Gavin has gotto be rated as PE's most successful pro surfer to date. His legendary status within South African surfing history is fully deserved. He might have less hair than he did back in those days, but he's surfing just as hot today at nearly 60 as he was when he won the unofficial World Champs at 12-15ft Sunset, Hawaii as an 18 year old. This website is not complete without a feature on the surfer who really put PE on the map, so it was high time we tracked him down.
Gav, you’re known as one of the first guys to surf Supers, that’s a pretty iconic place to have in history! Tell us how you guys came to find out about Jbay, and what inspired you to upgrade from the mellow Point walls to the Supers screamers? Tell us about that first session.
A travelling Aussie, Keith Paul and I were surfing a mellow day in September,1968 at Tubes (3-4 ft) .Keith had just made me this new stick, a revolutionized round tail 7’2’’ single fin, my first real ‘’short’’ board. It was going so well that I suggested we paddle up the point to the spot I called the ‘’Indicator’’! That was to become ‘’Supertubes’’. We paddled up there and took about a dozen waves, but I think I didn't manage to make any of them, too fast down the line. We paddled back to Tubes and finished our session there!
So did it go from being unridden to crowded pretty quick or did you guys have quite a few seasons of having it to yourselves?
We really only went back to Supers at a later stage, like 1970,when our boards became faster and shorter, what with innovation from legend Nat Young, Midget Farrelly, Wayne Lynch, Gordon Merchant, Bob McTavish, to name a few Aussies that came to us with revolutionised board designs. Double concave, V-Bottoms, swallow tails etc.
Who was the regular crew that were on it?
Piers Pittard, Jonathon Paarman, Donald Paarman, Ken Freeland, Larry Levin, Mush ,Rob Ponting and heck, I can’t remember all the travelling Durban ou’s like the Tomsons, Larmont, Tony Van etc.
Mush Hide, Gavin Rudolph and Leon Killian camping at the Point, Jbay. Photo from Leon Killian
You burst onto the world stage as an 18 year old when you won the Smirnoff Pro/Am in Hawaii at 12ft Sunset, taking down some legendary Hawaiian surfers in the process. Tell us a bit about that day, and what your overall Hawaii surf experience was like. (and how did an 18 yr old Saffa end up in Hawaii!?)
In 1970 I was sorted of rated as S.A. top seed by international standards. After winning the Gunston in ’69, and being overall winner of the Jockey Surfabout I was sent an invite, along with 5 other countries’ top seeds, to compete in the first Pro-Am World tournament at Sunset Beach, Hawaii.
I was doing my Navy service in Simonstown and had to get off 2 months before the end of the years’ service. The Navy gave me leave in Nov 1971 to go surf in Smirnoff World Pro-am, along with Durban surfers Mike and Shaun Tomson, Ant Brodovitch, and wildcards Errol Hickman and Rob McWade.
Mike, Shaun, Ant and I stayed in a caravan on the grass at Haleiwa and the surf was flat until the day before the contest. I had a brand new 7’10’’ Randy Rarick pintail made that hadn’t been waxed yet!
I’d never surfed Sunset, so the day I had to surf it, it was 8-15ft and perfect! I was kakking myself to paddle out there, but eventually went out. My first wave on my new board I’ll never forget, it was just epic! 10-12ft West peak at Sunset, dropped down the face, bottom turned, the rail drew a perfect line and I was mesmerised! This felt like home!! Supertubes with warm tropical water and JUICE!! In baggies, nogal!!
The rest is history, my board went like a dream and I stayed out the whole day before the contest. The swell dropped the next day to 8-12ft, but Sunset was just perfect! I came through all the rounds in second slots, but made the final and won it from Bill Hamilton and Jeff Hakman. Nobody on the beach new this young blonde kid after the results were announced, it was an awesome feeling to win that prestigious event!
(ED - the Smirnoff Pro/Am was the most prestigious contest of it's era, and was considered the unofficial World Contest for most of the 70's.)
Article in Sydney Herald 28 November 1971
What was the reaction to your win given it was the first ever professional win by a Saffa surfer outside South Africa. Fame, fortune, girls!?
I did movie stunt parts in Hawaii for 2 Hollywood movies and had my fair share of the fairer sex. Made some nice money which I paid my Dad back in S.A. for sponsoring my airfare! He was stoked as he made me sign a promissory note to pay back every cent he lent me!
