Last Fridays Deus dinner with Bob night was a great success with around 130 people showing up to hear about Bobs life. The Deus guys had a little surprise lined up for Bob - their friend HG Nelson had written a 'missing chapter' to Bobs book stoked, focussing on Bobs showdown with Roy Slaven at the Kiama blow-hole. Here it is in its hilarious entirety.
“Good evening ladies and gentlemen and welcome to Deus Ex Machina, the home of post modern activities and a night in which we celebrate the wet and wild life and unique shaping skills of Bob McTavish.
Now if you only get along to one night that celebrates Bob’s surfing life this is the one to be at.
Unlike many of you, I have absolutely no genuine credentials for being here tonight….save that, like many of you, I have owned a lot of surfboards. Sadly, I have never owned one of Bob’s. People who have had the unfortunate experience of watching me surf over the years have often remarked on my lack of improvement despite many decades of intense effort. I have always put this failure to improve in every aspect of the caper down to the simple fact that I have never paddled out on one of Bob’s brilliant boards.
But I begin my spray with Bob’s immortal words ‘If you Don’t surf, Don’t start’. This is a truism that everyone in the room can get right up behind. To put it bluntly too many people surf there is simply not enough room for everyone. And for the bulk of this spray I want to let this simple assertion hang in the air…
Now can I also draw your attention to this magnificent autobiography Stoked, the Bob McTavish Story with the Foreword from Tim Winton.
It is an excellent read covering the highs and lows of Bob’s Life and Times from the kick off at Elephant Rock up until the short board revolution and onto a place in the history of surfing…. no as you were, my very good friends….. a place in surfing immortality.
But, there is a yawning gap in the McTavish Story as it presented in Stoked. This gap is not covered by Bob’s wonderful self- penned handiwork. This novel fails to document the controversial chapter in Bob’s life that revolved around his monumental battles surfside with my colleague Rampaging Roy Slaven in the late sixties.
I have no idea why ‘Stoked’ swerves around these surfside skirmishes illuminating as they do Bob’s tenacity, genius, enthusiasm, dedication and his sheer brilliance at that tricky juncture of surf and turf.
Roy and Bob’s surfside brawls climaxed in 1968 with their legendary meeting in the final of the Talking Tools Plank final sponsored the Date Finger Group of Companies. Old surfers rightly remember Plank as a huge sporting event on the tour calendar and the highlight of the Australia Day sporting card from about 1965 thro to 73.
Remember these were different times, simpler times, times of fun and making it up as you went along.
The early heats of the ‘68 Plank were held in ideal conditions at the Kiama Blow Hole. Climate change has buggered the Blow-hole as a break but in its hey day it was ‘special’ thanks Bruce Macaveney.
There was a little bit of mystery about surfing ‘the Hole’. Surfers hooked onto to a wave, grabbed a breath and disappeared from view at the cliff base. As the swell forced its way into the vent in the rock contestants hung on grimly before being catapulted skywards on the surge. After taking air, Hole contenders splashed down on to solid rock in front of the judges in the perpendicular hanging onto the plank to score.
Surfers had to conquer an initial cable laying fear to take on the Hole but when it went off it always pulled a big crowd. Of course today in less adventurous times the local council has banned the hole surfing competitions completely.
Roy Slaven was an outstanding surfer back in the day. He was the first to tame the Kiama Blowhole in the early sixties. He did that on an olo that he made himself out a palm frond one Friday afternoon when there was buggerall to do.
In those days the three golden rules of surfing, if Roy was on the lurk, were
1) If Roy is out, don’t go out
2) If Roy paddles out, get out
3) If in doubt stay out
I don’t have time enough to cover all of 68 competition but as always The Blow Hole heats sorted the wheat form the chaff. Then as the finals approached the Hole went strangely flat.
The Competition organisers were desperate for a big wave climax late on Australia Day, knowing that the two best surfers had made it through to the big one.
As luck would have it, the large nor-east swell pushed out by Cyclone Nicole, which was bettering the Queensland coast was missing The Hole but it was slamming big onto the Backdoor. This was a radical break north of Bombo Beach. The wave jammed onto a rock ledge between the Illawarra Abbatoirs outflow pipe and The South Coast Treatment Works.
