working 12 hours a day, seven days a week. Best part is getting paid in $$$$. Home now for six weeks to rest! I actually lost my tan in the desert. And it was cold. When I got there, it was 5 deg C!! But when I go back, it’s gonna be hitting 50 deg C!
So what your plans going forward? Gonna mix up the desert trips with some well-earned PE lurks in between?
Going back to Saudi for two weeks then two weeks in the States. My daughter is graduating from Boston University and my sister-in-law is getting married so can’t miss that! But after that, I will be commuting between Saudi and PE (or somewhere else maybe nudge nudge wink wink) on a six weekly basis.
My son, Andrew, is doing skippers course in Cape Town – maybe one day I can go crew on his yacht and have some epic sessions. I really enjoy surfing with him and his friends –it keeps me young. Jeez, I even did my first 360 recently because of them!
I would like to surf like Kelly Slater when I am 41! That guy is a phenom. And lastly, I would like to say thanks to you, ML, for pushing us kids to improve our surfing. The exposure you give to surfing in PE is great. Keep up the good work!