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Australian legends share their memories of Midget Farrely

 

 

 

 

R.I.P. Midget Farrelly

Tributes to Midget Farrelly pour in from Australia’s surfing community

Surfersvillage Global Surf News, 29 August, 2016 - If there was a heartbeat of Australian Surfing in 1962, Midget Farrelly was probably the left and right ventricles. By the time he returned from Hawaii, after winning the Makaha Invitational (1962), not only was he the heartbeat, but he was in communication with the brain and all the other vital ‘organs' of Australian surfing.

By 1964 he was on top of the world and a household name, in tight with the surf businessheads of the era, namely Bob Evans. The Farrelly face was plastered all over the magazines, every surfing magazine, everywhere. That is how it goes, when you are friends with the surfing magazine Editor.

Like many kids growing up surfing in Sydney, Nat Young had a hero in Midget Farrelly. Yet by 1966 Nat Young had become the champion surfer and the media (Bob Evans) grabbed hold of Nat and publicly dropped Midget like a hot potato.

Something changed. The ‘surf media’ was like a narcotic drug, draw into a syringe and pumped into the arm of the then ‘cottage industry’ and as it hit the heartbeat Midget felt it and he ran away. Meanwhile the pimps and hustlers ran free creating whatever they wanted, in print ... without the Farrelly flow.

The divide between the us and them was real, it still is. Midget, like many others, didn't feel part of it and didn't want to be part of it; the so called ‘culture’ of being cool, in the boys club of surf media print business. He didn't attend the parties, not even the Surfing Australia 50th Anniversary gala dinner, the ASA the very association Midget founded and was the first President. Think about that for a moment....

No, Midget carved his own line, created his own businesses (Farrelly Surfboards 1965 and later Surfblanks Australia) and nurtured his family, his dear wife, Beverley, and their daughters.
When I was compiling the 3rd book in the SwitchFoot trilogy, it was my hope that he would entrust me to tell his story, like I had done with Drouyn and McCoy with the first two books. Sadly, I never got any of it on tape.

Through dozens of conversations I know the story, I know what happened to Midget and it is sad, another tall poppy cut down in full bloom. But you know what? Midget was at peace. I heard from him a week before he left his body and he sounded upbeat. He was terrifically helpful with all three SwitchFoot books and he said he shed a tear when he saw the photo I uncovered of Bobby Brown doing the cheater five at Bells Beach, a John Pennings photograph.

What a life Midget lived, what a legacy he leaves behind and the only way you can truly understand it is to not read anything that was published after about 1965. Rest in peace Midget, Australian surfing history has a giant hole in it without your perspective.

I thought the best I could do - to honour Midget was to ask for words from those who knew him and those words are below. I send my personal sympathies to Beverley Farrelly and all of MIdget's extended family. 

Rest in peace Midget, you are a star. - Andrew Crockett (Author/journalist)

Sunday September 11th at 11am at Palm Beach, Sydney is the anticipated paddle out for Midget Farrelly. Bring a smile, bring any surf vessel you like, or a hang glider and celebrate a wonderful life.

Ken Adler - San Juan surfboards - Qld Surfing champion - 1960s institution
Ken Adler: I have been deeply sad since his death, he was like a brother to me. I was struck when I came back to Australia and saw how different Bob McTavish was to Midget, and that Mctavish was able to shape a board with 20 people standing around having beers and he was able to chip a bit off here and there and the boards where just amazingly advanced and good riding surfboards. Other shapers, like Midget, would just walk up and down for hours on end with a plane…Mctavish just called himself a witler, I found that interesting.

With Midget, every board I ever saw was just amazingly functional and a good riding Surfboard. They had great aesthetics. I gave all credit to Midget and whenever he called me up I said he was my guru. When I bought a couple of boards from his factory he was working by himself in boat sheds on the water at Palm Beach, Sydney.

That was after he came out of the Brookvale area and he had decided to make surfboards on his own with his name on it. I came down to get a surfboard and he shaped it, glassed it, sanded the fins - Just Midget the one-man band. The boards were just immaculate most of them were 3 stringer, glamorous and the glassing and everything was finished off beautifully.