The Door’s gnarly wave threw up hollow barrels full of menacing grunt and poke just meters from the sand. It is an old fashioned stinker of a wave that was often matched by heady offal and effulent aroma in the area. That Australia Day it was, literally, going off at both ends.
The Date Finger finals were quickly relocated by contest organisers from the Hole to the Backdoor.
Bob won his semi with out catching a wave as local favorite Weed Woodis misjudged the take off on his first wave and was tipped over the falls, in a hideous wipe out which wedged his head between reef and the outflow pipe of the abbatoir. Mercifully, the SES were there with a backhoe to winch the kid free. Sure it seems funny now but at the time no one laughed except the judges. The Door was that sort of wave.
In his semis Roy put away Nobby ‘Stinkum’ Stiles.
Sure Roy bent the rules a little when he planted a Liverpool Kiss on ‘Stinkum’ on the beach before they paddled out and then just as the kid looked about to grab a final spot Roy applied a perfect Christmas handshake as the Kid took a howling left.
It was almost impossible to go left at the Door. Stinks never recovered from the tool tug. Roy took the heat with barrel lasting, according to most observers, 34 seconds.
With Roy and Bob through to the big one the scene was set for one of the great Talking Tools deciders. But Roy came into the final under an injury cloud. Everyone carries niggles into a final but Roy limped in with a busted groin and buggered hip due to a freak incident as he paddled in after the semis.
Sharks were always lurking around the Backdoor attracted by the off cuts from the abbatoir.
On the way in Roy was attacked by a four metre great white. The two thrashed at each other for about twenty minutes. The Two Tools crowd feared the worst but some how Roy dragged himself back to shore. Roy says he lairized early and tried to apply Sleeper hold to the Shark for fun. When that did not work he had to punch his way clear. But his custom built, Slaven Mach 69 Triple X, the board that went into Space with the NASA space program in case astronauts found waves breaking on a distant planets, lay wrecked at his feet with ominous chunks missing and teeth marks where you don’t need them.
The judges asked Roy if he wanted to go on. It was silly question. The Talk Tools medicos patched Roy up encasing the hips and wedding tackle completely in plaster. This stopped the blood flow where the shark had gone in for the kill. The crowd could see the agony on Roy’s dial as reefed the wet suit over the night tool area of the anatomy.
Be the siren it looked as though the Plank Final would be Bob’s. Certainly, the man who knows what punter’s want, who was swinging the bag in the car park, had Bob at 3 to one on but some brave souls were taking the succulent fifteen to one about Roy.
Bob was first into action riding a total experimental design dubbed The Mullet gen E signature model. He hooked the Mullet into the one of the waves of the competition.
No surprises there, Bob could always sniff out the best wave of any set. Bob cruised off the bottom with a turn that set him for the wedge that was stacked up behind him.
As he burst out of the first section of The Door, Bob set up a card table on the front end of The Mullet Gen E followed quickly by a couple of folding chairs.
The curious design of the Mullet Gen E catered for outdoor furniture as it was a board designed with a radical front extension. This extension just under a metre in length was activated by a button on the rail just to the right of the leg rope plug. The extension, or ‘front porch’, as Bob called it, was spring loaded and shot forward on release.
It was an inspiring innovative piece of board design that sadly the conservative surfing community of the day did not embrace. Like so many of Bob’s great ideas the wider surfing community couldn’t see the use for ‘the porch’ even though Bob was about demonstrate how brilliant a porch on a plank could be.
Where Bob stacked the tables and chairs on the Mullet for take off was anyone’s guess but in those days Bob always paddled out with a pack in which he carried a cut lunch, a few beers, a bong and hammock in case he wanted to make a night of it.
Like all the greats he had so much time on a wave. He was able to take a seat on the porch, plate up a three course meal. It was an early I-Thai inspired fusion feast with a risotto of soft paper spring rolls and curry puffs for entrée, Café de Paris steak chips and stir fried vegetables for main, all dished up from a solar oven that cunningly exploited the dead space at the back end of Bob’s board.
