Although Hawaiian surfers have always led the way in progressive oceanic innovations, young Australian surfers began pushing competitive surfing performances. In 1976 three of Australia’s brightest surfers organized a team called the Bronzed Aussies. Consisting of Mark Warren, Peter Townend, and Ian Cairns, they were also among the top competitors in the new IPS series—one of them, Townend, won the first IPS world title. Inspired by an Australian trio that dominated professional tennis in the 1960s, the Bronzed Aussies felt they could grab more media attention and a stronger competitive edge as a unit. Through their “radical” approach to wave riding and their flamboyant fashion style on the beach—they often wore unusual jumpsuits to the surf contests—they found the attention they were looking for. Though other Australian surfing professionals, like Wayne “Rabbit” Bartholomew, were not officially part of the team, the Bronzed Aussies’ spirit characterized most Australian surfers on the North Shore at this time. First and foremost, they marketed themselves as aggressive and extremely competitive. After they claimed three of the seven IPS events on the North Shore in 1976, they started flaunting their success.
The young Australians strutted and ruffled a few feathers on the North Shore in 1975 and 1976. Although Hawaiian surfers won four of the seven IPS events in 1976, the Australian surfers boasted to the media how they had toppled a thousand-year Hawaiian surfing reign. Australian surfers gained a reputation for trash-talking, in and out of the water. In a 1977 Surfer Magazine article a fellow Australian surfer claimed that the Bronzed Aussies and Rabbit Bartholomew in particular were “absolute monster[s] in the water, [who] would continually cut people off.” Not only were they notoriously aggressive in the water, but the spirited Australians also paraded themselves as the world’s greatest surfers in surfing media and claimed dominance over Hawaiian waves and Hawaiian surfers in newspaper articles and surfing magazines. In a letter, Rabbit Bartholomew boasted to Peter Townend (this letter eventually got into the hands of local surfers), saying, “We’re as hot as shit over here, Australians are the biggest thing in surfing, they [Hawaiians] are looking to us for inspiration.” Even IPS contest director Fred Hemmings called them “provocative characters . . . with an aggressive style that did not endear them to the North Shore regulars.” “In the short run,” Hemmings continued, “they made business difficult.” Though some Australians, like Rabbit, later learned cultural sensitivity, in 1976 they enjoyed tooting their horns in true Bronzed Aussie–sportsman fashion.
During this time, local Hawai‘i and Native Hawaiian surfers became less tolerant of Aussie attitudes and antics. Several Hawaiian surfers were upset by Australian aggressiveness in the water and their claims of dominating the North Shore. Local Hawaiian surfers took to calling the Australians the “Bronzed A-holes.” A legendary Hawaiian surfer and lifeguard, characterized these surfers as “real arrogant kinds of people. They were called those days the Bronzed Aussies. . . . They were over here just like walking all over us. You know, with our kind heart and everything we give, and let them come here. But they started trying to take over everything. ‘Oh we’re this, we’re that.’ ” Another Hawaiian surfer said, “They came off as real arrogant and egotistical; they weren’t well liked. It’s one thing doing this in your own country, but to come do this in someone else’s country is basically having no respect.”
Many Hawaiians also saw the Australians as racist. Ahue explained, “The problem was, they came over here and [were] like, ‘Hawaiians get out of the way’ . . . because the way they are brought up over there, they are real competitors. That’s just their nature. But we were considered aborigines, I guess, when they came over here. So we were like a second race to them. So they thought they could just, White man rule, and take over. And we said screw this, this is not going to happen.” Many Hawaiian surfers learned firsthand about such racism while traveling on the IPS surf tour. Bryan Amona learned the reality of racism and segregation while in South Africa and related this treatment to the way Australians treated Hawaiians on the North Shore.
The preceding passage is an excerpt from Isaiah Walker’s Waves of Resistance: Surfing and History in Twentieth-Century Hawai‘i published by University of Hawai‘i Press. Click here to read the introduction and order a copy.