That was what motivated me to whenever I got into the surfboard  manufacturing side of things I tried to copy the purity of what Midget was doing in Sydney.

Rusty Miller
Rusty Miller: I first met Midget on his second trip to Hawaii when the Aussie mob would arrive via a P & O ocean liner every winter. As a gang in two big old rust bucket cars, they would hunt and surf the whole length of the north shore.

That year (circa 1961) they rented a house in Kawela Bay just up the road from Sunset Beach. It was a rambling big old house in which they set up like a Viking mead commons. There was a big table upon which the appointed cook for the evening would dish out bowls of food to the awaiting hungry surf braves in a very organized fashion.

Afterward they would get into a sort of jousting king of the mountain battle with pillows or whatever to compete for positions at the top of the mountain being the table. Midget was only 16 or 17 then and I was so impressed at how he was holding in the midst of the much larger, boisterous larrikin older surfers.

As it turned out this physical and mental tempering shaped a well toned, tuned and competitive hardened soul. I believe he was Australia's first most original surfer/shaper of what we now look back upon as the creation of the modern era of Australian surf riding, shaping and the Australian surf cultural creation.

I attended the 1968 World Surfing Championships in Puerto Rico where I was hired by Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) Wide World of Sports to assist in the commentary. When the finals were completed I waded into the shallows with microphone ready to catch the competitors coming in from the finals.

A remember thinking to myself that this could be the beginning of a new career curve. So the first surfer I approached was Midget who I knew and befriended in Hawaii and who by that time realized that he had come in runner up to the Hawaiian winner Fred Hemmings. When I asked Midget ‘How did it go out their Midget?’ He replied ‘F*** off Rusty.’ I reckon Midget saved me from a career direction in which I was not suited. 

I liked Midget because he was original, He was a serious thinker, an innovator and had a great sense of humour.

Wayne Lynch
Wayne Lynch: Midget Farrelly is possibly the most important person in our history because he went out and took Australian surfing to the world. In the bigger picture of Hawaii I know he won Makaha (1962) and the 1964 World Title in Manly, but he just went out there and established Australian surfers and Australian technique of surfing as being very very credible.

It brought a lot of respect, suddenly people paid attention. When John Witzig wrote that thing ‘We’re Tops Now’ (Surfing World magazine 1966) and it was about Nat...Witzig was shit-stirring and it was tongue in cheek, but also, behind that was also the fact that Americans particularly didn’t take our surfing very seriously.

You look at the old films like ‘Endless Summer’ (Bruce Brown, 1963) there is a certain sort of making a bit of fun of Australian surfers…another example is ‘Surfing Hollow Days’ with footage of Bob Pike wiping out in Hawaii and no footage of him charging and making it.

There was always that sort of attitude of ‘we are American, we are the best.’ So, Australia copped it for years in the American surfing media and John Witzig gave them a bit of curry through that story. People can say whatever they like, but Midget was the first Australian surfer that really made the rest of the world take Australian surfing seriously.

That is a big deal. He was just a kid, like 18 or 19 going out into the world. People probably think Midget was 30, he was just a kid when he was doing that. Midget's life should be remembered for more than just winning contests though, he was a fine surfboard designer and an important part of the evolution of the surfboard. 

Nat Young
Nat Young: The last time I was close to Midget was the northern hemisphere winter of 63/64. Midget had assured my parents that he would keep a close eye on me, like the big brother. It was my first time away from home and overseas.

Before this he had taken me on a couple of road trips to contests in Australia, Bells Beach, Newcastle in his brand new 179 Holden station wagon. He was such a beautiful surfer; on those trips he became my hero, both in the water and on the beach.

With his pommy background he knew all the characters of the Goon Show off by heart, we dropped into the roles of Eckles and Bluebottle at the drop of a hat, made the miles fly by. I had won that first trip to Hawaii for first prize in the 1963 Australian Invitational Championship. The contest was held at Bondi, with huge crowds of spectators and media. As a junior competing in the seniors I felt I was extremely lucky to win.

