Surf stars earn full coverage
WA-born pro surfer Taj Burrow. Picture: Supplied.

Phil Jarratt knows a bit about surfing. At 60, "he has spent his working life trying to work out whether to be a surfer or a writer", according to his publicity blurb.

"I have been part of the surfing furniture since the 1960s," the writer jokes from his home office at Noosa Heads, on the Sunshine Coast north of Brisbane.

Jarratt starting surfing at "eight or nine" in his hometown of Wollongong and moved to Sydney's northern beaches as soon as he left school, immersing himself in the beach culture.

When not on the water, he's been on a typewriter at the Sydney Morning Herald and the Bulletin, the editor of Tracks, Australian Playboy and Penthouse. He's also worked in management positions in Europe and the US for Quiksilver and directed 14 world championship surfing events.

A full life, but surrounded by must-do paperwork, he still had time to issue the surfer's lament when his telephone rang for this interview. "It's flat," he says looking at the ocean from his Noosa home.

The prolific author of 25 books, you get the impression he would rather be on a board than talking about boards.

In 2010 he released Salts & Suits, a global surf history looking at the evolution of the big brands. This led to his publisher, Hardie Grant, commissioning his latest book, Australia's Hottest 100 Surfing Legends.

"Don't take it as a definitive list," Jarratt says. "If I compiled it again next week, it could be completely different."

Although Mark Richards and Layne Beachley feature, it's not a list of surfers who have won the most contests. It features the pioneers, the contest organisers, the surfboard designers and shapers, the whole gamut of people involved in the lifestyle, sport and business. It is a book you can dip into, says Jarratt who is sure there will be pub arguments about the identities he has left out.

"Look at the 70s," he says. "Pro surfing was just starting to take off and there were some incredible new faces around. I could have easily included another 50 identities."

The early years fascinate Jarratt, who says a lot of the stories "could have slipped through the cracks". He is also particularly strong on some of the women surfers.

"Everybody knows about Isabel Letham but few people know Kim McKenzie's story," says Jarratt.

Letham was 15 when plucked from the crowd at Freshwater Beach in Sydney to ride on the shoulders of Hawaiian legend Duke Kahanamoku, which is considered the beginning of surfing in Australia. In the early 1970s, she was twice Australian champion "and became the biggest star in the surfing firmament, if only for a nanosecond, that had very little to do with surfing".

She grew up on the Sunshine Coast and, at 21, took over her father's licence to cull sharks. Invited to compete in America, she was introduced as the "Mooloolaba Shark Gal". She was interviewed by Sports Illustrated in Manhattan's swank 21 Restaurant where she declared: "The prawns are better in Mooloolaba."

Basically a shy person, McKenzie was pretty much ignored by the Australian media. She returned to Noosa and went back to fishing to feed the family. "While she continued to surf alone (mostly) for many years, her passion for farming the ocean took precedence," writes Jarratt. "She continues to lead a quiet and satisfying life by the sea."

It is these lesser-known yarns that make this book a good read but in no way is it a complete history.

That's coming out at the end of next year in time for the 50th anniversary of Surfing Australia, which was born in 1963 as the Australian Surf Riders Association. <div class="endnote">

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The West Australian

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