Bob McTavish. To many he is a pioneer, an adventurer, a raconteur, and the design maverick. He stands alongside the likes of MR, Rabbit, and Tom Carroll as a treasure of Australian surfing culture. To me, Bob McTavish is all of this, and so much more. It is through him that I have discovered the key to a fruitful surf trip; a fail-safe method of ensuring fun is well and truly had. One need only ask themselves one question: “What would Bob do?”
No one oozed more mischief; no one was hungrier for those good-time vibes than that young larrikin in his early years. Perhaps the height of his career as a scallywag came in 1963, when the 19-year-old stowed away on a cruise ship bound for Hawaii. He and a friend surfed empty Sunset before being scooped up on the shore by US Immigration.
Things have tightened up just a touch since then, so boat hopping may not be on the agenda for your everyday weekend warrior. But Bob’s general philosophy of go for it, go with it, and go without it (if it meant a change of clothes) can still be applied today with excellent results. So if you find yourself with a couple of days to kill, wrangle up some willing participants and hit the road with some of that McTavish magic in your back pocket.
With a plus-size south swell and crisp offshores looming for the east coast of New South Wales, a couple of mates and I do just that. Heading north out of Sydney, it isn’t long before we reach a crossroads. Do we stretch the throbbing glutes at a tried and true peak? Or do we pursue an eastern mystery, a spot whose name is passed only on the beer-tinged breath of old seadogs with suspicious eyes and knowing smiles?
What would Bob do?
We sail past the exit to the familiar breakwall, and a hush descends as we contemplate the A-frame perfection we may have just snubbed. We are committed to the unknown now, and with only foggy descriptions and foggier directions, it feels like madness. None of us have surfed the break, the internet is eerily barren of photographic evidence, and the Instagram hashtag hosts only a selfie from a confused retiree.
It was then that I realized that we modern day surfers have become digital voyeurs, mind-surfing the shit out of every wave from Coogee to Cloudbreak. Would Bob McTavish have demanded at least three high definition Vimeo features, multiple angles on Instagram, and a write up in Surfer before he would even consider a putting a toe in the water? #No. Bob McTavish would hire a light aircraft with George Greenough in 1965 and discover Australia’s longest wave.
So we push on. As we catch a glimpse of that deep Pacific blue, the road thins to a playful not-quite-wide-enough-for-two. My passenger seat DJ flicks on the Morning of the Earth soundtrack as if to appease the elders who have left their tracks here before. The road turns to dirt; we’re not in Kansas anymore. Then through the trees splayed out before us is that face-slapping, knee-buckling absolute beauty that brings a lump to any wave-loving creature’s throat.
You know how it goes. Deep lines, playful barrels, shimmering lips garnished with a modest sprinkle of mellow locals. Well, we didn’t. They were some of the best waves we had ever seen, with a crowd so little it seemed just plain rude. So after a suitable number of pirouettes and some old-fashioned screaming, it was time to wax up. Now, The 5’6’’ shorty or the 7’0’’ single fin…
What would Bob do?
After three hours of soul-arching hedonism on my dilapidated single fin, it was time for lunch. With a limited budget between us, reserved for a couple of coldies each night, it was slim pickings. So out come the bread and bananas, straight from the pages of the McTavish cookbook.
Thanks for everything, Bob.