"They Thought We Were Crazy"
Scotty Dillon, who has died aged 90, was an Australian surfing archetype. Born and bred in Bondi, he was part of our first generation of wild boy big wave chargers. Australian surfers always knew how to have fun but in the hands of Scott, Bob Pike and a handful of others, it evolved into an instinct for adrenalin - a hunger for the rush that at times blocked out everything else. Scotty ran surfboard labels and ended up owning his very own surf museum, but nothing quite got him the way a big day did. He was charming and great company, but his pale eyes let you know you were in the presence of a true adrenalin junkie. Here are some excerpts from an interview done in 2008 for the ABC two-part series “Bombora”.
On how the world looked at him (and Pike and co):
“Oh they thought we were crazy, particularly my wife. She thought I was super crazy ‘cause at that stage I was motor racing. I was driving open-wheelers at the Showground, and every year there were five drivers killed, and she’d say ‘Scott’, ‘What?’, ‘Uh we’ve got six children and you’re driving an open wheeler, don’t you think this is a bad idea?’
‘Oh but I like it.’ And uh yeah well I did, I liked it.
So I’d do that and then when we’d hear on the radio, all the beaches are closed, ferries are not running, she’d say ‘Well I guess I won’t see you for a few days,’ and I’d say, ‘No probably not.’
Bomboras were the things we used to go looking for. Like Queenscliff bommy. We heard this day the surf was really big, so we went down there, Bobby Pike, Dave Jackman and myself, we set up on the point there, we all had our gun boards with us and we looked out and it looked beautiful you know, and ‘Bloody hell, how are we gonna get out there?’ And Dave said ‘Oh I’ll try and get out through Harbord.’ I said ‘Right, sure you’re gonna get out through Harbord.’
Bob and I were sitting there watching to see how he was gonna go. We never thought for a minute he’d get out. So out he goes and sits way out on the left hand side, got knocked back, knocked back, knocked back and kept battling away there and finally he got out and he caught the first wave, as you well know, ever to be ridden at Queensie Bommy. He still owns that distinction of riding it for the first time. The next day, however, it was bigger and it was cleaner and Bob said ‘Now we’ve gotta go out there. I’m not gonna go out where Dave went, how about we paddle out the Bower and we’ll paddle down.’ It was that big, there was that retaining wall in the bay (at Shelley Beach) with a little gap in it, and the waves were breaking and going right up, through the gap and part way up the hill. We had to stand there trying to pick the right time to go and run and dive through the gap and paddle like mad.
We got out the Bower which was a battle to start with, turn left and paddle all the way down to Queenscliff, which is a bloody long way, but we were on eleven foot balsa guns so it wasn’t too bad.”
First surf at Sunset Beach, 1962:
“Well Bluey Mays was with us, Bobby Pike was with us, Barry Kelly was there, a bunch of us. A lot of other guys but here we’d come from Australia, and we weren’t blowing our own trumpets, but we felt that we were probably as good as they were in our own minds. But we’ve never ridden it and it was suddenly a different ball game.
All the big waves that we’d ridden back in Australia, we always knee-paddled, we never lay down. We tried to knee-paddle taking off at Sunset with the howling offshore wind and got blown back to Fiji somewhere.
The board I had was a twelve foot three balsa gun with five stringers, nose block, tail block, and I can remember trying to paddle to get over the lip and on to the face of the wave. I’m up into the front section of the board just trying to get over the wave with the wind coming up the face, it was a big shock. We’d never struck anything with wind that strong before.
We got some fabulous waves until I got wiped out, hit the bottom on the inside section, and cracked the nose block and split the glass underneath. I should have known better, I should have gone in and taped it with tape, but I’m a surfer, so we don’t do things we’re supposed to do. I went back out and this huge bloody set came and I started paddling for it and I got on it and as I’m coming down the face I looked up and there were four or five of the really big name big wave surfers paddling out and obviously looking up as I’m coming down yelling ‘Wooo’, riding down this thing.
As I came down I just clipped the nose, the water got underneath and the whole deck peeled off and went straight over the top of me, just enveloped me sort of thing. They’re all sitting there watching, going ‘Holy shit!’ I’m encased in this huge piece of fibreglass, and then the wave broke directly on me. By the time I got in, there was about two feet snapped off the nose right on the beach. Peter Troy was there, and Peter came up to me and he said ‘Oh bad luck about your board Scott’, he said ‘I’ll give you ten dollars for it.’ I said ‘Sold.’ “
Not making a fortune out of surfing:
“Well originally there were six; there were only six surfboards builders in Australia. Other than myself there was Gordon Woods, Barry Bennett, Billy Wallace, Denny Keogh and the McDonaghs. That was all. Did I miss anyone? No I don’t think so.
And all the guys that we taught, they went out and started on their own. like that boy Sam Egan. Luke’s father. Sam used to come down from Newcastle and watch us make boards and now he’s making boards.
Lynne Holmes who was Darryl Holmes’ wife, she worked for me, and Darryl worked for Woodsy, and if you worked for Woodsy you weren’t allowed to go surfing through the day. And we’d hear that Narrabeen was on. We had that many signs made – ‘Gone surfing’, ‘back later’, ‘away for an hour’, ‘we’re not here’, ‘could be here later’ — we had all these little signs. ‘Which one should we put up today?’ We’d put up a sign and go to Narrabeen. We’d all be in my ute with all the boards sticking out the back and Lynne’d be sitting at the window and as we’d go past Woodsy’s, we’d slow up and Lynne’d yell ‘Darryl, we’re going surfing!’ It was so cruel but they were fabulous days. it wasn’t run like a business, it was run like…I dunno what it was run like. It was run like nothing on bloody Earth. Just weird but it was good fun. It was good fun, you know.
God we’d come back from surfing in the day and we’d all pull up and we’d throw our boards into the showroom on the floor and we’d all gone and bought fish and chips and a couple of beers or something There’d be about a dozen of us all sitting on the showroom floor drinking beer and eating fish and chips, and poor customers would walk in the door and they’d be, ‘God it’s like walking into hell’, you know and all these guys sitting on the floor and people are looking at you like, ‘Yeah what do you want?’ ‘Oh we were thinking of getting a surfboard.’ It was real un-business like type of thing. But I made a lot of mistakes, a lot of mistakes. I could have done whatever Rip Curl, Quiksilver, Billabong did. You know Greasy worked for me, Gordon Merchant, for years and then he started on the clothing thing and selling boardshorts out at the markets, and that never rung a bell; the bells just weren’t ringing for me.
I didn’t look at it as if it was the future… it was the future. It was just great times; I was having a ball and I had the latest modern American car and driving around and racing at the speedway. I mean I had a ball. It was…it was fabulous. I mean you just couldn’t see an end to it.
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