It was a pretty hollow victory, as everyone in the surfing world knew that Midget was the best surfer in Australia. For some reason he did not compete in that contest, he never told me why. That trip to the North Shore was my first experience in really big waves, I was terrified.

We were renting a house in Kenui road, right in front of Pipeline, just the three of us, Midget, me and another fine local Freshwater surfer, the late, Kevin Platt. On many nights the house shook with the pounding surf.

It was Midget's second trip; he knew the ropes and made all the decisions about where and when we surfed. Midget took us out of our comfort zone and we really pushed our limits, making Kevin and I much better surfers. I recall one heavy discussion about the importance of conquering your fear; Kevin and I really took Midget’s advice to heart.

Then one day it happened, that one nightmare session when we were caught out at Sunset Beach just before dark. As the surf was big we were already hundreds of yards behind the line-up. We continued to paddle over giant wave after wave, desperate to get as far out to sea as we possibly could.

Then the whole horizon went black, the bay was going to close-out. The noise was deafening, a towering mass of white water was about to engulf us, at the last minute all three of us stood up on our boards and dove off, swimming as deep as we could before the turbulance caught us underwater. There were no leg ropes back then! It took hours of swimming, fighting the rips to get to the beach a good kilometer from where we had paddled out.        

The year before Midget had won the Makaha International Championships, and was the unofficial world champ. When he came home the Australian sporting media went ballistic. They made Midget Farrelly a household name to an entire generation.

So I probably won't go to Midget's paddle out, maybe I will, not sure yet. Some mutual friends believe it would be a good thing for Australian surfing, but the reality was, during these past 50 years our relationship was complicated. He was a fine “waterman” a dedicated family man. One of my daughters is a good friend with one of Midget's, apparently he enjoyed his grandchildren taking them on surf trips and teaching them about the ocean.

Bruce Usher - photographer and surfer 1960s Sydney
Bruce Usher : Watched him from the very early sixties surf Mona Vale, usually just south of the surf club, laying over his board in unbelievable bottom turns. Once in the dyed black hair era, with Bev in front of the club.  

Got to meet him when he did a voice over for, Give Us Our day – Our Day In The Sun, the 23 minute short we made before, A winter’s Tale.

April 1972, filming for A Winter’s Tale – Oahu. Too wet and overcast to film, bodysurfed some serious waves at Laniakei with Midget.  Later he swam further out diving under the impact zone of 10’ plus north swells, with Ben Aipa and Angie Reno and others surfing 9’ guns.  

On small days surf matted Laniakei and surfed by ourselves at Maili Point.  On another day surfed and filmed the locals at Yokahama Bay,  a bit further north from Makaha. Midget filmed from the water and one take I got of him finished up in AWT and a Coca Cola ad.

John Peck was sitting up against the roadside fence.  Mid 70s he mentored Ian my brother and me during the Hang Gliding era.He finished up making Hang Gliders and cutting the sails in his factory.  My brother became his production manager.

Midget was one of the few guys able to fly in very light winds due to his designs and sail cutting. Always had a good six monthly conversation somewhere between Palmy and Avalon over the next 4 decades.  Palmy, borrowed his board as he was getting out of surf  and returned it to its resting place in the cabbage Tree Club board shed.

Conversations may have been lop sided but always meaty and he wore a big cheeky grin.

Rabbit Bartholomew
Rabbit :  I have immense respect for Midget Farrelly. He leaves such a rich legacy. Although from a different era we became friends over the decades. I got to know him more in recent years. Through a mutual friend, Richard Grellman, who was Chairman of ASP when I was running it, I got to hang out with Midget a bit.

When in Sydney, after a morning surf at Freshwater  with Richard, we would breakfast at Midgets fav, the Honolulu Grill. It was there that Midget regalled in swashbuckling stories of pioneer days. I was always mesmerised by these tales, thirsting for every last detail. The ships to Hawaii, Makaha, the early treks out to the North Shore, I felt privileged to be let in on these stories from the vault of an extremely private man.