Did you surf competitively for a while?
For the whole 1972 I did well in S.A and won the S.A. Champs in Cape Town and the Jockey Surfabout that year. I ended up no.1 seed for the Springbok Team to San Diego California at year-end and that paved my way for my second Hawaii season, where I was invited to all the events – the winter of ’72.
Other than Hawaii, where else did you travel to surf when you were young?
1968 Puerto Rico Worlds, 1970 Bells Beach Australia for Worlds,1972 San Diego Worlds. I did the Pro tour in ’77 and ended 10th that year. Packed it up after that, travelling never really suited me. Too homesick for my Supers and S.A. and family and friends!
Bay of Plenty, 1973
Any memorable/scary/funny surf stories from the old days?
Eish, ask Mush and Larry Levin what we got up to as kids at the Point at J-Bay! Our folks would drop us off and we would pitch our tents in the bush for the entire school holidays in June (3 weeks) and December (6 weeks). We would run out of food, so the coloured bakkie horse beach drivers would feed us daily with octopus, alikriekle, mussels and any leftover fish they had, until our folks came through from PE for a weekend braai.
Tell us a bit about the Gunston 500 (known as the Mr Price Pro today). Heard you, John Scheepers and Mush Hide crammed into a car and made the drive up to Durbs via the Kei for the event – and you came back with the trophy!
Memory’s a bit thin on that one. Ya, John was a great help to me when I was young, always was there to take us surfing. He was a real surf-rat! (Ed – and nothings changed!)
You grew up surfing in PE – what got you into it as a lightie, and who was the crew you hung around with?
I grew up on Kings Beach as a grom, started at the age of six. I joined Kings Beach Lifesaving club. That was the only world I knew. My folks would let me just walk across the Beach Rd, at S-Bend and spend all day there at weekends. Pretty much surfed rubber mats (lilos) with Mush Hide, Buddha Horne, Larry Levin and few other kids. Had a fantastic life on the beach and the lifesavers, like Neville Mandy and them would give us turns on their surfboards. They were our heroes, those lifeys!
Gavin with his Gunston Trophy, with John Scheepers, Buddha Horn and Mush Hide.
Gavin was the first winner of what today is the Mr Price Pro
Gavin, far right, and the Bay of Plenty boys
Where did you guys surf, and what sort of boards were you riding?
Surfed mainly the Fence and occasionally I’d venture into no mans land like Miller’s Point ,Avalance, Pollock Beach and Rincon.
Did the ballies give you a hard time back then, any grom abuse?!
Not really, we just kept to ourselves, us kids and showed the ‘’heroes’’ respect. We learned a lot from them about the ocean, through lifesaving and of course how to pull chicks!!
What was your favourite spot in PE? Any stand-out sessions there that spring to mind?
I’d say my home break, the Fence .It would sometimes get to me like a Banzai Pipeline in Hawaii on big days. Then I’d love Millers on a big swell .My favourite barrel had to be Humewood beach on a big swell too.
When did you bail PE and where did you move to?
In 1973 I moved to Durban and stayed there till 1979 where I met my lady for life from Cape Town, Angela, who I married. I have 2 sons, Brent who’s 28 and Darren is 26.
40 years later and his love affair with Super continues. Gavin slotted in '07.
Gavin at Gas Chambers
Shacked up the West Coast
You’re still getting wet, saw some photos of you ripping Yzerfontein up the West Coast. What are your local surf spots in Cape Town?
I’ve been living in Big Bay, Blouberg now for 5 years and seem to surf a lot more there than I used to. Walk down the hill into the surf at Big Bay, I call it ‘’The Gym’ ’cause of the paddle! The other breaks are not known, so I cannot name them, nobody will know what I’m talking about! Yep there’s great beachies and Reefs up this side of the world. We’re truly blessed!
Any advice for the lighties out there that are considering getting into professional/competitive surfing?
Stay clean and focused. Remember never to lose the stoke and enjoy every surf, as though it may be your last!
I still have flashbacks of my life growing up in P.E with my friends. We had a great childhood, which I’ll always treasure!
Thanks Gavin. Guys, remember to watch out for the new retro boards coming out under the Gavin Rudolph label that'll be shaped by Greg Smith. Coming to a break near you! Check out the story on the board collaboration here. We look forward to Mike van Vuuren's film of JBay back in the day - here's a clip from it below.