Kanga back to where it began

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In a couple of days the world's best male and female surfers will jet into WA and drive down to Margaret River, where they will be embraced with open arms and feted by adoring locals.

The occasion will be the Drug Aware Margaret River Pro - the third stop on the World Surfing League's top-tier circuit of contests.

For Ian Cairns, the granite-faced bull of a man who spearheaded efforts to put WA surfing on the map in the 1970s, it will be a welcome, if somewhat ironic, moment.

The man known as "Kanga" remembers Margaret River only a few decades ago as a run-down dairy farming town where layabout surfers were about as welcome as dental surgery.

"The farmers would come to town and go to the pub and the surfers were there and there would be fights," Cairns recalled.

"The farming community really hated the surfers down there.

"Surfers back then were total larrikins.

"We all had long hair and loud mouths and we didn't appear to have a job.

"It was oil and water, the difference between the farming community and surfers."

In younger days. Picture: Instagram

Now a resident of Laguna Beach in California, the 62-year-old will return to Margaret River as a special guest of Surfing WA, the sport's governing body in WA, to commentate during the event.

Cairns said although he lived in the US with his wife and children, as he had done since 1991, his roots were in WA.

Little known in WA outside the older generations of surfers, Cairns has nevertheless been one of the most influential figures on the sport worldwide.

A precocious talent, he learnt to surf in the small, mushy waves across the road from his house in Pearse Street, Cottesloe.

"Living so close to the beach at Cottesloe I was beyond distraction - if I wasn't eating or asleep I was in the surf," he said.

At Trigg in 1971.

Despite these beginnings, it was in the powerful surf of Margaret River that Cairns forged a reputation as a big-wave surfer, immortalised when he went on to win some of the world's most coveted events in Hawaii.

Cairns said making a life from surfing had initially horrified his parents, who were from working-class backgrounds and wanted him to go to university, but it had "in a sense saved my life".

"My father was a mechanical engineer," he said.

"He came from a blue-collar background. Education was his path out of his situation.

"So to not even consider going to university - to think I can go and make a life out of surfing was completely unheard of because at that point surfers were just dole bludgers and drug addicts."

It was this purpose that drove Cairns, along with a handful of other "Bronzed Aussies", to revolutionise surfing in the 1970s when they formed a professional league and dragged the sport from its counter-cultural roots.

Cairns said Margaret River was the perfect illustration of how surfing had transformed, to where it was now a mainstay of the town's identity and economy.

And with just days to go before an event that will showcase both Margaret River and professional surfing, he joked that he was happy to tag along for the ride.

"I kind of pressure them (Surfing WA) to allow me to come back," he laughed.

"Fortunately, the people saying yes are old enough to remember who I am.

"No one else does - I'm just some old, bald, fat bastard to most of them, especially the kids."

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