Bob ate lunch before the wave got serious. But as the green wedge stacked up on the notorious Backdoor shore-break Bob packed away the table chairs and lunch gear for a bumpy landing. He crashed through the collapsing final section and stepped onto the beach presenting the judges with a large passion fruit sponge and after dinner mints. It was a wild ride.
The judges scored him a nine for entrée and eight for main and ten for the passion fruit sponge.
Bob’s army of fans went silly. His troops believed he had The Plank in the bag. They dropped the shorts as one, to salute his genius. It was music to Bob’s ears. The army believed Bob had two hands on the winner’s cheque, but the McTavish throng had forgotten the other contestant in the competition.
Roy had seen what Bob had done and knew he would have to do something totally awesome to snare The Plank purse.
Like Bob, Roy knew how to impress the picky judges. With his board totally stuffed, the crowd gasped as he grabbed the lid from the top of Matt Preston’s foam esky. Matt loved to get wet and have a crack whenever the Master Chef schedule allowed but more than that he loved to put away a full esky at the beach.
Roy let rip on Matt’s lid. He caught a cracker as the final siren went. He popped into a drop knee and set himself for the tube. He disappeared from view, completely, covered by the crystal curtain. While hidden in the barrel Roy reached into the gusset of his board shorts and produced a box of matches. Beachside, the crowd held their breath.
Inside the tube Roy torched his hair and emerged after being inside for fifteen seconds with his hair ablaze going off like a Roman candle upstairs. That caught the judges’ attention, many still stuffing themselves silly with Bob’s sponge cake.
With the wave about to stack up into a humungous shore-break Roy torched his faded Quicksilver board shorts downstairs. They disappeared in sheet of flames at the top of the final dump.
Roy somehow pulled off an el rollo and a 360 at the same time as he was crunched into the sand. This was no easy manouvre. The crowd followed the action from the black smoke that was emerging from the two meters of white water that was now towards them rushing up the sand.
But the big bloke from Lithgow, who had learnt his trade, running the Cox’s River rapids still had a trick up his date. As the embers of the trouser burn were being extinguished by the surge of foam, Roy let a whopping one go from the back door, this toxic blast exploded with an enormous bang.
Powered by his own natural gas Roy erupted from the shore break, like a Polaris missile. He left he ocean arced skywards with the afterburner ablaze only to splash-back down in front of the judges tower totally nude, singed and with the sloop pointing north. Some trick given the night tools were completely encased in plaster.
The crowd were stunned into total silence. They were staring at two Australia Day heroes, Staring in total disbelief! They had no idea surfing could get this good!
What a tricky decision for the panel of five that included world champ Nat Young, Mark Richards, Olivia Newton, John, nose riding champ Micky Dora and a very young Mark Occiluppo. On the one hand they were still enjoying Bob’s passion fruit sponge but on the other Roy had shown them that the future of surfing was in space.
By the barest of margins Roy got the nod. When the numbers were added up it was 241,191-241,192. It was tightest Plank in history, one point in it. Remember judging in those days was a feel thing. It was nailed down completely like it is today.
As the one point winner said, in his gracious victory speech. “Thanks to youse alls for coming out and watching me and Bob have a crack. I love this wave. The Talking Tools Competition brings out the best in everyone. And a big thanks to the Datefinger people for putting it on. And Bob, Dude… stick with that Mullet gen E board. It is a five star cracker. And hey lets not forget that Surfing was the real winner here today…..
A suddenly the big man was gone.
And ladies and gentlemen the great thing is you can see the 68 Plank final today on You-tube as someone had the wit to record it on Super 8 film. It still looks amazing.
But can I finish where I began… with Bob’s golden rule ‘If you don’t surf don’t start’. Bob if that was your mantra why did you make so many fucking fantastic surfboards. You must have noticed that your surfboards encourage people to surf even when they haven’t a clue. Your boards have made it so easy for people to paddle out.
Thanks for having me, enjoy the rest of the night. Let me leave with a final thought if you did come by car, when its time to go home I hope it’s where you left it.