A few months back I got to spend another morning with Midget, we all gathered to welcome the Peruvian contingent who came out to Australia to demonstrate the millenia old custom of reed board surfing. It was particularly touching to be part of the reunion between Midget and his dear friend Felipe Pomar. It was a lovely gathering, Midget was very happy and seemed at peace. 

Mike Doyle and friends

Mike Doyle: Besides being a very talented surfer he was a great spokesman for the sport of surfing. He was a great talent. Unfortunately he got left behind in the pot smoking hubris...  He was a clean square shooter and put Australia on the map of great surfers. A leader of the A class. I always respected that he did things the way he thought to do them and not follow the frolicking herd of hipdom. 

Greg Noll: We just heard about Midgets passing.   Very sad. I remember when we took the first Malibu chip boards to Australia in 1956. Midget was on the beach maybe 12 years old or so, and when he saw us ride the boards he said ‘that's what I want to do the test of my life’…. And he did.  We will miss him.
 
Bob Cooper: I believe that the spiritual world is here with us physically. Because were in this dimension we can’t see it. Midje is looking at us right now an chuckling at our stupidity.  He is also watching from the prospective of ultimate truth, which makes our thoughts and actions even more stupid. This fits right into his bag of humour … the only things of this life that he's concerned with are his family.

Our job is to protect his interests and perhaps strive to look after the things that meant something to him ,family etc. For the rest we ąll continue to do stupid things that are no longer in his mind now knowing where this life’s priorities really are.

Paddle-outs and tributes are really for the living, because we didn’t do enough to show him we loved him when he was trying and testing us, which he usually was.
Fame had abused and used him to the authors advantage so his words were guarded and examined before even spoken.

His private times with us was never enough to get past the pleasantries and he was in charge of the interview. The person will no longer be missed. The real person we wanted to have as an important friend, because his friendship was a form of validation for us poor souls left to continues figuring out this life.
 
Geoff McCoy
Geoff McCoy: The Man that took Australian Surfing to the World. Midget was one of the all time greats of Surfing, a beautiful stylist and poetry in motion to watch Surf. He was an inspiration to Surfers of that era in Australia and  World wide and he was certainly a brilliant Surfer himself.

I believe he was responsible for lifting the standard of Australian Surfboard manufacturing, insisting on quality and presentation to the highest level in his products. As a craftsman he inspired many myself included to strive to create quality surfboards. Midget was an articulate craftsman and designer as well as a successful producer of surfboard blanks.

I used to visit him in his shaping room, at the time located in a boat shed on a wharf in Palm Beach; I sat and watched him Shape and he would explain the details of the Designs he was currently working on.

In his early years he was diverse as a sporting lifestyle proponent, he was involved in the Palm Beach SLSC and was a Sweep for the Women’s Surf Boat. He enjoyed snow skiing and snowboarding, sailboarding and also was one of the early hang gliders. Always keen to involve people in his pursuits, he encouraged me to go hang gliding with him at the North end of Palm Beach in the large sand hills there as they had good sloping ramps making  them perfect for easy take off and landing.  

I had a few practice runs and managed to actually get a meter or so off the sand, starting to feel a little bit confident I decided that I would really get air born, which I did, for a few seconds, before doing a full loop and crashing down onto the tip of the wing and hanging helplessly upside down, unable to release myself and needing Midget to extricate me. In this process I Also managed to damage the tip of the wing, bending the tip badly. Aluminium was in short supply and it was many weeks before Midget was able to receive a replacement wing and fly again; for me I decided to give the sport a miss after my disastrous attempt.

In the very early days before Pro Surfing I remember sitting around with my club mates from the North Narrabeen Board Riders Club shooting the breeze and discussing what it would be like if we could be paid to do what we most loved to do, Surf I talked to Midget about this on one of our trips down to the Bells Beach Easter Classic. He would always say, ‘No, surfing is a recreation and lifestyle pursuit and should not be turned into a paid profession.' Midget was a purist at heart.

On one of our first trips to Hawaii with Midget in the early 70’s, I was immediately made aware of just how much respect the Hawaiian’s had for him, not only as a Surfer but as a decent human being.

Midget’s impact, contribution and aura lives on. R.I.P.

Author: 
Andrew Crockett
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